Friday, August 8, 2008

Riding (or not) in the rain.

For the bike commuter the prospect of rain has very different implications than for those who choose to drive to work every day. The automobile traveler need only grab and umbrella or raincoat and go about their day largely per usual. For the bicyclist, however, the sight or forecast of rain forces them into what I perceive as three camps. The first immediately leaves the bike in the basement or garage and gets out their car keys. The second group initiates the stressful decision-making process in which weather radar maps are consulted, times analyzed, and the roll of the dice to beat the weather is gambled in order to not to have to drive. This is especially true if there is the chance that they might drive and then it doesn't rain and they (like myself) are resultantly wracked with guilt all afternoon. The third group takes to the bike in the mantra of the postal service; rain, sleet, snow, hail, mudslide, etc. I recently came to the realization that I was sick of the stress of the second grouping and thought that my life would be much less stressful if I moved into the third. I rationalized that if I didn't think about the weather, never questioned whether I would ride or note, and prepared myself and my bike for any type of weather, riding in the rain would be much more enjoyable and I would have far less automobile-related guilt.

After I started to do a little research into rain commuting I discovered a consensus among all-weather commuters that riding in the rain is not only perfectly safe (provided you brake a little early and don't take corners a breakneck speed), but it is also mentally refreshing, guilt reducing, and almost zen-like given the sounds and sensations experienced. I was sold. Reading further I found that those who were the happiest were those who had appropriately outfitted themselves to riding in the rain, waterproof bags, fenders, rain pants and jackets, etc all made for a more enjoyable and drier ride. Being a bike commuter I already had a waterproof messenger bag, and as I am employed in the outdoor sports business I also had a plethora of waterproof/breathable jackets and pants at my disposal. These I modified for bike use, namely removing any hoods that would catch the wind (and the rain), and cut pant legs to keep them out of chains and chainrings and to facilitate better ventilation. The result is waterproof protection that I can wear over or in lieu of work or regular clothes.

The set up on a warmer ride home from work. Ditching the jacket to stay cooler and opting for Chacos rather than shoes which are a lot let messy when soaked. While I usually wear my helmet in the rain a cycling cap does a good job of keeping rain out of my eyes.

Next I set out to prepare my bike. Another consensus found through my research was that fenders, albeit at times the butt of jokes, make a huge difference in keeping the bike and the rider dry and clean in wet conditions. I even found a set that while indestructible plastic have the look of polished chrome which goes well with my all-weather commuter, a sweet '78 Univega Supra Sport. After thinking a bit more I realized that as I already fill my messenger bag to the brim on most days if I was to take along an extra set of clothes to change into (not wanting to ride in both rain gear and regular clothes if it was, say 85 degrees) I should look into panniers that I could throw on my rack to lessen the load on my back. Numerous options availed themselves and I found a waterproof set that struck my fancy.
The Univega

The Univega

A couple shots of the Vega displaying her rain rig (and before she got new brake levers, rerouted cables, and nice bright yellow bar tape). The panniers are totally H2O-proof and carry a ton of stuff and the fenders do an amazing job of keeping you super dry as most of the soaking you'll get while riding is that coming of the tires, not from the rain itself.

The change is dramatic!! While I don't mind cruising through a warm rain with the spray off the tires cooling me down and the water soaking through my shirt, this isn't the best way to arrive at work, nor is it always the most comfortable experience for a longer ride. The new set-up is an amazing improvement. Even in heavy rain the difference is substantial and it takes far less time to get mud and road grime off the bike after a rain ride.

Most importantly, I no longer question whether I'm going to ride or not, and not having to face the guilt of driving on a day that dries out is priceless.


chillwill said...

i can see yer butt in that picture!

Since i rarely have my van at my house i am in camp 3 most of the time, like it. But if leaving the f/t job to get to the p/t night job, and its shitty out and my van is 100 yards away...that 45 minute ride seems super messy!

Take the lane,
In the rain!

Rich said...

Woot! Waterproof panniers, fenders, mud flaps, & chainguards totally rock my commuting world. My first ride in the rain with my new bike last year completely eased my mind of all these same worries I had and I haven't had to think about them since. By the end of last summer, I was actually quite fond of riding home in a nice, soaking summer rain. Gear it up!

I've actually done a good amount of thinking and research in this stuff so I'm down with pretty much everything Karma posted here. If there's rain in the forecast, I usually throw on Tevas for an all-day rain, or a pair of light, quick-drying nikes I have for the days where theres a "chance" of rain.

The biggest problem I've had to solve was those really cold fall/spring rains. I did buy some lightweight & cheap novara express rain pants from REI that work well...lots of other places have cycling-cut rain pants. Showers Pass is reportedly coming out with a redesigned commuter-specific rain jacket this fall. .

But the biggest problem with the cold weather rains is the feet. I was thinking golashes (sorry...rubbers). A month or 2 ago, I bought on sale a pair of NEOS Villager overshoes for the fall-winter-spring rains. Check 'em out here. I haven't tried them out in practice yet because it's summer, but they came with a case that will pack in my pannier/trunk bag well in case I need them. They seem really well made and are easy to get on and off.

For really cold & snow I find that sweatpants, a softshell jacket, 360 earmuffs and my waterproof Merrell boots are the perfect commuting kit.

Mark said...

Right now, I am in the second camp. Take Tuesday for example. Checked the forecast the night before and new there was rain possibly in the afternoon. OK, I'll bring a rain jacket made for riding.

Ride in was dry. All day it rained cats and dogs but by 5 PM it was drier than a baby's bum wearing huggies. Ride home was smooth and dry. So far that has been the story of my bike commutes. I know I am going to get it though and I have start preparing.

I see you got the panniers at Nashbar but where did you get the fenders? That's what I need for my commuting pleasures. That and rainpants.

Rich, I was thinking about golashes. Had a pair left over from when I used to work in NYC and when I tried to get them over my riding shoes last year, actually for MTB rides they fell apart. Went out and got a pair of goretex riding booties. Still, that is something to consider for fall riding.

Now I finally see a use for those riding sandals.

Karma said...

The fenders are the Cascadias, made by Planet Bike. They are super tough, well made, affordable, and the company gives 25% of its profits to bicycle advocacy! A lot to like there.

eric two deluxe said...

i took a ride home from work in the rain today. ironically it started just as i left! aside from being a bit chilly now that i'm home, it's nice to have some free time to hop into a warm bed for a nap. i'm definitely in camp 2. i enjoy the occasional shower while riding but tying work into the equation stresses me out a bit, and more often than not i'll opt for the car -- especially at night. hitting a twig at the most (im)perfect angle and slamming into wet concrete at 20 MPH is not as fun as it sounds!

Anonymous said...

I live in Michigan so it's pretty much imposible to have a day where it doesn't rain! I've become use to the procedure at this point, but I still love it I can't lie. Riding in the rain is one of my favorite things! Helpful tip: take regular leg gaiters and wear them under your pants so water does soak your shoes! That one has saved me sooo many times! :)

Bobbi Holberg said...

In riding a bike, one of the common problems is the rainy days. Obviously, the grounds are slippery, and for sure it is more prone to accidents. As a cyclist, my brother brings his muck boots when the weather seems not good. And now, he's planning to buy a safety vest because he usually travels the hi-ways.

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