Committing to the Rain


by Byron on Oct 04, 2007 at 7:13 AM

It takes a big commitment to ride in the rain; especially in the city, where the risks go up, the flats go up, the hazards increase, and it’s just downright dirty and gritty. The other cyclists I’ve talked to are dreading the rainy season.

In Seattle, rain is a fact of riding and commuting, but training takes a big commitment and I’ve got to work myself into it. Last week, I added one fender to a bike as a start and on Sunday night, I prepped the rain bike (we ride rain bikes here, special just for the rain). And the first ride of the Fall season was in a storm!

How do you get through a rainy ride or winter weather in your area?

Previous posts on the rain

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Ha!  Having ridden in the Seattle area for many years, I’ve made sure that all my bikes are rain bikes.  Even in July, when the temperatures were over 90 for weeks, I never left the house without my rain gear (you never know, around here).  My main points of emphasis are keeping my feet dry (as long as they are, I feel better - wet feet depress me) and reminding myself that I am not, in fact, water soluble.  Unlike the Wicked Witch of the West, I can take it.  A bit more drive train maintenance than in the dry(er) season, and you’re there.  Also, my first rule of biking in traffic is never to be in a hurry - this applies double when the roads are wet, the cars are sliding into each other, and the visibility is limited.  The ability to take your time will seriously lower your risks.

Take the cold in stride.  In Wisconsin the winters lately have been very mild.  I still love my smart wool socks and hat.  Oddly enough I really like my Swobo arm and leg warmers that I bought about 6 years ago.  Unfortunately I recently discovered a few holes in my armwarmers.  I think I will go and cry now or maybe just go for a run.  Oddly enough it is October and 70’s in WI.

It does makes it easier to have a system. We have our rainy day gear on hooks in our garage right next to the furnace. I cut out a hole in the side, added a register that I could close or open as needed. After the ride, we put the gear on the hooks, open the register and it dries them out-ready to go again. We also don’t have to look all over the place for the gear we need when it’s raining. Having a “rainy day bike” is definitely a nice thing. Here’s my wife on hers :)

I hear you on Swobo—I’ve got an old, circa 70s, merino wool jacket with a plastic front that’s falling apart, but I keep wearing it. It’s heavy when wet, the zipper sticks, but it works.

I think weight is the biggest reason cyclist switched to synthetics, but with new technologies, like Climawool, I’m switching back to natural fibers for casual rides and touring.

I have a dedicated rain bike (Trek Portland) all fendered up.  What’s nice to have though, is an extra bike I can ride in a pinch with light fenders.  There’s plenty of nights when I’ll roll home on the rain bike with a flat, or a spoke issue, or whatever, and I just don’t have the energy to fix it.  Having a fall-back option is nice.

As for gear, my favorite thing is the boot-dryer

You can get them at big sporting goods places too, but having dry shoes in the morning is KEY.  I’m going to buy one for work too.  So much better than crumpled newspaper.

Like that scene in Forrest Gump, where Lt. Dan challenges the weather, I’ve ridden in most everything, but stop short at hail. This one ride we got massively hailed on, hail so bad it hurt and was bouncing off my top tube into my face. So we pulled over and hide in a parking garage. 20 minutes later, the sun was out, we were dry, and finished the ride.

Then there was the legendary Rainier ride where we wore plastic garbage bags for the descent. I’ve never been so cold on a bike and we were fully prepared, it just rained so hard we had total soak through. Down below 2K feet, it was 80 degrees and we were hot.

Val is right on about feet being cold. Warm feet, wet but warm, and hands make a huge difference. I’ll post in a few about my hat choices and how I found and cherished a Castellli winter cap (they don’t make it anymore, but I gone one and an emergency back up one)

I’m big on the wool too.  I have a few tres stylish v-neck sweaters that I got at the end of the season at Target one year.  They’re holey now, but pretty lightweight, perfect for layering under a windproof jacket.  Luckily we don’t have to worry a lot about rain it is more dry than not here in Minnesota.  Rain and 34 degrees is the worst, but it only happens a few times a year. 
I’ve got Lake winter time shoes, two sizes too big so I can get thick wool socks in with them.  That takes me down to about 15 degrees - after that I have to break out the booties.  15 below is my limit. 
Last year I started using those little heat packs in my shoes - they’re great.  If you seal them up when you get to work you can reactivate them for the ride home.  They make warmth by controlled oxidizing.  if you seal them up they run out of oxygen and you can reuse them.  Probably a great job for (warning: shameless plug) Clip-n-seal.

I live in Sacramento, CA, ride year round, have for years. Not too cold or wet, but when it rains, I wear cheapo rain gear from Rei for my pants and top with just a t-shirt and skivvies underneath, use a well-sealed Bob Trailer for my crap, and use plastic shopping bags on my feet, which sounds naff, but works great with toe clips and hardly leaks.

I have a Outdoor Research Mithril-like (same jacket, no hood, out of production) softshell that I wear for wet and cold weather. Breaths well, good wicking, keeps me warm and out of the wind.

I have a crappy pair of police rain pants—I bought them not realizing how low the crotch is (or, how high the waste is?) and subsequently they’re a little bit on the short side. Maybe this year I get something nicer.

When I’m layering up, I usually use a ‘race cape/shower curtian’ affair made of vinyl with vents down the sides. The layering (wood or a very light fleece) keeps me dry and wicking on the inside and the vinyl keeps the rain off.

I think we need a photo of that ensemble! And ya know there’s always the guy, bare-knee guy on the trail. No matter what the conditions are, I’ll always see some guy on a bike with nothing covering his knees.

SOFTSHELLS! and merino wool.

I swear by the new softshells out there.  They and your body heat keep you dry in anything up to drizzle.  Rain-gear just soaks me in my own sweat, so I don’t mind softshell soak-through in heavy rain, because I am still warm.  I get all my cycling wear at MEC ( - basically a Canadian REI or EMS).

Merino is the bomb for warmth in cold and wet, and sweat management in warm.

A question for all you rain bikers, I have been searching for years to find a good pair of 700C fenders that can take up to 30mm tires.  Recommendations?


Longpull brakes or a a cross bike with cantilevers are your best choice for big tires and fenders. My rain bike has longpulls (it’s a longer brake lever for more room) and I can run 28s, probably 30s with no problem. You can also cut the fender so it just covers the back of the tire and make other custom modifications to snug it up to the brake bridge or fork mount.