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