Biking in the rain
September 21, 2009 9:19 AM   Subscribe

Questions about bike gear for the rainy season.

I live in the Portland, OR area and I've been biking to work since April. So, I'm about to hit my first rainy season and I would like to arm myself to successfully continue biking at least into the fall and hopefully through winter, too.

SHOES: My main question is about shoes that make biking in the rain not a chore. I have been using toe clips and Converse all-stars this summer, but that will absolutely not work with the rain, so I'm going to need to either get waterproof shoe covers, or buy waterproof shoes. And if I buy waterproof shoes, maybe I ought to just upgrade to clipless pedals and shoes? Also, I think I like the velcro straps so I don't have to deal with laces, but I'm not entirely sure what the pros/cons are there.

JACKET: I have a chartreuse bike jacket that has been good for cooler mornings, and it dries fast so it will be good for early on in the fall, but I am going to eventually need some kind of heavier jacket, I think. But I'm afraid that anything heavier will = more sweat, which I don't want (no shower at work). Is there something warm, waterproof, breathable, AND visible that I can get?

FENDERS: I ride a Specialized Crossroads, so it has the overlap. I kicked out my front fender early on in the summer and haven't yet replaced it because it's been unnecessary so far, but I'm going to need a new front fender or maybe one of those things that attaches to the front tube (not sure what it's called exactly) to deflect water. If I get a new fender, I guess it will need to be super-tough since I don't 100% trust myself not to kick it by accident again. Do those things that attach to the bike instead of the wheel work well, would that be a good option?

What other things do I need to bike in the rain? Waterproof gloves? A helmet liner? Goggles which don't let rain bead up on them? Etc.

I've seen this and I've seen this, and both were helpful though they're a bit old now; is there new stuff out there that is awesome?

Also, any recommendations for a bike shop to buy this stuff at? I've heard River City is good. I would love to be able to try out the clipless pedals before I buy, is there any shop which would let me do that?
posted by rabbitrabbit to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (14 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Splurge on some icebreaker undershirts and socks. (you can also find them at Sierra Trading Post at a discount (although they are still expensive.) Sierra Trading Post also has helmet and glove liners at a pretty good price.

RiverCity on MLK has free espresso drinks on the weekends which is an incentive for us to shop there but we also go to the Bike Gallery.
posted by vespabelle at 10:07 AM on September 21, 2009

I bike to work every day. It's not very far but I've been though quite a few downpours and thunderstorms.

Shoes: When it's warmish out and raining I just wear my chaco sandals. I leave my work shoes at work and wear street shoes on the bike normally and if it's cold I just let my shoes get wet and cram them with newspaper at work and they dry by the end of the day. I think going clipless and getting shoe covers would probably be a good solution though, I always figured with waterproof shoes wet would still come in the top. I think my girlfriend wears keen sandals with sealskinz socks in cold rain.

Jacket: Instead of getting another jacket I would consider layering under it when it's cold. I have a very thin rain shell but putting a fleece on under lets me wear it when it's pretty cold.

Fenders: I have these and despite them supposedly being detachable I have not been able to accidentally knock them off in a year, including a full on bike wreck.

Gloves: I have two pairs of bike gloves that are marketed as being waterproof. Neither of them really are but since I have a short commute both keep my hands warm enough and dry quickly. One pair are by Endura and the other is REI brand.

You don't mention pants. I wear either Mountain Hardware or Outdoor Research rain pants but they're not meant for cycling so you would have to wear a cuff protector or something.

Either a helmet with a visor or some sort of billed cycling cap can help keep rain out of your face and you would probably want clear-lensed glasses. Apparently you can rub soap on lenses to help keep them from fogging up but I haven't tried it. I don't bother with a helmet liner, either my head gets wet or I'm wearing a hat or balaclava if it's cold.
posted by ghharr at 10:10 AM on September 21, 2009

For fenders, I recommend going with full fenders rather than the short ones that only cover the front of the wheel. I have a road bike and commuted in the rain last winter, and I was happy with SKS Raceblades.

I used clipless shoes with neoprene shoe covers. My feet were still wet, so I changed shoes when I got to work (I had the luxury of a shower). If that's not an option for you (can you leave a pair of shoes in your office?) I would keep looking for waterproof shoes.

Waterproof gloves are nice. I never had them and just came to live with soggy hand syndrome, but now that I have waterproof gloves for my motorcycle commute I wish I had found a pair last year.

A helmet liner is great, but you can just put a shower cap over your helmet. Seriously. It works great.

Goggles that don't let rain bead up on them would be a godsend. I tried regular sunglasses, glasses with clear lenses, and eventually just took the glasses off when the rain came down hard. You can try Cat Crap, which is like Rain-X for plastic lenses (apparently you shouldn't use Rain-X on anything but glass).

As for a jacket, my trusty Marmot PreCip jacket has served me well for years. The hood can accommodate a bike helmet if you'd rather not use the shower cap idea.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 10:10 AM on September 21, 2009

Edit: the specific fenders I have are the ones ghharr linked to, and I've never had a problem with them. They're very close to the SKS Raceblades from what I can tell. Ghharr's link jogged my memory.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 10:12 AM on September 21, 2009

Response by poster: I guess a little more info might help: my commute is 8 miles (40 minutes) each way. I can and do keep work shoes at work, but when it rained this summer, my tennies stayed wet all day and I had to take the hairdryer to them. I'd prefer shoes that are dry by 4:30pm even if I rode in during a downpour at 8am. I'm currently wearing cheap lab goggles with clear lenses that I got at Home Depot and the billed helmet hadn't occurred to me before now. I wear contacts so I'd really like to keep wearing some kind of eye protection if possible.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 10:26 AM on September 21, 2009

Response by poster: Oh, and spike: great idea about the shower cap!
posted by rabbitrabbit at 10:48 AM on September 21, 2009

I have found Planet Bike Cascadia fenders quite sturdy and able to take a few boots without bending or rubbing.

You will find that the bike-clipped splash guards work OK to keep your shins dry, but don't stop the spray from your front wheel from blowing back into your face. Get good full-coverage fenders, it'll keep you and your bike's gears/chain clean and lasting longer.

As far as gear, I wear outdoor/hiking/skiing clothes. Goretex rain jacket, goretex tear-away snow pants, and velcro wrap-around shoe covers. When I have very fancy shoes to wear, I pack them and wear sandals.
posted by anthill at 10:53 AM on September 21, 2009

Response by poster: To the people recommending Planet Bike fenders: do you know if the Cascadia and SpeedEZ models are tougher than the Freddy? Because the BP Freddy is the one I kicked and broke this summer.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 1:09 PM on September 21, 2009

How did it break? Looks like the Freddys are attached to the axle whereas the SPeedEZ are attached to little rubber things that might give a little more when kicked. The actual plastic fender part seems pretty tough.
posted by ghharr at 1:38 PM on September 21, 2009

Response by poster: I kicked it hard enough (started out with the front wheel not straight enough) that the fender bent and prevented the front wheel from turning, and I couldn't straighten it out to its former shape. Yeah, the SpeedEZ look like they might be a better design.

Anyone have more shoe recommendations?? Anyone?
posted by rabbitrabbit at 2:44 PM on September 21, 2009

Shoes: I'd go with a clipless setup. Something mountain bike-ish that you can also walk around in. Most tend to dry pretty quick and when used with a fresh pair of socks on the way home you should be fine.

Jacket: What you have is fine, the key is layers. I'd recommend looking at Smart Wool or Ibex wool base layers. They dry fast, wick moisture away from your body, and don't hold stink in. If your current jacket doesn't breathe enough check out Shower's Pass jackets (link goes to BicyclingHub who have a store front in SE PDX.)

Fenders: Look for SKS Chromoplastics, they have a little quick release near the wheel hub that detaches the fender if anything gets caught (see bottom right photo.) I'm not sure that would have helped in your situation but it might.
posted by asterisk at 7:30 PM on September 21, 2009

The Cascadia is the same fender as the Freddy. Sorry they didn't work for you. Beware fenders that come unclipped too easily - they can potentially wedge the front wheel. The best place to ask this question or find answers is probably Bike Forums.
posted by anthill at 11:17 AM on September 22, 2009

If you do end up with wet shoes at work, never underestimate the drying power of wadded-up newspaper stuffed into your shoes.

Depending on how aerobic you are on your commute, much of the waterproofing may be for naught, since such garments tend to also trap perspiration on the inside almost as well as they keep moisture on the outside.

The SpeedEZ/strap-mounted fenders will not stay in place as well as those which are fastened via eyelet at the fork. If you didn't break the actual plastic fender, there's a good chance it can be forced back into shape, through a combination of readjusting the bolts on the mounting and/or bending the fender stays as necessary. I have the 29er Cascadia fenders on my winter bike (a Surly Karate Monkey w/ studded tires). Like all other winter bike gear in MN, they've been abused to no end, and as a result have been bent back into place many times.
posted by strange chain at 5:20 PM on September 24, 2009

Response by poster: Update:

Decided to upgrade to clipless. Got these pedals and these shoes. Also, these waterproof booties.

Ordered SpeedEZ fenders, got a helmet with a visor, decided to get new tires while I was at it.

Got some Smartwool socks (thinking about the icebreakers, but they are kinda spendy), some waterproof gloves that make my hands look like Klingon hands. Also, upgraded to the really bright Planet Bike front and rear lights that I told myself I'd get when the rainy season started.

Bring on the rain!
posted by rabbitrabbit at 10:45 AM on September 28, 2009

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