Waterproof enough

Last night’s commute home in Chicago was a wet one. Last year I dreaded commutes in this kind of springtime weather – cold, damp, soppy and windy. Somehow, though, I find myself enjoying the rides this week so far. (For me, it beats the snowy commutes that our neighbors to the north in Wisconsin are facing – and I wish you a return to springtime soon.)

But – the wet weather commuting brings its challenges: namely staying comfortable (reasonably dry and warm) while riding. During a summer rain, I don’t mind just getting wet, especially during my commute home. But when the thermometer reads 39-degrees and the wind is whipping out of the northeast and in my face at 15mph (gusts up to 35mph), I must strategically dress for my commute.

This evening, my layering went accordingly:
* first thing I put on was my cycling cap with visor to keep the rain out of my eyes.
* then my fleece balaclava to keep my head warm (and dry)
* helmet
layering for my head in rain

* I had worn light wool long underwear (top and bottom) since wool dries quickly and insulates well even when wet
* On my bottoms I wore a newly acquired pair of Marmot rain pants that I picked up from an online sale last fall; tonight was my first chance to really test them in a steady rainfall
* my usual hi-vis yellow commuter jacked (windproof and waterproof) from Endura covered my torso
* on my hands I wore simple wool gloves I picked up from an army-navy surplus store, covered by an outer windproof, water-resistant lobster style shell mitt.

The full outfit – upon wet arrival at home:
full rain gear

By the time I got home, I was reasonably dry. The good news:
My visor had done its job of keeping the rain out of my eyes. My waterproof pants performed excellently; too bad they aren’t cycling-specific… as they could have been a bit longer with better movement in the knees, but my legs were dry and they breathed well.

Unfortunately, some not so good news:
Seems the my waterproof jacket needs to be re-waterproofed. Thinking back, this jacket is two-years old, so it is time to wash and reapply a waterproof coating to the jacket. Water had seeped through to my arms but the rest of my torso did remain dry. Luckily, I was home, so I quickly changed into dry, comfortable loungewear for the night.

Earlier in the day my mom had sent me an email after her wet, messy morning commute (by car) saying “I thought about you as I drove … in the rain. I don’t know how you do it! Ride to work in the rain.” I responded that my commute was invigorating and so much more enjoyable than being stuck in a car (or a bus) – at least it seemed that way from the glum looks on peoples’ faces in their cars or waiting at the bus stops I pass along my route.

Overnight, my bike served as a drying rack for all my gear to dry before my commute today.
bike drying rack

And today I’m recharged for another day – dry! – of bike commuting.

What are your best stay dry/warm tips for this season?


  1. Brian April 20, 2011 7:36 am 

    I finally broke down and picked a showers pass jacket a few weeks back. ($130 REI dividend helped). It’s been a wet spring in SLC so its been well used already. Worth every penny. The removable hood is a nice addition, but I’m tempted to give the helmet cover a try. The hood being so close to skin does get a bit clammy. But it sure beats nothing.

    A few years back I picked up some Novara cycling pants and they work great.

    I have a pair of pearl Izumi water resistant shoes (mountain bike specific) and they actually do quite well. My feet my be a bit damp when arriving home, but never uncomfortable.

    I still need to work on gloves though. That is my one weakness…

    I’m with you though. With the right clothing, I find riding in the rain very refreshing!

  2. Robert Guico April 20, 2011 8:42 am 

    Hoo. This April is getting worse, not better!

    I had success yesterday (during a misty period in the morning, and a drizzly one in the afteroon) by bringing a full change of clothes. Even though it was in the lower 30s, I seem to have acclimated and am okay just wearing jeans, a shirt and sweater, the inner liner of my winter jacket, and a raincoat.

    Today it was dry, so I wore my full winter jacket. The rest of the ride was me gritting my teeth into the headwind.

  3. Iron_Man April 20, 2011 8:47 am 

    Admit it too, there’s a deep satisfaction that comes from arriving via bicycle on days when the weather is so crappy that the drivers are all barking and whining. Nothing takes the wind out of their cushy-life sails faster than a cyclist standing there with a grin of satisfaction on his or her face in spite of being completely drenched or covered in ice.

  4. Elizabeth April 20, 2011 9:30 am 

    Oh yea… forgot to mention my footwear — a pair of Vasque waterproof trail shoes (with Goretex) from REI sale + a pair of wool socks from CostCo. My feet were a bit damp last night but not cold; the dampness could have been lessened if the pants had been a bit longer, too.

  5. jbirl April 20, 2011 9:58 am 

    that is hard core.

  6. beebo April 20, 2011 11:00 am 

    and I thought I had it rough because I need to put on long socks in the morning and some arm warmers from time to time during the spring season in NC.

  7. Steven K April 20, 2011 11:09 am 

    do you have a specific procedure you follow to clean your bike up after messy/wet winter/spring rides? i can usually stand the elements myself, but what really makes me cringe is the near audible sound of my components rusting. any tips would be welcome.

  8. Dacius April 20, 2011 4:39 pm 

    I love my marmot gear. I have the pants and the gravity jacket. Fantastic stuff and perfect for wet weather. Unfortunately it is also all black, so you gotta augment with your own shiny gear.

    I am not mush of a glove wearer, but I also live in Florida.. So that is another animal.

    Btw- my wife says you have an impressively cluttered dresser top behind your bike.LOL!!! that would be the one comment she has to say. LOLOLOLOL

  9. PhilGE April 20, 2011 7:49 pm 

    Showers Pass Touring jacket is my shell of choice through Fall, Winter, and Spring. REI skull cap keeps my head warm-enough when wet. CliMitts pogies keep my hands warm and dry in those seasons with only liner gloves on my hands most of the time. My zip-off pants get wet, but dry fast. When below freezing, I wear long-johns under them and am fine, regardless of wetness. I usually wear Keen sandals and don’t mind if my feet get wet most of the time (15 – 20 minute commute at most). I do wear boots or shoes when it’s below freezing.

  10. Elizabeth April 20, 2011 8:01 pm 

    @ Steven K – Theoretically – yes. But in reality, I’m usually just so happy to get home and me and my bike up the stairs that I usually wait til morning to assess my bike for the day’s ride. I do have indoor/outdoor carpet on which my bike can drip dry. Last night, however, I did go through the steps of wiping down my wet bike with a dry rag, wiping down the rims on the wheels and lubing the chain this morning.
    In the winter I do a more thorough job of wiping the salt and road grime off the bike.
    My bike is in need of some major TLC and springtime tune-up. I’ll cover that process, too!

  11. Elizabeth April 20, 2011 8:03 pm 

    @ Dacius, I’ll take that as a compliment — since it’s “impressively cluttered”. All things bike on that dresser top… from all the tweaks done in recent history.

  12. BluesCat April 21, 2011 2:38 pm 


    So, okay, the Ol’ Cat is gonna be a COMPLETE smart aleck.

    What are MY best stay dry/warm tips for this season?

    Live in Phoenix like BluesCat does!

  13. Ghost Rider April 22, 2011 12:44 pm 

    Cold and wet are my “kryptonite”…and seeing as how my new homeplace is rainy and chilly at this time of the year, adding some serious raingear is on my agenda. The snow? Ain’t so worried about that — but this constant cold rain really blows.

  14. Elizabeth April 22, 2011 8:44 pm 

    @Ghost — welcome to the midwest. 😉
    What are your tips for bike TLC after a wet ride? I know you are familiar with wet riding (albeit in warmer conditions)…

  15. Carolyn April 24, 2011 6:49 pm 

    I’m pretty well waterproofed except for my feet. I wonder how good those booties that go over your shoes are? What are some good ways of keeping feet/shoes dry?

    Sunny this weekend, but looks like a few days of rain ahead. Rain gear is ready on stand-by.

  16. Nick April 25, 2011 10:41 am 

    I hate wet shoes or socks, especially at the end of the day heading home. I just use plastic grocery bags and use the handles to tie around my ankles, tucking them back in after tying. The plastic is thin enough to be used with clipless pedals and when I get home they go in the recycling box. They might look goofy, but my feet will be reasonably dry (they do get damp from sweat). Always make sure to re-stock the saddle bags!

  17. Iron_Man April 25, 2011 12:14 pm 

    I honestly don’t mind the rain in most temps. Generally if the precip is falling as rain I’m capable of overriding the chill with my body heat, provided I have the right layering going on. I don’t really try to stay dry….completely. I wear a waterproof jacket from just above freezing to the low 50’s, then switch to a standard cycling jacket after that until it hits the upper 70’s. Once it’s above 80 I don’t worry about the rain at all. I’m going to be soaked by sweat if I try and wear a rainproof outfit in the heat. Of course I’m not riding in my work clothes. Those are dry in my pack wrapped in plastic bags and an office fan dries off the kit before it’s time to head home by the end of the day. For the feet, a couple of plastic grocery bags get a second life by wrapping around my feet before being slipped into my shoes. Waterproof gloves or a good synthetic pair that insulates when wet work fine too. I don’t care about legs no matter what time of year. My 7 mile commute isn’t long enough to get them too bothered.

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