Some days you don’t see it coming. Some days it looms ominous but yields only grayness. And some days it reigns over your best-laid plans. Rain: drizzly, shower-y, intermittently, steady or downright heavy; in any form – we love it and we hate it. As a cyclist, I do my best to avoid it.
“The best thing one can do when it’s raining is to let it rain.” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Until three years ago, sunshine was my requirement for a bike ride until one day my husband and I got caught in a downpour. It was Cycle Oregon Weekend, a two-day event in Salem, Oregon. Mid-way through our ride on day two, the heavens opened, and within minutes we were drenched. That moment I discovered, it wasn’t that bad. This liquid sunshine seemed to wash away my grown-up misgivings and transport me (as biking often does) once again to childhood. Dripping from head to toe, covered in grittiness, splashing and getting splashed, I could feel a drippy grin beaming through.
My husband, a professional problem-solver, proposed the obvious: exchange our intended long route for the shorter one. But the little girl (in her grown up voice) challenged,
“Are you hungry?”
“Are you cold?”
“Are you in pain?”
“Then why should we stop?”
But let’s be honest. If you are not prepared for a wet ride it can be a miserable experience. So let’s consider what it takes to brave the soggy elements. Here are some things that work for me along with a few tips from Ride Like A Girl Cycling girlfriends, sprinkled in!
Goal One: Stay Warm.
As my friend, Diana, says, “you will get wet … so be warm”. Regardless of the gear you are wearing, if you are biking in the rain for more than an hour or two you will either be wet from perspiration or from water seeping in. So don’t just think about staying dry – think about staying warm.
- Light layers work best to keep warm, as they trap warm air but also give you the flexibility to add and remove as your body temperature changes.
- Dry wicking fabrics and wool are better than cotton which retains moisture. You want to minimize dampness against your skill or you will quickly become cold.
- A good layering combination might consist of a base layer with good wicking properties, a thermal layer for warmth (cycling jersey with arm warmers or light weight thermal/wool sweater) and a jacket.
- Extra socks and gloves keep your extremities warm on a longer ride. I change my gloves half way through a wet ride. Warm fingers makes my whole body happy.
Head: Keep it dry.
- A helmet cover is a great accessory for keeping the rain off your head. In a pinch, a shower cap will do. It covers your helmet completely. Choose a color that will increase your visibility.
Nance S. says, “…[my helmet cover] keeps the rain from dripping down my head to my neck and inside my jacket. I hate that slow rain drip. The helmet cover is bright yellow for visibility, reflective and stays dry underneath. I use it more for cold days to keep a little heat in …”
- A cycling cap underneath your helmet, helps keep your head warm and has a bill that reduces the amount of rain on your face and glasses – improving your ability to see. A baseball cap also does the job (also worn under your helmet).
- If the temperatures are especially low you may want a headband to keep your ears warm or a thin skullcap for additional insulation.
Torso: Layers and Waterproof Shell
Not all rain jackets are the same. Water-resistant will be more breathable but not as effective keeping you dry as waterproof. Some fabrics “breathe” while others do not. Some have zippers/vents which allows heat/moisture to escape (this is good). Newer fabrics are available that are waterproof and breathe. An example is the Showers Pass Elite 2.1 jacket. It is currently my favorite jacket – waterproof, zipper vents and it comes in pink!
- Melanie W. cautions, “Rain resistant is not rain proof. The wind you create [while biking] can drive the water into the fabric if it’s not truly rain proof.”
- Diana D. says, “Being wet is inevitable. Being cold and wet really sucks; being warm and wet is not so bad. Wool layers help a lot. Or other fancy insulating-when-wet fabrics.”
- After purchasing three rain jackets, Nance S. reflects, “If I did it all over again, I would have spent the money purchasing the right gear to begin with … Quality gear is an investment that lasts for years.”
I find that a basic bicycling tight (with chamois pad) is usually sufficient to keep my legs warm. It seems that if the rest of my body is warm my legs can withstand getting wet and being a bit cooler. However, some women prefer a true waterproof rain pant that allows the water to roll off.
Hands & Feet
It’s the extremities that are most vulnerable to getting cold and when we get wet, cold can set in rather quickly.
- Waterproof gloves are a great first defense, however, sometimes that after a few hours the waterproof-ness can lose effectiveness. (I suspect that after months of washing my gloves with harsh detergent the waterproof barrier breaks down). In any case, they are a good starting point and better than having wet fingers the entire ride.
- Carry an extra pair of gloves. Exchanging wet gloves for dry ones mid-way through a ride is very effective in keeping your hands warm and dry(er). A cheap alternative is to wear laytex/nitrile gloves underneath your biking gloves. They serve as a terrific insulating layer in a pinch. I carry a pair in my saddle bag.
Shoe covers will go a long way towards keeping your feet dry. If you’re on a long ride the water will eventually find a way in but invest in a good pair and your feet will thank you. Pull your pant legs over the top of the shoe covers. Tucking your pant leg inside the shoe cover invites the water to run down the pant leg, directly into the inside of your shoe cover. Keeping pants outside delays the inevitable!
- We love wool! If I’m expecting rain on a cool-ish day, I wrap my feet in wool. Wool keeps its insulating properties even when wet and it dries faster than cotton or other synthetics. And did you know that wool fibers naturally have anti-bacterial properties and are, therefore, odor-resistant? Look for Merino wool (oh, so comfy!) or SmartWool which is also effective and easy to find.
Lastly, Donna R. recommends having a change of clean dry clothes waiting for you at the end of your bike ride (in the car or from wherever you began your adventure).
Yes, rain can be inconvenient and even disappointing, but don’t let it stop you from enjoying the beauty of the season. This is a photo I took last week when I ventured out with some girlfriends on a day with a forecast to rain. Of the forty-two miles we logged, only seven of them were wet. We were prepared, we were warm and we were rewarded with this beautiful and vibrant spring display. It was worth the price!
Products shown are available online at WesternBikeworks.com