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The joy of biking in the rain

Selfie of the author in a rainy bike lane holding a copy of his book Biking Uphill in the Rain.
I got caught out without rain gear the other day, but that’s just a book promo opportunity, right?

We’ve published guides to biking in the rain in the past, and the advice in those posts still holds true (especially this one with lots of advice from readers). Finding proper rain gear that works for you is vital, but it’s about so much more than defense from the elements. For people who want to get around by bike all year, the goal isn’t just to tolerate the rain. The goal is to seek joy in it.

I’m guessing some of you reading this just got finished ringing your socks out in the sink and are thinking, “OK, Tom’s finally lost it.” I know rainy bike rides can be tough, especially when you are caught out without your gear or if you’re just feeling tired and not up for any additional challenges today. I’ve been there.

But I’ve also biked ten miles round-trip taking my kid to preschool in a major downpour and genuinely loved it. Knowing you can keep biking through even the worst Seattle rain does more to keep seasonal depression or malaise away better than anything else I have ever experienced because you no longer feel trapped inside. The rainfall here is a big part of what makes Seattle the amazing place it is. Don’t hide from it. Embrace it.

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There is no single guide you can follow or product you can buy that will suddenly make you look forward to a rainy bike ride, though gear is a big part of the solution. You can get ideas about what to buy from our previous posts, but my biggest piece of advice is to keep experimenting and trying new things. Your gloves may have been marketed as being for cycling or claimed to be waterproof, but if your hands keep getting wet and cold then they aren’t good enough. You do not need to suffer. Try something different or move to a two-pair system so you always have a backup pair. If your socks keep getting wet, try biking in hiking boots or getting waterproof shoe covers. Don’t let the legit fear of soggy socks keep you stuck inside. Keep experimenting until you’ve got a set-up that works for you. Rain gear can be pricey, but you stand to save a ton of money if you can unlock the ability to bike year-round. These investments will pay off big time.

Likewise, if your rain jacket or rain pants are no longer keeping you as dry as it used to, don’t just suffer. You can prolong the life of rain gear using products like Nikwax and following the care instructions closely (it is very different from most other clothing). But eventually, you might just need a new jacket or pants. The investment is worth it.

Also, here’s a pro tip: If you buy fenders from your local bike shop, they may offer to install them for you for free or at a significant discount. Seattle bike shop mechanics are very good at finding ways to get fenders onto just about any bike whether it was made to have fenders or not. While you’re there, invest in some good lights.

The number of people biking always drops when it rains, but it is always cool to see how many people in our city have found their own ways to embrace it rather than hide from it. I’m always a little jealous of the people who barely wear any rain gear and instead just decide to happily embrace getting wet. That’s not me, but I admire the fortitude. Some people wear ski gear, some wear high-tech modern gear, some wear construction worksite gear, some swear by wool everything. There’s no wrong answer if it works for you and allows you to enjoy rather than resent a bike ride in the rain.

In my opinion, finding joy in rainy biking is the ultimate Seattle cycling achievement. There are wonders all around this place that lie dormant when it is sunny and dry, then come alive in the rain and the gray. Mossy walls glow and the woods seem to speak. Sure, make some tea and cozy up to the window with a good book. That can be a lovely time. But it’s also fun to be that weirdo biking through the rain that all those other cozy people watch through their windows thinking, “Glad I’m not doing that right now.” They just don’t know what they’re missing.

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8 responses to “The joy of biking in the rain”

  1. dave

    I totally agree! It took me a good portion of my 25 years of bike commuting, but I eventually nailed my standard rainy-biking setup and it’s very satisfying to look out the window, see that it’s raining, and simply put on my gear and get on my bike, knowing that I can still enjoy a bike ride and that I’ll be dry when I get to work (or wherever else i’m going). It’s all about having the right gear and attitude.

  2. dan

    Timely post. Had my soggiest bike ride yet last weekend and thoroughly enjoyed it! It helped that it wasn’t cold, and I never felt cold, but I have some gear changes I need to make next time to avoid soaking shoes that took two days to dry, at the very least. My biggest concern was safety in the rain and whether I’d feel like my tires were grippy enough, but I felt I only needed to slow down a little going down hills. I don’t bike to commute, so will I willingly go out in the rain in the future? I used to avoid it, but maybe now I won’t be so reluctant.

  3. Matthew Hendrickson

    Walking to the bus stop in pouring rain, my shoes and lower pant legs would get soaking wet. I also get wet riding my bike to work, but after a quick shower at work, and a change into dry clothes, I am ready for a comfortable day. The shower isn’t really necessary, but it is critical to have a place at work to hang the wet cycling clothes to dry. For cold weather, good gloves are key.

  4. Al Dimond

    It’s one thing to encourage people to invest in good lights, but when you’re on a path with a wet surface surrounded by powerful (and getting brighter every year!) distracting lights from roads, cars, parking lots, business signs, and whatever else… Seattle’s winter visibility problems are only going to get better when the city invests in good lighting.

  5. George Winters

    In the 1970’s while biking in England and Holland, I saw people using a cape like poncho that extended over the handlebars and is very functional for an upright riding position. I fabricated my own style, using lightweight bright colored 100% waterproof fabric. With fenders and below the knee length, I stay very dry, and the air circulation keeps me comfortable. I add reflective fabric tape and make sure the front light is visible in low light. At a store or work, I take it off easily, and a quick shake leaves it almost dry to carry in a shopping bag or leave on the bike.

  6. AW

    I have said many times that I was looking forward to commuting during the rainy season since the BG is not as crowded and it is much easier to get a spot on the buses’ bike rack. Getting the right gear is key and did take me a while to mostly figure it out, it is an ongoing trial and error situation. I’ve also found that (during my commute at least) the rain is usually light enough not to get wet enough to care and the odd time I get soaked that I make it a game and for example, see how much water I can squeeze out of my socks.

  7. (Another) Tom

    The other secret is that ~60% of “rainy” commute days I end up staying totally dry. Because it didn’t happen to be raining during the specific half hour I was riding to/from work. Fenders are key because the roads might still be wet. They keep you and your bike so much cleaner anyway.

  8. T-Town

    Any advice for biking when there is ice on the road? Or a chance of ice/frost on the road?

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