Wet Weather Riding Tips from the PNW

Here are a few winter riding tips from the Portland Office of Transportation, a place where they know a thing or two about wet road conditions.

Stay Dry and Warm
You don’t need the latest and greatest cycling gear to get around town by bicycle. A decent rain jacket and pants are your best defense. They both cut down on wind and keep you dry. If you can afford it, GoreTex or other breathable fabric will keep the rain out and keep you from feeling clammy. Fenders are also a very good investment — they keep your clothes from getting gritty and dirty. Nice extras include waterproof gloves, a snug hood or cap, a synthetic layer next to your skin to wick away moisture, and rain booties to go over your shoes.

Use Front and Rear Bicycle Lights
Lights are required by law when riding after dark. A white light visible at least 500 feet to the front, and a red light or reflector visible at least 600 feet to the rear. These lights allow other people to see you from the back, front and side. For more visibility at night wear bright clothing, an orange vest, or use reflective tape. The more reflectors whether blinking, flashing or solid, the better.

Brake Early and Often
Allow plenty of stopping distance. Gently squeeze your brakes in the rain to clear the water from you brake pads before you need to stop.

Avoid Some Painted and Steel Road Surfaces and Leaves
Steel plates, sewer covers, grates and other metal can be very slick in the rain. For paint, Portland City crews use non-slick paint and plastics for bike lanes and bicycle markings (and those blue bike lanes); however, crosswalks and other painted surfaces can be slippery. Avoid using your brakes or turning on these painted surfaces and on leaves and oily spots.

Stay Out of the Puddles
While it is tempting to splash through puddles especially if you have really good rain gear, a puddle can disguise a very deep pothole.

Slow Down on Newly Wet Roads
That first rain brings all the oil on the road to the surface making for a slippery ride. This is especially true after a long dry spell. Give yourself longer stopping distances and keep a firmer grip on your handlebars.

[via BikePortland]

11 Responses to “Wet Weather Riding Tips from the PNW”

  • beth says:

    The only thing I’d change is to swap in a wool layer for wicking purposes. It does the same thing as the synthetics but it doesn’t stink; and you can air dry it overnight and wear it again a few times before having to wash it.

    Another note: Make that front fender as long as you can possibly stand it — it really helps keep the crud off your ankles and feet! A friend of mine uses two rear fenders to get the extra coverage, but Planet Bike Cascadia fenders have a nice long mudflap that helps to add length.

  • Elaine says:

    Fenders are THE critical piece of gear for PNW winter riding, because even when it isn’t actually raining (and thus, you don’t need rain clothes) the streets are likely to be wet.

    And wet leaves need to be approached with care, especially if they’ve been down for a while. I now have a permanently tweaky knee in part because of a slide across a patch of wet leaves. (In my own driveway. I’m much better about getting the leaves earlier now.)

  • Croupier says:

    Here’s a tip I recently picked up from personal experience: Don’t try to ride in the rain in a full Wolf Man costume. HAPPY HALLOWEEN ECOVELO!!!

  • Duncan Watson says:

    As the weather gets colder and wetter, I add layers and head gear. At the moment I am using a cool max head sock to cover my head under my helmet. Later in the year I will swap that to a wool knit cap. If it is really cold I use a balaclava.

    Weather varies quite a bit in the PNW from early morning through the rest of the day into the night. Layers are a big deal, as is a way to carry cast off layers. I am a huge fan of wool. I also use booties for my shoes but I layer my socks as well, I go from one layer of smart wool socks to two, then eventually I add a thick sock on top of that as well.

    Wet leaves are an issue, since I am a commuter I try to clear parts of my route when it gets bad. It pays off in the end. Recently I swept all of the chestnuts out of the bike lane under a particular tree on 124th st in Kirkland. In this way I can dodge the newest ones as they fall without having to deal with the accumulated mess of the past weeks. For my long training routes this isn’t an option, so I just take care and prepare to take the lane.

    Lighting and Mirrors are a big deal for me in the wet weather. 360 degrees of awareness is important for survival at least in my experience.

  • Alan says:

    Another tip…

    Skinny high pressure tires and rain are not a good mix. If you have a choice, choose a bike with wider tires and run the pressure a little lower than you do in dry conditions.

  • Roland Smith says:

    Personally I don’t like rain jackets. Even goretex ones don’t breathe very well. You’ll be wet from sweating even if you don’t get wet from the rain. I do wear rain trousers when it’s raining as I go.

    A softshell jacket will keep you warm but will vent well and is water repellent enough to see you through a rain shower. I’m very satisfied with the Mammut Ultimate Pro jacket.

  • Roland Smith says:


    Seconded on the tire size! I’d advise 30-50 mm wide tires for a normal bike (e.g. ETRTO 37-590 depending on the rim size, of course). I like Schwalbe Marathons. Maybe not the fastest tyre around, but resists punctures quite well. I’ve pulled pieces of glass out of the 40-406 Marathons on my ‘bent that had completely penetrated the outer rubber layer but were stopped by the kevlar belt.

    In my experience it doesn’t do harm w.r.t. grip to run wider tires at a relatively high pressure (say 80%). I want the tyre pressure high for a low rolling resistance, but not so high that you start to “bounce” and the ride becomes harsh, because that is uncomfortable and costs energy as well.

  • David Hembrow says:

    Aw, no mention of umbrellas. Lots of cyclists use umbrellas in the wet here. The only drawback seems to be that it makes it difficult to talk on the phone or control the dog when you’re holding an umbrella and cycling.

    Amazingly, umbrellas are (sort of) officially sanctioned. At least some of the design standards for underpasses, bridges etc. that I’ve read specify that there has to be adequate headroom for an umbrella.

  • Roland Smith says:


    Not to rain on your parade, but riding with an umbrella in bad weather does not seem to be a safe idea to me. If anything would be able to drag you down from your bike on a windy day it would be an umbrella.

    On my ‘bent I tend to wear a hat on rainy days to keep the rain out of my eyes. Clothes take care of the rest.

  • David Hembrow says:

    Actually Roland, I don’t ride with an umbrella. However, I’ve seen it done many times, as you must have too. Probably safer with a coaster brake than otherwise.

  • Alan says:


    I don’t recall ever seeing a cyclist ride with an umbrella (other than in photos). Riding in California usually requires two hands; that is, we often have to mix it up with traffic, dodge card doors opening into bike lanes (where they exist), and other such obstacles. The idea of riding with an umbrella, even when taking it slow, is hard to imagine. You’re very fortunate to live in a place where the cycling conditions are safe enough to allow things like riding with umbrellas.

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