Are we so smug in wet weather?

I love when it rains just after work. Rain during rush hour sorts the super commuters from all of you cream-puffs still treating cycling as a feel-good accessory, like reusable bags for your shopping. I work in the burbs and live in the city, so my 15km ride home runs me against the dominant flow of bicycle traffic leaving the city each evening. I know which one are the long term commuters, and which ones are just dabbling. The difference is obvious when it is raining hard, as it was this evening. The dabblers are all beneath awnings or bridges, phoning their partners, to get in their cars and come and collect them.

like that's going to work!

Though I am known to be a glutton for long hard rides in the rain wearing no more than a merino mix jersey and nicks, that’s not necessarily how I would prefer to end every day at the office (go on, say I’m bourgeois). I would rather a more upright and sturdy bike, on which to face my 45 minute ride home for dinner, and just enough wet weather protection so that I can feel comfortable without needing to build up endorphins by sprinting. Being able to ride home at night in hard rain, and still be glad you’re not driving, is one of the most illusive pursuits for regular cyclists in sprawling cities. Those of you blessed to live in some place like Manhattan, or Copenhagen, would probably say I’m overreacting, that a little rain won’t make you melt. Well that’s all very well for you, with your 5-block commute. This advice is for those of us cycling in cities that have been ruined by sprawl.

In the past I have pinned my hopes on mudguards (fine, but no panacea), ponchos (useless crap), MC hammer pants (they leak), adventurer jackets made from thick gore-tex (that billow and trap too much heat) and on various things wrapped over my head, to arrive at an easier formula. Regardless of extra layers for warmth, one can never regret having fine merino next to their skin. A merino mix jersey, or super fine base layer, or just a finely woven jumper will do. Then you want a waterproof breathable jacket cut especially for cycling. A few weeks ago I splashed out on a very light weight rain jacket from Rapha, cut to make me look a little bit like Penelope Pitstop, who is super-fly, so I’m not complaining.

I also bought a pair of Rapha’s softshell trousers, that magically keep rain on the outside a secret from your legs underneath. The only design flaw is the fly, that in heavy rain eventually channels a few cold drips to the bottom end of the waterproof zipper, and a tiny entry point near the tip of your willy. Next time I patch a tire, I plan to plug that little crevice with glue. In any case, rain pants are a luxury none of us need to worry too much about. Saturated jeans or cycling nicks, would hardly make any grown up want to pull over and cry.

If you have road shoes with cleats, then overshoes and merino socks are the perfect combination. Just be sure you don’t get overshoes that would kill Achilles with an uncovered zip. If you’re wearing regular shoes, then these scrunchy waterproof socks you can sometimes find selling on internet bike stores, are brilliant. Then all you need is a peaked cap to keep water out of your eyes.

Okay, so in one sense I’m making it all sound too hard, when we all know skin itself will keep out the rain. And for all my apparent boy scout preparedness, there is hardly ever a ride in the rain, for which I am fully prepared in the manner described. What I do think is remarkable, is that bike gear is at least sold, to ensure cycling is always more ennobling than driving, regardless of pissing down rain.

To conclude. If there is no chance of rain, maybe pack sunblock. If in doubt about rain, try to remember to pack your rain jacket, cap and waterproof socks. If the rain is set in, spoil yourself with a ride there and back with a merino base layer of some kind, and those softshell trousers you bought, just because you have to have everything. God darnit I’m clever.

10 Comments

  1. Vicki says:

    I got caught in that rain too! My Gondwana jacket kept me dry enough though, and it was kind of nice riding in it, but I only had about 25 minutes of riding to do.

  2. barefoot says:

    A good cycle-specific breathable waterproof jacket (WITH PIT ZIPS!) is essential commuter armour against the rain, and also against cold winter air (for those of us unfortunate enough to live somewhere like Ballarat, where air gets cold enough to worry about).

    My “MC Hammer Pants” are actually more waterproof than my (aging) jacket – although I doubt their breathability. No matter in my climate, because it rarely rains seriously when it’s hot enough to worry about the sauna effect.

    Waterproof pants channel water to my socks, which I consider expendable on very wet days. I have a spare pair in the office, and a spare pair in my commuting pannier.

    I hunted until I found a pair of unvented, black, full-grain leather, SPD commuting shoes. They are waterproof enough for a reasonable commute, just like leather boots have always been considered waterproof enough for walking in the big wet scary outdoors. They also pass as somewhat inconspicuous black leather shoes if required (I need toe-cap shoes at work, and they live under my desk).

    Unfortunately, the durability of my second pair has proven to be just as disappointing as the first. They’ve also been discontinued by the manufacturer, so without naming and shaming, I’m searching again for another pair of weather-resistant SPD commuting shoes that don’t scream “look at this guy wearing sports shoes with office clothes”. An absurdly difficult task.

    Wet weather really isn’t a problem for my <30 minute commute.

    • Steven says:

      Are we not naming and shaming Dromarti? I own a pair of their leather mitts, kindly sold to me at mate’s rates, and have often thought of getting a pair of their shoes.

  3. barefoot says:

    No, they sound far beyond my meagre utilitarian commuting budget.

    My better-in-theory-than-in-practice commuting shoes were Exustar “Stelvio”:
    http://forum.ctc.org.uk/viewtopic.php?t=7081

    My second pair had an updated sole, which proved to be a bit more durable than the chunky blocky early-model version in that post, but they were still apparently made from something like sponge rubber or styrofoam, and haven’t done well at surviving my twice-daily walk from the bike rack to my office (about 200m – oh the indignity!).

    I’m still looking for a good inconspicuous SPD-compatible shoe that isn’t made of “ventilation” holes (to let the rain in) and doesn’t have fluorescent details, tags and logos all over them. Of course, a normal-person-on-a-bike-wearing-normal-clothes doesn’t need clip-in shoes, but I prefer them… if only some manufacturers could get their heads around the fact that we don’t always want to draw attention to our “sporting” footwear.

    • Steven says:

      I just went looking online for the cheap brown leather shimano mountain bike (but normal looking) shoes I bought on clearance from chainreaction a few years ago. Discontinued, uh! I guess everything I buy on clearance is discontinued—which is one way of staying exclusive.

  4. barefoot says:

    Another review with the updated styrofoam sole:
    http://cyclingviafrancigena.blogspot.com.au/2009/07/exustar-stelvio-shoes-review.html

    Still inconsequential… they seem to be discontinued. A pity, given that the only real problem with them was the sole and availability (had to get them from the UK both times). Both of those could have been fixed.

  5. […] last one, of course, is Steven Fleming of Cycle Space, wearing the Rapha rain gear he reviewed here. (This photo is not posed, I took it as we talked about various things cycling.) His gear looked […]

  6. Vicki says:

    I’ve put up a picture of you in this gear on my blog, Steven. Rapha should really pay you for this one …

    http://vickiac.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=1555&action=edit&message=6&postpost=v2

  7. morethancurious says:

    Of course, the answer is, as always, to be beautiful.

Leave a Reply