Aviva Stephens: But it’s raining outside

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

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.

Bicycle peripherals

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.

Be present

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😸

 

About Aviva Stephens

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.
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15 Responses to Aviva Stephens: But it’s raining outside

  1. Joseph Singer says:

    Thanks for your post. I have been a bike only fellow now for 15 years and get asked the “how do you ride your bike in the rain” a lot. I explain to whoever asks that it’s a matter of perspective on being exposed to the rain. You can either ride in the rain, walk in the rain or wait (for a bus) in the rain. Either way you are going to be exposed to the rain. It’s what you want to do with it.

  2. Alkibkr says:

    My Cleverhood keeps me dry in most rains but not in a drenching downpour. I take a dry set of clothes so I don’t have to sit around wet which will lower your body core temperature. A spare pair of dry gloves would be nice, too, for a more comfortable ride home. The clinic I ride to does not have a drying room for patient’s use. I think every building should be designed with a drying room for the comfort and convenience of people who choose to walk or bike in “inclement” weather.

  3. Peri Hartman says:

    Your article was fun to read, Aviva. It’s true, the rain here is normally not bad. And if you have any flexibility in your working hours you can often avoid the worst of it. Otherwise, rain gear mostly does the trick.

    In case someone new is getting brave, the important things to realize are:
    – Wear really bright clothing: in dry conditions drivers often don’t see you and it’s worse in rain.
    – Allow a lot more stopping distance.
    – Avoid steel grates and plates (and wet leaves, too): they are like ice.
    – Make sure you have enough time to stop if someone blows a stop sign or pulls out of a driveway in front of you.

    I currently don’t commute but have evening activities 4 nights a week plus saturday, although some years back I had a hilly 4 mile each way commute. Sometimes my bike shoes get wet so I take extra socks. And a little rain gets through my helmet vents. But the only times it is truly difficult is when it’s raining hard and really windy. Fortunately, that is rare.

    Oh, and wet gloves are hard to take off :)

  4. Jack Nolan says:

    Bravo!
    Great post. Continued success with your addiction.
    16 years and I’m still loving my daily commute.

  5. Dave F says:

    Agreed – great post!

  6. Fred McFredly says:

    What is “functional AF”?

  7. Lisa says:

    My go-to has become the $5 ikea poncho for the short ride. I always have it on my bike and it’s perfectly functional in most rain without breaking the bank.

  8. asdf2 says:

    For short trips (under 2 miles), I almost always prefer jogging to biking, especially when it’s raining. You don’t get nearly as cold or as wet when on foot, and it’s possible to add or remove layers on the fly, without needing to stop.

    Really, the only big advantage that biking has over jogging is that it’s faster, and you can go much further without tiring out. But for 1-2 miles, it ends up not mattering all that much.

    • Alkibkr says:

      You left out one difference, biking is much easier on your body. If your knees/ankles/feet are physically challenged in any way, a bike can be your mobility device. Whereas jogging exacerbates these problems through repetitive impact on hard surfaces.

  9. Nick v says:

    Good call out on tires. When riding in the rain, I usually use 32mm tires. I’m surprised to see people riding with really thin tires in the rain. I’m wondering what other people think are optimal.

  10. Tom Fucoloro says:

    Love this post. I especially agree with Aviva’s main motivator: biking in the rain makes you feel like a super hero. I mean, sometimes it feels cold and uncomfortable. But knowing you can get around all year in any weather with just a bicycle and your own two legs is so empowering. As for gear, I bought these Outdoor Research “Versaliner” gloves that have an additional waterproof layer and they are amazing. No more carrying two pairs of gloves all the time in case one gets soaked.

  11. ronp says:

    Fun post, keep writing!

    I tend to commute in the morning with a 3.3 mile ride to the UW light rail station, then ride home in the evening 8 miles. Soapy wet paper towels when arriving/changing clothes at work keeps me not (too) smelly. Yeah, if I were in flat Copenhagen I would not wear bike commuting clothing, but here you sort of need it if your commute is more than a couple miles.

    I don’t mind the rainy months at all except for the darkness. We really don’t have many heavy rains, but I remember a few painful hail storms in the past – usually in the spring.

  12. alexalexalex says:

    Great and fun to read article. The scariest thing for me is riding early in the morning when it’s still dark out or late in the evening. I commute from Cap Hill to Bellevue and I am very excited about the 520 bridge bike lane opening on Dec 20th and hoping to start riding more consistently.
    Thanks for some inspiration! :)

  13. Alper says:

    My shoes are the weakest part of my biking get-up. It’s hard to spend the day at work squishing around in wet shoes and socks :(

    This post is definitely a kick in the rear to hit up some local shoe stores :)

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