Sunday, July 01, 2012

Bike Talk: What's the best way to deal with the rain?

I'm starting a new feature here on the blog, something I call "Bike Talk". Think of "Bike Talk" as "Car Talk" with bikes instead of cars and one less brother. I may be just as (in)accurate with my answers as Tom and Ray and it's a decent bet that I won't be as funny. Since this is on a blog instead of the radio, you won't hear me laughing at my own jokes, so that's probably a plus. I'll take questions throughout the week via Twitter (@kentsbike) or email ( and once a week I'll grab a question and post it along with the response here. I'll also take questions by mail. Just write your question on the back of Brompton folding bike with titanium rear triangle, wide-range 6-speed gearing, WTB Rocket V-saddle, and a Russ Roca Signature Edition folding cappuccino maker to:

Bike Talk Plaza
c/o Bicycle Center of Issaquah
121 Front Street North
Issaquah (my fair city) WA 98027

Today's question comes from Rohit via Twitter. Rohit asks:

"What's the best way to deal with rain in Seattle?"

This one's easy. First off, I should make clear that I actually live in Issaquah, which is about 17 miles east of Seattle, right at the base of the Cascade Mountains. One of Issaquah's claims to fame is that we actually get more rain than Seattle. And I can tell you, with the certainty based on years of biking in the rain, that hands down the absolute best way to deal with rain is to stop for coffee. My lovely wife, who is a year 'round bike commuter and doesn't even drink coffee, will tell you the same thing.

Unfortunately, given the persistent nature of rain in this green part of the world and the burdens we all bear, it is impossible to spend every waking moment in a coffee shop (trust me on this, there are days I've come close). So the intrepid rider must go out into the elements and that is where good clothing proves it's use.

There's a simple, wrong, cliché that states that "there is no bad weather, only bad clothing." I'd argue that there certainly IS bad weather. Bad clothing can make things seem much worse and good clothing can make things seem much, much better. My wise wife will tell you that when you look out the window at 4:00 AM and you have to ride to work, you don't say "oh, look at the good weather." You say "this bites." And then you put on your good clothes, get on your bike and go.

A good rain bike will have fenders to help keep you dry and lights so the drivers have a better chance of seeing you through their rain-slicked windshields. Christine and I both favor wearing caps under our helmets to keep the rain off our glasses.

For the past few years my favorite rain jacket has been the Patagonia Torrentshell. While not a cycling specific jacket, it's proven to be tough, light, well-designed and well-made. It has big pit-zips so it doesn't get too hot and it layers well with warmer layers when it gets cold. Christine and I both have nothing but good things to say about our Torrentshells and no matter how good the weather looks when we leave the house, we have our Torrentshells tucked into our packs just in case.

The O2 Cycling Rain Jacket is a great jacket for minimalists or those on a tight budget. While the jacket is made of a very thin, light material and it has no zipper vents or pockets, it does a good job. The thin material can be fairly easily torn but my first O2, jacket survived a year of commuting and my 2005 Great Divide Ride, so I certainly feel my $35 was well-spent on this jacket.

There are other good jackets as well. My friends Jan and Mark both have good things to say about the Gore Bike Wear jackets (I'm not sure which one, maybe one of them will chime in on the comments). Portland-based Showers Pass make very nice jackets that are favored by many foul-weather commuters.

For rain pant's I use some inexpensive coated nylon pants that I've had for years. Christine favors her REI Ultralight Rainpants.

For the extremities (hands, feet and ears) it's often not a question of keeping dry, but keeping warm. A band over the ears makes a huge difference in comfort and one of the best, most versatile bits of gear is a Buff. A Buff is simple tube of Coolmax or wool that can be folded into an earband or a beanie and it's a super handy bit of gear.

For gloves, a thin wool layer for warmth and a Windstopper layer on top has proven to be the best combination. Depending on temperature you can use one or both layers and if the lining layer does get wet, it can be wrung out. Gloves with integrated linings take damn near forever to dry when they do get wet. Wool, even when damp, is warm.

For the feet, the look that I first thought was so stupid when I first moved here is now my footwear of choice. Yes, I'm one of those wool socks and sandals people. If it's really cold, I may have a Goretex sock over the wool. Yeah, it looks stupid, but my feet are comfortable.

That's it for episode one of Bike Talk. As long as I keep getting questions I'll try to do this once a week or so.

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA

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