One of the best parts about living in Seattle is that you can easily bike year-round. It rarely drops below freezing in the winter, and it never gets too hot to bike in the summer. However, from October through June, you gotta be ready for some rainy rides.
But for me, biking in the rain is not a chore. Especially once days get really short and gray, biking is my best defense against seasonal affective disorder. Pedaling is like generating your own sunshine. It keeps you feeling energized and in touch with Seattle’s natural rainy whimsy that you might miss otherwise (one rainy ride up Interlaken or Colman Parks and you’ll see what I mean).
But feeling uncomfortable or unprepared is an impediment to more rainy biking. So here is the official Seattle Bike Blog guide to biking in the rain. You may surprised to find that most of what you need is already sitting in your closet…
What to wear
Do you own warm clothes that you wear when walking in the rain? Then you already own everything you need to bike in the rain.
Most city bike trips do not require special clothing, even in the rain. Over time, you will discover outfits and items of clothing that make rainy biking more comfortable. But don’t get intimidated by your lack of bike-specific clothing. If what you own keeps you dry enough to wait for a bus or to walk a few blocks from a parked car to your destination, then it is good enough for a quick bike trip across town.
What bike to ride
The bike you already have! Any bike can be a rain-riding bike. You don’t need special tires or even fenders (though, seriously, fenders will go a long way toward keeping you dry, and the person biking behind you will thank you for not spraying them in the face).
One thing your bike does need you should already own: Front and rear lights. You should use your lights when it is raining, even if it is light out. Remember, even if you can see well in the rain, you want to be seen through foggy car windows and windshields with faulty wipers.
Okay, now that we’ve got the “necessities” out of the way, let’s talk about ways to make rainy biking more comfortable. Anything you find that makes cycling in the rain comfortable for you is great. There is no “best” solution. As reader Chris Nygaard put it:
“Make mistakes by trying things and realizing they are wrong for you, not because someone told you they were wrong.”
I’ve met people who simply throw on a poncho and ride away. I’ve also met people who prefer to dress entirely in rain-ready bike clothes (sometimes modern Lycra, sometimes vintage wool jerseys). Some people look ready to climb a mountain, others look like they’re headed to a Parisian catwalk.
When I first started biking in Seattle, I was relatively ill-prepared. I didn’t have fenders or a rain jacket. This was not a problem until sometime in October when I hit my first real downpour. However, I noticed the wettest parts of my body were my shins and feet due to the constant spray coming from my front wheel. This problem was easily solved by buying fenders (probably the single most important rain-specific item you can buy).
Then I went and bought a synthetic rain jacket. I also borrowed a pair of rain pants for a few trips (I personally didn’t like them because they felt too hot, but lots of people swear by them). The rain jacket is obviously a favorite among Seattle bike commuters (you’ve probably noticed their near-ubiquity around town by now). They are functional and they do not take up much room in your bag when not in use.
However, if synthetic rain jackets don’t really fit your style (or if you don’t have it in your budget to buy a decent one), then look for wool sweaters, jackets and coats. Cotton absorbs water (that’s why it is used to make towels), but wool resists water and dries fairly quickly. Another plus to wool: Thrift stores are full of cheap wool clothes. So if you don’t like wearing the same jacket every day (or don’t have the budget for a wardrobe full of REI stuff), then wool is your friend.
My next best piece of advice: Warm gloves. As I noted earlier in this post, you very likely already have these in your winter wardrobe. However, if your gloves do not dry quickly, it’s not a bad idea to have a second pair on hand or to get some gloves that are more water-resistant (putting on cold wet gloves sucks).
I’m also a huge fan of wool pants. When I first started biking in the rain, I wore jeans. But since jeans are made of cotton, they take forever to dry. And wearing wet pants sucks worse than putting on wet gloves. I’m not organized enough to have a set of dry clothes on my at all times (and I don’t like wearing rain pants), so I found switching to wool pants made my life a lot easier during the winter.
After all, since biking and rain are both parts of my daily life in Seattle, wearing clothes that are good for biking in the rain has simply become my style.
Advice for women
I asked my partner Kelli, who probably bikes more rainy miles than I do, for some rainy biking advice for women. Here’s what she wrote:
In my experience fleece-lined leggings are a winter staple. As an avid skirt lover, I find these warm leggings help me wear skirts and dresses year-round. They are synthetic fibers and usually resist getting soaked for the duration of a typical commute. You can find fleece-lined leggings at a variety of places around town. My favorite pairs came from (Seattle Bike Blog sponsor) Hub & Bespoke, but I have seen cheaper versions at Target. Wool tights are another great option for keeping legs warm.
As far as skirts and dresses are concerned, avoid cotton because the fabric easily soaks through and will stay damp for a while.
That pair of really cute boots you have in your closet will also serve you well biking in winter weather since they cover the shins. Wool socks and leather boots keep feet dry and your look polished (of course, keep your suede boots in the closet for those dry days).
Finally, if it is really pouring just pack your work clothes in your bike bag and change when you get there.
Have some good advice for someone looking to stay comfortable on a bike through a Seattle winter? Have a specific question about staying warm and dry? Discuss all things rainy biking below.