EDITOR’S NOTE: Aviva Stephens is a Seattle native and financial professional who discovered the benefits and joys of cycling on her challenging work commute between Ballard and the Eastside. Find more of her writing on Medium and follow her on Instagram at @avivarachelle.
It’s been a wet fall, but riding a bike in the rain is not as bad as it may seem. In fact conquering the weather can make me feel like fucking super woman ready to combat whatever office drama may come my way.
Becoming Super Woman
The other day I found myself stranded at the bus stop because the bike rack was full and my only commute choice was to pedal five miles to my destination. This was one of those rainy days with a winter weather advisory to the effect of “Warning: If you leave your house today you might die.” Admittedly, even as a bike advocate, I opt for public transport for most of my morning commute and reserve the long ride for the evening commute. So on this day I was not looking forward to getting sweaty and wet before a long day of meetings.
As I stood stranded on the curb I contemplated my options:
- Ride five miles in the heavy rain and wind,
- Coast back home and work from my cozy, warm and dry abode, or
- Pop back into the coffee shop and pretend to be a carefree hipster for a day.
Although the fantasy of working from the comfortable confines of home and/or a coffee shop and not exerting all of my energy just to get to work sounded appealing, I also realized that they were choices rooted in fear. Fear of exhaustion, fear of looking unkempt, fear of an offending odor, fear of tumbleweed hair, fear of the rain…this last one seems absurd to me because I just got out of the shower and survived!
Realizing it was only fear keeping me from biking was the boost I needed to forge on with my commute. I do my best to approach any decision in my life with joy, strength and commitment, not fear. So with my Cleverhood rain cape and Eric Michael all weather boots I charged forth on my moist morning adventure.
I confess, the ride was pretty wet with moments of gusts, but nothing to the extreme dangers the weather advisory might imply. The ride was both challenging and exhilarating. As I pushed the pedals, I could feel my blood pulsing through my veins, the crisp air pumping fresh oxygen into my lungs, and the previously feared rain and wind brushing my cheeks as I glided through space and time.
When I arrived at work, still breathing deep and radiating with energy from the ride, I stood tall, threw off my rain cape, and watched my coworkers gaze at me in envy.
Super woman has arrived!
Taking on the rain
While I am not advocating for a first time or novice rider to roll out on surface streets and questionable bike trails during a flood warning, the inclement weather is not as bad as the local news makes it out to be.
Since I’ve been riding, I actually feel safer on my bike than in motor vehicles because I have more control over where I can go (streets, trails, sidewalks, parking lots, coffee shops, grocery stores, buses) and greater visibility of potential obstacles. On my bike I am never surprised by threatening cars approaching, bike riders, puddles, pedestrians, possums, or puppies.
Seattle rain is unique in that it’s more annoying than crippling, like the rains New Orleans, DC, or Houston. Once I got over my first grey drizzly day the rest were a breeze to conquer.
I was in New Orleans this spring, apparently the rainy season, and finally learned meaning of rain. Compared to New Orleans, Seattle is an arid rain where it can be pouring down, but you can stand under an awning at a bus stop and be comfortably dry. In New Orleans the rain comes down in sheets, the drops are larger and (somehow) wetter. Even with every storefront, restaurant, and hotel blasting air conditioning there still is no escape from the wetness as it clings to your skin, sneaks in after every door opening, and seeps through cracked windows. When the rains come, there is no biking, shuffling quickly to the next bar, or crossing the street. You just wait it out where you are.
I mention DC and Houston, because my friends from there always laugh when I talk about it raining in Seattle and now I see why. It’s funny that Seattle gets a reputation for rain because compared to New Orleans, it hardly rains at all. At least one CAN walk in it…even bike.
I didn’t need to visit New Orleans to appreciate the welcoming Seattle rain. After my first summer of coasting in the sunshine, the first dark drizzly day was a disappointment. But I was already addicted to the ride so thought I would give it a try. Seconds after I rolled out of my house that morning and inhaled the crisp fall air, I was grateful for my decision. It was a refreshing change from the blistering August sun.
It sounds backwards, but I enjoy fall and winter riding much more than the spring and summer. I think spring and summer may sound like optimal riding seasons because of the stupid images from television and movies. In any romantic comedy or family sitcom, whenever they ride bikes it’s usually some leisurely 70 degree spring day with pretty people in seersucker shorts and polka dot dresses riding dutch bikes on a well groomed trail through a lush garden with no helmets. After a few years of experimenting with bike apparel, hardware, and bags, I have a few tips that I hope will help you overcome the perceived harm of Seattle precipitation.
The bike is the most important purchase because it will dictate your ride comfort, safety, and motivation to ride. Bike acquisition was my most overwhelming hurdle to overcome on my way to the urban bike commute so I will dedicate an entire post on my experience in purchasing the right bike for me. For now, I want to focus on the importance of fenders and tires.
Fenders are a must for the rain but don’t usually come standard with a bike purchase. The fenders prevent the mud from splashing onto your back, buttocks, and neck. I have fancy chrome fenders that were around $300 including hardware and installation, but that’s the high end of the spectrum. My bike is a bit high maintenance in labor due to it’s design, I’ve had plastic fenders in the past, but they got busted up by the bus bike racks. The chrome fenders are sleek and durable. If you don’t want to splurge for fancy fenders, a back bike rack or cheap mountain bike fender are quick and easy solutions.
I have a thicker tire with tread, it’s thin-ish (like a racing tire) with tread similar to a mountain bike (but not as thick). I love them. Not-so-fat tires with tread can take on urban obstacles such as cracked sidewalks, tree roots, puddles, manholes, potholes, steep curbs, gravel, grass, dirt, leaves, sudden stops and turns.
Bike friendly apparel
Bike apparel is the worst! As an urban bike commuter, it’s almost impossible to procure bike friendly apparel that transitions from bike to office, especially as a woman. Apparel is a big subject (similar to the bike purchase), and I will dedicate another post to the topic. For now I will focus on rain-bike apparel. As mentioned above, my staple rain-bike pieces are my Cleverhood rain cape and Eric Micheal all weather boots.
I swear by my rain cape, I tow it on my bike at all times for any sudden rain falls. Should I get surprised by the rain, I whip out my cape and I arrive at my destination with my outfit dry and intact. I’ve tried the traditional rain gear (aka, rain pants and jacket), but the rain pants never fit quite right (apparently they weren’t made for hips) and the jacket gets way too hot. The look of the cape is also good for accomplishing that killer super woman look, it’s literally a cape.
I have two pairs of Eric Michael’s and they are magic. When I purchased my first pair from Market Street Shoes, the subtly-hip-young-natural-haired black saleswoman expressed that these fashionable calf-high grey boots were “functional AF,” and she was correct! I’ve had these boots for two years now. They hold up to all the Seattle rain has to offer and look great for a PowerPoint presentation.
Finally, a simple guideline to follow when riding a bike in any weather is to always be present. What I love most about riding is that it forces me to be present at least once during my workday, to be fully aware of all my surroundings. No screens, no one talking at me, no one wanting something from me, lecturing me, arguing, Facebook, Twitter, Slack, Instagram, Spreadsheets, or the like.
Oh and when you’re present do your best to avoid cars, pedestrians, other riders, branches, puddles, grates, potholes, curbs, ice, raccoons, squirrels, dogs, manholes, tree roots, possums, railroad tracks, rats, and any other obstacles you might come across. Should you be forced to roll over many of the aforementioned items, don’t turn. Keep your bike straight to remain more stable and prevent falling.
That’s all I have for now, I hope this helps anyone that wants to ride and sees the rain as an obstacle. I’m happy to answer any questions you may have, just leave a comment.
In the meantime, I will continue to ride through the winter because I can. And should any New Orleans type rain descend onto Seattle, I’ll just stay home and watch it from my window with the cat😸