Bike Commuting 101: Rain Riding

It’s inevitable that year-round bike commuters will have to deal with rain at some point. The good news is that riding in the rain doesn’t have to be a miserable experience, and with a little preparation and the right attitude, it can actually be quite enjoyable.

Bike Set-up
Any bike that will be ridden in the rain on a regular basis needs fenders. Long, full coverage fenders are best, but if they’re not available, mud flaps increase the effectiveness of short fenders. Unlike the rain falling from the sky, water coming off of the road is oily and dirty, so complete fender coverage is a must, particularly for commuters riding in work clothes.

Visibility is dramatically diminished in the rain, so it’s a good idea to run lights even during a daylight downpour. Fortunately, most lights today are water-resistant, if not completely waterproof, so a standard nighttime commuting set-up is usually sufficient for riding in the rain (read more about lights for commuting here).

Most commuting bikes come standard with tires that are appropriate for rain riding. Just about any touring or city tire at least 28mm in diameter with a bit of tread will work fine. It probably goes without saying that small diameter racing slicks are not ideal for commuting in the rain.

Clothing Strategies
For short commutes in light rain, it’s possible to keep dry using a cape over street clothes. Capes are nice because they allow air flow underneath and they’re easy to take on and off. The downside is that they may not keep you completely dry in a heavy downpour, and they can act like a sail in a crosswind. Chaps are sometimes used as additional protection in conjunction with a cape.

Longer commutes in heavy rain call for full rain suits made from waterproof, breathable fabrics. Cycling-specific rain suits aren’t necessary, though they provide a better fit on the the bike than standard, all-purpose rain suits. To get the most from any breathable rain suit, layer underneath with wicking garments made from wool or modern technical fabrics.

For footwear, I’ve had good luck with lightweight, waterproof hiking/walking shoes. I like the fact that they can be worn all day, eliminating the need to carry an extra pair of shoes. For those who ride in clipless cycling shoes, various neoprene and Gore-Tex booties are available.

Carrying Stuff
Most good quality, bike-specific panniers and bags are either waterproof, water-resistant, or come supplied with rain covers. In the case of simple nylon bags and panniers that provide no protection from water, delicate items can be placed inside ziplock bags before placing into your bike bag.

Riding Strategies
It’s important to reduce speeds while riding in the rain to compensate for slick roads and reduced visibility. Brake early, accelerate slowly, and corner gingerly. Keep a particular eye out for paint stripes, grates, manhole covers, and leaves, all of which are extremely slick when wet. It’s best to avoid riding through large puddles, but if you must, slow to nearly walking speed since there’s no way to know their depth or what lurks under the surface.

Bike Maintenance
There are two opposing approaches to maintaining a rain bike. One is to set-up a rain-specific “beater” bike that’s only given minimal attention, the other is to carefully maintain a nicer bike to keep the water exposure from causing damage. I’ve used both approaches and I can’t say one is necessarily better than the other.

The frequency and depth of maintenance required varies depending upon the bike and the person’s approach. At a bare minimum, the chain should be lubed well enough that it doesn’t rust and squeak. It’s also a good idea to keep an eye out for rust on other areas of the bike. If rust shows up, a little oil or grease will keep it from turning into something major.

Rain accelerates wear on brakes, and water has a way of working itself into bearings, so it’s a good idea to check a rain bike’s brakes and bearings on a regular schedule. If you don’t maintain your own bike, it’s a good idea to drop by your local bike shop mid-season for a quick once-over.

Wiping down a bike with an old bath towel after a rain ride will help stop corrosion before it starts. A quick rinse with fresh water before towel drying and lubing provides even more protection. Waxing the frame also helps repel water and road grime. This full-on approach certainly isn’t necessary, but it’ll help keep a nice bike in good condition.*

Snow and Ice
I live in a place where the weather is mild most of the year, so I’m going to ask the members of our community who live in cold, harsh climates to help us out with advice on how to deal with snow and ice. If you regularly ride in frozen conditions, please share your experience in the comments below.

Have Some Fun
Wet, winter bike commuting isn’t necessarily for everyone, but if you like the idea of riding year-round, rain-or-shine, you should definitely give it a try. Just a few adjustments to your regular routine can turn what could be an unpleasant ordeal into a fun adventure that adds another dimension to your bike commuting experience.

*I rode an expensive, handmade bike year-round when I lived in Seattle. I had a quick routine in which I rinsed the bike and wiped it down before rolling it into my basement for storage. It took less than 5 minutes per day and helped keep the bike in excellent condition for many years.

45 Responses to “Bike Commuting 101: Rain Riding”

  • Larry says:

    If you have flexibility in your commuting time, you can often avoid rain altogether. By checking a doppler radar map, you can see where rain is falling, and by looking at a time loop, you can get a sense of the direction and rate of travel of weather. I am often able to find a dry “window” even on days when rain is on-and-off all day. I use my local TV news channel’s web site, but you can also get weather radar at weather.gov or weather.com.

  • CedarWood says:

    Regarding snow and ice, the folks at Icebike.com have a good article on winterizing freehubs and freewheels along with much excellent info. Peter White Cycles website is very informative in regard to studded tires. But most everyone knows that already… ;)

    In my experience, if you wear rain pants and waterproof shoes/boots, make sure the pant legs are long enough or the boots tall enough to cover the gap at the ankles, especially if using a trouser clip.

    Mudflaps are great ( I made mine from sections of auto inner tube), and a short fender with flexible mudflap will allow mounting on a car rack that requires front wheel removal, whereas a long fender might not fit.

  • Dolan Halbrook says:

    A good (dynohub!) lighting system, Schwalbe Marathon Supremes, full length fenders, and decent rain gear. Who cares about a little rain?

  • Larry says:

    Winter is a wonderful time to commute by bike. The air is crisp, and there is a peaceful stillness outside. At least on the secondary roads I commute on.

    I live in an area where snow is plowed regularly, so I am able to ride almost every day of the winter. During the winter months, I put a knobby 2-inch tire on my rear wheel, because I sometimes need extra traction when going up steep hills. I use a moderate-tread front tire.

    Even on days when the temperature is below zero Fahrenheit, I’m surprised by how little warm clothing I need. A lightweight fleece jacket and a shell are usually sufficient. I wear a thin fleece hat under my helmet; it covers my ears and forehead down to my eyebrows. I haven’t tried a balaclava yet, but on really cold days, it would probably be handy to have one (or a scarf). I have three different sets of gloves of different thicknesses, depending on the temperature. Like Alan, I use lightweight (waterproof) hiking boots. With wool hiking socks. And if it is slushy, I put my rain pants on.

    The biggest hassle in the winter is road salt, which is used copiously in my area. I clean my bike once a week in the winter (compared to once every few months the rest of the year). With all that salt, I think rust on components is probably inevitable, as is accelerated wear.

  • Sharper says:

    @Dolan:
    Those with shallower pockets.

  • Joe says:

    I don’t know if I’d say it is enjoyable! But it is definitely tolerable with the right gear. I really like the rain gear by showers pass for commuting in.

    Also fenders make so much difference.

    I use reflective vest and a few extra blinkies on rainy days.

    -Joe

  • RI Swamp Yankee says:

    This is what I’ve learned as an all-weather commuter in New England (and from being an all-weather camper/hiker when I was in Scouts)

    Warm feet, warm hands, warm ears = warm ride – Wool socks, snowmobile gloves and earmuffs/earband or a hat that can cover the ears will get you 80% of what you need to endure even the coldest day outside on a bike.

    Don’t overdress for the cold – You’ll be generating more heat than you need when pedaling. Lightweight fleece works as an insulating layer in even the worst weather.

    Don’t underestimate cold rain – Winter rain kills more people through hypothermia than snow or sub-zero temperatures. It doesn’t seem that cold, until you’re shivering and well on your way into shock. Water is very effective at cooling the human body. Stay dry, stay warm.

    Better wet from without than wet from within – Rain cape + gaiters or “rain legs” is about as weatherproof as you’re going to be on a bike. Rain suits won’t leak or splash, but even the best of them don’t breathe well enough for constant exercise (like bike riding), so you’ll be soaked with sweat, which is very uncomfortable.

    There is an inuit saying, “You sweat. You die.” – Sweat is designed to cool the body, and it needs to be wicked away from the skin as soon as possible before it does just that. Cotton/cotton-blend undies and socks won’t kill you, but they will make you wish you were dead.

    Avoid cotton clothes on the outside, too – they soak up water, be it sweat, rain or smow-melt, and hold it right against you. Wool, synthetics and polar-fleece are your friends in all weather.

    Most of your bodyheat is lost through your head – wear a hat to get warmer before you put on another layer.

  • Helton says:

    Here in southern Brazil there are some days when is almost impossible to know, at morning commute, if it could or not rain untill the evening comes. So, I found most usefull to have a dedicated “rain clothes” bike kit, composed of waterproof suit and BikeLegs (a dutch raincover only for the thights).

    If it is raining at morning, I go by bus.

    If it is only suspicious, I take my kit on rear rack, if not to get dry, at least not to get too soaked while coming home – the clothes might get dry untill next day to be used again. If it doesn’t happen to rain, it doesn’t hurt take the kit out for a ride.

    And, of course, if we have a whole week of dry forecast, leave the kit at home.

  • Lee Trampleasure says:

    I have never found a rain suit that actually breathes under even light sweating conditions (trying several varieties over the years). I’m now leaning towards buying a cape for this year’s rainy season. Does anyone have experience with “breathable” rain suits that actually work (both keep rain out and “breathe” to let sweat out)?

  • Allan Pollock says:

    Honestly, riding for 15 minutes in the rain won’t get you any more wet than walking for 15 minutes in the rain, provided that you wear a rain coat and have fenders on the bike.

    Fenders also have the benefit that they protect the breaks, bottom bracket, headset and chain from road spray….really, they are a must on any commuter.

    For the winter (up here in Ottawa), the same advice applies. The only difference is that there is no way to protect a bike from the salt used on the roads in the winter…the best you can hope for is that the bike will survive the season. Index shifting on normal derailers WILL fail, so use friction shifters or an internal hub or single speed (freewheel or fixed).

    In addition, the days are short, so visability is more important….I suggest that reflective vests are a must in the winter. For clothing, plan to dress as though the temperature is about 10-15 degrees celsius warmer than it really is. (ie: if it’s -20C, dress as though it’s -10 or -5). When it’s really cold (-30C), I wear normal office attire with long johns, wool sweater, wool scarf, balaclava under helmet and a heavy but uninsulated wax cotton jacket. This strikes a good balance in the coldest weather for me.

    The most important thing is to keep head and torso warm…if they get cold, your body will stop sending blood to the fingers and toes. Therefore, if your fingers and toes are cold, cover your head. I wear very heavy boots (sorels) and simple neoprene paddling gloves from MEC.

    For bags, don’t forget that any cloth bags will get completely saturated by the salty muck. I use a pair of hard case panniers that I made out of some boating dry cases. They keep my office stuff clean and dry. I’ve seen some good howtos on the web explaining how to make these out of kitty litter buckets….good stuff!

    All in all, my winter kit adds a lot of weight and trouble, but Note that I would be wearing about the same layers if I chose to walk to the bus stop instead of riding to work. Also, either way, it’s still FAR more pleasant than taking the darn bus.

    Allan

  • Fergie348 says:

    If you’re considering a dedicated wet weather bike, best bet for brakes is an all disc setup. Rim brakes fade quite dramatically when the rim is wet, and maintenance is a bear. Disc brakes actually work a bit better when they’re wet and clean up is much reduced.

    My ideal wet weather commuter would be a belt drive IGH bike with disc brakes and a dynohub. With fenders, of course. Yes, a Civia Bryant belt has been on my lust list for awhile..

  • Dolan Halbrook says:

    @Sharper

    One can spend the money upfront, or one can spend even more money bit by bit over time. Or one can be unsafe and miserable.

  • Ruari Ødegaard says:

    Alan, Whilst I would usually take what you say without question I’m not sure about this bit,

    “Just about any touring or city tire at least 28mm in diameter with a bit of tread will work fine. It probably goes without saying that small diameter racing slicks are not ideal for commuting in the rain.”

    Let’s see what Sheldon Brown wrote on the matter:
    http://www.sheldonbrown.com/tires.html#tread

    “Bicycle tires for on-road use have no need of any sort of tread features; in fact, the best road tires are perfectly smooth, with no tread at all!

    “Unfortunately, most people assume that a smooth tire will be slippery, so this type of tire is difficult to sell to unsophisticated cyclists. Most tire makers cater to this by putting a very fine pattern on their tires, mainly for cosmetic and marketing reasons. If you examine a section of asphalt or concrete, you’ll see that the texture of the road itself is much “knobbier” than the tread features of a good quality road tire. Since the tire is flexible, even a slick tire deforms as it comes into contact with the pavement, acquiring the shape of the pavement texture, only while in contact with the road.

    “People ask, ‘But don’t slick tires get slippery on wet roads, or worse yet, wet metal features such as expansion joints, paint stripes, or railroad tracks?’ The answer is, yes, they do. So do tires with tread. All tires are slippery in these conditions. Tread features make no improvement in this.”

    More on why in the linked article.

  • Adam says:

    Maintenance for winter riding can be tricky. In my decade+ of experience commuting through midwest winters I’ve come to feel that salt is the real problem. Road salt greatly accelerates galvanic corrosion where steel and aluminum meet.

    -steel pedal spindles in aluminum cranks
    -steel bolts in aluminum chainrings
    -aluminum seatposts and quil stems in steel frames
    -steel mounting bolts for fenders and racks (these get it the worst, esp. the chainstay bridge bolt)

    For all of these parts its somewhat common here to find them “cold welded” together in the spring after being ignored for a winter. Not sure how many chanstay bridge bolts I’ve drilled out to replace fenders.

    It seems that most folks here tend to focus on hub bearings and chains in winter, but the above mentioned places that get overlooked can get you into trouble. One of the hardest repairs I recall when I was wrenching was having to remove an aluminum seatpost from a classic steel Schwinn. Eventually, I had to cut the post in half with a hacksaw, then saw through the post lengthwise from the inside to the frame (being careful not to cut the seat tube). This was followed by lots of crushing with long handled channel locks.

    For winterizing, heavy waterproof grease is your friend. I tried beeswax and it isn’t enough, though maybe it would work better if melted. If you grease every thread before winter it’ll save you a lot of trouble later. The other option is to use a thinner spray lube periodically and hope you don’t forget any spots and that it penetrates well.

    I think I’ll get my grease gun out tonight. Its been in the high 40s for one of my morning commutes already. Salt can’t be that far away.

  • Ralph Aichinger says:

    If your bike has rim brakes, and you plan to use it in the rain, then buy break pads optimized for wet rims, like black/salmon KoolStops. These cost maybe 10 or 15 $/EUR, but are absolutely worth it. Standard brake pads are often almost useless with wet rims.

    Drum brakes are a joy in wet conditions. My Sachs/SRAM drum even breaks better in the rain than when it’s dry. My Sturmey Archer also works fine.

    A plasitc bag is helpful to keep your saddle dry (or a special saddle cover) when you have to keep your bike outside in the rain or for short stops, e.g. for shopping.

    Sidewall dynamos often have problems in the rain, and are worthless in snow, most of the time. If you’ve got one, take an additionaly battery light with you. Hub dynamos are ideal for rain and snow, they will never slip.

    What scares me personally most in the rain: Wet tramway tracks. Keep away from them, cross them at a right angle, and never ever ride close to them in parallel.

  • Alan says:

    @Ruari

    “All tires are slippery in these conditions. Tread features make no improvement in this.”

    While I’m hesitant to ever disagree with the late, great Sheldon Brown, in this case I have to say my experience differs from the above. I’ve found that real tread (say, like on a Schwalbe Marathon) is an advantage in situations where there’s a lot of wet debris on the road such as sand, gravel, mud, moss, decaying leaves, etc. (offroad-like conditions, in other words). Otherwise, if we’re just talking plain water on smooth pavement, I agree.

    Best,
    Alan

  • Don says:

    I am less concerned about clothes getting wet than about clothes taking forever to dry. So I ride in clothes that dry quickly so that if I get soaked on the way to work, it will have time to dry by the time I go home. I also double-bag my work clothes in those plastic zip-bags that new sheets and blankets are sold in. I do that every day rain or shine so I don’t have to think about it and they double as a sort of compression system within my bags or backpack, which are by no means waterproof but with the interior bags work just fine.

    The one thing that should not get wet are your leather street shoes. I wear aquatic sandals (and socks on cooler days, regardless of what my wife says) when rain is likely. Everything else will survive. Riding in the rain will almost always give you road grime below your knees regardless.

    The importance of good gloves cannot be overstated. Water-resistent, windproof, quick-drying, whatever, cover your hands below a certain temperature (mid-50sF?) and make sure the gloves don’t interfere with brake or gear operation.

    Wet weather can be harder just above freezing than just below. The 20sF can be delightful if wind is low. Below 20s or teens, metal starts to get sticky and riding ceases to be fun for me. Between 20 and 40F, it’s wise to somehow protect ears and face.

    In general windproofing is more important than bulk warmth. As others have stated, your body will get warm very quickly after only a mile. But riding in all weather is delightful, like a half-hour camping trip.

  • Don says:

    Oh, and know what makes a perfect saddle rain cover? A shower cap! I use ones from hotel rooms. One of these days I’ll get a real one and keep it under the saddle so it lasts longer.

  • Pete says:

    Fenders x 1000. They will do more for you and your bike than anything else.

    I’ve thought about the poncho idea – they seem like the perfect solution – but I just can’t get past the dork factor.

    Adam makes a great point about galvanic corrosion. One other solution is to use anti-seize compound from the auto parts store. Just be careful using it – if it gets on your clothes or hands it will find its way onto everything in your garage!

    Re winter riding – route selection is key. Remember that a road that had nice wide shoulders, or even a bike lane, in summer might just have piles of plowed snow there in January, forcing you well into traffic. An alternate route might be in order. Also, you really cannot be visible enough. Drivers are REALLY not looking for or expecting bikes in the winter, and are often dealing with their own visibility issues – fogged or wet windows, etc. Ride like you’re invisible.

  • Tamia Nelson says:

    I agree with others here who also commute through northern winters in that road salt is terrible for bikes, and you should be prepared for dealing with it afterwards.

    One thing I’d like to emphasize for anyone cycling in winter in rural areas is to have what I call a cold weather survival kit in case you have mechanical problems and have to stop. Dressing for the bike and dressing to stand around are two different things, but you need to consider the second if you can’t just hop on public transport, step into a store to warm up, or even reach someone on the cell phone because there’s no coverage. written numerous articles on winter cycling here:

    http://www.tamiasoutside.com/practical-cycling/winter/

    covering some of the main points my husband and I have learned coping with the demands made on body and bike.

  • Perry says:

    Its been raining a lot in MD lately, unfortunately my RB-1 does not have clearance for fenders (also has fender eyelets but no chainstay bridge to mount them too – dumb!) so I’ve just been dealing with getting wet. I use a pretty heavy rain jacket, work pants and bring an extra pair of socks. I get a little wet, but dry out after about 30 mins indoors.

    Last year during “snowpocalypse” I ran 38mm 29er tires at super low psi. It worked well for the snow but as soon as it started thawing and refreezing and the roads got packed and icy it was awful, would not recommend.

  • Sharper says:

    @Dolan:
    I was thinking of the riders that commute by bike because they have to, not because they want to. Granted, they’re not likely to be reading this blog, but there’s a big gap between those who can afford a complete rain kit and those who can’t. And even as much as I’d like a pair of Marathons, there’s still a lot of equipment my bike needs before I can start getting into the wants.

    Something else came to mind after I hit “submit”, too: non-hardcore commuters. Why spend a few hundred dollars on extra gear (regardless of when you’re buying it) when you can just drive to work?

  • Kevin Spicher says:

    Just wanted to add a comment about mudflaps. If you want to make a couple that will last forever, just go to your nearest tack shop and go through their scraps box, I bought two fenders worth of thick bridle leather for a little over a dollar. They have been in use for about 12 years, and look like they have lots of life left in them.

  • CedarWood says:

    @ Lee Trampleasure

    Rain jackets with rear shoulder vents are the most comfortable I’ve found. Unzipping the front partway gives a good flow of air under the arms and out the back vent, but in heavy rain, partially unzipping also means getting a wet shirt. I slow down enough to allow a fully zipped jacket with no sweat, but that solution isn’t for everyone. Good luck on the rain/sweat conundrum.

  • Adam says:

    Tamia brings up a good point about rural riding… Those who aren’t city dwellers should plan for mech failures. I got stranded years ago when water froze inside an older Shimano LX cassette hub. It would freewheel pedaling forward or backward. Once I brought it inside to thaw out and hosed it out with WD40 it was fine.

    I went through a string of 4 winters where I hit the pavement on my commute once each year (thankfully no serious injuries). One time I hit ice and was laid out on the pavement while approaching an intersection. That was scary as I was barely able to stop sliding in front of traffic. Whatever tire/tread pattern/road conditions I think its important to consciously underestimate your stopping ability so you’re sure you can.

  • The-milkman says:

    Most of the coworkers think I’m crazy because I actually look forward to the worst conditions, always took them as a challenge, “me against the elements”. I commute on a recumbent trike and the safety of the third wheel in these conditions in my opinion is enormous. I also have drum brakes which are uneffected by wet weather. Because I’m sitting in a more upright position I’ve found my glasses become useless and hence a billed baseball cap and baclava are essential in the heavy stuff. Rain drops sting at 20mph!! Some of the best smells and sights occur during and after a rain event..

  • Doug P says:

    I cut a section of mountain bike tube and used fasgrip glue to glue it inside the front fender. There’s nothing better than a flexible front mudflap to keep the toes dry in the rain!

  • Dolan Halbrook says:

    @Sharper

    If you’re in the position that you can’t afford or don’t want to spend the money for decent raingear or tires, there’s not a whole lot to be done, and I’d argue you’re best off taking the bus if conditions are nasty. In my mind it comes down to a safety issue. The same argument can (and should) be made for people driving around inherently unsafe cars, although in that case it’s even worse since you’re putting others’ lives at risk in addition to your own. The fact that are infra is so car centric in the US only makes this problem nastier for people in this situation, but that’s kind of a constant in this discussion, and warrants its own.

    That said, you don’t necessarily have to spend a fortune to be safe. A cheap army poncho will deal with much of the rain, LED lights are quite inexpensive and bright nowadays,, and if your tires suck you can always ride more slowly and cautiously.

    I only stated what works for me, with this blog’s audience in mind. As expensive as some of those things are, I’m still way ahead compared to the expense of driving or taking public transit to work every day.

  • doug in seattle. says:

    For good winter clothes, I have to recommend Goodwill. I have a huge pile of high-quality wool clothes mostly purchased at $1.99 to $9.99 per item. Good quality wool slacks are great for riding — warm down to freezing (and below when combined with long underwear), and the somewhat loose fit is very comfortable. Pendletons, originally worn by northwest loggers, are also great and are plentiful at used shops. Just yesterday I bought a fabulous merino long sleeve shirt that will make for an excellent fall jersey at the fraction of the cost of a new cycling specific one. Thrift stores make for excellent outdoor stores — just read Harvey Manning’s Backpacking, One Step at a Time. If you live in the Seattle area, the REI gear garage is a great place to look for outdoor gear — I got my Showers Pass jacket there for $15.

    If you need stuff cheap, try local bike collectives or used bike shops. Fat tires for $5 each, fenders for $10 for example. With a bit of effort, you can get safe and warm without spending hundreds on a luxe commuter rig.

  • sara says:

    I have a question for the wintery types.
    What do you do to stop your actual breaks freezing? Not the pads but the cables themselves? This is not a pleasant thing to have happen when you are already trying to avoid icy roads.

    Ok, two questions.
    Any advice for handling aggressive snow in your face? Is there a way to do a short commute in snow without it becoming a major prep issue? I mean simple solutions for the short commute.

  • AK Mike says:

    Joe says: ” use reflective vest and a few extra blinkies on rainy days.”

    Allan Pollock says: “In addition, the days are short, so visability is more important….I suggest that reflective vests are a must in the winter.”

    Spot on suggestions! In snow and ice country, you’ve got to consider a few items. First, not only are you more likely to be riding in the dark, but the drivers of automobiles also may have considerable snow, slush and/or muck on their windshields making a cyclist or pedestrian more difficult to see. A very reflective and visible jacket is a must, along with a mirror (I can’t ride without a mirror any longer – I have to have one) and plenty of strong, “blinky” lights.

    Second, in snow and ice country many mornings the plows have worked over the main car lanes, but the shoulders are not sufficiently plowed. This may cause you to ride “closer to the line” than you normally would. Add to this the icy and snowy ruts you encounter, and the possibility of riding in the car lane becomes greater than in prime riding conditions.

    After commuting year-round for 7 years in northern Southeast Alaska, there have been times when I would have no problem riding to work with my equipment. The problem is that the plows just haven’t made it safe enough for me to stay out of the auto lanes. On those days, well, I just take a nice little walk to work.

    Here’s hoping for more bikes and less traffic.

    AK Mike

  • Brian Dumont says:

    Nice timely post. I decided last night to start bike commuting full time. Left home at 4:00 pm, a bit cloudy but otherwise beautiful. By the time I got off at 5:30 am, it was raining cats and dogs (a rare occurance here in Southern California until November). I was totally unprepared, not having put on my fenders and having no rain gear. I rode home in shorts and a tee shirt. Luckily I only have a 20 minute commute.

    I have to say, though, I had the best time! Once I got soaked, it no longer mattered, and it started to become an adventure! Soon the 12 year old boy came out in this 48 year old man and I started running at puddles and having a blast! No traffic here at that early hour, so I could really cut loose! I was having so much fun, I stretched the 20 minute commute to about an hour long ride! Rode the bike in again tonight! I’m loving this!

  • Alex Moll says:

    Way to go Brian! That’s the spirit – embrace it, and have fun with it, just like the younglings! Fenders will help with maintenance and comfort, but the right attitude is key.

    I enjoy riding in nice weather, but also enjoy the challenge of inclement weather. The worse, the better – in some perverse way.

    Maintenance is a bit of a drag, but it’s worth it.

    Best,
    Alex (north of Seattle)

  • William says:

    @ Brian

    About an hour later and I was riding to work in that same SoCal rain. Like you I was just in a T-Shirt and shorts though I do have fenders so just changed my shirt.

    I have a cape as part of my rain preparedness that I got from Campmor but I have yet to feel the need for it myself. However, it has been used two days in a row on my son as he rides as a passenger behind me. The bright yellow color is a plus. I have felt that I was warm enough in the rain and was on my way home so I knew a hot shower would await me.

  • Phil Barns says:

    I will be wearing my Buffalo Special 6 jacket on most rides between now and April, with nothing underneath ( a vital part of how it works ). It’s a brilliant jacket which has kept me comfy down to -10 and, whilst not being waterproof, retains body heat even when soaked through. Full length zips down the sides help with ventilation when you’re really working up a hill. Good socks, hat and gloves are essential in winter- I’m buying pogies if we get another real winter like last year. My bike has a 7ft wheelbase and a low centre of gravity; combined with 2.2″ tyres at low pressure, I have no problems with snow and slush until gradients get steeper than 1 in 15. I would suggest high quality full-length outer cables to prevent freezing, and much more frequent cleaning/oiling to keep road crud from wrecking your drivetrain.

  • Jen says:

    I actually really like riding in the rain when the weather is mild (though I must say, I prefer it on my way home from work, instead of on my way TO work…)

    I have a waxed cotton poncho that works pretty well. The waxed cotton helps avoid the extreme clamminess common to much synthetic material, though it’s a bit heavy for very warm rains. On the other hand, it’s just right to put over pretty much anything in cooler temps. This solution does not keep the thighs dry, so I’ll have to come up with a solution for that. Others have recommended rain legs or chaps; maybe that’s the way to go. The biggest challenge is keeping rain off my face — or, more specifically, off my glasses. A billed cap under my helmet helps, depending on the angle of the rain. I’m sure further experimentation will suggest other solutions.

    For winter/below 15 or 20 degree commutes, I read somewhere (bikeforums, I think) that snowmobile helmits offer the usual injury protection along with defense against driving wind/rain, and have anti-fog properties to maintain visibility. I haven’t tried them; the “geek” factor would be pretty intense, but depending on how this winter goes I might consider them.

    I also carry a wool shawl in my bag to supplement the ligher outerwear needed for the ride itself.

    And I agree completely about the lights and reflective gear; even in urban conditions, it can be hard to be seen by other users of the road.

  • D'Arcy says:

    A bit more elaboration on winter riding. We live in a city that seems to have 3 micro climates. Right by the lake, the snow is wet and when tamped down by traffic, quite slippery. Studs work best here. Some cyclists will only put a winter tire on the front to stop skidding out. Eliminating the rear snow tire lessens resistance. That being said, the other advantage of winter tires is that they are softer. Regular tires get harder at lower temperatures and just don’t handle as well. A softer winter tire sticks to frozen roads better.

    Riding keeps me warm except for my fingers. A good pair of warm mitts or gloves are needed.

    My wife rides north to work and because that part of town is at a higher elevation, the snow is drier so standard tires handle quite well. She also slightly under inflates her tires for better grip.

    The biggest challenge to winter riding are cars. With shorter daylight hours, you’ve got to be visible. We both have hub generators with good front and rear lights. Peter White’s web site is an excellent resource for learning about these lights. You also have to watch for unprepared car drivers who will slide right through an intersection because they haven’t allowed enough stopping distance.

    The above may sound crazy if you don’t live in a winter climate but riding in snow is a beautiful experience. There’s a certain wonderful quietness in snow that’s hard to explain. Falling snow sparkles as it passes through street lights. You really feel like your floating when riding through a few inches of freshly fallen snow.

  • Moopheus says:

    One thing I discovered this year is that a Kryptonite lock, if it gets rained on, will rust in a way that makes it hard to open and close. However, a little bit (and I mean a _little_ bit) of chain lube on a paper towel rubbed around inside the lock openings cleaned it up and restored proper operation. I keep a bike tarp in my office to cover my bike on rainy days. It helps, especially since a good storm will blow a lot of dirt and other crud around.

  • Bob says:

    I swear by my studded front tire, and after a few nasty fishtails last winter, I’m adding one to the rear. Rolling resistance be damned. I’d rather get there slowly and safely.

    Here in eastern Iowa, the main characteristic of winter commuting is the variable snow/ice-boulder/tire-rut/ice-flat surface that feels more like riding off road than on. Wide studded MTB tires are probably a better idea than my 40mm Nokians, but they’ll have to do for a while.

    I’d be interested to hear if there are other readers who have ridden both lower-trail (<50mm) and higher-trail bikes in snow and ice. What are the pros and cons of each geometry in these conditions?

  • Ted says:

    39 comments ALREADY!? Gee whiz, don’t you people have jobs? :) Just, kidding, I understand this is a great place to hang out.
    This is as good a place as any to add that I absolutely love my Uptown 8! It runs like a Subaru in the rain!(I have owned 3). With this bike, Those great shwalbe tires that come with, and a cheap two-piece”camping” type rain suit, there are just no problems in the heaviest of rains. I don’t have the best panniers and top bag, but I make great use of kitchen garbage bags and zip-loc bags throughout! And the best choice for your feet are crocs. They drip-dry in minutes and never stink. Don’t waste unnecessary money anywhere.

  • Ralph Aichinger says:

    @Ted: We do have jobs, and we bike there every day, rain or shine!

  • Mark says:

    If you’re riding in snowy conditions, you’ll want to take most of the same precautions as for rainy days. Fenders are essential (although if the clearance between your tires and the inner surface or your fenders is tight, snow may build up and start to rub on the tires, thus slowing you down), and you have to pay close attention to cleaning the bike off if you intend to keep it in peak condition. Even with full-coverage fenders, road salt and other gunk will get on the frame and drivetrain at least a little.
    As for clothing choices, dress in layers, preferably all wool and/or technical fabrics, keep your head and extremities comfortable (a ride can become agonizing if your hands and feet start freezing up), and be careful not to overdress– if you are comfortably warm when standing still in your driveway, then you are wearing too much.

  • Tamia Nelson says:

    @Mark “…be careful not to overdress– if you are comfortably warm when standing still in your driveway, then you are wearing too much.”

    My driveway is on the sheltered south side of the house where the sun is cozy and it’s sheltered from the prevailing winter wind. I step out of the lee of the north wind and face it full on. THEN, if I’m comfortably warm, I’m sure that I’ll be a bit too warmly dressed for the road.

  • Josef says:

    I have been a regular four seasons bike commuter over the past four years, commuting between 30 and 50 km per office day. My work environment require formal business attire.
    My conclusions from this are:
    – I always wear riding gear on my commutes and change completely when I get to the office, completely everything. Suit & tie, shirt & shoes as well as everything else I bring to the office in one or two Ortlieb panniers which are 100% water proof.
    – In rain I wear rain gear over my regular riding gear.
    – In winter, it is essential to keep head an throat, hands and feet warm. That requires careful choice of equipment. 2 or 3 layers of good sports gear will keep your body warm under allbut arctic conditions.
    – The parts of the bike most affected by riding between November and March are drive train and brakes. If you want to go maintenance low, get a classic Dutch bike with a fully enclosed drive train and drum brakes. That’s a big difference to standard bikes.
    – Riding in the dark requires good and reliable lights. My commuting bikes have a hub generator as standard. It is the only system that works maintenance free under all conditions. In the winter you need good lights not only to be seen but also to see for yourself, esp. when riding out of town. So, a high quality front light like the Lumotec IQ Cyo T is a must.
    – Wet conditions produce more flats. Put on a new set before the winter or go for tires with higher puncture resistance such as Marathon Plus. If snow and ice comes around to stay I put on Marathon Winter studded tires.
    – Have a rear view mirror. It’s better for all seasons but particularly in the winter. Turning your head and upper body on slippery surface can be dangerous.

  • Ken says:

    Enjoyment relates exponentially to preparation.

    Frozen derailleur tip – spray dry silicone on your derailleurs and other icing points before your ride to help prevent ice (cYcles) from forming. (Don’t get it on braking surfaces or your seat and grips!)

    Frozen glasses tip – Use antifog treatment (like CatCrap or Speedo swim goggle goop) on your glasses.

    I love riding and weather. It’s Mother Natures way of expressing herself (and keeping things interesting for cyclists). It’s humorous when normal people call weather bad, foul, nasty… Weather just is, how we choose to look at it and prepare for it is a test to see if we are worthy such an invigorating ride. Frozen derailleurs, brakes and glasses and sneaking around to avoid traffic is part of the game.

    Great site, Thank you.

 
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