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Comment of the Week: Eight simple tips for wet riding

Posted by on December 11th, 2015 at 5:47 pm

Riders in the storm-13
Savor it.
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

For those of you who’ve moved to Oregon in the last year: yes, every winter is like this.

Just kidding. But this soggy, blustery week has certainly given us a reminder of what we do to pay for those long summer evenings. In Monday’s open thread about riding through the day’s downpour, BikePortland reader Pedal PT offered a list of simple suggestions for rainy riding. They’re a perfect introduction to a commute that can be surprisingly fun.

At least if you’re prepared.

At least, once or twice a year.


Anyway, here’s the advice:

Rode in at 9am after dropping kids off.. West on Clinton from SE 52nd is was fairly smooth, all things considering, although I got soaked shoes/socks/underwear on my short commute.

In anyone needs any assistance today, please stop in our office at 25th and Clinton to dry out!

Some of my best tips for ‘pouring rain’ biking include:
– Always have a spare pair of socks and underwear at the office (both came in handy today, whew!)
– Use ziplock bags inside your waterproof bike bag for added rainproofing for pone, wallet, etc.
– If you wear glasses, a short brimmed cycling cap works great to keep the rain out of your eyes/glasses.
– I prefer the hood of my jacket over the helmet if your jacket can stretch enough, and still allow you to zip up fully
– Layering is usually best, as rain might tends to soak into your jacket if it’s on it’s 2nd or 3rd season: start with a wool/wicking base layer, followed waterproof-ish jacket or vest, and then have a rainshell on top of all of it. (Yes, 100% not fun when you get sweaty!)
– Lights lights lights
– Fenders and rain pants are really not an option in downpour weather like today- (Get them soon before they all sell out in your size– it happens every year!)
– Although I (foolishly) did not wear them today, waterproof socks vs shoe covers can keep feet and shoes dry

Hope that helps– Luckily, we usually don’t get slammed like today more that 2-3x/year.. We’ll see!

That sounds about right. Stay dry over the next week, everybody.

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 – michael@bikeportland.org

Yes, we pay for good comments. This regular feature is sponsored by readers who’ve become BikePortland subscribers to keep our site and our community strong. We’ll be sending $5 and a little goodie bag to PedalPT in thanks for this great addition. Watch your email!

NOTE: At BikePortland, we love your comments. We love them so much that we devote many hours every week to read them and make sure they are productive, inclusive, and supportive. That doesn't mean you can't disagree with someone. It means you must do it with tact and respect. If you see an inconsiderate or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Thank you — Jonathan and Michael

58 Comments
  • K'Tesh December 11, 2015 at 6:25 pm

    if it’s this warm… Shorts and flip flops work well to keep your slacks and socks dry.

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    • K'Tesh December 11, 2015 at 6:26 pm

      Oh, and always know where your towel is. Can’t be a Hoopy Frood w/o knowing where your towel is.

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      • Realworld December 11, 2015 at 7:03 pm

        Hitch hikers guide… Always good for a quote

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    • Huey Lewis December 11, 2015 at 6:47 pm

      You had a warm ride home this evening?

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    • Buzz December 14, 2015 at 3:57 pm

      I dunno, I’m glad I wasn’t wearing shorts and flip flops when I rode through the raw sewage on Monday; rainpants and waterproof hiking or hunting boots for me!

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  • Mark s December 11, 2015 at 6:30 pm

    I usually ride in my speedo. Pics to follow.

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    • B. Carfree December 11, 2015 at 9:30 pm

      I had a student in my lab who adopted this approach. We lived where the rain was usually as warm as we had this week, so a speedo worked fine.

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  • Russell December 11, 2015 at 6:43 pm

    The right rain pants have changed my commute. A light 100% waterproof shell is great. These south winds are bringing some warm weather, and to show up soaking wet, just b/c I’ve been sweating hard seems to defeat the purpose. You can always layer underneath.
    Otherwise, this rain has actually been pretty fun.
    Definitely looking forward to those warm summer rides again though.

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    • bendite December 11, 2015 at 8:17 pm

      I still have a pair of Burley rain pants that are awesome. I don’t get to wear them very often up here, though. Hey, when you guys are getting soaked for days, we’re getting off and on rain for 1/3 the time. Or snow. Or ice/snow/wintry mix/snow globs.

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  • rick December 11, 2015 at 6:43 pm

    I like riding the side streets that have more street trees to help block the wind and rain.

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  • rachel b December 11, 2015 at 7:36 pm

    I’m italics immune! Hooray! :) I love to ride my bike in the rain and stormy weather.

    And to some of us the long summer evenings are the punishment that pays for the wonderful blustery weather of December (sans flooding, we wish)…except for the past weird three + years of sunny/dry, which were agony to the same some of us. I like how the clouds and grey and rain curb and tamp down the worst behaviors of humanity. Conversely, summer seems to bring them out. I like the sounds of rain and wind much better than the drunken summer hollering of frenzied festival, fireworks and cruising-loud-vehicle addicts. And the tourists–the city literally bulges in summer now. Bring on the (non-destructive) rain and grey! I’m beyond thankful that we’re seeing it this year.

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  • K'Tesh December 11, 2015 at 9:49 pm

    As warm as it’s been, if it were at night (and for any real distance (>4miles)) I’d be riding naked. My Protest? This Weather SUX!!!

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    • Hotrodder December 12, 2015 at 7:04 am

      I’ve actually thought about doing that, because it is dark on the morning half of my commute; the only problem is I have to walk thru the building when I get to work!

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  • Gerald Fittipaldi December 11, 2015 at 11:06 pm

    This post is spot on about spare socks/underwear at work, cycling cap (or baseball cap) to keep glasses and face dry, hood over the helmet works nicely with some jackets, lights, fenders. Yep.

    The thing that surprised me was the comment about using a waterproof-ish jacket AND a rainshell on top of that. Sounds like a recipe for building up tons of sweat. I only wear one jacket and it keeps me dry. Over time the waterproofing can fade away, but that doesn’t mean you need to replace the jacket or add a second one. Rather, re-waterproof the jacket. Scotchguard or Camp-Dry works great. Same for rain pants. Makes them as waterproof as new. Just check with the manufacturer or google to verify.

    Also, while I will contend that wool makes for a superior base layer, I feel that the need for a wicking base layer is exaggerated. Let’s assume it’s 50 degrees and raining. 5 mile commute. It is possible to wear a cotton undershirt and a normal shirt over that and still not arrive to work drenched in sweat. There are two keys: 1) Wear less than you think you need. Maybe that means not wearing a sweater. My rule of thumb is when picking out clothes for your core body, imagine the temp is 10 degrees higher than it actually is. For hands, feet and face, it’s the opposite; subtract ten degrees, due to windchill. 2) Don’t pedal like you’re in the Tour de France. If it’s raining outside, riding a little slower than normal is safer as it takes longer to stop in wet conditions, and visibility is worse for both cyclists and motorists. Slowing down kills two birds with one stone: it’s safer and it lessens the build-up of sweat. Will you be sweaty when you get to work if you wear a cotton base layer? Maybe a tad bit, but nothing crazy.

    The thing about preaching about the importance of wool base layers is that they are expensive. Not everyone can afford them. Also, it adds one new thing to research and buy just to get into bike commuting. My philosophy is to wear my regular clothes when I bike. Yes, I wear rain pants if it’s raining steadily, but other than that I wear the same clothes I always wear. One last tip: shoes of all styles can be waterproof. And there’s always hiking boots, which are generally waterproof.

    Before all the wool fanatics and cotton naysayers pounce on me, I will admit that warmer temps are challenging. If it’s up around 60 I might wear only short sleeves, with my lightweight waterproof jacket over it. If I’m really concerned about sweat then yeah I can always bring a fresh t-shirt to change into. But much of Portland’s winters are in the 30-55 range. Cotton works well enough.

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    • Alan 1.0 December 12, 2015 at 9:52 am

      No pouncing from me – cotton works great around town. Dave Miller and I talked about that a couple years ago. It’s cheap, easy care, comfortable and very absorbent. Wool and synthetics have their own distinct pros and cons, and I rely on them for wilderness use where hypothermia is a consideration, but around town it’s not (for me).

      I’ve also been turning more and more toward cheap (relatively) PVC rain gear. I have nice breathables top and bottom but I’d rather extend its service life by putting some of the wear-and-tear on cheaper stuff when that is all I need. The PVC gear works fine for short, lower-exertion errands (Viking 3300J top, 838PZ pants, ~$100 for the set).

      I haven’t found a cheap substitute for OR Crocodile gaiters, but they work great to keep my feet dry with waterproof boots, and rain pants worn outside the gaiter to shingle rain away.

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    • Tony T
      Tony T December 12, 2015 at 9:58 am

      Totally agree, heat build-up is generally much more of an issue than being too cold here in Portland. Two jackets? Sounds miserable.

      Of course this can change depending on the length of your ride, but in general my rule of thumb is, “if you’re not a little chilly for the first 5 minutes, you’re over-dressed.”

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    • wsbob December 12, 2015 at 4:52 pm

      I’m not racing, so to keep warm, I wear a lot of stuff, loose fit (riding hard, fewer layers, worn tight, will do.).

      Upper body: lightweight layers of cotton-poly, and all polyester. A cotton-poly a-shirt next to the skin. Then the same blend in a long sleeve layer. A full poly long sleeve next. Poly-fleece too, a three-quarter zip long sleeve, with a zip vest over it. Water resistant jacket with the net liner.

      Lower body, legs, just two layers: cotton-poly longies, with poly-fleece long leg, close fitting pants over them. Feet: cotton socks, some wool socks I cut the foot off of, just for warmth of the ankle, and of course, booties.

      This general combination works well for me in temps 35-50 degrees. I went out this morning for a couple hours. Arms still got wet, even with the rain jacket. Must be the wind pushing the rain up under the cuffs. Legs got wet, but stayed warm. As usual, water snuck through the openings for the cleats in the bottoms of the booties, eventually getting the feet wet…but with the wind protection, the feet stayed basically warm.

      Riding pals are what can really help keep you warm, and your mind off the rigors of nasty weather.

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    • Spiffy December 13, 2015 at 10:53 am

      Scotchguard or Camp-Dry is a great recipe for building up tons of sweat…

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  • wsbob December 12, 2015 at 12:32 am

    I’ve ridden plenty, on a stripped down road bike, no fenders, in the kind of wet weather we’ve had for the last couple weeks. Can’t say there never are things about it that are enjoyable. Don’t have to worry about overheating. Ride hard enough to stay warm, and steam will rise in waves off your body in a really odd noticeable way when you stop.

    The incessant rain had me thinking a couple times this week that one of those covered ELF’s available to ride, might be really nice. Oh how I wish I could have tried one of those out for a few hours this past week. Sitting in there, relatively dry, and pulling up to someone wet as an otter on a bike.

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  • Mike Quiglery December 12, 2015 at 8:37 am

    Remember those yellow bike ponchos of yesteryear? Those plus a pair of raw-wool pants, and a sou’wester hat will keep you dry from both pouring rain and condensation. For the feet? I prefer sneakers with a pair of change outs when I get to my destination. I never wear socks. But what I really prefer is not riding in pouring rain at all.

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  • drew December 12, 2015 at 9:24 am

    Bike: fenders and mudflaps

    Me: Carradice Duxback waxed canvas cape. It’s like riding with your head poking out of a tent! It replaces jacket, pants, and keeps hands dry too. Rubbing it with a bar of Otterwax fabric wax once a year keeps it very waterproof. I wax my leather shoes with snowseal. My helmet keeps the hail and rain away.

    I can ride for an hour in heavy rain and I will end up a bit damp, but I don’t need a towel or spare socks.

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  • Tony T
    Tony T December 12, 2015 at 9:52 am

    “Fenders and rain pants are really not an option in downpour weather like today.” This needs to be reworded; it makes it sound like they can’t be used or aren’t on the table for a day like that.

    Should be “aren’t optional,” as in, they are the standard/required.

    IMO hoods over helmets are a terrible idea. Limiting your peripheral vision (and hearing) when conditions already limit visibility (both yours and other road users) does not help the situation. I’ve had more than a few potentially dangerous encounters over the years with hood users whose situational awareness had become focused only on what was just in front of them.

    Shoe covers, shoe covers, shoe covers.

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    • Granpa December 12, 2015 at 10:40 am

      And don’t forget to mention shoe covers

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    • Gerald Fittipaldi December 12, 2015 at 12:35 pm

      Depends on the hood. Some hoods over a helmet don’t limit peripheral vision, but yeah a lot of them do. I wear a combo of a thin winter hat with a baseball cap over it, and helmet on top of that. Combined, they keep my head pretty dry without using a hood.

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      • Alan 1.0 December 12, 2015 at 1:13 pm

        Do you have a bigger helmet for that? I can only fit a very thin merino watch cap under mine before it starts to ride high.

        Agreed on the hood; better ones have nape and/or temple adjustments to keep them where you want them.

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        • Gerald Fittipaldi December 12, 2015 at 6:40 pm

          No, standard helmet that I always wear. The top of the baseball cap that I use is made of super thin material. It says Nike Golf on the tag.

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    • Hotrodder December 12, 2015 at 9:10 pm

      Rain pants are awful.

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      • Tony T
        Tony T December 13, 2015 at 9:06 am

        Currently my rain pants work but fit terribly; I feel like I’m wearing a diaper. I’m actually in the market for new ones and considering soft shell waterproof-ish. Any recommendations?

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        • TTFN December 13, 2015 at 4:49 pm

          I wear some novara rain pants over my jeans.. they work great, and zip up the side part way so I can take them off and put them on without removing my boots. They were around a hundred bucks.

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  • Randy December 12, 2015 at 10:52 am

    Showers pass shoe covers… remember to put them under your rain pants, ski goggles with clear lens. $10 Frog Togs Rain Jacket works well too.

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  • My Magic Hat December 12, 2015 at 11:14 am

    Fenders should top the list. I can’t believe how many commuters I see without Fenders (or at best, a beaver-tail).

    Full Fenders, FRONT AND REAR. A front fender is critical in keeping runoff away from your clothing, off of your face, and out of your mouth – and it also helps keep water and grit away from your bottom bracket and the rest of your bike’s drivetrain.

    A FULL REAR fender doesn’t just keep the wet dirt stripe off of your butt and back, but also keeps your pant legs noticeably dryer. It will also keep spray off of your seatpost, which is where water enters your frame to collect around your bottom bracket and in your chainstays.

    Fenders, dammit!

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    • Alexis December 12, 2015 at 12:35 pm

      Not to mention, fenders are a blessing for the folks riding behind you who might not care for a face full of road grime flung from your back wheel.

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    • Gerald Fittipaldi December 12, 2015 at 12:38 pm

      If only more bikes were fender compatible. I’m amazed at how many bikes I see with jury-rigged fenders where the fender had to be sliced to create a gap where the brakes are. All because many bike manufacturers have tunnel vision that some bikes should be for recreation only. They need to phase out brakes that don’t accommodate fenders. Unless its a super high end road bike.

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  • Clark in Vancouver December 12, 2015 at 11:20 am

    A few years ago I was thinking of taking the cloth from a broken umbrella and making a cover for my panier basket and then I discovered that they already made such at thing at the Japanese dollar store Daiso. Made of the same nylon material as umbrellas. Has an elastic edging so you just stretch it over your basket or your backpack in a carrier and that’s it. Scrunches up very small too. Faster than a plastic bag and looks nicer too.

    There are no stores in Portland but Seattle has some. http://www.daisoglobal.com

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  • Bald One December 12, 2015 at 12:52 pm

    waterproof paniers are really useful. the ones I got from Nashbar were 1/3 the cost of the PVC ones from Ortleib and have lasted about 5 years now and many 1000s of rainy miles.

    showers pass overshoe covers (you have to cut out a hole in the bottom for your cleats) have also been very durable and good in heavy rain and not too spendy. any type of rain pants that are long enough to get over the top of the shoe covers are very important.

    fenders, fenders, fenders. full ones.

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  • soren December 12, 2015 at 4:15 pm

    I would spontaneously combust if I took the advice given. I’ve never found any so-called waterproof clothing that does not soak me in sweat despite being largely ineffectual.

    Getting wet is OK. The moisture may prune skin a bit but I promise everyone that they will live with out any ill affects.

    I also am mildly annoyed at the implicit assumption that all or most readers would wear wool. You’d have to pay me a huge amount of money to wear wool (and I’d donate it to C.O.K.)

    PS: We were all born wet.

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  • Patrick Barber December 12, 2015 at 4:27 pm

    Rain capes are much cooler than rain coats (and rain pants!) and can be worn over regular clothing. Not so great in high winds or super heavy rains. But in our typical mild drizzle, they serve to keep both torso and legs dry, with no hassle of taking on and off. Just don’t wear your rain cape indoors, it drips all over everything.

    I wear glasses but when the rain is coming down I pop in some contacts. Got fitted for them a few years back; I keep a supply of 2-week lenses, but I only go through one or two pairs a season as I literally only wear them while riding, then take them out and switch back to my glasses.

    Here’s my annual link to a post I wrote about this (six years ago now!)

    https://henwaller.wordpress.com/2008/11/19/winter-cycling-rain-capes-and-contact-lenses/

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    • Patrick Barber December 12, 2015 at 4:29 pm

      Also, rain boots keep your feet dry better than all the bike equipment made for that purpose. I have a few pairs of old shoes at the office to change into on rainy days.

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    • Alan 1.0 December 12, 2015 at 5:04 pm

      Santa’s elf tipped me off to Carradice capes at Citybikes last year. It made for one happy spouse, and she’s doing probably twice the winter miles as she did before it. Pricey but it works fabulously and will last nearly forever.

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  • Beth December 12, 2015 at 5:01 pm

    All my rain gear is several to a dozen years old and the wash-in stuff doesn’t seem to do much anymore. The price of new rain gear designed for biking is, frankly, obscene. So here’s what I do:

    1. Even if your jacket and pants still mostly repel water, you will probably have to re-seal the seams at some point. Seal the seams in the summer and hang the garment outside to dry because it WILL smell funny.
    2. Ziploc bags inside my saddlebags protect important books, documents and the extra socks and gloves I carry during the winter months.
    3. Extra socks and gloves, because the first pair will never dry in time to ride home again.
    4. Shoe covers are a must whether you have fenders or not. I use Rivendell Splats but you can also sew your own from recycled vinyl briefcases and velcro strips. Here’s my favorite pattern: http://www.cyclelicio.us/2006/12/diy-shoe-covers.html

    Remember to ride slower and give yourself more stopping distance in the rain!
    Cheers and happy holiday riding!

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  • Alan 1.0 December 12, 2015 at 7:14 pm

    boot & glove dryer …how did I live without it?

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  • kittens December 12, 2015 at 8:15 pm

    I am annoyed at the fact that my SKS full fenders are apparently not “full” enough to really do much to prevent spray from the front tire.
    You have to get others which are ugly and don’t fit my bike anyway.

    The other option, I am told, is to jerry rig a flexible plastic strip to make it longer.

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    • Alan 1.0 December 12, 2015 at 9:49 pm

      Lots of choices for mud flaps, store bought or home made. Some common materials are old bike tires or just about any plastic bottle. Attach it with a couple pop rivets or machine screws, with washers on both sides. Many examples online.

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    • soren December 12, 2015 at 10:12 pm
    • Tony T
      Tony T December 13, 2015 at 9:09 am

      I usually cut up an old but cool water bottle. If you mount it well (a small button head M5 bolt with washers and a nylock nut), it’ll last as long as the fenders. My SKS have lasted for over 10 years.

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  • eddie December 12, 2015 at 10:52 pm

    I just go for armor:

    Viking Rain gear. Made for people who work in the rain. Huge rubberized plastic rain boots. Neoprene gloves. (all found at Andy & Bax) Helmet with visor. 26 inch rims with semi knobbies and planet bike fenders. Lights. Ortliebs. You’re slower but safer and ready for anything in heavy rains, including mud, puddles, etc.

    And a light wool or neoprene base layer. But not too heavy so you don’t overheat.

    Oh and Wagner or Black Sabbath in an earbud for especially epic days.

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    • soren December 15, 2015 at 8:10 pm

      Geez. It’s just water, not xenomorphic “alien” blood.

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  • Simon December 13, 2015 at 9:24 am

    Like a lot of commenters here, I’m in the “no booties / f’ it my shoes are gonna get soaked” camp. However, I wear Gore Waterproof socks over my regular socks to keep my feet dry.

    If you go with the spare socks method it seems like you’d have to go through TWO pairs of socks a day. One pair that gets wet on your ride to work, and then you switch to your second dry pair. Then going home, you put your dry socks BACK into your wet shoes.

    Haven’t tried wearing only the waterproof socks yet. I like the cushion of my regular socks while riding. Plus it’s one less thing to put on when I get to my destination.

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  • gutterbunnybikes December 13, 2015 at 9:52 am

    I just wear my Duluth Trading Company fire hose Jacket and pants. They work extremely well for my 8-10 hours a day of outside job (My only wet underneath is around the colar where water runs down from my face and neck), where at the end of the day, I’m drier than my cohorts which wear the rubber junk.

    http://www.duluthtrading.com/store/mens/workwear/fire-hose/fh-work-clothes.aspx

    the Firehose flex jeans and Fire hose shirt jack are near perfect Portland Fall/winter/spring rain wear for riding a bicycle. There are lighter versions, fleece lined versions, and even a sports jacket and hats (which I also use)

    They’ve got gussets in the underarms, shoulders, and crotch for easy comfortable movement, long tails on the jacket/shirts for no plumbers butt.

    And the ladies don’t need to feel left out either (sizes 4-16)

    http://women.duluthtrading.com/store/product/womens-duluthflex-fire-hose-slim-leg-cargo-pants-21400.aspx?processor=content

    Fit can be a little inconsistent, so check the comments for how the sizes run. And my only disliking of the company is the barrage of emails and catalogs they send out once you’ve purchased from them – though the between season sales can be amazing at times.

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    • Alan 1.0 December 14, 2015 at 3:28 pm

      I’ve been meaning to thank you, GBB, for pointing out Duluth firehose pants. I checked them out when you mentioned them awhile back, got a pair, and now they’re my favs. Thanks!

      In my experience, they do shed a little, light rain better than plain ol’ jeans, but steady rain or brush soak them through just like any other cotton. More than just a few minutes in any of this month’s toad-choker rains would have drenched them.

      They don’t spam me at all; I must have ticked/unticked a magic box. I’m sure they’d allow you to unsubscribe (it’s the law). They do hit me with deadtree catalogs every few months.

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  • Jon December 15, 2015 at 10:04 am

    I am a daily commuter and have been for years. A free solution to dry feet, use the free grocery plastic produce bags (one size fits all). I slip one over each shoe and tuck the top under my tights. For extra snug fit I use rubber bands. I can get about a weeks worth of riding using them. I have a great waterproof rain jacket and then slip a free hotel shower cap over my helmet and can ride for hours completely dry (with full fenders of course). Always lights for safety!

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