Years ago, when I first told people I intended to ride my bike to work every day, I often got the response, “Even when it rains?” I wasn’t sure what to say. I honestly didn’t know if I would commute in the rain or not. I had ridden my road bike in the rain plenty of times before, generally not by choice. With bikewear that stays warm when wet and dries quickly, a brimmed cycling cap and clip-on fenders, I could stay comfortable on the bike, but not dry. On arrival at home or work, it meant a quick shower and change into warm clothes.
The problem was that I preferred to ride in my work clothes rather than carry them since I already had a laptop to carry. I certainly didn’t want to risk sitting in my office in wet clothes, nor did I relish the idea of putting wet cycling clothes on at the end of the day for the commute home. At first, I wore a long jacket, wool leggings and tall boots, then changed into a skirt or pants at work. That got me through my first rainy season.
Still, I began a search for the elusive perfect head-to-toe rain gear, which now includes a knee length trench coat for light rain, a longer hooded rain coat for heavy rain, and an assortment of accessories for both me and the bike. With the right gear, I got through this week’s big storms without looking like a soggy mess on arrival.
Helmet rain covers are popular, but I prefer a wool cycling cap with ear flaps. Helmet covers leave longer hair exposed to the rain, and unlike wool, they tend to trap heat so your head gets clammy. Helmets with adjustable sizing usually have no problem fitting over close-fitting caps, even with a short ponytail tucked into it, and the brim helps keep rain out of your eyes. Hoods worn either over or under the helmet can work too, but make sure the hood doesn’t block your view. Pro tip: If you wear glasses, choose a cap with a bigger brim.
Most people buy rain jackets for cycling, but unless you’re bent way forward on a road bike or carving trails on a mountain bike, I suggest going long. A thigh, knee or calf-length coat covers more of the legs, which like the back and shoulders bears the brunt of the rain. A double breasted coat will offer more thigh coverage when the coat spreads out as you sit down in the saddle. If the coat is waterproof, make sure it’s designed to allow body heat to escape through zippers or panels. For light rain, a quick-drying fabric coat is all you may need. Pro tip: a coat rack is a great way to dry out coats, caps, gloves and other items. I even bought one for work.
If you’ve ever gotten a pair of jeans soaked, you know they can take hours to dry. I tend to wear knee-length dresses and tights on rainy days. The dresses are short enough to stay under my coat and the tights dry almost immediately. If you prefer pants, wool or synthetic blends don’t soak up and retain water like cotton. Pro tip: If your coat is short, wear bike tights for the ride and change into your jeans or pants at work.
Keeping your tootsies warm can make or break a ride. If you ride in clip-in cycling shoes, there are all kinds of waterproof shoe covers available that do a good job. But for commuting on a bike with flat pedals and fenders, leather ankle boots are a great way to keep the feet dry. For more coverage, you can go higher. These days my go-to rain boots are an inexpensive knee high boots made of synthetic material. Pro tip: to dry out shoes, boots and gloves quickly, stuff them with crumpled up newspaper.
Accessories for your Bike
Fenders: Most people know that a rear fender will keep dirty water from spraying up from your wheel and soaking your backside, but a front fender does the same for your lower legs and feet. Easy-to-install fenders are available for bikes that weren’t sold with them, including ones for road bikes that clip on and off quickly.
Waterproof bags: Many bike panniers come with lightweight, stowable rain covers that do a good job in the typical Bay Area storm. For heavier rain you can put water-sensitive items like laptops inside a plastic bag before putting them inside your bike bag.
Seat covers: If you have a leather saddle or if you’ll be parking your bike outside, a shower-cap style seat cover can keep your saddle dry and help it last longer.
Lights: Running your headlight and taillight when it’s raining will make you and your bike more visible. If the cars have their lights on, it’s a good idea for you to turn your bike lights on too.
What’s your strategy for staying dry in the rainy season? Is there critical clothing or gear that works for you?
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