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


Anonymous said...

Really funny Kent, and really useful :)
We moved to WA from AK thinking we would have no problem with weather but the white stuff is dry and actually much more managable than the rain.
This past week I got I can of tent waterproofer from the camping store (bright orange cap) and treated our jackets and backpacks thereby keeping us from having to buy new jackets all around which can really add up.
The headgear (esp caps to keep rain off glasses and ear buff) are great ideas....but none as good as stopping for coffee ;)

Anonymous said...

I believe the key to cycling in the rain is mostly psychological. If you feel rain hitting your body, you'll be miserable. But if you slowly become damp, you won't even mind/notice.

Thus, shoe covers and a helmet visor/cycling cap are my key gear.

Phil UK said...

A jacket which, although not waterproof, will keep you warm even when wet through, is the Buffalo Special 6 shirt. I've worn mine for nearly ten years now, and it still does the job down to -17 and in all other bad weather. You can also get special 6 trousers and mitts; the trick is to wear it next to the skin- no base layers.

Iron Rider said...

Great idea! Looking forward to the series.

Anonymous said...

What, no puzzler?

I agree with what Anonymous said, the key is mostly psychological. I just tell myself I was begining to stink and needing a shower anyway. Of course there's a great difference from the water that's comming down than the water that's being flung up in your face. Fenders are a great thing to have.

I'm looking forward to more of these. Jack

stakx said...

Great idea for a BikeTalk!
As a Boston-area year-round bike commuter, I second the full fenders and coffee.

I'll add that it may be better to ignore the rain. When it's warm out, I forgo rain gear, since rain gear tends to be hot! A pair of sandals with a change of clothes (at work or in the pannier) work just great.

For cooler weather, I use a rain cape. (My commute's ~6 miles one way, and the cape works great except for gusty days. If I had a longer commute, I'd opt for my Torrent Shell, which my wife has adopted as her own.)

I agree with Anonymous that riding in the rain is psychological. An extra pair of dry clean underwear is good to have, too.

BTW: riding through puddles is really fun, but can mess up IGH that aren't sealed well. Don't ask me how I know that.

Velomann said...

Another vote here for the psychological aspect of riding in the rain - and I'm a year-round commuter in Porrland, who also wears sandals and wool socks all year, with the occasional addition of the Showers Pass Club shoe cover. I don't bother with trying to keep my legs dry. Not sure why, but it doesn't really bother me. One thing I remind people who boter to ask or wonder how I do it: skin is waterproof. The trick to wet weather riding is NOT keeping dry; it's keeping warm. Those are not necessarily the same thing, and a person's tolerance for wet is partly in the head, and partly determined my air temperature. Few people in monsoon lands own Gore-tex.

Unknown said...

Is there any maintenance that needs to be done to your bike after a ride in the rain?

Kent Peterson said...


The main maintenance things that need more attention with rain riding are cleaning the bike rims and brake pads and keeping the chain lubed. Rain plus road grit can be very abrasive, so pay close attention to brake pad and rim wear. Disk brakes have the braking surface further from the crud and are a good choice for riders who commute a lot in the rain, but I've logged 10s of thousands of miles with rim brakes. For bikes with rim brakes, I've found KoolStop salmon colored brake pads to be the best for wet weather riding.

For an all-weather, astoundingly long lasting chainlube Christine and I have been very impressed with Chain-L. There are a lot of good lubes out there, but some need to be applied quite frequently. I have not had good luck with the "Dry" and "Clean" wax-based lubes like White Lightning. For a good, general purpose, easily available lube, the Teflon-based TriFlo works well. You can use it on your chain (as with any lube, dibble on enough to have it soak in and wipe off the excess to minimize dirt attraction) but it also works great on derailleur & brake pivots and I dribble it inside cable housings to keep things running smooth.

I hope this helps.


Mike C said...

Tossing in my $.02: Rainlegs (from England, where they know from rain).

For short- to medium-length rides in anything short of a torrential downpour, Rainlegs are Da. Bomb. When rolled up, they're completely unobtrusive, but if the rain starts, you can deploy them in about 10 seconds (without even needing to get off the bike).

They're not the cheapest option, but they are *well* worth the cost (in the opinion of this 200-day-per-year Boston bike commuter).

Anonymous said...

Greetings from the other side of the pond!
Mike C is indeed correct to say we 'Little Englanders' know a thing or two about rain, although I must admit I've never heard of 'rain legs'.
It's hardly stopped raining here in Yorkshire since April, but as I'm training for a Cyclosportive I've been out on my road bike once or twice, but it's not the clothing which causes the issue more trying to stay upright on slicks!
Having said that I cycle in shorts and a jersey, as my skin is waterproof and will dry quickly, whereas tights and base layers etc are often not and can weigh a ton when wet, thus ruining a ride. When the rain is really bad a decent breathable waterproof is okay, but I tend to shelter in the pub until the worst of the weather is over, that way I can have a pint and keep warm!
Keep up the good work!

Vik said...

Here is another methodology for dealing with biking in the rain Kent:

safe riding.


Sarah Grayston said...

I live in Scotland and we have had probably the worst summer you could possibly imagine! I recently bought some new rain bike clothing, a very lightweight jacked by Endura (fantastic) has kept the rain off every time. And some not so fantastic overshoes - also by endura. Will keep the rain out for about an hour!

KEEN Recess Team said...

Great tips! The fenders and the cap under the helmet have definitely been lifesavers for me. Looking forward to the next episode.

KEEN Recess Team

Darrel Staines said...

Yes, that's the way to go. Great tips to deal with rain. I guess tips wouldn't be restricted to Seattle though :D

Kwin said...

Good info Kent. Rain is so rare here in the desert that carrying (or even having) gear for it has never been a priority. Got any advice on snow?

Kent Peterson said...

Hi Kwin,

Doug in Duluth has more snow biking experience than I do (we don't get much snow here). Check out his posts at:

cycler said...

Tom Magliozzi is my next door neighbor here in Our Fair City, and in the summer he likes to sit on his back deck and smoke cigars. His laugh floats across the yard and fills our house.

He's very frail these days, and I haven't seen him all winter. I hope to hear him laughing soon now that the weather has gotten better.