Empowering The Bicycle Traveler

Braving the Elements – biking in wet conditions

Don't forget to smile!

Don’t forget to smile!

Much laughter was exchanged on a recent S24O as we watched the clouds roll in and the rain begin to fall and one of our friends said “but the forecast said no rain until late tomorrow”.  The smug ones in the group put on our jackets, the others just rode faster :).  We’ve all been guilty of thinking off thinking; “nah, I don’t need (your missing item here)”.

In all seriousness, I write this as the days grow shorter and the weather starts to turn so I thought I’d create a check list of a few tips, must haves and some quick substitutes.


  1. Brake early and slowly. If the temperature is dropping, chances are small particle of ice are forming – ever slipped on black ice? It isn’t fun. Rim brakes will be contacting with wet rims, taking longer to stop.  Disc brakes might not be as affected but be prepared just the same.
  2. Turn on your lights – if you don’t have lights on your bike, you shouldn’t be riding a bike (we don’t claim to be neutral on this one)  Be visible. It’s grey and you will be less visible to motorists. The brighter you are the better.
  3. Pay attention to the road – puddles can hide metal grates and submerged plant debris plus you can’t always tell how deep they are or if a pothole lurks beneath.  Piles of wet leaves can be like hitting a patch of ice.  Sliding off a wet man hole cover or a slick railroad track makes for a hard landing. Don’t hug the curb, take the lane and go around the debris collecting in the gutter.
  4. Be extra alert.  Even if you are in Idaho, with it’s unique “Idaho stop” laws, stop at the stop sign and the red light, make eye contact with drivers.  As much as you want to, don’t tuck you chin down into the big hood you just pulled over your helmet – keep looking around.
  5. Again, slow down so if something unexpected pops up you can react.

Gear Up

  1.  Fenders – We are year round fender people and think touring bikes and commuting bikes without fenders just look naked.  Fenders not only keep your rear end and feet dry, they protect your bike from grit and grime. Investing in a solid pair makes a huge difference.  Plus it gives you another place for a tail light – sweet!
  • Not much comes to mind as a substitute for fenders. If you have racks, placing a piece of card board on the top of the rack will help and then put some plastic bags on your feet before you put them in your shoes.

2.  A decent rain jacket – buy once, cry once.  Invest in a breathable jacket that covers your tush. Zippered vents or zip off arms are awesome too.  Then take it with you, even if the weather forecast doesn’t call for rain.

  • Rain jacket still in the closet? Stop somewhere and beg for a plastic garbage bag, punch some holes for your arms and head and while you at it, get two small bags for your feet. If you are lucky stop at the dollar store and get a cheap poncho – you’ll be flapping but hopefully will stave off hypothermia.

3.  Waterproof Pants – There are fancy and not so fancy rain pants.  Some folks use the same pant they have for backpacking and carry a pant leg strap to keep them from catching the chain rings.  Make sure they fit well over your bike shorts or street clothes and fit under your rain jacket.  A pair with zippers and hook and loop closures on the bottom are great, making it easier to take on and off without having to remove your shoes.

  • Years ago we didn’t own rain pants but instead took some rain chaps we must of had from backpacking.  We did a week long trip and it poured every single day… Let’s say the chaps went into the trash before we even packed the bikes for home.  I haven’t seen it done but am sure one could get creative with garbage sacks.

4.  Booties or shoe covers – just make sure you get the size that fits over your shoe.  Road shoe covers don’t like MTB shoes.  Some shoe covers are just for rain, others are heavier for more warmth.

  • Okay, I have been known to slide my feet into plastic sacks on more than one occasion.  I also know someone who fashioned paper cups over the toes on a particularly cold and windy ride.

5.  Something on your head – Personally I (Sky King) like a helmet cover but the Bike Hermit likes a skull cap under his helmet.  We also know riders who have hoods on their riding rain jackets so the water doesn’t run down the neck. I still believe, a large chunk of heat loss is via your noggin so keep it covered when it’s cold and wet.

  • Something we never ride without is a bandanna, they can easily give light cover under a helmet in the rain.  As mentioned, a hood on the jacket – as long as you can still see.  The bike hermit actual owns a shower cap he uses as a saddle protection cover and a dollar store shower cap over your helmet or under you helmet would keep you head dry and be a good conversation starter.

6.  Full Fingered Gloves – Options galore here and  don’t rule out equestrian gloves – like bike gloves, they are meant to fit snug and tend to be less expensive than biking gloves.

  • Water proof gloves? We live in the high desert so ours tend to be insulated but not 100% water proof. Some of the “lobster” gloves which are sort of a cross between a glove and a mitten are extremely warm, the ones made of neoprene being almost too warm in many conditions.  Given all that, when it’s calling for wet and chilly, I pack two pairs of gloves.  Haven’t seen this yet but a dollar store pair of rubber gloves with a dollar store pair of one size fits all gloves would sure be toasty! (I may have to invest in that as my back up set).  In a real pinch take that trusty bandanna and split it in two and fashion some coverage – better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.

7.  Chemical foot and hand warmers – we buy these by the case.  Actually we just buy the foot ones as they also work for hands.  Come fall, a set lives in my front bag.

  • if it’s that cold a good flask of whiskey and a thermos of coffee seems like a plan to me.

8.  Reflective Bits –  anything to be more visible.  In today’s market there is reflective tape, reflective spoke covers, reflective vests – it’s cheap, just do it.

9. Something to wipe your glasses off with – now a defogging cloth is probably smart but again, having my bandanna I can dry my glasses, wipe my nose and cover my head.  I just have to remember which corner is for which purpose.

10.  Saddle covers – of course when you are riding your saddle is covered… We use ours for stops and for camping.  I love my Gilles Berthoud cover.  Brooks also makes one.

  • this is an easy thing to find a substitute for – we’ve all seen or used the plastic grocery bag.  The Bike Hermit’s shower cap is great and who hasn’t taken one of their panniers or dry bags and plopped it over their saddle at camp to keep off the rain, snow or dew.

So don’t let a little unsettled weather keep you from using the bike. Some of our most memorable rides have been riding home after dark in the rain on the multi-use-path. As someone who lives in Portland, OR might say when asked how they can ride in the rain ; “Just keep pedaling”

2 comments… add one
  • Cranky Cankle October 22, 2016, 2:48 pm

    Very good advice!
    I chuckled at the ‘unique “Idaho stop” laws’…I’m an Idaho cyclist, and while it’s legal to roll through a stop here, I’ve seen dumb cyclists just blow through at full speed without looking. Scary!
    As for foot protection, I took an old pair of muck boots, cut off the sole and trimmed the top down to ankle-height. A couple small bungie cords on each to secure them, and one around the top. Not pretty, but it helps.

    • Sky King October 24, 2016, 5:52 pm

      Oh that is worthy of a photo 🙂


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