There are many health benefits attached to bike commuting. They include a reduced risk of cancer or cardiovascular disease compared to using a car or public transport. You’ll also save money, and you’ll often save time if you work in a busy city.
What’s not to like? Well, bike commuting in the rain is one thing not to like. Especially if it’s cold as well. Few people enjoy getting drenched as they pedal, except those hardcore types that revel in suffering.
This article tells you what clothes and accessories will keep you dry and safe during a commuting downpour.
What Clothes Should I Wear?
When buying rainproof cycling attire, there are several things to consider. It’s not only about keeping water out. Consider the visibility of your clothing, too.
Below, we’ll look at some of the factors you might consider when choosing clothes for a rainy commute.
Breathability vs Wickability
A breathable garment allows air to move in and out. Better breathable garments also allow sweat vapor to escape. That’s a desirable secondary quality.
Wicking draws moisture away from the skin to the outside of the fabric. This happens via a capillary action. Typical wicking materials are polyester and Merino wool.
When choosing cycling gear for a rainy commute, you need a wicking base layer to keep your core dry, plus mid and outer layers for insulation and rain protection.
A base layer must be close-fitting to function.
Buy a long-sleeved base layer for the winter and short-sleeved for spring and autumn. In milder temperatures (e.g., 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit), you may find you can skip the middle layer and just wear a base layer and jacket.
If it’s extremely cold out, you can wear a middle layer for insulation. The same item is wearable as an outer layer when it warms up.
A long sleeved, full-zip jersey with breathable qualities is what you’re after here.
Jackets (the Outer Layer)
A jacket that is waterproof is also windproof or wind resistant, but the level of breathability varies significantly.
The Sportful Fiandre Pro Medium is a superb pick for athletic commuters, thanks to its use of advanced Polartec Neoshell fabric.
You may also want to consider a rain cape or poncho.
If you’re commuting in full cycling regalia, water-resistant thermal bib tights are a good way to go in the cold and rain. They offer superior protection to regular shorts and leg warmers.
Read more: Bike pants for wet commuting
On a cold day, your hands lose heat quickly through radiation. Add rain into the mix, and they’ll get colder still through evaporation, conduction, and convection.
Gloves with Thinsulate synthetic insulation stay warm even when wet, though a breathable, waterproof glove is desirable.
Read more: Gloves that help prevent hand-numbness
One way to keep your feet dry and warm is to wear a pair of waterproof overshoes with taped seams. These fit over cleated cycling shoes, leaving the cleats exposed for clipless riding.
To combat rain, consider buying an aero helmet, which has fewer vents. Or wear a waterproof cap under your regular helmet.
Read more: Helmets for commuting
“Casual” Commuting Clothes
Not all cyclists want to turn up to work in Lycra kit. Water-resistant cycling trousers are a possibility in a loose fit, as are rain jackets with a smart-casual appearance.
Other items in a casual kit might include padded under-shorts, base layer, loose-fitting cycling jersey and water-resistant shoes or boots from manufacturers like Northwave or Fizik.
Video: Bike Commuting – Casual vs Athletic Wear
What Accessories Do I Need?
The rain doesn’t only make clothing choices more specific. It also affects what accessories you might carry or fix to the bike for your ride to work.
From a driver’s perspective, a severe downpour hampers vision even with the windscreen wipers at full speed. So, you need something that attracts attention.
- Flashing lights – a useful way of grabbing attention, especially in the rain. Static lights help drivers to gauge distance, so it’s a good idea to have one of those on the front to help prevent vehicles from pulling out on you. A flashing rear light has been proven in scientific studies (PDF) to help cyclists be seen.
- Front light – choose a front light based on whether you want to see or be seen. On dark roads or trails, 800-1000 lumens are useful, whereas 100-200 lumens are enough to be seen in urban areas.
- Rear light – you don’t need many lumens of light on a rear light to be seen. Optical qualities in the light play a part in its visibility. LEDs are directional by nature, so their ability to cast multidirectional light is down to product design. The Lezyne Strip Drive Pro is a case in point.
- Reflectors – reflectors will help you to be seen in rainy conditions as well as the dark. They will be fixed to the bike, but reflective strips are also a good idea on bags and clothing.
The relationship between human eyesight and light is not linear. We detect incremental brightness increases well at low levels, but this ability reduces the brighter a light gets.
Luggage is part of a commuter’s lot. How do you keep all your stuff dry when riding in the rain? Here are some options:
- Backpack – the obvious downside of a waterproof backpack is that you are bearing the weight. Unless of course ….
- Bike rack – you can fit a bike rack to your bike and secure a waterproof bag directly to it with bungee cords. Check out our guides on front racks and rear racks.
- Basket – a wire-mesh basket fixed to a bike rack is more convenient, secure, and versatile than tying bags directly to a rack.
- Panniers – fix to a bike rack and detach easily so you can carry them into work. These are often great for organizing gear with multiple compartments, and they’re weather resistant.
Fenders / Mudguards
Another thing you need during rainy commutes is fenders (aka mudguards). If your bike has fender eyelets, they’ll be easy enough to install, but a road bike might need clip-on fenders.
Aside from saving yourself from the classic muddy stripe up the back, a rear fender protects other, nearby cyclists.
If you’re on a fast bike and fancy being minimalist, you can always go for butt fender or ass saver products, which fix to saddle rails.
Video: Installing Fenders
Tips For Cycling Safely In The Rain Or On Wet Surfaces
A commute bike ideally needs grippy tires with a good amount of puncture resistance. You can let a little air out of your tires for more road contact.
What about riding technique? Some safe-riding tips follow.
It’s vital when riding in the rain to pay attention to road surfaces and features. Some become very slippery when wet or present other hazards. For instance:
- Painted road markings
- Metal surfaces such as drain covers and grates
- Cobblestones or setts (aka Belgian blocks)
- Deep puddles, which may turn out to be potholes
- Iridescent patches in the road are normally oil
If your bike has traditional rim brakes, chances are your stopping power will be reduced to some degree in the rain. Be aware of this in all situations.
Cycling downhill needs caution, too. Moderate your speed using your brakes more often than you would in the dry.
Do not take corners with the same zest as you do in the dry. Stay more upright. Reduced grip in the rain can easily have you hitting the asphalt.
If you’re in the habit of climbing hills out of the saddle, be aware that this could cause loss of traction in the rear wheel on wet roads.
Avoid The Gutter
Rainwater acts as a lubricant between tires and sharp objects in the road. Try to avoid riding at the extreme edges of the road where punctures are more likely.
You should be keeping away from the edge of the road as much as possible anyway. A gust of wind or an obstacle could throw you too far in the wrong direction, causing an accident. Not cool.
Pedestrians in the rain are often dashing about and moving erratically.
Yup, they don’t like the rain much either.
Be wary of that as you ride.
I’ve Arrived At Work And Am Soaking Wet. Now What?
Following all the advice given thus far, you should be able to avoid getting soaked on your daily commute. But most cyclists get caught sometimes when they take a risk, or the weather forecast turns out to be wrong. What then?
Use A Locker
As a bike commuter, it’s a fine idea to always keep a change of clothes at work in case the worst happens. For that, you need a locker or closet of some kind – even a lockable drawer.
Also in your locker, a towel for drying yourself off is useful. In workplaces without shower facilities, some biking commuters clean themselves up with wipes. Think about your commuting kit at work and the things you’ll need.
You can also keep emergency cycling waterproofs in a locker in case you’re caught out, like a packable rain jacket.
A Change Of Clothes
Wearing bike-specific clothes and carrying work clothes separately is one way to avoid arriving wet. In that case, you simply let your cycling gear to dry naturally once you’ve changed.
Drying Clothes Off
Clothes that are breathable or have wicking qualities dry much quicker. A base layer dries almost in the moment you take it off, and a cycling jersey is usually dry within 2-3 hours. Regular clothing may not be dry before you go home.
It’s worth bearing in mind, too, that a lot of windproof and rainproof cycling apparel is not perfectly breathable. Sometimes it’s not breathable at all. You can become almost as wet from the “boil-in-the-bag” effect as you do from rain.
If you’re commuting regularly, don’t skimp on the quality.
Some parts of cycling attire don’t always dry quickly, like the lining of a cycling helmet. Use whatever facilities you have available to dry stuff off, including windows, radiators, or hand dryers.
That’s Us Just About Done. To Summarize…
By choosing the right biking attire and accessories, and by paying extra attention on the road, commuting in the rain poses few problems.
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Keep your commute comfortable in all weathers and you’ll reap the rewards. The air is cleaner in the rain, so you might even end up embracing it.