I admit, it doesn’t look like fun—rain dripping down your nose, getting drenched by cars racing through puddles, the safety situation even sketchier than usual. But as with almost every other outdoor activity, all you need to take on the cataracts and hurricanoes, drizzles and downpours, is the proper preparation—both mental and accoutrement-wise.
That gear doesn’t have to be fancy; it just has to keep you dry. The other day I found myself riding behind a dude holding an umbrella, which seemed to work for him, although I wouldn’t want to try it myself. More conventionally, here’s what you’ll want:
These are essential if you don’t want to show up at your destination with a wet stripe up your front and down your back. If you live where it rains a lot, you’ll probably want permanent ones. Otherwise, you can get the removable variety for the rainy season. Planet Bike, Woody’s Fenders, and others sell bamboo fenders if you want to be all sustainable.
Fenders can also be situational: I once saw a bike, on a wet morning in San Francisco, with a plastic soda bottle jammed in where the seat stays meet. Whatever it takes.
You probably already have a rain jacket—that’s fine, use it. If you want to specialize, there are plenty of cycling-specific rain jackets in a wide variety of lurid colors to choose from; one useful feature is a long tail in case your fenders are not up to the job. Showers Pass is a well-known rainwear specialist; I like its Hi-Vis Elite E-Bike jacket for its breathability and cool flashing lights in the back and on the cuffs.
If you’re going to be riding in serious rain, you’re also going to need some serious rain pants. They should be easy to slip on over your regular pants and shoes. When in doubt, I just carry mine in my bag and stop to put them on if it starts to pour.
Unless you’re biking somewhere tropical, you’ll probably want waterproof gloves as well as a stretchy cover for your helmet; they cost about $10, more if you want them to be breathable. (You don’t want to end your rain ride with your head soaked by sweat.) Finally, you need to waterproof your feet. I just ride in my duck boots and keep a pair of shoes at work. If you wear cycling shoes, Showers Pass and others sell waterproof overshoes; Sealskinz sells a pair with flashing LED lights at the heels. And if you have some kind of bespoke leather saddle—or another nonwaterproof number—you can either get a cover for that too or just use a plastic bag.
Keeping dry is only half the battle—you also want to keep alive, and to do that, you need to be seen. Visibility in rainy weather can be iffy all around. Drivers are bad enough at seeing cyclists when it’s sunny and clear. I ride with lights day and night but generally prefer the demure, steady-beam settings. In the rain, however, and particularly at night, I set my lights to “stun”—blinking headlight, seizure-inducing red rear light, maybe an extra flasher clipped to my bike bag for good measure, and whatever else I’ve got. (If you really want to stand out, there are many astonishing and un-ignorable wheel lights to choose from.) The bottom line is, should the worst occur, you want to make sure that no driver can say at the trial, “I didn’t see them.”
Remember that stopping times are going to be slower in wet weather, not just for yourself but for any other vehicle on the road. Watch out for junk that can pop your tire, as rain washes all kinds of tacks, glass, etc. into the roadway. In that regard, beware of standing water—you don’t know what lurks beneath. Finally, your bike’s likely to get really dirty, so do it a favor and wipe it down when you’re done, at least the chain.
The psychological preparation necessary to expose yourself to the elements follows from the physical preparation. Once you’re out on the bike, swaddled cozily in Gore-Tex and watching the raindrops bounce off you like bullets from Superman’s chest, smugness will be your umbrella. The satisfaction is similar to what you get from camping in the snow or knowing the proper first aid to apply in an emergency—you’re a competent, well-prepared human being and you’ve got this.
Read more: sierraclub.org