Help me stay dry and keep my head on during my bike commute
September 20, 2018 10:11 AM   Subscribe

I am starting to make the switch to biking in all weather and I'm needing recommendations for waterproof jackets and pants to wear. I also am in need of a new helmet and would love any recommendations you have.

I have started biking in all weather and am looking for a way to stay dry. Sometimes I have work clothes on, other times I am more casual. Do you have a recommendation for a light weight option? Is anything breathable? Reflective strips built in? I read the previous threads about the importance of pit zippers but most of the links are broken.

I also need a new helmet and am wondering if the side view mirror or any other add-ons are worth it for a safer commute. If there is anything else water/snow related that I should consider, feel free to add it too. Thanks!
posted by anya32 to Travel & Transportation (20 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Showers Pass is pretty much the top-of-the-line for cycling rain gear. I don’t have any, but everyone I know who does likes it a lot.
posted by rockindata at 10:20 AM on September 20, 2018 [2 favorites]

The best rain gear is a dry change of clothes for the destination. I keep a full change at work, like everything from stepping out of the shower, including a towel. It's great for when rain gear fails, you get caught by an unsuspecting shower, or you just spill your coffee.
posted by advicepig at 10:27 AM on September 20, 2018 [3 favorites]

I really like Showers Pass gear - I have a pair of rain pants from them that is probably exactly what you're looking for. Light weight, includes reflective strips, and has Velcro fasteners to tighten up the lower leg so you don't get it caught in the chain. It also rolls up in to a stuff sack that's reasonably small. I'll probably pick up a jacket at some point.

For winter riding, I wear a zip-up hoodie jacket from Swrve. Plenty warm and water resistant. Don't wear too much when it's cold or you're going to get soaked in sweat. I will also wear the Showers Pass pants as a windbreak in winter.

Don't forget about your extremities - when it's warmer I generally don't mind getting my hands wet, but full-finger waterproof gloves in winter are a must. I change shoes when I get to work, so I'm usually ok if my feet get a little wet but you might want to consider getting a pair of water resistant shoes. I also have a "buff" that I pull over my nose and mouth if it's really cold out, and I'll wear ski goggles in the worst winter weather (mostly to keep my eyes from watering but icy snow hurts if it hits you at speed). I wear a wool skullcap under my helmet in the winter, too.

However, for light rain I find that fenders are really the best way to keep yourself dry. I don't wear rain gear unless it's raining pretty hard.

I don't have any particular opinions about helmets; I just wear a simple foam hat. I see more and more people wearing helmets with integrated lights and turn signals but from an outside perspective I don't think they add a bunch of visibility and I'd rather not have to worry about charging my helmet every day. The one thing I do like about my helmet is the little clicky adjustment knob in the back which means I can easily change the fit if I'm wearing my hat underneath.
posted by backseatpilot at 10:28 AM on September 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

You might have found it already, but I asked a similar question 9(!) years ago: Biking in the rain

The helmet with a visor definitely helped in the rain, though if it's the kind that's open all over you probably also want to get a helmet cover. The booties I linked at the end of my question worked great to keep my shoes dry. I'd recommend waterproof mittens or at least the Klingon-type gloves that let your pinky/ring and middle/pointer fingers keep each other warm.

I had an Izumi Pearl jacket which I liked a lot, it was waterproof but also breathable because it had vents under the arms. It wasn't cheap though.

And if you don't already have fenders, get them so you don't end up with rooster tail!
posted by rabbitrabbit at 10:28 AM on September 20, 2018

Oh, I forgot to mention that Showers Pass recommends sizing up if you want to wear street clothes underneath the rain pants. I have found that summerweight wear is usually fine but heavier winter pants are a bit of a squeeze in the waist and hips. You may want to find a pair at a local shop and try them on.
posted by backseatpilot at 10:32 AM on September 20, 2018

I've been really liking my recent acquisition of a Gore Bike Wear ($$$ ugh) Power Trail GT AS jacket because the cut is just right for me. My two previous rain jackets (one bike-specific PI, one Marmot adapted from hiking) were not as comfortable or functional (things like a proper hood rain gutter fold: I loathe getting cold water down my neck). Caveat emptor!

Of my two pairs of rain pants, I prefer my Gore Bike Wear pants for their cut: they're just easier to pedal in given my shape. The Marmot pants (again, adapted from hiking) work but there's too much material in the wrong places for me. I admit that I use my jacket 10x more than my pants, though, because mostly I just use them to not get chilled in the rain and not soak my return-trip clothes: I tend to pack a clothes change for my destination.

Long story short: you gotta try stuff on and sit on the bike (or find a place that's willing to send you a selection of things to try).

On the topic of mirrors, I strongly, strongly recommend everyone try out a stick-on helmet mirror. My favorite is the CycleAware Reflex. ~$20 at my LBS and it's just clean-peel-stick. I rode for decades without a mirror and, two months after adding one to my helmet, I found it deeply annoying when I broke it (not its fault) and no longer had a rear view. It went from pointless accessory to "wow, it's a TON harder to move around in traffic than last week! ... I gotta go buy a replacement!" in less than a season.
posted by introp at 10:47 AM on September 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

Seconding the fenders mention, and don't forget about your front one -- super important if you want your feet dry (though as others have mentioned, booties and/or dealing with it are A-OK too).
posted by knownassociate at 10:58 AM on September 20, 2018

Long-time bike commuter here.

The Gore Shakedry rain jacket is totally waterproof, and, in my experience, extremely breathable. I wear it over my work clothes during my commute in pouring rain and never have issues with rain leaking through or getting too sweaty. I also use it on long bike rides and it's been great. It weighs practically nothing and packs down very well. You really can shake it dry after the ride. It's expensive, but worth it.

A helmet-mounted mirror is awesome. I think it's a better safety device than the helmet itself.

In winter it might be nice to have studded tires. I use two bikes in the winter: one with studs on and one without. Most days the roads are just fine and I use the bike without the studs. I use the studs when the roads are likely to be icy.
posted by crLLC at 11:18 AM on September 20, 2018

Wool is the way to go. It won't keep you dry but it will keep you happy. Heavy wool pants from a surplus store. Wool jacket from a thrift shop. Wool mittens, not gloves. Wool "Darn Tough" socks with a lifetime warranty. Eventually, spares so you can switch them out for a dry set.

I have lived in rainy Portland for five years. Rain gear is either impermeable (which means sweating in the cold rain) or loses its rainproofing after a couple seasons. Wool just works.
posted by aniola at 12:03 PM on September 20, 2018 [2 favorites]

Fenders and bucket panniers. Fancy panniers are like a hundred dollars. DIY buckets are fully waterproof, practically free, never sag, and are a great place to put bumper stickers.
posted by aniola at 12:06 PM on September 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

how wet wool works
posted by aniola at 12:10 PM on September 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

So, yesterday I biked home in probably the hardest downpour of my years of bike commuting. Normally I've got no problems staying dry since it's normally not coming down anything like that hard, but yesterday saw some serious stress-testing of my gear.
  • I wore a lighter-weight rain jacket with pit vents and pockets and removable hood. This is normally just fine for local rain showers on its own, but I probably should have closed the vents earlier and added the hood. Also, I think I might accidentally have tucked the jacket into the rain pants while I was hurriedly adding the pants halfway home. This was extremely suboptimal and resulted in the dress I was wearing underneath taking on rather a lot of water.
  • My Showers Pass rain pants are pretty great, but I normally only put them on when it's a serious rainstorm, since they're not all that comfortable and tend to be hot if it's not raining heavily. The zippers at the knee are pretty pointless and mostly add bulk at a weird spot; if it's raining hard enough I want the rain pants, might as well keep my calves dry, too.
  • I've had a bike rain poncho (has ties for waist and wrists so it doesn't blow all over the place) in my desk and should have used it yesterday, as it's much better for Serious Business Rain and the entire underside is pure ventilation. Downside is that signaling's harder.
  • Shoes are problematic. During summers when it's rained a lot more often, I've sometimes added cheap pool shoes to my bag of rain gear so I don't need to worry about drying the canvas sneakers I normally ride in. I did not do that yesterday. Yesterday's sneakers are in front of a fan at home, and I wore different sneakers for the ride in today. I do wear my work clothes (mostly dresses) to and from work, but I change my shoes, since they're not so washable, harder to repair, and more expensive to replace. Front fenders usually take care of the shoes problem, but: yesterday was intense.
  • Clear plastic safety glasses. I get mine free at work, but they're like $2 at any hardware store and you can even get a multipack for less per pair. Rain in the eyes is uncomfortable at best. Yesterday was sufficiently rainy that swim goggles might actually have been more useful, but under normal conditions, the safety glasses are great for keeping dust/gnats/water out of my eyes when it's not bright out.
  • Waterproof gloves. These things are awesome, wish I'd gotten some years ago.
  • Handkerchief or small hand towel. Convenient to stuff in rain jacket pocket for wiping off glasses when stopped, or wiping off the saddle if it's rained earlier.
  • Saddle cover. Best option is a shower cap, either free from a hotel or spend $5 and get a fancy one with attractive colors and lacy edging at a beauty supply store (mine's paisley!) Usually putting one of these on while my bike is parked prevents it from raining entirely.
  • Drawstring-closed bag to keep rain jacket, pants, saddle cover, glasses, clean handkerchief, and gloves in. Rain gear gets put back in here after it's dried, so that it's easy to check the weather and chuck everything required for the day in a pannier or basket without having to search.
  • Full fenders are worthwhile even when it's not raining, as they keep the dust down. I would also note the benefit of fenders even if you don't care about getting your bike and yourself dirty in gross puddle water: you don't splash other people when you ride past them.
  • Lights. Good lights. Dynamo lights are awesome, but as I haven't got them, I make sure to keep mine charged, and keep charging cables at work. A disturbing number of drivers here can't get "wipers on, lights on" through their heads, so they're even more necessary.
  • I love my helmet mirror, and it was even more useful than usual yesterday, when visibility was crap and my glasses needed wiping down pretty much constantly.
In conclusion, normally I've got no problems staying dry in rain (and have found that the act of putting on a rain jacket usually makes the rain stop immediately), but the extreme events will point out the flaws in any routine. I have no desire to carry a change of clothes with me everywhere or to squish all over everything when I get there, so: rain kit. It usually lives in my desk at work because where I am, rain's more likely in the afternoon. For light rain, it might not even be worth putting any of the above on (wool is very good and dries fast!), but yesterday, it was the difference between getting home on time and huddling under overpasses with all the people who weren't prepared for the sudden deluge.

Because bike gear is annoyingly expensive for no good reason, I wouldn't limit the search to just items linked. I've picked up almost all my stuff discounted somehow, often from Sierra Trading Post or REI or local bike shops.
posted by asperity at 12:10 PM on September 20, 2018 [2 favorites]

Plenty of good specific advice above, but wanted to turn the signal up on biking ponchos. They’re great and abate swimming in your own heat. Having rain protection up top and ventilation below is pretty great. I loved my rain poncho above all other rain gear when I was commuting daily, unless it was windy, then they’re the worst thing to happen in the history of cycling.
posted by furnace.heart at 5:08 PM on September 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

If you're willing to spend some cash, I really like my Lumos helmet with LEDs and Bluetooth turn signals. It was a gift I didn't expect to be as awesome as it is
posted by stray at 5:43 PM on September 20, 2018

About a couple years ago I got a Showers Pass jacket as my bike commuting shell and I absolutely love it! It's pretty much my year-round outer layer; in the depths of Montana winter it's outside my insulation clothes, and even in the hottest summer it's probably at least stuffed in my pannier just in case.

One of the things I looked for was a hood I could wear under the helmet for rainproofing down the back of my neck. Now after two years of heavy use the waterproof/breathable lining has been flaking off the inside of the hood a bit but that's not surprising and it still protects well enough.
posted by traveler_ at 9:11 PM on September 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

A lot depends on your aerobic intensity. If you ride slowly, at no greater exertion than a walk, the recommendations here will help. If you ride fast, with your heart rate up, no rain gear will ever keep you dry. The volume of sweat will just be too much, and as others have said, your best bet is a change.

I ride year-round on Canada's West Coast, but I ride fast, and no rain gear will keep me dry because most of the water is coming from inside. I keep clothes at work and shower there. It's the only way. To the extent that rain gear is useful, it's to slow down the penetration of water to avoid getting chilled.
posted by klanawa at 12:33 AM on September 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Just an enormous thank you to all of you. I got caught in a downpour today and am still drying off. Although I have to say it felt as good as I remembered it from being a kid! I'll definitely be following the advice you shared above!
posted by anya32 at 10:01 AM on September 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

RE mirrors, you definitely want one. I use a handlebar mirror which seems a lot better than a helmet mirror to me, but I don't wear a helmet so have never directly compared.
posted by metasarah at 11:37 AM on September 21, 2018

In winter, I wear a ski helmet for biking. When it’s so icy that I need studded tires, I’ve found that they don’t help enough to make me feel safe, so I don’t have them anymore and I just don’t bike on those days.
posted by meijusa at 11:56 AM on September 21, 2018

Fenders: Yes. For your feet, for your back, for your drivetrain, and for the people riding behind you.

Gloves: I strongly recommend "pogies"or bar mitts like the ones here. Mine are homemade, so I can't really offer brand recommendations, but they're great! No bulky, awkward gloves that make it hard to operate brakes and shifters.

Mirrors: asperity has the correct mirror recommendation! EVT's Safe Zone is helmet mounted (so you can aim it wherever you need, eliminating blind spots) and bigger that just about any other helmet mirror. It attaches securely and simply to your helmet, too, and won't fall off every time you drop it. I sometimes find myself looking up and left when walking... only to remember that I'm not wearing a mirror and have to actually turn my head to see behind me. It's that life-changing.

Lights: They are an important part of your winter gear, with shorter days and poor visibility. Dynamo lights are the best! Never charge them, never forget them, never loose them, never worry about turning them on and off. If you go this route, invest in some of the higher-end Busch&Muller lights. They are well worth it for light output and beam-shaping. Wheels with hub dynamos can be pricey unless you build them yourself, but some shops have demo setups for the lights, and you can try them on your own bike with a cheap old sidewall dynamo if you don't mind the drag and the noise.

Feet: I wear canvas and/or leather hiking boots treated with SnoSeal or a similar waterproofing compound. Strongly recommend this unless you are a clipless devotee.

All the rest: Sadly, the best budget option is to check secondhand stores (especially those specializing in outdoor gear) in late spring. Of course, the best weatherproof bike-commuting gear I've ever owned was a Flevobike Alleweder. It's large, heavy, and very expensive, but everything else pales in comparison. (-:
posted by sibilatorix at 12:03 PM on September 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

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