Just Ask Jack — Rain in the Forecast?

Fellow Tampa Bay-area commuter Julie sent in the following question:

“I live in Florida where every summer we get thunderstorms every day at 5pm. I can plan my day around that so I can cycle home before that starts but what is the best way to protect myself against the rain if I happen to get caught in a rain shower? What kind of rain suit do you recommend, etc…?”

Photo by Texantiff23 on Flickr

If only I could count all the times I’ve been caught in the same predicament…ugh! As lots of folks in the Deep South know, it can rain like clockwork right around “quittin’ time”. And, of all the states in the south, Florida is the worst — competing warm-air masses from the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean meet over the peninsula of Florida and start to brawl, resulting in furious, lightning-filled deluges.

So, what to do? Well, there are a couple of options — a variety of rain jackets, ponchos and capes are available and they are specifically designed for cyclists. The first is the traditional rain jacket. I sometimes use a battered old Campmor coated-nylon jacket
that stows into its own pocket, and other times I’ve been known to use something as simple (and chic!) as a trashbag with holes torn in it for my head and arms. A highly-regarded jacket is the O2 “Rainshield” model, both hooded and unhooded. Most folks who’ve tried one seem to rave about these jackets — they’re inexpensive, effective and they pack down very small so you can always keep one with you.

O2 Rainshield

I should add that another fellow central-Florida commuter (faithful reader Mike Myers, soon to be featured in his own “commuter profile”) pointed out to me that wearing a rainjacket in Florida is a “catch 22” — you either get wet from the rain or you get wet sweating inside your jacket…even a fancy breathable fabric model.

There’s an alternative to this — the rain cape. Think back to your youth…the shapeless, billowy rubberized nylon ponchos at ball games and summer camps. Now, imagine a similar product made of high-end materials with built-in reflectors, handlebar loops and a host of other useful features. Rain capes such as these are wildly popular with randonneurs and long-distance bicycle tourists — they protect you and your bike from the rain but still allow cooling breezes “up your skirt”, as it were. The Cadillacs of rain capes have got to be the Carradice Pro-Tour or Duxback models…pricey as can be but oh so effective at keeping the rain off of you! Just remember that fenders are mandatory if you’re using a rain cape — the last thing you want is road spray getting up underneath the cape.

Carradice cape with matching booties and helmet cover

To keep your work clothes and related gear clean and dry, consider investing in a waterproof backpack, messenger bag or pannier (the Seattle Sports “Fast Pack” is an excellent choice), and again…don’t mess around: put some fenders on your bike already!!! Nothing helps keep you and your bike clean of grime and road grit better than a pair of full-coverage fenders.

When it rains in summertime here in Florida, my personal preference is to just ride it out — as long as I’m headed home rather than to work. I feel like a kid splashing in puddles again, and nothing cools me off like a good drenching. When I’m headed toward work, though, I don my rain jacket, make sure my gear and work clothes are well-protected and hit the road!

Have a cycling-related question? Just Ask Jack! Click on the link in the right-hand column to send me your questions.


  1. roving_looney June 1, 2008 8:33 pm 

    i recommend the ShowersPass rain pants. they’re vented for hot climates, and they have a zipper on the legs to get your shoes out. they are also sized to fit over clothes.

  2. cafn8 June 2, 2008 5:21 am 

    Thanks for the article. I’m working on becoming less of a fair-weather rider, and nothing has made me drive more often than rainy weather.

    The times I’ve been caught in the rain haven’t been so bad, though. I have full coverage “Freddie Fenders” on my commuter bike (need mud flaps) and I carry a thin plastic yellow poncho and shower cap to cover my helmet. My biggest problem with this setup, besides the constant spray of road grime on my drivetrain, is rearward visibility. The cape/poncho flies up so much at speed that it’s impossible to glance back over my shoulder without first reaching back and pulling it down. Is this something that higher quality rain capes have a solution for?

  3. Iron Man June 2, 2008 5:45 am 

    Don’t forget the lights. Both head and tail lights are needed to be seen in the rain. I’ve nearly been run over in a dark steady rain because drivers couldn’t see me.

  4. Ghost Rider June 2, 2008 6:10 am 

    Iron Man…yes, that should have been included in my article: extreme visibility is absolutely a lifesaver in rainstorms — bright colors, reflectives, and lights.

    I’m not sure if the high-end capes have a solution for keeping the back from flying up — have you tried weighting the rear edge with something to help keep it down?

  5. Iron Man June 2, 2008 7:26 am 

    I gotta admit, I ride home in the rain, but I totally wuss out if it’s raining in the morning. Light rain is one thing, but a steady soaker just zaps my motivation. I’ve been all decked out, standing in my garage, debating back and forth, I don’t know how many times only to go back in to the house. I’m so ashamed. Maybe after I get my fenders for Fathers Day I’ll be the guy that rides in the rain.

  6. 2whls3spds June 2, 2008 7:39 am 

    I use both a Carradice and a Campmor rain cape. I actually have a couple of the Campmor ones, they are relatively inexpensive and pack small enough to stuff in a seat pack. They are bright yellow, have reflective stripes on the and come with loops in strategic places to help control them. The Carradice I have is an old, old one in the dark green, waxed canvas. It is a quality product, heavy, smells to high heaven and will last forever. Not a good choice if you are looking for visibility.


  7. Ghost Rider June 2, 2008 7:56 am 

    Aaron, perhaps YOU could shed some light on Cafn8’s “fly up” problem…do the Carradice and Campmor capes have a way to keep the back end down in wind, like an attachment loop or something?

  8. Val June 2, 2008 9:33 am 

    A proper cycling cape will have an internal strap or cord that secures around your waist and keeps the back end down. There should be some sort of loops in front for your hands or thumbs, as well. Jackson & Gibbens ( http://www.bicycleclothing.com/ ) make a nice, inexpensive one, and they make very durable and well designed jackets, too. They now do some breathable items, too, which thye did not in the past. One thing I realized recently about breathable fabrics, is that, while they have their advantages, no fabric will breathe at all if it is covered with a layer of water. You can avoid the sauna syndrome as long as teh fabric is dry, but once it gets truly wet, it behaves no differently than coated nylon.

  9. 2whls3spds June 2, 2008 5:57 pm 

    Both my Carradice and Campmor capes have a set of loops/ties in the back and the front. On the Campmor the back loop is supposed to go around the waist, but I usually just sit on it 😉 Then there are a couple of thumb loops on the front to help hold it down on the handlebars.


  10. Mike Myers June 3, 2008 5:57 pm 

    When I have to ride in the rain in the summer, I rock a pretty weird outfit. As I told Jack, wearing a rain jacket in Florida in the summer simply means deciding to get wet from sweat rather than rain. So in the summer I don’t wear a rain jacket. I do wear a helmet cover( the snap on one for my Bell Metro), Rainlegs(best thing EVER), and waterproof booties. I hate riding in wet shoes and soaked socks. The booties leak from the top a bit, so I wrap velcro straps around the tops of them.

    I’d considered a cape, but it would interfere with my light—and a light in the rain is essential.

  11. Smudgemo June 3, 2008 9:43 pm 

    Rain cape. But you need to move lights below the handlebars. I’m planning to move mine to a front rack or a fork mount. The only thing that gets wet is from the knee down and mostly in front. Change your shoes and socks and you’re good to go.

  12. Garry June 9, 2008 5:28 am 

    Thanks for the info on raincapes….these are not available in Australia and I’ve been trying to find where to get one (or more).

  13. eric zady October 26, 2008 10:02 pm 

    You get what you pay for in rain jackets. the brand I have recently found and would now only buy is showers pass. Their stuff is the best and not only during rain. I wear it on cool day as well.

  14. Abhishek October 27, 2008 5:20 am 

    I bought the O2 jacket and am quite pleased with it. My commutes in rain have never been longer than 3 miles, so can not really say how they stack up to longer rides.

    I have a pair of sierra rain pants that do a good job at protecting my legs. (http://lonelyplanet.altrec.com/shop/detail/33492/)

  15. LoneRider May 5, 2009 7:27 am 

    Rain used to suck. It kind of still does, but not so much. You see, I have used my old Red Ledge rain jacket from like ’97 for years. I even accidentally put in in the hot water to wash it, and although some of the seam taping came off it still works in the rain.

    The downside is it’s dark green.

    The Pearl Izumi rain jackets work great, and that has been my new solution; it’s bright red and has a “hood” that covers your helmet. With a cycling cap under the helmet the brim keeps some rain outa yer eyes and the rest keeps you dry.

    I’m still trying to find a solution to wet feet however.

  16. Ghost Rider May 5, 2009 7:30 am 

    Plastic bread sacks between your socks and your shoes works great for keeping your feet dry…it’s sort of “hobo chic”, but it works, especially in colder weather.

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