Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Long Commutes in the Rain

Brompton Rain Riding
Most transportation cyclists eventually get comfortable with riding in the rain, and for me this was never particularly a problem. In the beginning, my commutes through the city were short and I mainly remember struggling with poor visibility and chaotic traffic, before getting used to it all. But as my travel radius increased, so did my exposure to rain. Some things began to matter that did not matter as much before, and I gradually made adjustments. 

Brompton Rain Riding
As far as the bike, the big thing for me was waterproofing. I carry a laptop always when cycling for transportation, a DSLR camera much of the time, and also hand-written documents. These items absolutely cannot get wet. While there is now a wealth of attractive new bicycle bags on the market, many of them are not designed to resist water beyond a short ride. For long commutes, I suggest using a touring-grade bag or one that is specifically described as waterproof. The Carradice I've been using on my Brompton for the past 5 months has been pretty good so far (for as long as 50 miles in continuous rain in Ireland - with both my laptop and camera inside), as was the Po Campo pannier I used on my full-sized bikes before that. Ortlieb bags are probably an even safer bet. Just in case, I keep a plastic bag inside for emergencies, and I always store water-sensitive items in internal compartments.

Brompton Rain Riding
An issue for those who use leather saddles, is that these can get soggy (and, consequently, deformed) after long rides in the rain. A good saddle cover helps, and the stock one from from Brooks shown here is actually not the best example. Normally I use a thick gray one from Rivendell that fits tightly all around the saddle. It is deep, too, which protects the underside of the saddle as well. I am sure there are others that do a good job. Alternatively, there are specially treated leather saddles - such as Selle Anatomica - that claim to be waterproof. 

Brompton Rain Riding
Finally, long exposure to rain might call for additional bike maintenance. On a bicycle without a chaincase, lubing the chain is probably a good idea. And even if you're not into cleaning your bike, the debris that gathers around the brake calipers and derailleur is worth wiping off to keep everything functioning smoothly. The need for this kind of maintenance after long rides in a downpour certainly makes a good argument for internally geared hubs, enclosed hub brakes and a full chaincase. However, bikes with those features may not be ideal for hilly long distance commutes.

Brompton Rain Riding
As far as the cyclist, clothing choices get trickier - especially if you want to ride in regular clothes and don't have the opportunity to change upon arrival. A truly waterproof outer layer is essential. But equally important is breathability, since you are exerting yourself more than you would on a shorter ride. When I started riding longer distances I discovered that my usual raincoat was neither entirely waterproof, nor very breathable. Eventually I found one that worked well - made of light, technical fabric with lots of vents and a removable hood. Rain capes may be another option, with some breathable, cinchable ones from Iva Jean and Cleverhoods recently introduced. Just as crucial as outerwear is waterproof footwear: Shoes that are fine on short rides can get soggy after 10+ miles pedaling in the rain, and you probably don't want to sit around with wet feet all day. 

Of course, all the general tips for riding in the rain still apply: Lights, fenders, extra caution. On an upright bike, I don't feel like the rain is hitting me in the face as hard as it does on a roadbike, which makes things more pleasant. Once outside the city, I generally find it fairly peaceful and low-stress. Mixing ideas from transportation cycling and touring has been helpful for me and that's what I would suggest to others with long rainy commutes. Find a setup that works for you, and enjoy not being stuck in suburban rain-day traffic!

39 comments:

  1. Good day for this post (in Boston)!

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    1. That also reminds me of the one thing I omitted: By the time you arrive, the weather can change dramatically!

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  2. It's never been a particularly lovely experience, riding in the rain. Yet I love the rain. So there you have it....Something had to be done! Fenders, check.....Good wheels and brakes, check....Tires which provide a good grip, check....LIghts, check.... It's the clothes that always get me. While touring, I'm fine and just get wet. But running errands and making multiple stop is unpleasant. Also, strapping stuff onto the bike and having to maneuver through traffic and being constantly splashed on durning some runs through the city is frustrating. A mist is fine. A sprinkle is fine. It's the unavoidable rain and downpours which make me grumpy. Water eventually finds it's way through almost any jacket and rain pants. Capes are okay, really, and leave my concern mostly with shoes. Like water on my leather saddle, I'm not thrilled with getting my leather boots soaked. While panniers are less than waterproof, I always have important stuff stuffed in plastic bags which is nice b/c I never have to worry about anyone walking off with them when they are empty. The bike is my least worry because most bearings are sealed and I regularly wipe it clean when needed.

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  3. Really good fenders make a huge difference, with a profile that keeps the water inside, enough coverage on the front, plus a mudflap that reaches almost to the ground. Not only do your feet stay dry, but your chain (and BB) remain free of gunk. On my "Urban Bike," I never have to relube the chain (usually, it wears out before it starts squeaking), see

    http://www.bikequarterly.com/images/GBwhitetires.jpg

    Unfortunately, most plastic fenders are too short to protect your feet and chain.

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    1. Oh yes. I've been spoiled with very good fenders on all the transportation bikes I've owned so far, so this hardly even occurs to me.

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    2. I'm talking of the times when unavoidable down pours occur. Think of your trip in the rain a couple summers ago. Even good fenders won't work.

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    3. In Vancouver from autumn through spring we generally call those times Monday through Sunday. No matter how big the fenders they don't keep the rain hitting you from above, the car and truck tyre spray wetting you from the side and the occasional vehicle-through-a-puddle splash soaking you like the crew of a pitchpoled ocean racer.

      Well, it's not really that bad but some days it can sure feel like it is.

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  4. Are you saying that you keep your laptop inside a plastic bag at all times just in case, or did I not understand that correctly?

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    1. No no. I keep a crumpled up plastic bag in a pocket somewhere just in case I need the extra protection. This is mainly because others have warned me the Carradice may not be 100% waterproof. However, I have not needed the plastic bag so far.

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  5. One way to avoid soaked feet is to put your shoes & socks into a plastic bag in your panniers and bike in cycling sandals. Sandals and a rain cape (and, in colder weather, rain pants) made a huge difference for me back in the day of my 9-mile commute. Rain also convinced me of the superiority of hub dynamos to BB and sidewall units.

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  6. Heh, timely! Just rode 13 miles in the rain today. It's still pretty warm here in GA (low 80s), so I didn't dress too much. I just got wet. Nylon knickers from Rivendell get wet, but dry quickly.

    I actually need more wool for times like this. And safety goggles, because I was on a road bike, and getting hit in the eyes by raindrops = not fun.

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  7. Somebody ought to mention gaiters here ... For me, this is the most important part of my commute rain gear. As I live in Germany, I use these http://www.roseversand.com/article/vaude-rain-overshoes-gaiter/aid:481109 from Vaude - they are functional, reliable, rugged and can even be used in combination with pedal clips & straps (something I was not quite so shure of when I bought them ...). And they are inexpensive, although they are made Portugal, not in China.
    I don't know if this product can be sourced on the US marked, but something similar will be available I think.
    The one thing I had to learn when using gaiters is: in any case, always put your watertight trousers OVER the gaiters - guess why ... But of course one could use them in connection with a rain cape, too, to shield the shoes from spray water.

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    1. The Canadian equivalent to the Vaude gaiter is this. I just got them and on a recent tour they were very helpful.

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  8. I find cycle specific sandals are a great in wet weather during the warmer months. For sure your feet still get wet but not uncomfortably so as when wearing socks and shoes and they dry as soon as the rain stops. These are the ones I use: http://www.spacycles.co.uk/products.php?plid=m2b79s154p1228&z=1263

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  9. In Boston this morning the rain eased off as I crossed the Charles. I could see the edge of the clouds and then a brilliant blue sky. Arrived at work damp but feeling blissful from the beauty.

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  10. I like a shower cap as a saddle cover. I usually fit it over one of those plastic shopping bags. The elastic keeps things snug and I don't feel bad to occasionally have to use a new one. I also look forward to using my Showers Pass Touring overshoes this upcoming rainy season. They allow complete freedom in footwear - well, except perhaps for spike heels which aren't on my list of typical footwear anyway. My remaining quandry is how to keep my gloves dry.

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  11. So, I'm curious. What bike do you use if you've got a long commute in the rain?

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  12. I tend to ride in sandals on rainy days if it's above freezing. The fenders on my commuter don't quite reach low enough to guarantee dry feet.
    Also, I know you're not a fan of riding with a messenger bag, but I use my often on rainy fall days. My large Timbuk2 bag has kept my computers and papers dry in all sorts of conditions for years, and is pretty comfortable for rides under 20 miles or so.

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    1. Sometimes I've borrowed my son's Timbuk2 bag, when carrying a computer on rainy days, and stuff it in my panniers. Works great. After locking up the bike I just pull it out and keep walking :)

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  13. If it's not during hot weather, I just slip a pair of waterproof cycling shoe covers over whatever pair of shoes I'm wearing to work. They're completely waterproof and I don't have to change my shoes once I arrive at work.

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  14. I"m interested in hearing of others successful clothing decisions during rainy times. How far do you cycle and in what temperatures? Do you budget a lot or do it on the cheap?

    And safety wise, any extra precautions?

    Thanks.

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    1. I have gaiters and designer gumboots that I wear with a skirt and tights, I also wear a garbage bag skirt over the skirt and it works, though my tights get wet but they do dry quickly.

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    2. +25 years of year round commuting in Denmark. 24 km round trip.
      I have ridden on a variety of bikes from truly old clunkers, sportish derailleur bikes and currently on a NuVinci-geared hybrid.
      Good outfit helps tremendously.
      I can attest to the virtues of Ortlieb bags. I'm currently on my second Office bag and they are extremely versatile and truly waterproof. I've used mine as a (clunky) bag for cameras and electronics when canoeing... The fabric holds up great, but the plastic buckles tend to break after 5-6 years.
      For personal protection I have found that the challenge is to have gear that's both light and packable so that it's practical to bring them every day and at the same time sufficiently waterproof. I'm currently using Marmot's Precip pants ( http://marmot.com/products/precip_pant ) and a Montane Minimus Jacket ( http://www.montane.co.uk/products/men/shell/minimus-jacket/412 ), that is very light, for spring trough autumn and a heavier GoreTex jacket for winter use.
      Merino as base layer helps keeping me dry.
      My SKS Longboard fenders are nice too.

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  15. I am starting to question the wisdom of riding to work in one's street clothing, especially in inclement conditions. Why not slip a rolled up pair of pants, a folded shirt, a pair of socks, a belt, and a pair of shoes (or whatever your outfit is) into a bag and put on some more comfortable riding gear that won't get all wet and smushed up during the ride? I know that this runs against the philosophy of this site and I suppose if one is going to meet one or more clients it makes more sense to ride in regular clothing, but if one is headed out for an eight-hour shift, it makes sense to me to have a nice clean set of dry clothes to change into instead of trying to keep what you have on dry and fresh. Surely everyone has access to at least a bathroom where they could wipe themselves down with a disposable wipe and slip into their work gear.

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    1. My answer: I dress the way I do because it works better for my lifestyle, that's all. I do not work an 8 hour shift at a stationary office.

      But a more general point to consider: Most non-cyclists would probably tell you that changing upon arrival to work sounds unappealing, and that in itself is a big part of why they don't seriously consider cycling for transportation. I have been told this many times. Oh but it's inconvenient, undignified, I need to look professional, what if my clients see me in sweats, etc. When I arrive to a meeting in a suit on my bike, I get so many genuine "how can I do this too?" questions about it. It's obvious that realising the possibility even exists makes people rethink the feasibility of commuting by bike.

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    2. My wife had the opposite experience. As an accountant, being professional in appearance is paramount. Her commute is about eight miles and difficult to impossible to pull off in a business suit. She carries clothes in her pack and changes at work. Everyone knows this and what they once thought was impossible is now thought possible and, indeed, inspiring.

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    3. I see - that makes sense. Here in Arizona it gets hot - 107 today. I just cannot ride eight miles to work in long pants and a shirt - I would be too hot and soaked through by the end of it. The only thing that works is shorts and a short-sleeved jersey, and even that is risking it. Plus, in riding gear, I can adopt cooling techniques like frozen wash cloths and ice cubes applied strategically to keep cool. This is not something I can do in work clothes for fear of staining them.

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    4. At one job I had I used to get criticized by my manager for changing at work. He felt I was wasting time and being inefficient (it was a terrible job, it seems generally the lower paying the job is, the more resistant they are to you cycling to work). Changing at work does seem to present an image problem in some cases in addition to the inconvenience factor.
      My frequent compromise, when I have to dress professionally, is to ride in my shoes, slacks and undershirt and throw on my dress shirt and tie when I reach my destination.

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    5. I've been lucky. Back when I was a W-2 worker, I was able to store my bike in my office; hell, at one place they gave me a second office for my bike stuff. At another, I had a little cubbyhole built in with shelving and a rack for hanging clothing. (Not executive jobs, btw, just a high muckety muck for small organizations -- king of very small dunghills.)

      Rain: 9" in a good year, here in ABQ, NM, but much of it comes in huge downpours. Remember riding the last 5 miles home in a SW thunderburst wearing shorts, Lorica shoes sans socks and a Campmor rain cape ($29.99, IIRC) into a howling wind out of the NE as I was riding north. I was dry from neck to knees (at least, until I turned into my feeder street and bogged on the flooded road with water above my knee -- flash flood type rainfall).

      Back to riding to work: At one job I'd often not get around to changing until close to lunchtime; at other times my shorts + Hawaiin shirt was good enough if I didn't wear it daily.

      (Scene: Boss: "Patrick: Come here, I need to ask you something" Me: "Hang on, I'm adjusting my brakes." 10 minutes go by. Boss: "PATRICK!" Me: "Dammit, I'm fixing my bike! Wait!" Boss: "Oh, sorry ...")

      Rain again: Rode for the first time in, what, 12 months? in rain on Friday -- half of a 21 mile ramble. Of course I was riding a bike with no fenders.

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    6. Changing at work is only viable in a small business or office, or if the assumption is that only a small number of workers will commute via bicycle.

      At least 5,000 people arrive to work at my building each morning between 6:45 and 9:00. My building is along a street lined with large office buildings. Large office buildings do not have sufficient bathroom or other private spaces to accommodate a significant number of occupants changing their clothes. Frankly it does not seem unreasonable that the design expectation is people come to work dressed for work. Office buildings are expensive and energy intensive to make and maintain. It would be unreasonable and counterproductive for cyclists to argue their special changing needs ought to be considered in creating office space.

      I like riding to work. But if I could not figure out how to do so without having to change at work I would just take mass transit.

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    7. All it takes is 5-10 minutes in a bathroom or bathroom stall. Any office building should be able to accomodate that. Such a use is no more intensive than regular bathroom use.

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    8. People tend to get to work at the same time. Not sure about where you work, but in my office I have never noticed a surge of people heading to the bath rooms the minute they get to work.

      Do the math. 5,000 people getting to work in an hour and half time frame. 5 - 10 minutes to get clean and dressed. Add in regular bath room use. The sum is a lot of stress on the bath rooms and a lot of people not getting where they are supposed to on time.

      Cycle commuters should strive to be part of the mainstream. As long as people have been going to work - and this includes long before cars - people have been dressed for work upon leaving their homes. If cycle commuters cannot figure out how to do this, then cycling is not part of the equation.

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  16. +1 on changing at work. i have bike specific clothing that make my commute comfortable and i have work specific clothing that makes my work comfortable.

    when not at work i typically wear bike-specific clothing because its comfortable. "I dress the way i do because it works better for my lifestyle."

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  17. I just started using a rainproof hat with a big brim to keep the rain out of my eyes and away from my neck.(My son tells me it is a golf hat- God forbid.. :?0 )

    Around here it is seldom warm enough to just use sandals and get wet. Cheap emergency solution is thin plastic bags on your feet between the shoe and the sock keeps your feet warm and dry- unless you ride super hard. Need dry shoes when you arrive.

    Remember you can buy thin ripstop that is waterproof and make stuff like showercap that is going to last much longer. I got a bike from an old ladys relatives when she stopped using it. I had seen her on the bike for several years. She had heavy duty (I think made for sand bags) that she made a hole in the bottom of threaded onto the handlebars and secured there w shoe laces. Just stick your hands in there and you are dry. Can be done by sewing them fom heavy duty ripstop and welcro atatch.

    If I want long fenders i buy two pairs and cut down the second rear fender and use it in the front. Also the Brompton mudflap on several bikes since it is cheap (you can also buy one and copy it) an a great shape and low weight.
    badmother

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    1. I don't wear a helmet for my 10 minute commute...it's a short ride but still not fun when the rain is pouring and I have to get to work. Plus I wear glasses most of the time, and rain on glasses is miserable. I have been considering a hat and am interested to know where you found yours.

      My main concern is the wind - I ride over bridges and it can get pretty windy here. Seems like a brimmed hat wouldn't be too helpful in such a situation.

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  18. After riding during a storm, I can say that slippery pedals can become an issue. I don't like clipless, especially in city riding as you have to get out of your pedals fast, more frequently and in more varied conditions. Toe clips are a good solution for me. I also use wet lube on the chain before riding in rain. It helps keep water out of the chain better than dry lube.

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  19. Where I live in southern California, rain does not come often and is a special occasion when it comes. When it does rain, I try to go out in it for a hike so that I can see the water running down the ordinarily dry mountain slopes, or I walk in the city to enjoy the sights of the city while it wet.

    I have a bike equipped with long fenders and a saddle cover, just in case the rain comes when I am riding. But to ride in the rain, I will likely need to do so deliberately. Would it be worth it, as is walking and hiking?

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  20. I've been commuting in my regular clothes since I was a kid. I personally hate getting "dressed up" and hate wearing clothes I have to be careful of, and (probably partly related to this) have always worked in casual work environments. For the most part, it would be no problem for me to change clothes at work, or even to keep a dry set of clothes there. But for whatever reason, it never occurs to me or I'm too lazy to go grab a change of clothes before leaving the house, or I don't like rearranging the stuff in my pockets and on my belt, or I'm too lazy to change, or whatever. So usually I just get wet, and sit around in my wet clothes until I dry off. I have used various waterproof and water resistant jackets over the years, but have never found rain pants to last very long or be worth the trouble. You'd think that after ~20 years of getting wet, I'd have figured out a way around it, but I guess sitting around in wet clothes for a few hours hasn't taught me my lesson yet.
    I do have good fenders on my commuter bike, and they certainly keep me from getting covered in road grit or from getting wet when it's only raining a little. But when it's raining hard, there's enough water coming down from the sky and getting splashed on me by passing traffic that I'm soaked anyway.
    I do have plenty of waterproof bags and don't have trouble keeping my stuff dry. I commute on a fixed gear and let its drivetrain get really dry and noisy before I lube it or otherwise maintain it... it doesn't seize up because I ride it frequently enough, it just squeaks a lot.

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  21. OK, after years of doing this, I have figured out a scheme that works for me. In rain, I wear MEC Rad pants over lycra cycle shorts. These are very lightweight but tough nylon pants, designed for climbing. They are not really waterproof but they dry very quickly. I have never felt the need for cycle tights but my legs and feet tend to stay warm even on cold wet days. I wear a long sleeve Cool Max top with a loose, coated-nylon, hooded anorak over it. If I need more warmth, I wear a fleece vest under the anorak. I wear MTB SPD shoes with no socks - I HATE wet socks. When I was commuting, I kept my work shoes and clean socks in my locker along with a golf shirt and jeans. I stuff newspaper into my wet cycle shoes to dry 'em off.
    In the wet or cold, I wear full finger mechanic's gloves with leather backs and palms. These are made snug like cycling gloves but sturdier. When greased up well with Sno-Seal, they are very water resistant. I always packed my gear in panniers in big ZipLoc bags. My food goes into a small (6 pak size) hard plastic Coleman cooler, bungeed to the top of my rear rack. Totally water proof. I have used helmet covers but mostly I don't bother. If I'm sure to encounter rain, I have an old steel hardtail mountain bike with full aluminum fenders to ride. At the moment, I am considering adding fenders to my Miyata 610 touring bike which I use as a local hauler mostly.

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