Autumn Gear Guide
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A few helpful cycling tips to stay comfortable while bike commuting in the rain.
Bike commuting in the rain doesn’t have to be a chore. By following a few simple cycling tips and keeping your head up, you can ride through even the wettest of weather and still arrive at your destination feeling and looking great.
Wool keeps you dry even when it’s wet. Look for merino wool base layers, hoodies, glove liners, socks and everything else for cold-weather commutes. Even those sensitive to other wools seem to have success with merino.
Check out thrift stores for wonderful wool clothing at budget prices. Cut sleeves off cashmere and wool tops to create one-of-a-kind arm warmers. Consider repurposing oversized wool sweaters by washing them in hot water, then drying in high heat, to create a “felted” top that fights off wind and rain.
Biking is exercise, so don’t forget that you’ll get warmer as you exert yourself. Depending on your speed – and perhaps the number of hills on your commute – consider dressing for 10 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit higher than the forecast temperature. Always wear layers that you can add or subtract along the way.
Finding outerwear that will keep you dry without turning you into a pool of sweat is essential. Gore-Tex is the most waterproof and breathable option for rainy or slushy days, but also one of the most expensive. Look for anything with a finish labeled “DWR,” aka Durable Water Repellent, at your local bike shop or outdoor apparel store – these materials wick moisture while keeping out the wet and won’t take a bite out of your budget. Also look out for taped seams – waterproofing will get you almost nowhere if rain is seeping in at every seam.
Those who have easy access to showers at their destination and/ or great rain gear can ignore fenders, but most others will want them to avoid road spray. Bicycle fenders come in three basic varieties. Full fenders are frequently a hassle to install, but keep the vast majority of wetness away from you. Race blades are designed for road bikes; they usually keep most of the moisture away and install in a fraction of the time. Others, most often used for mountain bikes, attach to your front fork or seatpost and are a breeze to install, but don’t deflect quite as much wetness. Especially when using full fenders, buying those designed to fit your wheel circumference and width is crucial – look on the sidewalls of your tires to see what size your tires are if you’re not sure. Some full fenders are compatible with disc brakes. Some come with mud flaps for an added level of protection – most useful if you’re riding with others in a paceline, not so much if you’re riding alone.
When choosing messenger bags, backpacks and panniers, look for waterproof (not just water-resistant) materials and padded compartments – your day clothes, documents and other gear will thank you. Some cycling backpacks and panniers even come with additional rain covers.
And don’t forget bike lights – both headlights and taillights! – for those early morning and early evening commutes. Rain obscures visibility for both you and other road users. Stay visible to stay safe!
Having showers, lockers and/ or bike lockup facilities available at your workplace is definitely a bonus on days when you’re riding in serious rain. If there aren’t any where you work, check with your city officials or local bike clubs. They might be able to recommend nearby public or private facilities where bike commuters can prepare for work. Some end-of-trip facilities even have staff who can fix your bike while you’re away!
Don’t have the shower option? Seattle makeup artist Akemi Hart suggests getting blot papers from your local drugstore’s cosmetics section and using them to remove residues and oil, and prime your face. Add a bit of powder, and you’re good to go.
Kat Sweet, who spends most of her life on two wheels between mountain biking and teaching kids the joys of cycling, always wears makeup – liquid liner, shadow, and mascara – then packs backup liner in her bag. Her tools for fending off rain include glasses with clear or yellow lenses, plus a helmet with a visor.
Robin Randels, who shares her expertise about life on two wheels daily as an educator with the Cascade Bicycle Club, has a ton of cycling tips for rainy days:
How quickly can Randels transition from year-round cyclist to her other roles? “I can pretty reliably transform from ‘drowned rat cyclist’ to ‘meeting ready’ in about five to 10 minutes, depending on how much rain gear needs to be to removed and the level of posh required. ‘Date ready’ takes slightly more time, especially if it’s a complete costume change.”
This article was originally published in 2011 and has been updated.