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.

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