Caulk the Wagon and Float It: A Guide to Riding in the Rain

It seems like every time it’s even sprinkling outside, I always get barraged with questions from my coworkers asking if I rode in that day or they tell me how I must be crazy to ride in in such adverse weather conditions. Really, riding in the rain has lead to some of my favorite rides I’ve had. There’s something about being out in the rain that I find beautiful and calming. The trick is to just be prepared for it and have the right gear (and a change of clothes). Over the years I’ve made some great decisions and some terrible decisions. Hopefully you all can gain something from my mistakes and everyone can enjoy riding in the rain as much as I do. So here are some Dos and Don’ts for playing in the rain:

Dos:

  • Get a set of fenders. I rode for a number of years before I finally put fenders on my bike. For a long time I thought they looked kind of dorky and took away from that sick racing bike look that I had (even though I wasn’t fast at all). Now that I have them, I can’t imagine ever going back for a commuter bike. The thing is, after it rains, the ground is still wet and your tires will kick up water, causing the dreaded strip of dirt up your back (or backpack). Not with fenders, my friends.
  • Get a rain coat. I don’t want this to be an advertisement, and I’m not paid to say this, but my Showers Pass raincoat is one of the top 5 bike related purchases I’ve ever made. I am consistently astonished at how dry I am after riding in a downpour for 45 minutes. I found out this winter, as well, that it makes a great wind breaker. I can just throw a sweatshirt on and put the raincoat over top of it, and I’m pretty toasty all the way down into the dark side of the temperature gauge.
  • Carry a change of clothes. This one is pretty critical. You’re going to get wet when riding in the rain, obviously. At a bare minimum, carry an extra pair of socks and underwear – two of the primary places you don’t want to be soggy. If it’s pouring outside, plan on none of the clothes you’re wearing being usable by the time you get to your destination. Ideally, the extra clothes would be in something waterproof.
  • Get a waterproof backpack/pannier. There’s no sense carrying an extra change of clothes if they’ll also get wet on the way in. There are plenty of waterproof options out there (whether waterproof by design or they have a rain cover), but I’ve seen people put plastic sacks or garbage backs over their backpacks for waterproofness on the cheap.
  • Use a headlight and taillight. A good rule of thumb in your car is if you need to use the wipers, turn on your lights. The same rule applies for a bike. Rain can drastically decrease visibility, so turn on any blinkies you have.

Don’ts:

  • Wear jeans. Man, the number of times I’ve thought to myself “Well, it’s not that far, I’ll just ride home in what I have on”. Jeans can absorb so much water and basically never dry out. Further, after they’re wet they are not nice to the skin underneath. Chafe city.
  • Trust a puddle. This is sort of the same as they teach in driver’s ed about cars. When you’re coming up on standing water, there are a lot of unknowns. It could be a massive pothole that’s filled up with water, just waiting to ruin your day and pop both tubes (firsthand experience). It could also be way deeper than you think, and your entire bottom bracket will be submerged forcing you to pull it out and re-lube it (also firsthand experience).
  • Ride on the painted lines. I don’t know what they put on the painted street lines, but when wet those things can get super slippery. Avoid them as much as possible, as they can pretty easily cause you to slide out.

The rain is a wonderful way to help you wake up in the morning, give you a free shower, and can lead to some amazing rainbows. At a bare minimum, you can bust our your trusted fixie and practice your skids. With a bit of planning, some key purchases, and a “can do” attitude, you can be out there splashing around like a kid again.

Bike Month

Bike month is upon us, and she welcomed us with open arms, harsh winds, and rain. I am beyond stoked, and my goals are listed below. If you see me in a car, even if you’re driving that car, slap me across the face. First though, Des Moines has a local commuter challenge where individuals and corporations can compete against each other. My company usually has dismal turnout, but I’ve been pushing hard this year and recruiting as many people as I can. I even suffered through the most painful editor experience known to man (corporate America, amirite?) to bring the employees an intranet blog post. One difference this year from last year is that all trips must effectively be a trip you would normally take in a car but take by bike instead. If it’s your ride to work, it’s a “commute”. If it’s a ride to the grocery store, it’s a “transportation” ride. If it’s a Trans Iowa race, it doesn’t count. As the month unfolds, I’ll have a few more blog posts about some of the events around town, so stay tuned for those.

Here are my goals this month:

1. Ride my bike somewhere every day. This one is going to be easy except for right at the end of the month. I’ll be driving to Michigan for a wedding from 5/25 to 5/29, but I plan on strapping my rack to our rental car and bringing it up with us. I was going to try to think of an errand to run every day I don’t commute to work, but I don’t know that I’ll have a ton of errands in Michigan so I may have to open it up to recreational rides – which I, unfortunately, can’t log in the aforementioned challenge.

2. Hit 400 miles. I don’t actually know how achievable this is since I’ve basically never tracked miles. I’m going to get 220 miles from commuting to work. If I throw in a few trips to Altoona for soccer or to visit the fam, I can get almost 40 miles round trip on those rides. Ideally, these will all be transportation trips.

3. (Aside from Michigan) Ride more miles by bike than I ride in a car. Obviously I have to throw the Michigan trip out of this stat since that’ll be over 1,000 miles, and I don’t have the legs for that. Aside from that, though, I think this is pretty achievable and might be something that I’m already doing today. At 55 miles per week by bike and only driving my car once a week on weekends, I might already have this on lock.

4. Lead my company in miles. This one is largely dependent on how many people from my office participate and which ones. Last year, one of the guys rode to New Orleans so that was pretty unbeatable (we could log recreational trips last year). There’s one guy that has an 18.4 mile round trip, so if he rides every day I’ll have to surpass my 400 miles goal to beat him, and they’ll have to be transportation trips so that I can log them.

At the end of the month, I’ll go into the dirty details on how it went. Regardless of what your bike month goals are, I encourage everyone to get out on a bike at least once and have some fun! Getting from point A to point B doesn’t have to be spent in a metal box, and cycling is a great, low impact way to get some cardio and remember what it’s like to be a kid again. Catch you out there!