Commuting 101: Riding in the rain

Umbrella riding

Several options are available for the bike commuter who rides in the rain. They include:

  • Getting wet: If the weather is warm and if you shower and change at work, this isn’t an unreasonable option. The major drawback is water can get driven into some bearing surfaces, especially the bottom bracket. Even sealed bearings are vulnerable. Wet socks and shoes kind of reek, also.
  • Fenders: Full front and rear fenders are very effective in limiting splashing onto feet and lower legs. A front fender protects the bottom bracket as well, while the rear fender prevents the dreaded “swamp butt.” I have not had much luck with the cheap, quick-release partial fenders that hook to seat posts; those are useless and I can’t recommend them.
  • Rain capes: Rain capes or ponchos are popular in perpetually rainy location such as England and Seattle. They keep your top dry while providing plenty of ventilation.
  • Rain suits: They keep the rain off, but they also trap your sweat and create a sauna effect even in cold weather. I’ve found that even breathable fabrics such as Goretex don’t “breathe” enough to ventilate the sweat. I prefer jackets with lots of real ventilation — a vented back, big pit zips, and leg vents for rain pants.
  • Bike covers: A roof and windscreen contraption such as the Veltop might be an option for windfree areas. I have no experience with these devices. Here’s a review of the Velotop in French.

These days, I ride with full fenders and a lightweight, vented rain jacket and rain pants, though in light rain I may skip the raingear. I also ride with lights in the rain because of reduced motorist visibility, and I bring a small towel to wipe my eyeglasses dry. I also realize that conditions vary wildly around the U.S. and around the world. The light, misty rains in California are nothing like the monstrous downpours of the U.S. Midwest or the muggy, swampy showers in the U.S. Southeast. For those who ride in the rain, how do you deal with the wet weather?

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