Tips for Biking in Bad Weather: Summer Edition

Photo of a sunset over the Mississippi River

Sunset from East River Parkway (not relevant to the post except that I took this photo while biking)

The recent smattering of afternoon thunderstorms has served as a reminder that even at the high point of summer in Minnesota, outdoor activities are beholden to the whims of Mother Nature.

Being prepared for the weather makes life a whole lot easier when you have places to be (though I recommend against biking during severe thunderstorm or flash flood warnings).

Here are a few tips for biking when the sky’s not on your side:Splashing Through

  1. Buy fenders! They are cheap. I spent a long time without fenders, and therefore spent a long time with soggy pants. Fenders protect you from getting water all over your calves/wrists/pannier/everything. Speaking of panniers, I highly recommend these in general. When I bike commute, I’m able to pack in one pannier my work clothes, lunch, shower materials and other incidentals I may need throughout the day. When I bike to the lake, there’s room for a beach towel, a six-pack of beer and ice packs to keep it cool, Gatorade, water and extra shoes. (My only regret is that I didn’t buy a waterproof pannier.)
  2. Cover your seat. I always have a plastic shopping bag tied to my rear rack or packed somewhere in one of my bags so I can use it to cover my seat if I lock my bike in an unsheltered spot and it rains; no one wants to have a wet butt.
  3. Cover your feet. When it’s cool and rainy, I wear rain boots or my lightweight snow boots to keep my feet dry and warm. When it’s warmer and rainy, I opt for Chacos because I don’t mind the warm rain, but want my feet to be able to air out once I arrive at my destination.
  4. Wear rain gear (if you want to stay dry). This one is obvious. Bicycling.com has some recommendations for high-visibility and ventilated options. Rain pants offer an incredibly good return on investment — namely, not having wet pants. I got mine on sale from Columbia, but I bet a number of local shops and outdoor companies have excellent choices. (Shopaholic tip: If you’re on the lookout for a specific type of gear, sign up for company email lists so you get notifications when there’s a big sale. This has helped my clothing/sports-gear budget stretch much farther.)
  5. Wear quick-drying clothes (if you don’t mind getting wet). Sometimes it’s just not worth trying to stay dry, depending on where you’re going and what you’re doing. If I don’t have to look nice upon arriving at my destination, I give in to nature and wear quick-dry athletic gear with my trusty Chacos. I pack a towel in my bag, so I can wipe off any mud/rain when I’m done biking rather than suiting up in a rain jacket and rain pants when it’s 80 degrees out.
  6. Invest in goggles. It’s difficult to keep my eyes open when water is blowing into them at 15 miles per hour, so I wear my winter goggles when it’s raining out, too, because I like to see.
  7. Use your lights. Drivers have enough trouble noticing bicyclists in the best weather, and rain doesn’t help. I always use my headlight and spoke lights when the sun isn’t out to make sure I am seen.
  8. Support your local bike shop! If you’re in the market for bicycle gear and it’s available locally, hit up a local shop rather than ordering from Amazon or another major retailer. The bike shop experience is special, and we have a lot of wonderful shops in the Twin Cities with knowledgeable, friendly staff. Patronizing local stores instead of shopping online ensures that we continue to have that benefit.

That’s all I’ve got for being comfy biking in the rain. If you have tips or tricks of your own, please share in the comments!

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13 Responses to Tips for Biking in Bad Weather: Summer Edition

  1. Dana DeMaster
    DanaD July 22, 2019 at 9:36 am #

    My 15 year old rain jacket and rain pants recently gave up on me. Looking for a new set, I started thinking about alternatives since rain gear can get really hot. If I am hot and wet from sweat rather than rain, I am still wet! I also bike in skirts all the time so rain pants don’t really work.

    I purchased a bike-specific poncho and am loving it! Mine is the People’s Poncho, but there are others available. I love that it covers me like a rain blanket, going over my handle bars and the back of the saddle. It has little hand holds underneath that fit over my handle bars and a strap around the waist to keep it from flying up in the back. It is reflective and the hood has multiple adjusters to fit under a helmet. I don’t get hot and sweaty because the poncho allows air circulation. It looks stylish and fits well with a skirt. Highly recommend.

    • mplsmatt July 22, 2019 at 9:47 am #

      Nice suggestion! My current rain gear is great in the cool/cold wet but kind of miserable in the hot wet. I’ll have to look into ponchos.

    • Jenny Werness
      Jenny Werness July 22, 2019 at 10:20 am #

      Seconding rain ponchos, they’re great.

    • Adam Miller
      Adam Miller July 22, 2019 at 10:22 am #

      Yeah, I’m usually carrying some amount of rain gear (pants) but often will not wear it because it doesn’t keep me any more dry. And if I’m heading home I can just change when I get there anyway.

      • James Kohls July 24, 2019 at 7:12 pm #

        If I’m riding to a place where I have a change of clothes, I just get wet. 🙂

    • Alicia Valenti July 22, 2019 at 11:19 am #

      An oversight on my part! Thanks for sharing — I may have to buy one myself now.

    • Eric Saathoff
      Eric Saathoff July 22, 2019 at 11:27 am #

      I had the Cleverlite (note, not clever hood) “rain cape” but purchased the People’s Poncho on Dana’s recommendation. I have only used it in light rains so far, but I can already tell I like the design much better.

      The Cleverlite was a thinner material that was curling up at the bottom. The worst part was that it had no waist strap, so it would just go flapping in the wind and not actually cover my backside.

      People’s Poncho seems better constructed, has a waist strap, also the hand holds can just be attached to the handlebars if your arms get sweaty always being in contact with the poncho material.

      But let’s be clear: they look like a sail and you won’t be traveling at full speed. I’m never a fast rider, so it doesn’t bother me one bit.

    • Hokan July 22, 2019 at 11:52 am #

      Doubling down on the rain poncho, I’ve been a happy user for a long time and, this year, upgraded to a Carradice: https://www.carradice.co.uk/products/rainwear/duxback-rain-poncho-super

      A note; you need fenders. A cape won’t work nearly as well without them.

  2. Gordy Moore July 22, 2019 at 1:20 pm #

    Thanks for all the tips and info, Alicia! As someone who is woefully under-geared (if that’s a word), this is super helpful. Do you or anyone else have suggestions for what local bike shops have the best selections of the gear and stuff you mentioned? I really try to buy from local shops as well, but oftentimes I’m frustrated by small or mediocre selections of gear and accessories.

    • Alicia Valenti July 22, 2019 at 6:37 pm #

      I am a Hub loyalist through and through, but for outdoor gear not specific to biking you might be better off at a place like Midwest Mountaineering. There’s a Hub location conveniently next door, or you can go to the main shop at Lake & Minnehaha, which is where I’ve gotten my fenders, spoke lights and head/tail lights. I got my goggles online before deciding to commit to buying from local bike shops whenever possible, but I believe the Hub also has options. Erik’s is a larger chain (but based in the Twin Cities) and may have a better selection, and I have friends who swear by Lowertown Bike Shop and Cherry Cycles. I can’t speak to their selection, though.

      • Gordy Moore July 23, 2019 at 9:56 am #

        That’s very helpful, thank you!

  3. James Kohls July 24, 2019 at 7:10 pm #

    I love riding in the rain, just about as much as I love riding in the snow. Best rain purchase I made was a pair of Keen sandals. Not going to find them for clipless, but if you use platform pedals, they are great. I also have a pair of water shoes, but don’t like them as much as they tend to chafe when wet and pedaling.

    I also wear clear glasses treated with Rain-X.

    My eBike’s lights are on all the time, rain or shine. It was a bit odd at first, but I’ve learned to enjoy the benefits cars with daytime running lights have.

  4. Paul Nelson August 7, 2019 at 2:36 am #

    Thank you Alicia. A great deal of info that is helpful here. For the last circa 50+ years I have continually sought to make my commutes better. I switched to a Cleverhood poncho that has worked well in rain and sometimes in the winter with rain/snow mix.

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