This article on cycling in the rain is courtesy of the fine folks at Cleverhood Real urban cyclists like doing it in the rain. There we said it, and there is no going back. Although there are legions more on the bicycle paths and in the bike lanes thanks to the pandemic boom or spurred […]
This article on cycling in the rain is courtesy of the fine folks at Cleverhood
Real urban cyclists like doing it in the rain. There we said it, and there is no going back. Although there are legions more on the bicycle paths and in the bike lanes thanks to the pandemic boom or spurred on by the massive spike in gas prices, many haven’t taken that next step and go on all-in on cycling year-round in all weather. With the arrival of spring comes the opportunity to let you in on our little secret: Cycling in the rain isn’t just easy with the right preparation and gear, it’s also a blast.
Before we get started with the how-to and the gear guide, let’s address the why — why should you bike in the rain? Especially when there are so many other options like buses, trains, private cars, taxis, subways, car share services, limousines, walking with an umbrella, walking in a raincoat, walking in a wetsuit, or not leaving your house at all — hello 2021.
Unfortunately, we do occasionally have to leave our houses when we don’t want to, and if those occasions happen with relative frequency (say, Monday to Friday mornings), those limousine fares are going to add up. So why not bike?
Rainy-day bike commuting does not exactly scream “Fun!” to most people, and that’s understandable. It’s wet, dark, a little more dangerous than riding in the sun, and did we mention that’s it wet? In my early days of bike commuting, I too was a fair-weather rider. I would hang my bike up whenever it so much as sprinkled and take the bus – getting soaked just seemed too inconvenient.
But then I began to realize that not having your bike with you is even less convenient than a little water on your face and that there is magical clothing that will keep you dry in even the most inclement of weather. Things began to change.
First a rain jacket and a ride to work in a light drizzle, then rain pants and a day of errands in a considerable rainfall. I ceased to loathe the wet weather and began to truly love it. The streets are quieter, the bike lanes are nearly empty, and there’s a certain satisfaction in the heaviness of your breath against the freshness of the rain on your face.
The next thing I knew it was waterproof gloves, a full-on rain suit complete with booties, waterproof panniers, and a leisure ride in a torrential downpour praying for a hurricane. Okay maybe not that hurricane part, but you get the idea.
All of this is only to say that riding in the rain is fun. Honestly, it is. It’s time we changed our collective attitude about biking in the rain to one that embraces the rough weather because if we’re truly going to shift to a culture of everyday biking, we’re going to need to accept that on some of the days it’s going to rain, and we might still have to leave the house.
So now that you’re excited about the next downpour, let’s address the how. If you already know what you’re doing but you’re just on the hunt for some new gear, feel free to skip ahead for the lowdown on the best rain gear for biking.
Riding in wet weather is not all that different than riding in dry weather, but there are a few things to keep in mind to ensure you have the safest ride possible. Here are a few tips and tricks for cycling in the rain:
Be wary of slick spots on the roads
Railroad tracks, manhole covers, or any form of metal are all going to be much much more slippery in the rain. Similarly, piles of leaves and painted lines will be a bit slick, as will anywhere you see gasoline on the concrete as the new rain brings up oil and gas left from cars.
Don’t ride through puddles on unfamiliar roads
Although riding through puddles seems like a great idea at first, it won’t be quite as much fun when it sends you flying over your handlebars. The reflection on the water can easily disguise potholes or dips in the road, so your puddle jumping (wheeling?) is best left for streets where you’re certain of the contours.
Lights, lights, and more lights. Reflective clothing if you have it. I tend to dress in muted colors, so in the rain season, I keep a small, foldable hi-vis vest in my panniers that I throw over my jacket on particularly dark, rainy days. You can pick up hi-vis vests at any construction outfitters for around $10. More on waterproof bike lights below.
Be extra wary of motorists’ blind spots
Even with all your beams of LED, it’s best to run on the assumption that motorists cannot see you. The rain really obscures vision, so ride defensively. Make eye contact with drivers wherever possible, and stay out of blind spots.
Disc and drum brakes work well in wet weather, but rim brakes do not. Give yourself twice as long to come to a stop as you normally would.
Okay, I know I said I like to go for leisure cruises as hurricanes make landfall, but I might have been exaggerating a bit. If you can’t see 10 feet in front of you, it might be best to leave the bike at home. Similarly, if the wind is blowing so hard the trees look like they’re about to uproot and fall, it’s safe to assume you won’t have an easy time staying upright on your bike. Taking the bus or those mustache cars every once in a while doesn’t make you any less of an everyday cyclist. And if it’s really thundering down, you should probably just Netflix and chill. Your boss will understand.
Okay, let’s be clear, the single most important piece of gear you need for riding in the rain is a good set of lights.
Beyond that, I would definitely get a good waterproof layer, more on that in a moment, and some warm, waterproof gloves. Also, install some fenders so you don’t turn your spinal column into a dirt road. Everything else follows by point of preference on whichever body part you’d most like to keep dry.
But let’s assume for a moment that it’s pouring buckets and you’re en route to a party in your favorite crepe paper tuxedo. Here’s what you’re going to need to arrive with that thing in one piece:
Cycling rain jackets and other coverings are optimized to be fully waterproof and breathable while allowing for a range of movement, and they often have subtle (or unsubtle) reflective accents. The thing to be mindful of when choosing one is the hood. If you ride in a helmet, is the hood big enough to fit over it? If you don’t always wear a helmet, is there a cinch at the back to get it out of your eyes when it’s just your head? Importantly, does it obscure your peripheral vision? When you’re trying the jacket on, cinch the hood around your face and try turning your head to the sides to check if you can still see.
Cycling rain jackets can cost anywhere from $100 – $500 USD depending on the brand and style.
One company that’s focused on designing a unique and very good garment for wet-weather cycling is Cleverhood.
The Cleverhood is a spring gear game-changer for cyclists, especially those who commute to work by bicycle on the daily. It’s a stylish and functional covering that is both absolutely waterproof and breathable so you don’t overheat on the ride. The Rover Rain Cape, made of sustainable, recycled polyester, is designed with cyclists in mind, right down to the elastic thumb loops for riding, and an inside inner belt loop for windy days. The Rover has 3M reflective details on the back and front in critical locations.
Cleverhood offers a number of styles including the Classic Cape and a new Anorak-style jacket. There are even capes for kids. And they’ve really thought of everything when crafting what could be the perfect cycling option for rainy days, even the hood is fitted to optimize peripheral vision under a bike helmet. An essential item for the city bike commuter.
There are plenty of other companies that make good rain jackets for cycling as well.
In addition to the torso, if cycling often in the rain, consider wearing a covering for your helmet, or even an all-weather cap or balaclava under your helmet. For instance, Gore offers a line of Gore-TEX cycling caps that can be worn alone or under a helmet.
Alright, your crepe paper tuxedo won’t dissolve if your hands get wet, but it will significantly reduce your enjoyment of your ride. Unless you live in the tropics and ride exclusively in warm rain, all that water is going to make your fingers pretty numb pretty quickly – good, warm, waterproof gloves are a worthwhile investment.
SealSkinz, Barmitts, Endura, Showers Pass, and Pearl Izumi all make waterproof cycling gloves which range in price from $50 – $150 USD.
If you’re not in a position to be buying expensive gloves, throw on a pair of fleece gloves from the dollar store and wear dish gloves over them. It doesn’t look great, but it does the trick.
Cycling rain pants are designed for breathability, and often have reflective accents and tapered seams or ankle straps to keep them out of your chain. There are a few waterproof pants on the market designed to be your primary pant, but for the most part the products available are simply over-pants that you throw on over your jeans and remove when you arrive at your destination. On the hunt for stylish rain pants? Wouldn’t bother. They’re rain pants, they’re not meant to be cool.
Rain pants cost anywhere from $60 – $150 USD depending on their breathability and features. Showers Pass, Novara, MEC, Gore Apparel, Patagonia, 02 Cycling Rainwear, and Endura all make cycling-specific rain pants. Anything made of Gore-tex is going to be more breathable if you’re regularly commuting long distances in the rain, but if you’re just looking for a waterproof pant to quickly throw on for short trips or in unexpected showers, something less expensive like the Showers Pass Storm pant will do just fine.
Gone are the days when wearing waterproof shoes meant looking like you’re dressed for an alpine expedition or a day on the farm. So many brands are making waterproof footwear that you’re sure to find a pair that suits your style.
Chrome Industries, DZR Performance Shoes, El Naturalista, L.L. Bean, Hunter, Blundstone, Sorel, Kodiak, Merrell, and Cougar are all great places to look for waterproof shoes in a range of styles.
If you just want to wear your regular shoes, you can get waterproof shoe covers that you can just take off and pack away when you arrive. Showers Pass, Gore and SealSkinz make cycling-specific shoe covers for $40 – $60 USD, all of which are designed to function with clip-in road bike shoes.
Alternatively, there are always good old rubber boots from the hardware store and you can just pack your inside shoes in your bag.
Your lights won’t do you much good if they spark and die out in a bit of water. Fortunately, most companies these days make their lights water-resistant at the very minimum. Depending on the kind of rain you expect to be riding in, look for something that has a balance between brightness and water resistance.
Blackburn, Cat Eye, Knog, Lezyne, Light & Motion, PDW, Planet Bike, Sigma, and Nite Rider all make good waterproof bike lights, which range from $60 – $200 depending on the brightness and other features. The Planet Bike Blaze front light which I ride with is advertised as “water-resistant,” but has held up well in a Pacific Northwestern winter and is insanely bright. The Knog Blinder series are all fully waterproof and very bright and are really reasonably priced for their quality.
I see some people riding all winter without fenders. I don’t get this. Fenders are pretty necessary for comfortable wet-weather rides. They keep all that water from spinning up your tires and landing all over your pants, back, and face. Fenders are available in materials ranging from metal, to wood, to plastic to bamboo, and range in price from $20 – $150 USD, with most sets sitting around $50.
Planet Bike, Axiom, Portland Design Works, SKS, Blackburn, Evo, Bontrager, Electra, and Soma all make fenders for a variety of weight and style preferences. Blackburn’s Central set are your basic, lightweight, plastic fenders, or if you want to go a little more organic, Planet Bike’s Grasshopper bamboo set is gorgeous and functional for a few bucks more. If it doesn’t rain often and you don’t want to go for full fenders, you can get clip-on fenders for about $20 USD which can be easily attached and removed in minutes, tool-free.
Waterproof Panniers, Backpacks, and Bags
It’s all well and good if you arrive at your destination dry, but the enthusiasm will be short-lived when you realize you’ve put your laptop through nature’s wash cycle. So whether your preference is panniers, backpacks, or messenger bags, finding one that’s waterproof is key. Ortlieb, Vaude, Detours, Banjo Bros, Altura, Green Guru, Novara, Chrome Industries, Thule, Rickshaw, Timbuk2, Two Wheel Gear, and Swift Industries all make waterproof panniers, and you can similarly find waterproof backpacks and messenger bags at Osprey and Mission Workshop, as well as most of the brands listed above.
Cycling Glasses, or, how to not get water in your eyes
Honestly, for commuting, I wouldn’t bother with cycling glasses. A lot of people like to ride with them on wet days because it keeps the rain out of their eyes, but I’ve found it keeps the rain droplets stuck to the lenses right in front of my eyes, which seems only marginally better if not worse. But if you want cycling glasses for the rain, go for clear or yellow lenses to retain as much light as you can. Smith, Oakley, Tifosi, and Native Eyewear all make good cycling glasses, and they range from about $60 – $300 USD. You could also buy safety glasses from a construction outfitter or science lab supplier for a fraction of the price.
Moving away from glasses, a reader wrote us earlier this year with her method to avoid water in the eyes, which I’ve since adopted and highly encourage. Julianna says she just wears a baseball cap, which keeps the rain out of her face, her makeup intact, and has the added bonus of forcing the hood to turn when her head turns so she gets better peripheral vision. The downside is hat hair, but hey, nothing’s perfect.
Other than the rain, of course! There are a bunch of great products on the market to make your rainy-day bike commuting as comfortable as it possibly can be, but the most important thing (besides the bike), is just deciding to do it. Biking in the rain is great, it gives us the chance to connect with our environment and allows us to continue to do what we love despite the weather. And at the end of the day, it’s just a little water, right?
Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment.
Find inspiration in our Gear Guide that will keep you out on your bike through wind or rain.
Subscribe to our free newsletter