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By Janet Lafleur

About this blog: My love affair with the bicycle began with a crush on my first red tricycle that I pedaled in circles on the driveway. The crush grew into full-blown passion when my dad threw Stingray handlebars and a banana seat on my older sist...  (More)

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Head to Toe Comfort for Rainy Day Riders

Uploaded: Mar 1, 2014
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.

Rain 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?

Click here for more Bike Fun rain gear photos.

What is it worth to you?


Posted by Tian Harter, a resident of Willowgate,
on Mar 1, 2014 at 8:45 pm

I'm a big believer in rain ponchos. I got mine at Mountain View Surplus for $20 or something like that. Bright orange to help with visibility. Very waterproof and it keeps the wind off you to. Folds flat a lot better than a coat for storage when your not using it to.

Posted by Andrew Boone, a resident of another community,
on Mar 1, 2014 at 11:28 pm

I bought some fancy rain pants from REI for this winter but they're not working out. Not breathable as advertised so my legs end up hot and sweaty after only five miles. Since I always wear jeans while cycling it feels extra hot. I guess I'll have to return them and get some even more expensive GoreTex pants?

Posted by Janet Lafleur, a resident of Rex Manor,
on Mar 1, 2014 at 11:29 pm

Janet Lafleur is a registered user.

@Tian I've been wanting to try a poncho. I've seen some that were designed long in the front to cover the hands on the handlebars. A friend who lived in China said they're popular there. Does your poncho cover your hands on the handlebars?

Posted by Janet Lafleur, a resident of Rex Manor,
on Mar 1, 2014 at 11:38 pm

Janet Lafleur is a registered user.

@andrew Have you considered a lightweight wool blend pants? I haven't tried them, but these knickers from Ibex look interesting.

Web Link

Posted by Soggy Bob, a resident of Blossom Valley,
on Mar 3, 2014 at 7:03 am

I can get behind the attempt to stay warm and dry for short hops, but I've given up on trying to be warm AND dry for a harder weekend ride. I've settled on just the "warm" part. I borrowed a friends 250.00 state of the art rain pants, but between my own sweat and the environment, I was wet inside them pretty quickly. I also hated the constant rubbing on m knees. Currently, for 2+ hour rain rides, I put on a thermo-base layer, long sleeved jersey, lycra arm and leg warmers, and a nice cycling rain coat. With the top easily vented with zippers, I can adjust for temp control as needed. My legs,feat will generally get wet, but if I'm warm, I can keep riding.

Posted by Janet Lafleur, a resident of Rex Manor,
on Mar 3, 2014 at 9:33 am

Janet Lafleur is a registered user.

@Soggy Bob For rides over 2 hours I wear bike-specific clothes too. On those kinds of rides I rarely have to look good on arrival, just stay comfortable on the bike. That means warm, but not too warm, and rain out of my eyes.

For that kind of riding, my strategy sounds similar to yours: ventilated jacket, knickers or tights. I also wear lightweight wool socks, bootie shoe covers and a cycling cap with a small brim. And I have SKS clip-on fenders for my road bike too (both front and rear). You can see the booties and the fenders in this photo set: Web Link

Posted by Margaret, a resident of another community,
on Mar 3, 2014 at 12:38 pm

"Does your poncho cover your hands on the handlebars?"

Yes! My rain poncho was purchased from the Netherlands. I like wearing a poncho vs rain jacket as you don't get that stuffy/sweaty feeling. For the most part, the 'cover your hands over the handlebars' works great. Sometimes a gust of wind will cause the poncho to fly up and then land back on the handlebars in a way that creates a nice downspout of water. But, I run more risk of getting my legs wet from drivers passing too closely.

Posted by Janet Lafleur, a resident of Rex Manor,
on Mar 3, 2014 at 3:34 pm

Janet Lafleur is a registered user.

@Margaret I can see how a poncho would be really good for rain in warmer climates especially. I may need to just go buy one.

Posted by Richard M, a resident of another community,
on Mar 4, 2014 at 3:46 pm

Another tip for eyeglass wearers - I carry a small rag in my back pocket to wipe my specs dry while cycling. Works perfect for the light rain we have here in California.

For Andrew - forget the plastic pants and Goretex. For your long hard rides you just have to deal with getting wet.

Posted by Janet Lafleur, a resident of Rex Manor,
on Mar 4, 2014 at 3:50 pm

Janet Lafleur is a registered user.

@Richard Great tip. I don't wear glasses so I don't know all the tricks. That's probably why my dad always carries a handkerchief.

Posted by Elaine, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Mar 6, 2014 at 12:10 pm

Last week a first - I biked in the rain to a job interview. Avoided all the uncertainties of car traffic in the process. It was totally doable. Just like Janet says, a knee length dress and tights did the trick! Also, fenders. Definitely.

Jandd makes a nice waterproof seat cover. You can cinch it down to fit your saddle.

Also, for occasional rain a giant Ziploc bag works great. For frequent rain, most commuters I know use Ortlieb panniers.

Posted by Janet Lafleur, a resident of Rex Manor,
on Mar 6, 2014 at 12:58 pm

Janet Lafleur is a registered user.

@Elaine Congrats on trying something new and succeeding. I hear you on the uncertainties of car traffic. Of all the ways I\'ve commuted (car, train, bike) the bike-only commute was the most consistent in terms of time on every trip. Well, except for a few days when my usual tailwind home turned into a headwind.

Good luck on getting the job.

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