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Simple Tips To Make Bicycling in Rain Enjoyable 33

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All photos by James D. Schwartz / The Urban Country

Seven years ago, I regularly consulted the weather forecast (almost obsessively), making sure there was no rain on the way. I didn’t like to show up soaking wet at the office, nor did I enjoy skunk streaks up my back.

Much has changed since then. I actually enjoy riding in the rain these days. It can partially be attributed to wisdom that comes with age; plus a lot of trial and error. Seven years later, I rarely ever look at the weather forecast – except on the odd winter day, or if I’m traveling.

Other bicycling blogs will give you long lists of gear that you need to endure the rain. Over here on The Urban Country, we are more pragmatic and try to find the minimum required gear to make that ride in the rain comfortable and not too overwhelming.

Just like bicycles, rain and weather come in a variety of forms. So I have broken this post down to provide other bicyclists with some tips that I’ve learned from my experience over the years.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, and just because these simple ideas work well for me, it doesn’t mean my way is the only way to go. I’d love to hear tips from readers on what makes your ride in the rain comfortable and pleasurable.

First, the basics:

I rode for years without fenders (mud guards). They just aren’t common on North American bikes. There is a store here in Toronto that promotes chic urban bicycles with fenders and chain guards on posters on the wall, but not a single bike they sell comes equipped with these components.

I gradually worked my way up from no fenders, to a rear basket (which protected my back), to finally installing fenders on my old Trek, to finally buying a Dutch bike last year that came equipped with fenders, a full chain cover, and internal maintenance-free components.

The fenders make a world of difference when riding in the rain. And I’m not talking about those fenders that sit 20 centimeters above the rear wheel. I’m talking about the fenders that come standard on most Dutch, British and Chinese style bicycles.

Once your bike is equipped with the fenders, we can talk about the “carry-ons”.

The carry-on gear

I never leave home without my “rain gear”. Carrying this “gear” with me all the time is one of the reasons I never need to check the forecast. Ignorance truly is bliss in a society where we stress over the most trivial of matters. And proper preparation makes it easy to discard the weather forecasts.

My carry-on rain gear consists of but three core items. First is my hat. I picked up this fisherman-style hat in China last year for $3. It keeps my head completely dry even in the worst of downpours.

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Secondly, I bring a pair of splash pants that I throw on top of my regular clothes in hard downpours. I paid $40 for these pants from a local outdoor outfitters store. They are lightweight and fold up nicely in my pannier bag.

SplashPants

Third is my thin water-resistant hooded jacket that I either wear under my winter coat in colder weather, or above my regular clothes in warmer weather. The hooded jacket is nice especially in the winter because it adds an extra layer of warmth and allows me to zip up and cover my face when it’s really cold or while it’s hailing.

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That’s it. Those are the three items that keep me dry whether I’m in shorts, jeans or a suit.

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This is a photo of me in “business casual” attire with my rain hat and jacket underneath my winter coat after riding in a light rainfall.

The “Extras”

There are very rare days where the 3 “carry on” items aren’t enough to keep me completely dry, so I will sometimes decide to wear my waterproof boots through torrential rain while transporting my dress shoes in a dry sack on my rear rack. I also generally wear these boots to keep my feet warm on cold winter days.

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In China, it is very common for people on bicycles to carry umbrellas – both to protect from the rain, and from the sun. Similarly in the Netherlands, people use umbrellas on their bicycles. (Unfortunately, this is an illegal act here in Toronto):

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Photo courtesy of Brian Underwood

Being prepared and staying dry helps to make riding in the rain more enjoyable. With very little effort you can show up at your destination dry, and you don’t need to carry a large backpack with a change of clothes or heavy rain gear.

You might even find yourself singing in the rain one day.

James D. Schwartz is the editor of The Urban Country. You can contact James at james.schwartz@theurbancountry.com.

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  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04689567532579290010 Naho

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10935555097921951786 Mike

    Heavy Tweed overcoat. Sorts out rain, wind, snow and cuts a dash to boot. Oilskin hat from Barbour. Done!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16828401001732920598 Paul Martin

    Great post James.

    I take the following:
    - lightweight waterproof jacket with hood & visor
    - lightweight over-trousers
    - shoe covers

    With these items I can wear a suit and stay nice and dry! If the weather is warm I slow down a little so as to not stew but that’s easy to do. The rain helps keep me cool.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16828401001732920598 Paul Martin

    I should add that all these times roll up into a tiny ball which sits at the bottom of my pannier bag!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08960352124263131915 M

    I like the other Mike’s approach. What would be some good brands for a heavy tweed overcoat? Would it be fairly hot in late spring, summer and fall?

    Where would one get an oilskin hat from Barbour? What does said hat look like? I’m not sure I’m ready for the fisherman’s hat look.

    I have the full Mountain Equipment Coop kit – short jacket, highly reflective, with long back for that bent-over position I no longer cycle in. Similar zip up rain pants as James Schwartz. Plus these ridiculous booties. I used to have a helmet cover, but I don’t have a helmet many more, so I have no head cover.

    Anyway, I only wear this getup when riding my old hybrid, not my new upright bike and heading deliberately out into a heavy downpour. I don’t carry it with me as it’s too bulky and anyway i think it looks silly, and makes me resemble a traffic cop.

    Has anyone considered a cycling cape, like the one Brooks makes?

    http://youtu.be/Q-IgPWofoLg

  • Jody

    I’ll comment from the saddle of the cycle geek – for those who have to pedal hard to keep it under an hour, and are thus wet whether you wear waterproof gear or not. Wearing office clothes for this commute is not an option, and these are best carried in a handy waterproof bag (I prefer panniers). Note that I only use special rain jacket/gloves/pants below 10 degrees.

    -Rain Legs (Urbane Cycle) cover just the front of your thighs. Because that where all the water and wind hits, and splash pants are just too hot, even just above freezing.

    - MEC neoprene paddling gloves. Also good right down to freezing, they are quite long and tuck nicely under the jacket, so water doesn’t pool in them.

    - Rain booties, year round. Yes they’re annoying. And yes, if you’re out long enough, the water runs down your legs and pools in your shoes anyway. But they keep out most of the dirt, and that’s worth it.

    - Full fenders, the longer the better. They keep the dirt off your bike as well as you. I used to have a short set where the rear fender clamped to the seat tube just partway down the rear wheel — this actually directed a spray of dirty water into my shoes. Yuck. A full rear that extends right down to the chainstay is much better. Similar story for the front.

    - MEC Toronto has this great latex rubber seat cover, so your beloved Brooks saddle can stay dry. Because the Brooks nylon saddle cover is not even close to waterproof (bastards – I ruined a saddle that way…). But having the nylon cover over the rubber one works well. No more scrounging for grocery bags.

    -Lights. Use your lights in the rain.

    Yes, I arrive filthy and leave a puddle on the floor of the elevator. But with the help of high tech devices such as a soapy facecloth and a hairbrush, I miraculously transform into a presentable office worker. No, we don’t have showers. That’s not an excuse not to ride. But about that 70 km/h wind….

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09152210755147267270 Will

    Nice Fryslân! That just happens to be my bike of choice in the rain too!

  • Anonymous

    M – I just got a very fetching wide-brim oilskin hat from MEC for a decent price.

    Those are great tips Jody… I’m an hour-at-best commuter too. I’m a big fan of neoprene; since I’m going to get soaked anyway, I might as well be warm!

  • http://www.bes.co.uk Plumbing

    Riding a bike in the middle of the rain. Sounds very interesting. Thank you for sharing some helpful tips and things we can do to enjoy the rain while having a ride on a bike.

  • http://www.bes.co.uk/ Plumbing

    Riding a bike in the middle of the rain. Sounds very interesting. Thank you for sharing some helpful tips and things we can do to enjoy the rain while having a ride on a bike.

  • GUEST

    no helmet?

  • GUEST

    no helmet?

    • Anonymous

      Agreed. There’s a term for people who cycle in the city without a helmet: Organ Doners.

  • dave

    so, MEC rain pants, a MEC-style rain jacket, and a nasty Tilley hat knock off? That is not stylish cycling, will make you sweat and is unsafe.

    Head – you should be wearing a helmet. Order a classy one from yakkay.com, it will keep the rain out enough if regular helmets aren’t enough.

    Jacket – You need a light mid-length trenchcoat. In warm weather, wear it over your shirt without a suit jacket/blazer. In the cold, wear it over the blazer and with a scarf you’re laughing. Some brands (Burberry) may give you the option to have a zip-in fleece liner for the extreme cold, or to supplement you can add a thin fleece vest under your suit jacket (ugly, but not visible while riding, just need time to remove it before you head to the boardroom) or a cardigan (may not be your style).

    Pants – This is really the major problem. Your thighs are exposed – in a short mild shower this isn’t so bad, but even a mild rain will leave you soaked enough to not want to walk into the office. Full rain pants are a problem because they look ridiculous and will make you sweat. Who wants to get off their classy bike in front of the office and struggle to wiggle out of some plastic pants? Dignity out the window. Plus, if you don’t buy a very expensive performance pair, then even if you’re not sweating the condensation will build on the outside of your pants, which is terrible. I think the best answer is those RainLegs. You’ll have to remove them when you arrive, put it would be a lot easier than removing full pants. Just unclip the velcro, toss them in your pannier and run to the boardroom.

    Shoes – just buy some damn galoshes. This isn’t rocket science. You can get classy ones from Swims. It’s really only the front half of the foot and your sole that are exposed anyway – the upper is covered by your legs and trench.

    Finally – carry a shamwow in your pocket. Use this to wipe your face, neck and head if necessary. Then ring it out and toss it in your pack or jam it into the underside of your seat.

    There, that is how a gentleman cycles in the rain with class.

    • JohnFraser

      It is a tiny minority of the world’s cyclists who choose to wear foam helmets. As this overwhelming majority leave the helmet-wearing minority alone, it would be appreciated if some of the ‘must wear helmet’ cyclists resisted the urge to constantly evangelise. What’s more, in my opinion the Tilley-style hat and MEC gear looks quite smart.

    • guavo

      You really are an obnoxious little twerp. The best is for you to hike on your bike and meet a bus head on. The world will be better for it for having one less idiot.

  • dave

    so, MEC rain pants, a MEC-style rain jacket, and a nasty Tilley hat knock off? That is not stylish cycling, will make you sweat and is unsafe.

    Head – you should be wearing a helmet. Order a classy one from yakkay.com, it will keep the rain out enough if regular helmets aren’t enough.

    Jacket – You need a light mid-length trenchcoat. In warm weather, wear it over your shirt without a suit jacket/blazer. In the cold, wear it over the blazer and with a scarf you’re laughing. Some brands (Burberry) may give you the option to have a zip-in fleece liner for the extreme cold, or to supplement you can add a thin fleece vest under your suit jacket (ugly, but not visible while riding, just need time to remove it before you head to the boardroom) or a cardigan (may not be your style).

    Pants – This is really the major problem. Your thighs are exposed – in a short mild shower this isn’t so bad, but even a mild rain will leave you soaked enough to not want to walk into the office. Full rain pants are a problem because they look ridiculous and will make you sweat. Who wants to get off their classy bike in front of the office and struggle to wiggle out of some plastic pants? Dignity out the window. Plus, if you don’t buy a very expensive performance pair, then even if you’re not sweating the condensation will build on the outside of your pants, which is terrible. I think the best answer is those RainLegs. You’ll have to remove them when you arrive, put it would be a lot easier than removing full pants. Just unclip the velcro, toss them in your pannier and run to the boardroom.

    Shoes – just buy some damn galoshes. This isn’t rocket science. You can get classy ones from Swims. It’s really only the front half of the foot and your sole that are exposed anyway – the upper is covered by your legs and trench.

    Finally – carry a shamwow in your pocket. Use this to wipe your face, neck and head if necessary. Then ring it out and toss it in your pack or jam it into the underside of your seat.

    There, that is how a gentleman cycles in the rain with class.

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  • He who knows

    I was thinking of something different. I also have a tricycle at home, and I thought; what if perhaps I built a lightweight canopy on it? A 4 by 6 foot tarp, some hose clamps, and a few conduit poles I am sure would make a great canopy, easily capable of keeping me dry while riding my 3 wheeler even in heavy rain.

  • http://wellsuitedforlife.com/ Mitchell_Colbert

    As a cyclist who wears glasses my biggest issue when riding in the rain is water fogging up my glasses and quickly reducing visibility to a few feet in front of me. What I did that has worked flawlessly for the past two winters is use a visor on my helmet made out of an old soda bottle. It cost me about $2 to make and works great, check out my how-to guide to make your next rainy day ride that much more enjoyable.

    http://wellsuitedforlife.com/2013/11/20/upcycling-101-soda-bottle-bike-visor/

  • Alain Latour

    Why not a poncho?

  • Jase

    If you are like me and you get too hot for riding in rain pants, definitely consider rain shorts. So long as I keep my feet dry and my torso warm, my legs never get too worried about the rain! I wear my iXS rain shorts for mountain biking and commuting, check them out: http://www.ridemorebikes.com/ixs-nepean-rain-shorts/