Dealing with the rain
Right after Tropical Storm Fay, maybe this is timely …
In Florida, if you commute in the summer, you stand an excellent chance of getting caught in the rain. You may want to keep yourself dry as well as what you are carrying on your bike. There are several different methods for dealing with the wetness factor. Let’s examine them:
First, let’s deal with your overall body (minus feet — a separate issue for them). What can we do? Rain isn’t going to hurt anyone, so some folks don’t ever worry about the rain. They accept getting wet as part of the overall experience of riding. I never remember being especially worried about rain when I was a kid, going anywhere and everywhere by (Schwinn Stingray!) bicycle. Every puddle was splashing adventure! So, if you are not worrying about getting anything you are carrying wet — including yourself — the rain can be a relief from the summer afternoon heatwave. This assumes that wherever you end up, someone will hand you a towel at the end of your ride and a dry pair of shoes. If that’s the case, then great — no cost for any rain gear for you
Some folks are like cats — can’t stand to be wet for any reason (probably hate baths too :). For them, the only option is full raingear. This includes pants, jacket, helmet and shoe covers. I’ve seen this recommendation on a lot of bicycle forums and blogs. I sense that a lot of folks who recommend this option have not cycled in Florida summer heat. While this may be an excellent option in winter (cooler) weather, in the summer you liable to work up as much sweat and be as wet (and hotter) than if you just let the rain hit you. Gortex and other foul-weather gear claim to be breathable — that is, it won’t let moisture in while letting sweat out. The reality is that there’s only so much Gortex can do to exchange the moisture buildup from sweat — it can help but it certainly does not keep you from sweating. Gortex-styled raingear is not cheap by any means, and you can forget using the cheaper all-plastic variety of raingear with zero breathability unless you want a sauna everytime you ride.
The trick is to find some kind of rain gear that sheds rain and yet still allows for a reasonable amount of air exchange to keep the sweat sauna syndrome at bay. I found the solution that works for me — a bike-specific rain poncho or rain cape. Here are a couple of links to these ponchos:
OK, they are dorky-looking! But they work!
These ponchos start out just like any other poncho — a hood for your head, and the rest of the ponch simply draped over the body. However, using a regular poncho leaves a bit to be desired. Its hard to keep the poncho from billowing in front and in back as you cycle and it does little for exchanging air to keep you from sweating. Cycling ponchos or capes have special features that address the billowing issue as well as air flow. First, most encorporate some type of attachment feature at the back of the poncho so the backside can be secured either to the rider or to his bike. Secondly, the front of the ponch usually has some type of “thumb loop” that allows the rider to slip around his thumbs (or bike). This creates a sort of “sloping tent” as the ponch streches out from your hands (on the handlebars) to your head, and then secured on the backside. Underneath, however, is wide open, and it’s here that air can circulate freely, keeping the sweat factor down. Bike ponchos are much cheaper than Gortex raingear, easier to store on a bike, and for me offer the best compromise of a dry ride without the sweat build-up. The only negative — the tent-like front offers a lot of wind resistance. You’ll find you go slower than you might want.
Shoes get wet. It’s very, very hard to keep your feet dry. Some people use baggies, some neoprene socks over the shoes, some nylon overshoes. Here’s an example:
I think that if you are caught in a downpour, and you hit a few puddles on your ride, then your feet are going to get wet. My solution — let ‘em!! I wear fast-drying water-shoes for my daily commute (I don’t have clip-in pedals). The few times I’ve had my shoes wet on my commute in to work, they were dry by the time I left to go home (I keep my dress shoes at work, but you could of course keep them dry in a water-proof bike bag or pannier). Here’s an example:
Bags and Panniers:
Next, bike bags and panniers — ideally should be waterproof or at least hightly water resistant. My bike bag is only water resistant, so I keep several Glad zip-lok storage bags inside. On commutes where I think I might see some rain, I simply stick my wallet, cellphone, etc. inside the bags, zip them up, and then place inside the bike bag. Never had a problem with anything getting wet.
Finally, fenders for your bike. Yes, they aren’t cool. But yes, they work wonderfully well keeping dirt and water off your bicycle and off of you. I found that only full fenders give you all the benefits — those “short” fenders don’t cut it. I’ve noticed I can still get wet with regular fenders if I don’t keep my wheels straight. Many folk attach an extra (usually homemade) “splash guard” or “mud flap” extension at the bottom of their fenders for that extra protection.
I find biking in the rain a small blessing (unless it is lightning — I’m not a fan of Ol’ Sparky). It usually means the sun is blocked, the temperature is cooler, and I find myself alone on many parts of my commute. And yes, every once in a while I cut through a puddle to remind myself that biking in the rain can still be fun.