The rainy season is coming, and I’ve pulled out all the rain gear to keep me dry on a rainy bike ride. A childlike happiness comes over me sometimes while biking in the rain. Who knew I’d enjoy this as much as a sunny day bike ride!? Of course, this happiness only occurs if I know my clothes will be dry by the time I reach my destination (or a change of clothes is waiting). If you’re worried about anything getting wet, biking in the rain won’t be fun.
Keep yourself dry, keep your bike lights shining, and stay away from that rainy day surge pricing. Here’s all the gear and some tips you need to bike in the rain. Remember to ride slowly when it’s wet outside!
This is not gear for you, but it’s important gear for your bike! If you don’t have any fenders, you may get wet even when it’s not raining outside! Soon after a rain, there will still be lots of water on the road, and your tires will pick up all that water and shoot it directly at you. If you get all the other rain gear below, you don’t really need fenders, but they do still make rainy day riding a little more peaceful.
You can easily hack some fenders on your bike with old plastic bottles or even cardboard! Or you can buy some standard fenders. I like these if your tires are 25mm wide or less (aka road bike size). Sometimes a rear rack can act as a sufficient rear fender if it’s solid, but you would likely still be shooting water out at everyone behind you.
If you’re not feeling like installing some fenders on your bike, here are a few quick install options that don’t require any tools to put on and remove:
- A great front and rear set of quick install fenders
- A rear fender that snaps on (road bike skinny tires or 26″ tires). This one may not work if you have a rear rack, but I’ve seen people fasten it beneath the rack.
- A simpler front fender that mounts onto the front fork
Bike Seat Cover
Depending on your seat saddle material and if you have rain pants or not (discussed below), you may need a bike seat cover to protect your butt from your wet seat! Any plastic bag can also work. If you have a bike saddle made of plastic or other waterproof material, you may be able to just wipe off any excess rain before your ride. If your bike is locked outside and you have a more water absorbing seat, you’ll need to either leave a seat cover on the bike to protect it from the rain, or keep one in your bag to put on your seat before you ride.
Weather Radar App
If you have your fenders but no other gear, one thing you can do is check the weather radar. Rain can come and go very quickly, so you may just need to find a rain-free window for your commute or errand. Weather radar is much more specific than the percentage-based estimates of a simple weather app. I survived rainy seasons in San Francisco like this for years. I had a few unlucky moments, but that brings me to my next point…
Fast Drying Normal Clothes
If you don’t have serious rain gear, you can wear fast drying clothes for light rain and drizzles. Chinos dry faster than jeans. More technical hiking pants dry in a matter of minutes. I got caught in absolute pouring rain with my Patagonia Stonycroft Pants, and they were dry in about 15 minutes after I got inside. I was shocked, but then again, they’re practically made of plastic. I much prefer my super comfy Prana pants that I also recommend for fast drying (and amazing comfort because they’re not made totally of plastic).
The same goes for a fast drying shirt, and many shoes can handle a light rain, but at a minimum you should have a…
Rain Jacket or Rain Poncho
A rain jacket is the most basic rain protection. It keeps you mostly dry, and you can even wear it over a backpack in a pinch. For light rain, you might be able to get away with a simple rain jacket as your only rain gear. I have a Marmot Rain Jacket with Gore-tex that is more breathable than others so I don’t sweat as much, but other cheaper rain jackets will also do.
Another option is the rain poncho or the rain cape. You can get ponchos that are specific to bicycles and you can put the front of the poncho over your front handlebars. The benefit of a rain poncho is that it lets more air flow around you so you’re less likely to get hot under your rain gear. The downside of ponchos is they don’t completely protect your legs. For maximum leg protection you’re gonna need…
Rain Pants or a Rain Skirt
I really like these rain pants. I was biking in the rain with only the above gear for years, but eventually realized there were better options. These rain pants changed everything. It’s so easy I have no idea why I didn’t buy them earlier.
The rain pants have slits on the sides so I can get my hand in to reach my phone or whatever else I need from my pants pocket underneath. Highly recommend the opening for your pockets, as I use it every time I have the rain pants on, and rain never really gets in there. When you’re biking, most of the rain comes at you from the front, very little from the sides and rear unless you’re in a very windy place.
If you don’t have a chain protector on your bicycle, make sure you have an ankle strap on your right leg, or you might get your (not much wider) pants stuck in the chain and ripped. When it’s dry you can roll your pant leg up, but not when it’s raining!
If pants are not your thing, rain skirts are available too! Or rain kilts as some are marketed. One benefit of a rain skirt that it’s easier than rain pants to take off over your shoes. My rain pants can be removed over my boots, but it’s not my favorite part of the day.
Protect Your Shoes and Feet
Once you have some rain protection for your legs, you need to make sure the water doesn’t run down your new rain pants directly into your shoes. Otherwise your feet will get soaked faster than if you wore normal pants! Whatever shoes or shoe covers you get, make sure they go up to at least the mid ankle so you can keep the water out.
There are a two general options for shoes:
The easiest way to keep your feet dry is just to get waterproof shoes. No need to change shoes or take anything on and off when you get to your destination. I wear waterproof shoes, and I love my Blundstone boots (officially not waterproof and the outer layer gets wet, but I’ve never had any water come through). I see people wearing these fashionable, convenient, waterproof shoes all year round. Waterproof hiking shoes that go up to mid-ankle can also work. Any shoe that says Gore-tex should be waterproof, but some brands have their own waterproofing that isn’t Gore-tex.
Shoe Rain Covers or Galoshes
If you have a specific fashion look you’re going for, or don’t want to wear the same waterproof shoe for the entire rainy season, you’ll need to have some kind of water protection to go over your shoes. I have these boring black shoe covers so in case I want to to wear another pair of shoes, but clear shoe covers are also available to keep some fashion sense on your ride!
Keep Your Head and Face Dry
So once you have a rain jacket, rain pants, and waterproof shoes, you’re pretty much set. However, I have lots of tips for keeping your hair and face dry if that’s important to you.
I personally enjoy a little water on my face. It feels refreshing and makes me feel alive. Sometimes that childlike giddiness comes over me, but not everyone has the same feelings!
If you’re into newer innovative ideas, there’s a new indiegogo campaign that’s making full pop-up windshield that you can attach to your bicycle. It looks pretty cool, but you would still need to supplement it with many other items from this guide for your lower body and back.
One easy trick is to use a showercap. Just put a showercap on your hair, and put your helmet over it. No one will even notice you’re wearing one. A hood from your rain jacket can also help, but it might get swept back from the wind.
Face and Eyes
Some kind of visor is best for preventing the rain from getting on your face and into your eyes. A helmet visor can work, but a baseball cap under your helmet is better because it’s closer to your eyes. You can loosen your helmet to fit a hat (or maybe your rain jacket hood) snugly under it. They have cycling specific hats too, but I find the visor doesn’t go out as far so it blocks less rain.
While clear glasses are nice to keep the rain out of your eyes, the water droplets can bead up and make it difficult to see. Sometimes I’ll wipe the glasses with my finger or glove during a ride like a windshield wiper. Glasses can also fog up if your rain jacket is zipped up all the way. If you wear eyeglasses, you may want to wear contacts or try an anti-fog spray. This post has some other great tips for avoiding foggy glasses.
Last but not least, there’s waterproof makeup. I don’t have any personal experience with waterproof makeup, but that does exist if it’s something you’re looking for!
Usually with the rain, comes the cold. If this isn’t the case in your climate, having wet hands is probably not a big deal. You wash your hands throughout the day right? 😉
I use leather gloves with a touchscreen capability so I can use my smartphone without having to take off the gloves (a critical feature, which is becoming mostly standard these days). The leather gloves have a coating on the entire palm side that makes the touch screens work. I think the tech doesn’t work as well with gloves made of other materials, so I prefer the leather (plus it’s more stylish!). Mine aren’t completely waterproof, but I’ve found for any ride 30 minutes or less, they don’t soak through, and can be left to dry after the ride.
If you want to guarantee your hand warmth and dryness, some other waterproof gloves can provide a little more protection.
In really cold places, or if you want to keep your hands super dry, you can get Bar Mitts or something similar that attaches to your handlebars and you can put your hands into. This is serious hand protection. I’ve never used them myself, but I hear great things.
Keeping Your Things Dry
If you’re doing any serious bike commuting errands, you’re going to need a way to keep your belongings dry.
Waterproof Bike Bags
One of the best ways to carry things around is in some waterproof bicycle panniers on your bike rack. These are one big pocket that usually roll up and clip. I usually ride around with the Jandd Wet Rabbit, which is a great medium size for carrying a few commuting things. If I need to carry more things or larger items, I have a pair of the Ortlieb Backrollers which can handle much more cargo.
Sometimes I ride a bike with just a bike basket on the back. If you have a basket or crate, you can get a cover and perhaps a bike basket liner, or simply a waterproof bag you toss into the basket. Instead of a basket specific cover, you can get a medium sized backpack rain cover to protect your belongings in your basket! This doubles for use on a backpack if you ever wear one.
Backpack Rain Cover
For shorter commutes, it’s likely a normal backpack can shed off some rain and keep its contents mostly dry. If you’re worried though, you can get a backpack rain cover to more reliably protect everything inside.
If you don’t have a backpack rain cover, you can just cover it with your rain jacket. Put your backpack on, and then put your rain jacket over your backpack. The rain jacket will probably stick out and not cover all of your back, but if you have proper fenders on your bike it shouldn’t be a problem, as the rain is hitting you from the front, not the back.
(Re)Waterproof Your Rain Gear and Clothes
If you have an older rain jacket or other waterproof gear, you’ll realize that it eventually starts to soak through (aka “wet out”), especially if you ever wear a backpack over it. What companies don’t tell you when they market these items, is that the real waterproofing comes from the DWR (durable water repellent) coating they put on the item. This means that your backpack straps or other normal use can rub off the DWR coating and you’re stuck with a jacket that gets wet!!
If a jacket isn’t performing, you can re-waterproof by buying the DWR products yourself. You can even do this to other items that are not originally waterproof, but proper rain gear does work better. There are a few different guides on how to re-waterproof your jacket. I’ll summarize quickly below:
- Wash your items with a DWR safe detergent. You need to wash out the dirt or a new coating of DWR might not stick well enough.
- Tumble dry on low for 10-20 minutes. According to all the guides, this should re-activate the existing DWR.
- Use a spray-on DWR coating to waterproof the areas that are soaking through, or just the whole thing!
- (another option) Instead of the spray-on coating, you can wash your items again with a wash-in DWR coating. This can work, but it also waterproofs the inside which can affect breathability and sweat wicking power.
All waterproof gear (even the most expensive) is just sprayed or washed with some kind of waterproofing coating, and you can just re-spray your gear with waterproofing to make it good as new!
By now you probably have a good idea of what rain gear you need to enjoy a bike ride in the rain. Maybe next time it rains, you can feel like a kid again and enjoy that rainy day. Don’t forget to ride slowly and watch out for slippery metal and paint!
What’s your favorite rain gear? Post some in the comments below!