Tips for biking in the rain
This page is about dealing with soggy, wet rain riding. For tips on enjoying yourself on cold, dry days, see the Winter Page.
Rain Riding Tips
Have Fun - I admit, I used to dread the rainy days, but that has gone away and I truly enjoy rain riding just as much as any sunny day now. It's refreshing, and I enjoy having the trail all to myself, because all the fair-weather cyclists have gotten back into their cars. Also, arriving at work on your bike on a downpour day will get you plenty of "hardcore points" from your co-workers. And it's just another $30 in your pocket for not driving that day. Life is good! The only problem with riding in the rain is dealing with wet clothes, and that's easy to overcome, as explained below...
get over it - The biggest hurdle is mental, once you get out there you'll have a blast. Getting out of bed and onto the bike is the hardest part. Decide the night before that you are riding no matter what. Set out your gear. You'll love it!
Be Prepared - Bring your rain booties and a light waterproof jacket in your pack every day, that way if it is dry in the morning, but raining on the way home, you won't be caught by surprise. It happens all the time.
dry off - After a rainy ride to work you'll have some wet clothes. Your rain jacket will dry off quickly, but you may have some wet pants or rain booties. Hang them up to dry and they will be nice and cozy for you by the end of the day. Laying them in a wet pile makes for a damp and unhappy trip home.
Quick Dry - For all your apparel, I'd suggest getting quick-drying synthetic materials such as polyester, poly-pro, SmartWool, etc. Cotton and other absorbant fabrics will not dry by the end of the day and will be soggy when you put them back on. I have a small electric fan by my desk. If there is any unwanted dampness in my gloves or shoes, I just put them in front of the fan, under my desk, and they are dry by 5:00. Any "wicking" outdoor clothing will dry quickly.
Back Off - Don't follow to closely behind other cyclists and cars or you will first in line to catch all the mud and grime that is flying off of their tires. If you want to be a nice guy, you could get a mud flap for your own rear fender to minimize the amount of grime flying off the back of your wheel. I like the ones at Buddy Flaps.
Keep up your bike - Riding in the rain wears out bikes very quickly. Fine sand and grit is carried up from the road and deposited in all your bearings and moving parts and works like an abrasive to wear everything out. Keep an eye on your brake pads/shoes especially. They might last you a year under dry riding conditions, but they could be gone in 3 months of heavy rain riding. Lube that chain every week too. Rain washes all the oil off. You'll notice it getting noisy.
Grip don't slip - Watch out for sewer covers and crosswalk paint, they can be very slippery in the rain, and they are usually right in the cyclist's path. Pay attention and you will be fine. Don't take fast corners over those features.
Rain Riding Gear
Booties - On a really rainy day your shoes will get soaked, even if you ride with fenders. Some pull-over waterproof rain booties over your shoes will change your life, when it comes time to put those shoes back on for the ride home. Nice and dry! Keep them in your pack at all times and they will be there for you even if you get an unexpected afternoon rain for the ride home. Cost: about $40.
Boot Dryer - There are still days when the morning commute is dry, but I get soaked on the way home, with no booties to keep my feet/shoes dry. I picked up an inexpensive boot dryer from a ski shop to make sure my shoes are toasty and dry for the next morning's ride. Nothing worse than putting on cold, soggy shoes. Cost: about $25.
Skull Cap - A thin, wicking cap is essential on cold winter days - more for the cold than the rain. They sell them to go under your ski or climbing helmet, they are thin and made of material that dries quickly. I keep one on hand to keep the tips of my ears warm on those really cold days. Cost: about $12 - $20.
Fenders - After your first ride in the rain without Fenders, you'll go get some. They are easy to install and keep all that nasty mud and road grime where it belongs: on the road. All fenders, these days, are bolt-on aftermarket types. They are flimsy and wobbly if you don't attach them all the way. Be sure to attach the front end of your fenders to the bike too, not just the part that bolts/straps to the forks. You might have to drill a hole in the fender, and/or get creative with your zip-ties, but it is worth it for a solid connection that won't flop around. Cost: about $40.
Big Picture - Keep your torso and your feet warm and dry with a jacket and booties. Your arms, legs and face will get a little wet. Don't worry about it. They will dry off easily after you get to work. As long as your core is warm, you'll be fine.
Helmet - I find that a regular helmet is plenty to keep your head dry, even though it is full of holes (the helmet). I stay almost totally dry, even in heavy rain. If you want 100% absolute water-proofing for your dome, I'd suggest a skull cap (above), or a rain-cap that goes over your helmet.
Glasses - It seems a natural reaction to try some kind of clear or yellow glasses in the rain, but I would advise against it. They get all speckly with raindrops and you can't see a thing! You're not going fast enough to need a windshield so skip 'em. You can see much better without them. Cost: $0.
Gloves - I always ride with gloves, rain or shine. But on rainy days I especially enjoy how much easier it is to grip wet handlebars with gloves on. Cheap, all-purpose fleece gloves are great pretty much year-round, or you can get something a little more hardcore if you are a gear nut.
Jacket - I have two biking jackets, both are waterproof. One is thicker, for those colder days, the other is a very light soft-shell for warmer days. With a good waterproof jacket you will be cozy and happy no matter how much water is falling from the sky. Your core stays warm and dry, and that's what matters. Cost: About $100 each.
Lights - Even in full daylight you will benefit from lights when it's raining. Visibility is limited, especially for people in cars with rain-speckled windows. In the rain I'd suggest a blinking white light on front, blinking red on back. Cost: $15-$40.
Long Pants - I ride in the rain with shorts because it's easier to dry your legs than a pair of pants, but some people prefer long pants because they keep the grit and grime from the road off. Cost: $60-$100
Rain Cover - A rain cover is like a big shower cap for your backpack. They are cheap and they offer you some protection, although I've had them blow off in the wind, and someties rain can find it's way in around them. Cost: About $12.
Big Picture - This looks expensive, but think of all the money you are saving by not driving a car. Cycling gear is guilt-free!
Rain Cap - Some rider wear a rain cap over or under their helmet to keep the hair/head dry. I don't bother, the helmet keeps most of it out and a little rain doesn't bother me, but you might look into it as an option. Cost: About $12 - $30.
Vest - On those really chilly days, I put on a fleece vest under my jacket. Keeps the cold out without overheating the arms. Perfect!
Waterproof Bag - I use a fully-waterproof messenger bag (backpack style). Water proof panniers work well too. I've used a rain cover on top of a backpack in the past, but the rain always finds its way in around the edges. It's no fun putting on your work pants with a wet spot on the crotch and knees. I'd advise a fully waterproof bag for worry-free commuting. Cost: About $60-$130.