How-To: Cycling in the Rain

My bedraggled Bat

My bedraggled Bat. In the winter/spring it's best to make sure all accessories are waterproof!

Everyone’s been talking about riding in the rain lately. It’s easy to cycle in fair weather, but dealing with rain is more of a challenge, and one I have been reluctant to embrace, to be honest. Like Tim of Car Free Days, I try to play the weather radar game, but sometimes—like on my way home last week—getting wet is unavoidable. It took a while, but I’ve finally come to appreciate the exhilarating effect of riding in the rain. Most of the time.

Let’s start with basics: when it’s raining, it’s even more important than usual to pay close attention to the road. It’s harder for cars to see you, and wet and slippery streets can make for trickier handling, especially if you ride a road bike with narrower tires. And warning: puddles in the rearview mirror may be deeper than they appear.

As for how to dress, if you’re not fully kitted out in rain jacket and pants, material that dries out quickly is best. Once again, our favorite cycling outfit of dress and tights shines here, but lightweight synthetic dress pants are also a good choice. If I’m not wearing my overshoes, I tend to choose knee boots since the leather/synthetic leather is durable and easy to clean. Rubber wellies are also a good choice.

If you know you’ll be cycling in the rain, make sure you have at least some of the following items:

  • Lights – a necessity since rain cuts visibility for both you and motorists
  • Jacket/rainpants – depending on how dry you want to stay. Look for fabric that’s both waterproof and breathable. Dottie highly recommends her Patagonia Rain Shadow trench. I wear my white Pearl Izumi Optik cycling jacket on rainy days, but have been disappointed in its breathability. (Its visibility, on the other hand, is beyond satisfactory.) Unfortunately, unless you get lucky at Goodwill, this is not something you’ll find cheap.
  • Fenders – a must if you don’t want to be tragically marked with a skunk tail. And you don’t.
  • Waterproof/resistant pannier or bag – last Tuesday proved that my Basil bag stands up to light showers.
  • Plastic bag(s) to cover your saddle and/or any bag or purse that might be in your basket. These can be conveniently stored beneath the saddle.
  • Overshoes! My vintage overshoes make riding in the rain fun, simply because I love to wear them. They protect my fancy heels from spray, which means I can still wear them on rainy days.
Dress. Tights. Overshoes. Water!

Dress. Tights. Overshoes. Water!

Once you get to your destination, it’s a lot like freshening up after any ride: towel off, or use a hand-dryer. You may need to carry some makeup or styling accessories to repair the damage.

Riding in the rain can be hard on your bike as well (another reason I always go Dutch in wet weather; Le Peug gets the sunny days). Beginning Bicycle Commuting had a great post recently on caring for your bike after a wet ride; it’s worth checking out.

Of course, all of this is for light to moderate rain only…I have zero experience riding in heavy rain and have so far found it easy to avoid. Since visibility is affected so much by even a light rain, riding in a thunderstorm when you don’t need to seems incredibly foolhardy. Your mileage may vary, of course…as always, share in the comments. What tips do you have for riding in the rain?

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71 thoughts on “How-To: Cycling in the Rain

  1. dukiebiddle says:

    I think one of the most important safety items in rain riding, especially in a downpour, is a helmet visor or billed baseball cap, which can usually fit under a helmet in a pinch… or just the visored cap by itself. Maybe it’s just me, but I cannot handle rain in my face or eyes; and I’m sure I make some pretty stupid distracted mistakes when I’m getting pelted in the face with water. Give me a visor and I can ride through a monsoon.

    I’ve never really gotten the plastic bag over the saddle thing. I mean, I understand if you have a leather saddle; but I’ve seen some of my fellow cheap assed synthetic saddle riders doing it too. Me no get.

    And, a gender specific aside. I’ve read my of the ladies say that drivers are much kinder to them when they are riding in the rain. I find that interesting and am super jealous, because my experiences are the complete opposite. I seem to have to deal with about 5 times as much road rage from drivers when I’m riding in the rain. Cut offs, clips, horn leans, screaming… you name it. Just being a boy and riding in the rain seems to INFURIATE drivers from some reason. Just an observation. Of course, that may have nothing to do with me being a boy. Maybe they do that because I’m ugly. Who knows. Have any other male riders experienced this?

    • dukiebiddle says:

      “my” in “I’ve read my of the..” was supposed to be “many”

    • Charlotte says:

      DukieBiddle, Not being a male rider, I can’t comment on that but I can say that male riders tend to smile at me more when we’re out in the rain. The rain breaks down the “my fixed gear too cool for your three-speed” attitude and we all become kids on bikes in the rain again, splashing through puddles.
      I like riding in the rain.

      • dukiebiddle says:

        Yeah, I think I was smilier to other riders for my 4 past days of cold windy rain than I typically am. I must be one of those jerks, though I think it has nothing to do with being cool. ;-) My goofy nods to strangers were of the “Sucks to be us, huh?” variety. I did not find the past week to be pleasant. Rain? Fine. 4 day of deluge rain in the 30s with gale, screw you Universe. That was an early Nor’easter that got stuck over the Mid-Atlantic. Eff that. No fun.

    • Trisha says:

      Yeah, that’s what I meant by riding in hard rain being dangerous. I usually spend half the time wiping water out of my eyes! Have never tried a visor (duh); will have to give it a shot.

      As for the plastic bag, as a fellow synthetic saddle owner I just use when I have to park my bike in the rain. Sitting on a wet saddle is no fun.

    • dottie says:

      I think drivers are nicer to me in the rain, just as they’re usually nicer in the winter. I have noticed as a woman riding in the rain that I become a more likely target for street harassment. This is rarely a problem in the areas I ride, but most of the times I’ve been harassed while on my bike, it’s been in the rain. Twice the wolf-whistle and once – incomprehensibly as I was wearing a coat – “boobies!”

  2. Velocentric says:

    I actually love riding in the rain (snow’s even better). Especially waiting for a light with drivers looking on. Somehow it makes me feel like a kid.

    On rainy days I make sure to wear the commuter style helmet with visor. You can develop a technique to tilt your face down and shield your eyes from the rain drops at fairly decent speeds. Rainy days are when I use my beater bike… fat tires, full fenders, multiple high intensity lights. Prepare for rim brakes to be unpredictable. Give lot’s of room and go slower.
    Also, people drive much faster in limited visibilty. The brain subconciously drives the accelerator pedal down to increase visual cues to “normal” levels.

  3. E A says:

    I love overshoes — especially when it rains in chillier weather — that or waterproof shoes/boots. I rarely mind the rain (even a downpour) when I’m on my way home, but I have to prepare better if it’s on my way to work or elsewhere. I like to keep a dry pair of clothes and socks at work, too (just in case!).

    And I second dukiebiddle – a visor in the rain is invaluable (but took me a couple years of commuting to realize how useful the visor is).

    Any suggestions for good rain pants would be welcome… as mine (though sold as cycling-specific rainpants) have never been very waterproof.

    • Elaine says:

      I love my Sugoi Majic Shell rainpants. Totally rainproof, dry off really fast, and unless it’s quite warm, they don’t get sticky/sweaty.

  4. philippe says:

    Poncho. Like those :

    http://www.agu.com/en/?pag=21&lijn=38

    IMO the best option for anything short of a downpour.
    No need for a breathable fabric, there’s plenty of natural ventilation from underneath.

  5. Lorenza says:

    I have been riding in light rain, the drizzle that usually gets you more drenched than anything else ;) it’s a Manchester specialty lol! Tights are the best, honestly! Even if drenched they dry really fast under the hand dryer, if I get drenched trousers I will be sitting in the office soaking wet all day, with tights give me half and hour and I am dry and warm again yay! So tights with boots are my way forward in rain. My short parka or mac keep my upper body dry, so that’s no problem.

    My most annoying bit is, since I wear glasses, having to wipe my glasses (even if my helmet does have a visor) every few seconds, really annoying…

    I have yet to experience riding in heavy rain, although should I get caught in a downpour, I would pull under a bus stop shelter and wait for it to calm down, or I’d leave the bike in the office and catch the bus… too dangerous for me ;)

    • dukiebiddle says:

      On the glasses thing, opt for a baseball cap instead of a helmet visor. I know they sell them in England, although I don’t know what you call them. The brim rests right on top of your glasses if you want them to, and extend further out than a helmet visor. If you wear a helmet, the cap can fit snuggly underneath. My glasses stay clear when I wear a cap like this and tilt my head slightly downward.

      But, for the love of all that is holy, DO NOT wear either a Yankees or a Red Sox cap. People who wear those are vile, fat and walk around with their hands down their pants. It’s true.

      • lorenza says:

        hey thanks :) i will go and investigate how they are called here :D will report on my findings lol!

        • dukiebiddle says:

          But only wear it when it rains. I don’t want anyone accusing you of being a chav. I understand that’s a touchy subject in Manchester.

        • dukiebiddle says:

          Fudge, I forgot to add emoticons indicating that I was teasing.

          • lorenza says:

            no worries Dukiebiddle ;) I didn’t realise you actually meant ‘baseball caps’ lol! they are called same here ;) I think I’ll just stick to wiping my glasses every once and a while… safe and sound…

      • E A says:

        I’ve heard that it’s unsafe to wear a ballcap under a helmet, since the brim of the cap tilts the helmet back on your head and it doesn’t offer the same protection above your temple-area if you do crash. That’s why the cycling specific caps with short visors are good under a helmet.

      • Ghost Rider says:

        dukiebiddle…brilliant assessment of Sox/Yankees fans!

  6. M says:

    Great tips! Riding in the rain clearly requires a little bit of planning and forethought. I was all ready to go out for my first cycle in the rain this morning but was so badly organized it was too late to cycle to work by the time I’d found an appropriate outfit and gathered all my things together.
    Might be worth putting together a few appropriate cycling outfits for those rainy Monday mornings when my brain refuses to kick into gear?

    • Trisha says:

      That is a big hurdle for me as well. Honestly, sometimes in the morning I’ll just put on my overshoes and jacket and play the radar game and hope for the best when it comes to the ride home! Outfit changes can be quite time-consuming. Of course, if you have a longer ride this isn’t as doable.

  7. Scott says:

    I don’t have much time for planning, and I have to wear the same kind of clothes to work every day, rain or shine. Therefore I put the rain pants and rain jacket in my bag at the beginning of the week if there is any chance of rain. I also have an extra pair of rain pants in my office in case I forget. The only part of my clothing that gets wet is my shoes — which is why I get frequent shoeshines (nb. Larry at Altman’s on Monroe has the most positive attitude of any shoeshiner I have ever met, seriously go see this guy if you want a shoeshine).

  8. dottie says:

    I must point out that my Patagonia Rain Trench is now 50% off. I hate it when I see something I paid full price for on sale, even if it is more than a year later. It’s a great jacket, would be perfect if it were a few inches longer to cover my entire lap, but I never found one that long. FYI, the jacket runs small – I bought an XS but usually wear a small or medium.

  9. Thanks for this post, as well as for acknowledging that you tend to avoid riding in the rain. I think that many beginners feel bad about themselves for not being able to “cycle no matter what”, and love it too. So it’s good to read that you too were “reluctant to embrace it”!

    I have managed to mostly avoid cycling in heavy rain so far, but I do cycle in light to moderate rain. The Pashley is completely weather proof, except for the Brooks saddle – which I cover with a plastic bag when I lock up the bike. I do have a handsome Brooks raincover, but I am paranoid about theft and to me the rain cover shouts “this bike is expensive, steal it now!” – so I feel better uglifying with a plastic bag. One thing to note about Brooks saddles, is that when you cover them, make sure to cover the metal springs and not just the top leather part, or else the springs will creak and squeal annoyingly!

    The most difficult thing for me about cycling in the rain is not the handling of the bicycle (the Pashley does great!) and not even the visibility – but the crazy drivers. I am not usually disparaging about drivers, but in the rain it seems like everyone behind the wheel gets replaced by their evil twin. Unpredictable behavior, sudden jerky movements, constant honking at one another. Don’t know if this is particularly bad in Boston or what, but I find it far more stressful than the road conditions or the handling of my bike!

    • dottie says:

      Yes, although drivers are usually nicer to me in the rain, they are not nicer to each other. When their visibility is compromised, they seem to take quick risky action, instead of waiting until they can see clearly. The scariest part of riding in the rain for me is the sound of car tires magnified 100 times. It always makes them sound so much closer and I get freaked out.

      For downpours – As long as there’s no thunder and lightening, I’m fine if I can take the bike path most of the way and avoid cars. If it’s likely to blow over quickly, I pull under a bridge or into a coffee shop to wait it out. If it’s not likely to blow over and I can’t take a bike path, public transportation comes in handy.

    • Trisha says:

      Thanks LB. In my opinion there’s no reason to feel bad about not wanting to be wet and miserable! But I wanted to point out that light rain/scattered showers are something you can learn to cope with, even for people like me who don’t like being wet outside of the swimming pool. Charlotte and Velocentric have my unending admiration. :)

  10. emm says:

    One quick tip: keep a chamois or one of those super-absorbent towels sold in camping stores in your pannier to wipe off your seat and grips. They dry your seat in a flash, dry quickly, and take up little room.

  11. ChipSeal says:

    Another caution: Wet leaves can be as slick as ice. Beware!

    • Elaine says:

      Yes! My one really bad fall — my knee is still paying for it — was taking a turn too fast on wet leaves. (In my own driveway. Sheesh. I’m much better about cleaning up the leaves now!)

  12. Sarah says:

    My preferred way to ride in the rain is a waterproof windbreaker, waterproof pants that fit over my regular pants, waterproof gloves/mittens, and a showercap over my helmet. I hate the feeling of having my regular clothes get wet, and it makes me cold very fast. I have not tried biking in the rain wearing a skirt/tights, but I think I would seriously dislike the feelings of wet tights.

    The one thing I haven’t solved is shoes – I love the idea of overshoes, but I have no idea where to find them. Where did you get yours? I’d particularly be looking for overshoes/galoshes that fit over sneakers rather than heels.

    • Trisha says:

      I got mine on my fave vintage shopping site, eBay! It’s actually easier to find ones that fit over regular shoes, rather than heels, so you should be able to dig up a pair pretty easily. Here’s a search.
      Riding in wet tights is not as bad as riding in wet pants — and as one commenter has seconded, they dry so much more quickly. I personally don’t like cycling in rain pants, since they make my legs way too hot. But then, my rainy rides are generally short.

    • Lanie says:

      I just bought overshoes I plan to use for cycling at Zappos- http://www.zappos.com/tingley-overshoes-womens-sandal-black. They’re not as cute as Trisha’s vintage ones, but the reviews were positive- I’m just waiting for a rainy day to try them out!

  13. Mark says:

    Over on ‘cycling is good for you’ in Vienna they’re talking about cycling in the snow already – brrrr! I must admit, whilst I’m not a big fan of that icey jabby rain that gets in your rain, generally cycling in a downpour isn’t so bad. People seem to think that they’ll melt if they get wet but it’s not so bad – I reckon a little taste of the elements is good for you and reminds you you’re alive!

  14. Mamavee says:

    nice! My one huge downdour ride was two summers ago. I left home in bright sunshine. Wore a red linen dress and cute shoes. Midday at work I saw it was pouring. I hoped it would be a quick passing rain however it was still downpouring when I left work a few hours later all through my train ride too. I decided to just go for it and rode home. Being summer it felt fine and once wet I just stopped fighting it. sadly the townie does not have fenders and I ruined the dress. No streak up my butt, but mud stains on my front and a lasting stain on the dress pocket. I still wear it, but am sad I messed it up upon it’s first wearing!!

    so yes to the fenders!

  15. Deb says:

    My tips would be a little different, because I ride in workout clothes and carry work clothes, but some of it might apply to everyone. The quick-to-dry material is a good suggestion for everyone. For those of us who change after we get to work, you still want to have dry stuff to change back into! Doesn’t hurt to bring extras too.

    And for the cold winter rains, avoid cotton. Cotton likely should be avoided in winter regardless, because whether by rain or by sweat, it doesn’t insulate when wet and is slow to dry, and this can be dangerous in the cold. Fleece (which has the added benefit of usually being made from recycled plastic bottles) is quick to dry and insulates even when wet. They are also very light weight, so they’re easy to carry along.

    I tend to go for layers, and so I don’t have a heavy coat I wear, even in the coldest part of winter. (Which, granted, might not be cold for most people – I’m in the DC area, and I never had to ride in colder than 12 degrees last year. More typically it was 20-40.) I have various layers and an unlined wind breaker (a brookes something or other – very visible) that is water resistant. I need to reapply the water proofing, as it no longer keeps the rain out. But regardless, wearing the right layers (i.e., material that will insulate even when wet) means that getting wet isn’t a tragedy. Once I’m out there in the rain, I don’t seem to care. It is when I’m inside looking at the rain that I cringe!

    Gloves are good to wear even in summer rains, because the gloves will give you better grip even when wet than your wet skin will.

    On the safety front, avoid riding through puddles if you can help it – not only do you not know how deep they are, you don’t know what is *in* them. Something lurking down there could take a bite out of your tube or could cause a fall. Go slower on the turns, of course, but also remember that it will take longer to stop, so brake a bit early to get the rims wiped down. (Though that does depend on the kind of brakes you have!)

    And for the women who have contacts and thus use non-waterproof mascara: on those rainy days, bring it with you instead of putting it on before you leave! :)

  16. Jeff Schneider says:

    Rain is not unpleasant. The unpleasant water is the spray of dirty/oily stuff you get from every passing car. My tip – stick to the quiet streets as much as possible to keep yourself and your bike clean.

  17. Bryan says:

    I like rain when I’m coming home from work. Going to work in the rain isn’t as fun.

  18. [...] a primer on rainy day cycling with some great post, post discussions from one of our favourite blogs: Let’s Go Ride a Bike. [...]

  19. Doohickie says:

    Today… WHAT A DAY! =D

    It poured all day long. I got soaked in the morning and soaked in the afternoon, both times to the skin. You can get away with this in Texas- the temps were in the mid-60s all day.

    I think the reason I do it is for the incredulous looks I get from my co-workers: “You rode to work?!? On your bike?!? Today?!?!? In the RAIN???!!?!?”

    Heheh.

  20. Amanda says:

    I am so happy I read this entry today. I tried out riding in some pretty steady Seattle rain the AM, and while I guessed right what to wear on the top (rain jacket) and legs (skirt and tights), my poor canvas shoes and feet are still soaked several hours later. I am so grateful for the idea of overshoes! I need, need them now! I am also very grateful for my fenders which kept my backside nice and dry.

  21. argo says:

    Hi,

    somebody have some suggestion for a nice rain-hat for my girlfriend?
    She got a similar trench to this one

    http://www.patagonia.com/web/us/product/womens-rain-shadow-trench-coat?p=27190-0-727

    but without head covering and bike communting is not easy if you want to be a little styilish for work reason.

    Heeelp!!
    Thanks….

    • Elaine says:

      If she’s not wearing a helmet, the Seattle Sombrero is a fantastic rain hat. I’ve had one for years, and I wear it anytime it’s raining and I’m not biking, and occasionally to bike the five blocks to the store in the rain. :)

      The other day I tried a baseball cap with a fairly long brim under my helmet, and was reasonably pleased with the result. It does take quite a bit of adjusting of the helmet, tho.

  22. Scott in Seattle says:

    I’ve been riding in the rain for years and have come up with an assortment of stuff that works pretty well for keeping me fairly warm and dry:
    – A Carradice helmet cover, which comes in a radiant yellow and has a couple of strips of retroreflective tape
    – A Bell helmet that allows me to adjust the size with the twist of a knob, so I can enlarge it just enough for…
    – A lightweight mesh baseball cap with a bill to keep the rain off my glasses.
    – A Showers Pass rain jacket. I’ve had a little trouble gauging how much to wear under it when I’m climbing Seattle hills, and a time or two I’ve ended up a tad sweaty, but when I’m not working too hard, it works great.
    – Rainmates rain chaps, which I got at Clever Cycles in Portland. (I have no association with them, I just like the place–good, knowledgeable folks who are fun to talk with about bikes). I don’t think rain chaps would be very comfortable over nylons or bare legs, but over a pair of pants they work great–they keep the rain off the front of your legs, and still let the heat out the back. If you’re riding in the rain without good fenders, you might get wet legs while wearing the chaps, but I have full fenders.

    I looked at the Zappos overshoes, but they’re all made for shoes with heels, and I typically wear shoes without heels. I’m tempted by the Showers Pass shoe covers, but I’m not sure I ride enough in the rain to justify that much money.

  23. Giffen says:

    I just ride with big and sturdy umbrella. I don’t get wet above the waist no matter how heavy the rain.

  24. [...] one. If you’re still not certain, there are plenty of websites devoted to explaining how to ride in the rain, wear a suit while biking, ride in heels and a skirt, ride in higher heels, and even more on how to [...]

  25. Another a very great read by the author hope to visit more very soon.

  26. Schedule says:

    Maybe you could make changes to the post name How-To: Cycling in the Rain : Let's Go Ride a Bike – life on two wheels: simple. stylish. fun. to something more catching for your content you write. I loved the blog post however.

  27. May be your headlining was not so very attractive but the content is very interesting..I love cycling but i couldnt do it in the because the condition of my body will fall off.. :( by the way, thanks for this info…

  28. As someone who rides in glasses rain is my kryptonite. Within minutes I can’t see through my fogged over glasses. That is why I made myself a handy rain visor out of an old soda bottle, cost under $5 and took maybe 15 minutes to make.

    http://wellsuitedforlife.com/2013/11/20/upcycling-101-soda-bottle-bike-visor/

  29. Kari says:

    Hi… I have a question about rain capes. Does anyone here wear them? I’d like to give them a go, because I really don’t like having to wear sort of silly-looking rain pants and I haven’t reached the point where I can bike in a skirt without worrying about flashing everyone… seriously, how do you guys do that? Anyway, I think a rain cape looks like a really great solution, but I haven’t been able to find anyone in the US who uses one.

    Another reason I don’t like rainpants is because the nicer looking ones are not made in my size. I’m a larger girl (size 14-16) and I can never find the cool rainpants in my size. They are also so expensive!

    Thank you for your help!

  30. Eph Zero says:

    I have the Rainmates rain chaps — they seemed great at first, but I’m very disappointed with them now. They didn’t even last one full rainy season for me. First the crotch straps came off. Then the other straps started to go. The snaps at the knee wouldn’t stay snapped. Now I have the knees taped together, but I still get a lot of rain seeping in at that joint. At this point, they do very little to keep the rain out at all, and I’m looking for something else. They definitely were NOT worth the fifty or so bucks I paid for them. :-(

  31. Laura says:

    Okay, I’m a newbie to bike commuting, but how exactly do the overshoes work? I can imagine putting them over basic flat shoes, but what about something with a thicker heel or a slight wedge? Do you wear them over just one pair of shoes or do they stretch to fit over different shapes of shoes? And if you order for your shoe size are they large to fit over your shoes, or the actual size of your foot?

  32. LGRAB says:

    My overshoes have a heel, so I can only wear them with heeled shoes. :) Since it’s a given that they will fit over other shoes, you order your regular size.

    —Trisha

  33. præmie says:

    præmie…

    [...]How-To: Cycling in the Rain « Let's Go Ride a Bike – life on two wheels: simple. stylish. fun.[...]…

  34. [...] things as scarves, hats and gloves. (Here in the South we like to forget how to use those.) Even rain isn’t too big a deal for a short commute like mine: You just wear the right clothes and watch [...]

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