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.
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.