How’s the Weather?

Rain Commute

It’s over a month until the Winter Solstice arrives, but the winter bike commuting season is already on our doorstep. We’ve had some rain, and today was one of the coldest mornings we’ve had in many months. I don’t at all mind the cold, but I have to admit, I’ve developed a slight aversion to rain riding over the past decade or so.

I lived in Seattle for 10 years, and during that time I became what I’d now consider a hardcore rain rider. The fact is, if you’re a serious bike rider who lives in the Pacific Northwest, you’ll either develop a complete nonchalance toward soggy conditions, or you’ll quit riding altogether; there’s just too much rain to make a fuss about it and continue riding.

It’s my theory that NorCal’s blue skies and dry roads just bake the Northwest right out of you.

After moving back to California, I lost nearly all of my hard-earned tolerance for commuting in the rain. It’s my theory that NorCal’s blue skies and dry roads just bake the Northwest right out of you. The area where I currently live sees precipitation on approximately 60 days per year. I’d guess that on half of those days we only see a sprinkle or two, which leaves only 30 days with what an ex-Seattleite would classify as rain.

Because I split my work week between the home office and the real office, I only occasionally end up commuting in the rain. At this point, wet commutes are enough of a novelty that they’re sort of fun. Perhaps if I lived in a wet climate again I’d get my webbed feet back, but for now, I don’t miss the feeling of being water-logged for the entire winter. As for snow riding, I’ve never tried it. I can say this; I have a healthy respect for my fellow bike commuters who put on studded snow tires and plow on through!

How about you? Do you look forward to winter commuting or is it something you dread? Does the weather slow you down or do you ride straight through? Feel free to elaborate in the comments below.

How does the weather affect your commute?

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46 Responses to “How’s the Weather?”

  • Jams says:

    I’m riding all year long in Columbus, Ohio. This will be my first winter. I’m almost done shopping for clothes & accessories and I’m excited for the snow to come.

  • Pete says:

    My first winter, too. Though I think my limit will be about 32 deg. I can deal with the cold OK, but my eyes water so badly in the cold that I can’t see where I’m going! I draw the line at biking in ski goggles – not exactly “cycle chic.”
    As for commuting to work in the rain, I don’t really have a good system for staying presentable while riding in the rain, without bringing a ton of extra gear and/or clothes, so my rule is that if I can arrive fairly dry, I’ll ride, even if it’ll be pouring on the way home. Doesn’t matter how bad I look when I get home.

  • Reuben Collins says:

    I think riding a bike in the snow is a hoot (although, if there’s any more than about 4″, I start having a pretty hard time staying upright). I don’t mind snow at all, but rain??? ugh. Luckily, Minneapolis doesn’t get too much rain.

  • Hurri says:

    I won’t ride to work in the morning if afternoon showers are even forecast, but living in Tucson, this only keeps me off the bike a dozen times a year. Well, maybe two dozen, but my point stands. I can afford to be a weather weenie now, but if I ever move, I’ll have to adjust.

  • Michael McMahon says:

    Ah, the rain… commuting in Portland means rain. I commute all through the year, rainy season included. The biggest challenge for me is the transition from the mostly dry rides in the early fall to the mainly wet rides that begin about now. It is mostly the gathering of the gear, the putting it on over work clothes, etc.. that is the adjustment. Once riding it is great!

    One important thing about riding daily in a rainy climate is that it just might be the best way to beat the seasonal blues that come with the shorter and darker days of winter.

    puddles and thick fog,
    michael

  • BikeBike says:

    I live in Calgary Alberta and also do not own a vehicle so, regardless of the weather I am out there riding to work, dropping off or picking up my son, getting groceries, etc. We have had an incredible autumn so far and have not needed any of the hardcore winter commuting gear – yet!

    I find winter cycling to be quite easy to manage here in the “great white north.” We do not get much in the way of “wet” snow and definitely no rain, so dressing for winter is actually quite easy. The biggest challenge is the cold temperatures and the snow that gets packed down (our city does not plow residential roads). The only changes I need to make to my exisiting bike (Batavus BuB) is the addition of studded tires once the snow and ice becomes permanent.

    Also worth noting is that it seems like motorists tend to slow down, use more patience in the winter, and seem to leave more space which makes cycling in winter enjoyable and, in a way, quite magical!

  • Dalton says:

    I am still a new commuter, so I am thinking I will ride until its snows or ices over because I don’t think studded tires are in the budget this year. Eventually I want to convert my mountain bike to a snow bike/winter beater, but that’s another budget thing.

    So far I haven’t seen much rain, but I have ridden a few times in sub-30* F. Still need some wind-proofing, but I’m getting there. I am really realizing how important good gloves are. Up until now I have never really ridden in the cold and I like it, but I need wind resistant stuff.

  • iridebicycles says:

    It’s getting wetter and wetter out here in Seattle and I can definitely feel the chill in the air on my 4:30 am commute. Rumor has it we’ll be getting some snow this year so I may have to swap my snorkle mask in for some studded tires.

  • Archergal says:

    How about “I’ll ride in the rain unless it’s chilly”? It seems to be really hard for me to dress comfortably so that I stay dry when it’s both wet AND cold. Winter is often our rainy season here in GA, so if I’m going to ride this winter, I’m going to need to find a way to handle the rain.

    Of course, it doesn’t help that I’m a big baby about getting wet.

  • Stevep says:

    Funny how riding in a little rain can be quite enjoyable, but going out in a downpour is miserable.

  • kanishka new england says:

    i like the winter season more. i feel more “unique” when i’m braving the elements and i like the shocked look on people’s faces. i like adversity

    rain riding – i just got sandals this week, which will cut down my gear i need to carry in a half

    snow riding – i like doing it, and they plow quickly enough that its usually not to thick on the roads, but since i’ve switched to folding bikes, my bikes are just too light weight and tires a little too small to tread through more than 1/2 inch on the road. this year, with my old steel bike and just knobby tires, it was easy. this year its park the bike, take the bus, if its snowing that day

    people over estimate how bad it might be riding in the cold. you heat up really quickly and you only need about half the layers that you would expect to need.

  • Don Bybee says:

    Until I retired last March I rode to work pretty much every day rain or shine. I think our cold temperatures in the morning bothered me more than the rain. (A clear cold morning could be down in the low 30′s to high 20′s but a cloudy morning would be up in the 40′s. OK… cold for us but not for the northern states and Canada) I never could get to the point where my hands did not hurt till about the 4 mile mark. It will be interesting to see how this winter shapes up and whether I get out much in the rain. Having only one car helps now, which my wife uses to go to work. If I want to get out at all I will need to ride.
    Sacramento, California

  • Michaelniel says:

    It’s all about having the right gear….very little of which is biking specific for me (although I find cycling specific gloves to be a must have). I finally broke down and shelled out for a wool base layer, and it’s the biggest improvement to my biking wardrobe in years. Wool really takes the science out of layering by keeping you bone dry. Below freezing, I don the balaclava, wool glove liners, and ski goggles. I make it a goal to commute every day, but a big snowstorm will scare me off (at least until Santa brings me a Pug). Winter rain riding is a challenge, but we’ve got a very short wet season here in Denver so I just grin and bear it until the temperature drops. Every once in a while (couple times a year) I do get caught in a torrential downpour….and as Murphy’s Law dictates, it’s usually on the day that you say to yourself “I dont’ need my rain gear today….what are the chances”. I ride a Jamis Aurora yearround, and I add studded tires from about November to March. The biggest challenge is the extra time it takes to gather up the appropriate gear and changing into work clothes. I estimate that over the winter months, I end up biking about 4 out of 5 work days.

  • Steven Butcher says:

    I usually don’t ride if the weather is threatening because what may start out as a mild shower (in southwest Missouri) can quickly turn into a thunderstorm with cloud to ground lightning. My last rain ride took place under such conditions; although it certainly was not planned. The weather prediction for the day indicated fair weather until after dark, but the storms arrived alot sooner than predicted. I always carry rain gear just in case, but I did not feel very safe with lightning striking within two miles of me.

  • Alan says:

    @Jams

    Best of luck. You have a great attitude… :-)

  • Alan says:

    @Michael

    “Ah, the rain… commuting in Portland means rain.”

    Yup, just like Seattle

    It seems it may be easier when it rains on a regular basis because you’re forced to have a system in place for dealing with the wet. I think that’s why the rain didn’t bother me when I lived in Seattle. Here in CA, I encounter wet commutes so infrequently that I’m not so well-prepared.

  • Zyzzyx says:

    “The fact is, if you’re a serious bike rider who lives in the Pacific Northwest, you’ll either develop a complete nonchalance toward soggy conditions, or you’ll quit riding altogether”

    Or… you move to the east side of the Cascades. Nice and dry over here in SE Washington. Colder, yes. But much, much dryer.

  • Ken says:

    Like Michael, I am a Portland commuter and I am starting my third winter of commuting here. My commute takes me along the multi-path trails by the river and I have found that my commute choices are a bit of “pick your poison.” That is, in good weather, the multipath trails are chock full and populated by many who aren’t going in straight lines, riding 4 across and not moving to the right if they are moving slower than most traffic.

    On the other hand, when the rain comes, the trails clear out. At the moment, I am preferring the solace that the rain brings. In general, I find that I have absolutely no issue with rain, as long as I have the right gear.

  • Alan says:

    @ Michaelniel

    I too am a big fan of wool layers. The stories are all true; wool is warm when it’s wet, cool when it’s hot, and it doesn’t stink. The only downside is that the good stuff is pretty expensive, though I’ve found it also holds up better over time than synthetics.

  • Nick says:

    Here in Albuquerque riding in the rain is make believe. Everyone has a theory on what to wear but they’re never put in practise. We get snow too but its only an issue every few years. I didn’t know they made snow tires. But OMG the wind is a pain in the spring. I’ll ride in the winter down to 15 F or so but wimp out in the spring when the wind is up. In the past 4-5 years I’ve missed 5x as many days due to wind as to rain and snow combined.

  • Alan says:

    @Ken

    ” In general, I find that I have absolutely no issue with rain, as long as I have the right gear.”

    Spoken like a true Nor’wester.

  • Doug says:

    I plan on riding all winter here in Montana. Our snow started this week with about 6-8 inches on Monday and Tuesday. Riding temps in the morning are in the low 20s and I have a 7 mile commute each way. I have learned that for 22F I commute in XC ski boots, light soft-shell, windproof fleece gloves, hat and ski goggles over normal work clothes of cotton pants and short sleeve shirt. It surprises me how little is necessary to keep me warm. I think the extra effort of pushing those studded tires makes up the difference!

    As others have noted, snow over about 4 inches makes it difficult to ride, but then you just follow the car tracks!

  • Alan says:

    @Doug

    “As others have noted, snow over about 4 inches makes it difficult to ride, but then you just follow the car tracks!”

    That’s seriously hardcore! (At least from the perspective of a Californian.) :-)

  • Fergie348 says:

    NorCal like Alan – rode in today and it was brisk but I love it. Where in the heck did my earmuffs get to!? That’s the biggest issue, finding all the cold and wet weather gear that I packed away 7 months ago..

    I just treated myself to some fancy new raingear – Gore Alp-X jacket and pants. Nashbar was blowing out last year’s model, so it ‘only’ set me back 3 bills. Sheesh. Nice stuff, but the Paclite fabric, at least in the jacket, did keep in a good amount of my sweat. Waterproof yes, but probably won’t keep you dry in temps over 55.

    Part of the goodness of riding in rain is how badass it makes me feel – downside is mostly cleanup. Someday, a belt drive bike will make this better..

  • townmouse says:

    I should be better at rain, living in South West Scotland. But I’m also flexible enough that I can wait it out much of the time so that’s mostly what I do. Ten minutes of rain on the way home is fine, especially if it’s otherwise warm. A solid, soaking hour of cold rain is just miserable no matter what you’re wearing (apart from anything else, I wear glasses so seeing becomes an issue). That’s when I break down and use the car, or just don’t go (the bus is a mile’s walk away so I’d get just as wet). I’m still working on the right combination of clothing to try and adapt to the medium conditions, but it’s hard to bring yourself to get out on the bike in the rain. The flesh is weak…

  • Doug @ MnBicycleCommuter says:

    I’ve ridden to work every work day for the last 19.5 months. Sun, rain, ice , snow and even a couple of blizzards. It took me three or four winters of pushing my limits and riding the city bus when it got a bit much. But I finally have it figured out. It’s boils down to having the correct clothing and equipment…..and the will to get out there.

    Since selling my truck 8 years ago, I no longer look out my window in the morning and decide whether I should bike or drive. I look out my window and decide what to wear and which bike to ride.

    When the snow is over four inches depp, I ride my Pugsley.

    I’m looking forward to winter this year because I have a new winter commuter I’ve built up. It’s a Cross bike with a belt drive, internally geared hub and 700 x 40c studded tires. My idea of the ultimate winter commuter.

  • Alan says:

    @Doug

    Awesome, Doug. If you can, it would be super to have some photos of your new winter commuter for the EV Gallery. I’m sure folks would be very interested in that bike and how you’re using it.

    Alan

  • CedarWood says:

    Here on the west coast, we have so few snowy days that motorists forget how to drive on snow and ice. So if we have snow, I’m more worried about out-of-control vehicles than whether my studded tires can get me to town. As to rain — bah, humbug! That’s what raingear is for.

  • Roberta says:

    This is the first winter that we’ll be more deliberate about cycling (the whole family). Last winter my husband cycled through and maybe parked his cycle for 3 days (?) when the snow was very deep.

    For the kids and I its a 2.5 km trip and we can make most of it on very low traffic roads or trail. I’m told that the trail actually becomes impassible in the winter though.

    So far we’ve ridden through hail, rain, rain, rain, and fog. The fog was the worst, especially because my integrated stem light kept reflecting back at me and my glasses were so fogged. I mildly improved my vision by removing them and that says something considering my poor vision!

    Anyhow, we have plans to bike, no excuses! The kids are 9 & 11 and we’re in Ontario (Guelph).

  • Roland Smith says:

    The last couple of years we’ve actualy seen more severe winters in the Netherlands than I was used to. This is supposed to be connected to global warming, although I’m not knowledgable about the specifics of the mechanism.

    Generally, I don’t mind riding in the cold. I’m not that fond of rain though, but I just put on my breathable rain suit and reduce my speed somewhat. And neither do I mind fresh snow. But after a couple of days you get a hard-packed layer of snow/ice on roads and cyclepaths that aren’t cleaned. And a frost on wet ground can be even worse, because the roads look normal but it’s essentialy covered in a layer of ice.

    Last winter I slipped and crashed several times on patches of ice. The benefit of my recumbent bike in this case is that you don’t fall from very high. But I did manage to do some damage to the bike and get some assorted bruises.

    So I’m seriously comtemplating buying a recumbent trike. Of course this can still skid (studded tires are not allowed here, I think), but al least you don’t fall over. I had a test ride on a HP Velotechnik Scorpion last week, and it was a hoot! I was wearing an ear-to-ear silly grin the whole time.

  • 300 Pound Gorilla says:

    Alan,

    I’m like you: a little over a decade in the PNW, now in CA. In the PNW, I was so prepared with proper gear that I didn’t even notice it was raining. True story. Here in San Diego, I don’t even own a raincoat anymore. I definitely notice when it’s raining. :-) Also, anything below 70F is definitely cold. Wear a coat. hahaha Sad but true. SoCal destroys any tolerance for weather if you live here for more than a year or two.

  • Alan says:

    Hi Roberta,

    I hear you on the fog. We typically have some stretches of tule fog later on in the winter, some of which are so dense that I don’t feel comfortable on the road regardless of whether I’m traveling by bike, car, or bus.

    Have an awesome season and kudos for showing the whole family it can be done!

    Alan

  • Alan says:

    @Roland

    Trikes are a blast. We rode a pair of Greenspeeds for a year and never had so much fun. :-)

  • Roland Smith says:

    @Alan

    Why did you stop riding a trike?

  • Alan says:

    @Roland

    We were never that comfortable riding the trikes in city traffic, so when we made the transition from riding primarily for recreation, to riding primarily for transportation, they ended up not getting used very much. We still talk about how much fun they were…

    Alan

  • John says:

    Speaking as a Portlander, I kind of like the return of the soggy season. It gets all the unpredictable, fair-weather riders off the road.

    Also, it’s easier to hear cars on the wet pavement when they are behind you and approaching. And with the PNW’s dark commutes, I like the additional implied visibility the cars’ headlights afford me from the sides and back; meaning, I can see the cars coming long before they get there, unlike when it’s bright and sunny. I don’t worry about my own visibility because I have my bike, my sidewalls and my helmet covered in reflective surfaces; my dynohub lights a light (and taillight) that’s a bright as some old cars’ headlamps.

    Additionally, I find riding in a downpour rather meditative. If you’ve got the right gear, you shouldn’t be getting soggy anyway.

    Riding in the snow is magical. So quiet. So calm. I don’t get many opportunities, but I keep studs for my backup mountain bike for the few days each winter that Portland gives us ice or snow.

  • Tamia Nelson says:

    With the exception of a 10 year hiatus when my work required far longer distances between project sites, I’ve been riding through all of the seasons all of my adult life (don’t ask how long that is!). I will not ride in ice storms or blizzards now, though I have. My main concern in inclement weather is motorists. In the rural area where I live, in bad weather drivers do not expect cyclists,which makes cycling more hazardous than the weather conditions would otherwise pose.

  • Richard Masoner says:

    Alan writes: “It’s my theory that NorCal’s blue skies and dry roads just bake the Northwest right out of you.

    Add me as a datapoint — my time in California has transformed me into a weather wimp!

    I’m one of those who bikes in all weather, but I’m getting to the point where I don’t enjoy it quite so much when it’s cold and soggy.

  • Cecily says:

    This is my first year riding year-round, and I find I quite like riding in the rain unless it’s a steady downpour. Luckily we don’t get too many of those in Vancouver, BC. I like the rain because when I’m slowly making my way uphill on my dutch bike, nobody can tell the difference between drops of sweat and drops of rain. :)

    True rain gear is a bit of a problem though, as most manufacturers don’t make rain gear that fits plus-sizes, or any woman above a size 16. I’ve been living in my “rain uniform” of skirts, tights (they dry quickly) and knee-high boots for most of the season. (Hey cycling manufacturers – fat people ride, too!)

    This is supposed to be an unusually snowy winter, and I haven’t yet bought studded tires. If the snow predictions come true, I’ll probably park the dutch bike and switch over to my old Trek comfort bike instead.

  • Alan says:

    Doug sent me these photos and write-up about his winter commuting experience in Montana. –Alan

    Here are some recent pics. These are from earlier this week. I don’t have some of the more interesting parts of the rides because they were after dark. I also switched to the ski goggles after that first picture because it was a problem to keep wiping the snow off my glasses!

    I commute about 7 miles (each way) to work, all of it is rural farm and ranch land just outside of Bozeman, Montana. About 2 miles in the middle of the ride is on a dirt road. There is a paved route, but it is not as nice of a ride! I am usually passed by about 6-8 cars each evening and about 12 each morning. Most of those are during the 1/2 mile closest to work. If I took the paved route the total would be closer to 30 cars and they would all be going 60mph.

    These photos are clearly taken in the rural ranching dirt road portion!

    The bike is a Trek Soho belt drive, internal 8-speed rear hub, both hubs are internal brakes. I have switched the handlebars to Soma Sparrows and have them in the “drop” position rather than the “raised” position. I am currently running Schwalbe marathon winter studded tires 35×700. I have the frame wrapped in BikeWrappers (http://www.bikewrappers.com/). I am using a Princeton Tec Switchback 3 headlight, and Ortleib paniers (containing lunch and extra gloves and an extra layer) on a standard rear rack with a tail light bolted to the rack. Everything seems to be working well in the extreme conditions!

  • somervillain says:

    i’m in the majority here (for once, heh).

    cold doesn’t make me park my bike. rain doesn’t make me park my bike. but, i will park my bike during major snow or ice storms, and take public transport to work. the risk is just too high for some numbskull to skid and ram into me…

  • Barbara Kilts says:

    Ah, I remember my bike-only days in Missoula and Bozeman fondly – riding through snow, ice and everything else! I’ve let myself get soft and squishy in the last years and lost my nerve for “risky” riding. Living now in Portland, there’s not an excuse not to ride, but 12 hour work days and a functioning car get in the way…

    So, I need a jolt out of bed in the morning, NPR without using earphones and an extra co-worker and I’ll be on my way!

    Barbara

  • Alan says:

    @Cecily

    ” I like the rain because when I’m slowly making my way uphill on my dutch bike, nobody can tell the difference between drops of sweat and drops of rain. :)”

    I like that… :-)

    Have you looked into rain capes? They can work pretty well as long as it’s not too windy:

    http://www.thirdwave-websites.com/bike/rain-capes.cfm

    Regards,
    Alan

  • Cecily says:

    Yes, I have a cape, and even though I look like a dork, I wear it with pride. It’s not very useful on windy days, however. :-)

  • Dan in Montana says:

    I try to ride as much as I can in the winter, but three things slow me down – darkness, snow and ice, and cold feet.

    Most of my commute is on the shoulder of a state highway. It is a nice, wide shoulder, with parts of it marked as a bike lane, but there is a lot of traffic, the speed limit ranges from 45 to 70, and I am not as brave about riding in the dark as I was when I was young. I try to alternate working long and short days so I can ride while it’s light on the short days, but I can’t always control my schedule.

    Helena, where I live, is fairly dry. Some winters we hardly get any snow, , but when it does snow, it gets packed down before it gets plowed and then the streets have ice on them for several months. I haven’t tried studded tires yet, but may give then a try if we get a snowy winter.

    I generally dress like I would for cross country skiing at the same temperature, except that I cover my face more. I stay warm down to about 5 or 10 degrees, but I can’t keep my feet warm long enough when it is colder than that. I have cycling shoes that are a half-size large so I can fit thick wool socks under them, and when it is below about 20, I wear neoprene booties over them. That combination works great down to about 10 degrees, but below that, I can arrive at work with the rest of me toasty and my feet starting to go numb. I’m still experimenting with footwear, and maybe I’ll get down to 0 this year.

  • dominic says:

    The city of Minneapolis has some of the finest neighborhoods to ride to and from that a little thing called winter just makes our city more fun. Even in the urban area the air is silent, the bustle of people is lively and biking seems to fit the slower pace. Conditions change frequently so having a big gear closet full of jackets, hats and gloves is essential. Nothing chic on or off a bike in Minneapolis. Hat hair is the norm from November through March. Plaid shirts and jeans up Norte. Great to have a fireplace to warm up after. And friends with cabins. Biking through winter is what we do. It’s not why we ride but how we roll.

 
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