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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.