Riding in the Rain in Seattle

This is an updated and republished post from 05.

RainLast weekend was quintessential Seattle weather in October. Stunningly beautiful one day and rain the next. I mostly welcome the rain, it cleans the air, the city, and signals that Fall has arrived. The Fall is the time of year when I spend hours of my weekends riding the city, the suburbs, and country. When you ride in Seattle, you’ll need a rain bike and the proper gear.

My rain bike is a custom Davidson — it’s a touring/road bike with long-pull brakes and eyelets for mounting fenders and clearance. The frame material is titanium, for all-day riding comfort and the geometry is relaxed.

New for 07, I’ll also ride the Modal, a concept travel bike that’s equipped with Hed’s carbon commuters Jet 60 C2.

My weather gear is a mixture of Windtex from various vendors, Windstopper, and microclimate liners from Craft. I wear 3 levels on my body

  1. Craft liner
  2. Windtex jacket
  3. Outer shell

and knickers or tights with pads. Gloves, booties, and a cap are essential as well. I use Windstopper gloves with a liner inside. On really wet days, I’ll bring extra gloves and change them 1/2 way through the ride. For my feet, I’ll wear normal socks, with a light lycra cover and a Windtex bootie. However, I’m trying a new bootie from Sugoi that’s “a fleece lined rubberized laminate that keeps water out and heat in.” I tested the booties this weekend and they’re very well made, kept my feet dry and combine my two-layer bootie method into one. I think they’re too hot for warmer days, but Sugoi obviously has product designers on staff that ride in the rain. I wear a Windstopper cycling cap with a bill, ear flaps, and fleece lining. The bill keeps the water out of my eyes, and when it’s even colder or I get chilled, I flip the ear flaps down and stay warmer. Little changes like covering ears, or changing gloves can make an enormous difference, when I’m in the May Valley, it’s pouring, and I’ve still got 2.5 hours to ride.

WindtexThe reason Windtex/Windstopper works in Seattle, is that you’re going to soak through eventually (sometimes in minutes), no matter what, so you want to block the wind and stay warm. While you’d think that Gore-Tex would work well, it doesn’t because it’s too hot. And that’s the main problem you face in wet weather: staying warm, but not hot and sweaty. Windstopper from Gore-Tex works the same as Windtex, it’s great for gloves and hats, but still too hot for body wear and too thick to be used in jackets. Windtex is a light, stretchy heat-regulating membrane that repels wind and water.

Note that a 3-layer system will fail if you’re not moving and burning calories to stay warm. Stopping in the rain is always dangerous in the winter. It usually doesn’t get that cold in Seattle, but you’ll start shivering within minutes of stopping to fix a flat or for coffee.

When it’s colder, I’ll add a set of arm warmers and Smartwool socks. Another tip is to make sure you’re eating and drinking. It’s easy to forget to eat when it’s cold. You don’t want to bonk in wet weather because that makes for one miserable ride.

Last year, during our unbelievably wet Spring, I was underdressed, underfed, and bonked. Pam was nice enough to pick me up and take me home.

For 07, and the more casual rides, I’m wearing Ibex Wool sportswear. I wrote about how well their knickers worked during a Fall storm last week.



8 Comments

Hi,
I came across your site the other day and have found it a great read. This is my first winter in Seattle - I came from the hot humid parts of Australia 5 months ago, so it is great to get some good info on what I need to survive it here.

Greg.

I’ve really enjoyed riding in the weather this week.  The fall colors are in full effect, the wind is blowing and the rain is keeping me cool. 

The rain bike received a new transmission last month, new cables/housing and I adjusted the disks so that I come to more reliable stops.  Upgrading to disks two years ago was huge.  No more nasty brake grime all over everything and better stopping power on our steeps.

See ya out there B.

OK, so you were asking about strategy for crappy weather riding??
I’m starting to realize that while you guys are still going out for 2 or 3 hour rides, I just have to put up with an hour tops on my way to or from work.  My strategy just amounts to keep moving, it is a relatively short ride. 
I have a lot of respect for anyone who will voluntarily go out in the rain for more than an hour.  If you do, you’re a lot braver than I am.

That’s right—min 2.5 hours, max 5 hours rides from now until the Spring. For those training rides, it’s “get it over with” and wear the racing wet-weather gear. Social, touring, and errand rides, it’s the Merino wool.

I came close to disc brakes for the [Modal bike](/tag/modal), but opted for the less weight, complexity, space and likelihood of damage with regular brakes.

Welcome Greg!

You’ll see lots of cyclists out in the worst of weather. Also get some [Nik Wax from REI](http://www.rei.com/Search.do?page=LIST&brand=Nikwax). I’ll go through a bottle a season, spraying all of my clothes with it. You’ll know it’s time to re-apply, when the rain doesn’t bead on your shoulders and chest.

See [this post](http://bikehugger.com/2007/10/commiting_to_rain.htm#comments) for tips on flats in the rain—there are the “racer,” “commuter,” and “industrial never-flat approaches.” 

This may sound silly, but DO NOT ride through puddles. I know, I know, it’s tempting, but the roads get really bad in the winter and that puddle is probably a giant pot hole that’ll take you down. Same thing with tracks, always hit them at an angle.

The first rains in Seattle bring out all the crud, oil, crap and deposit them right into the slick, metal surface of exposed tracks —I’ve gone down numerous times on tracks, even being careful, and always suddenly.

When I’m out for the “get it over with” ride, I’m riding the best tires, patching, and getting home. For non training rides, it’s puncture-proof tires and thick tubes.

This is invaluable for me.  I just moved here from Minneapolis, where it rained infrequently enough that I could just avoid it.  Here, that is not a possibility, especially since I ride into work daily.  This will help me get it right the first time, without spending so much time or wasted money.

Thanks Mark and go get out there. If you have any questions,  post them here.

I’ve been commuting in Seattle for almost two years. The gear tips are great, and one little discovery can make a world of difference. But just like all types of riding don’t forget: It’s all mental. This little line can get you through the worst of it. Are you ready? Your new mantra:

It’s just water.

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