Urban Tribe - Ride with your kids in front.

PDOT offers tips for riding in the rain and dark

Posted by on October 31st, 2008 at 1:40 am

Sprockettes at Earth Day

The rain is coming.
(Photos © J. Maus)

Kids aren’t the only ones who need to stay dry and visible while riding. Portland is set for wet weather for the next week or so (at least) and, combined with darkness falling over rush hour, rain can make things a bit more tricky out there.

Here are some tips taken from a list of wet and dark weather riding tips put together by the City of Portland Office of Transportation:

Stay Dry and Warm
You don’t need the latest and greatest cycling gear to get around town by bicycle. A decent rain jacket and pants are your best defense. They both cut down on wind and keep you dry. If you can afford it, GoreTex or other breathable fabric will keep the rain out and keep you from feeling clammy.

Fenders are also a very good investment – they keep your clothes from getting gritty and dirty. Nice extras include waterproof gloves, a snug hood or cap, a synthetic layer next to your skin to wick away moisture, and rain booties to go over your shoes.

People's Ride

Use Front and Rear Bicycle Lights
Lights are required by law when riding after dark. A white light visible at least 500 feet to the front, and a red light or reflector visible at least 600 feet to the rear. These lights allow other people to see you from the back, front and side. For more visibility at night wear bright clothing, an orange vest, or use reflective tape. The more reflectors whether blinking, flashing or solid, the better.

Brake Early and Often
Allow plenty of stopping distance. Gently squeeze your brakes in the rain to clear the water from you brake pads before you need to stop.

Avoid Some Painted and Steel Road Surfaces and Leaves
Steel plates, sewer covers, grates and other metal can be very slick in the rain. For paint, Portland City crews use non-slick paint and plastics for bike lanes and bicycle markings (and those blue bike lanes); however, crosswalks and other painted surfaces can be slippery. Avoid using your brakes or turning on these painted surfaces and on leaves and oily spots.

Stay Out of the Puddles
While it is tempting to splash through puddles especially if you have really good rain gear, a puddle can disguise a very deep pothole. If you to happen upon one of these, give our pothole crews a call at 503-823-2867.

Slow Down on Newly Wet Roads
That first rain brings all the oil on the road to the surface making for a slippery ride. This is especially true after a long dry spell. Give yourself longer stopping distances and keep a firmer grip on your handlebars.

These are great reminders. What wet weather tips would you add to this list?

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  • buglas October 31, 2008 at 8:04 am

    Eyeglasses! In foggy weather, condensation on your lenses can decrease your vision. In rain, water on the lenses has a similar effect. I’m lucky enough to not need my glasses while I ride, so I can pocket them.
    I would hesitate to use Rain-X or a similar treatment on my lenses – I don’t know if that would cause problems with the polycarbonate lenses or the scratch coating my optometrist applies.
    Does anybody have any experience with wearing goggles over the glasses? Would that cut down too much on peripheral vision? I’m sure there are some good solutions to share.

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  • Dave October 31, 2008 at 8:57 am

    I’ve just been using a simple, plastic poncho that covers all of me down to the knee, and that has kept me almost entirely dry on my commute in. That’s the only rain gear I use, and so far it’s been just fine. The only caveat, is I have to use a little suspender clip to clip the front bottom of the poncho to my pants, so it doesn’t ride up while I’m riding. It’s plenty breathable, as a lot of air gets in from underneath it, I haven’t been any more sweaty than I was without it (though I also don’t ride exceptionally fast).

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  • wet weather riding October 31, 2008 at 9:15 am

    I hesitate to use rain pants and/or a jacket because I’m almost always hot. A rainproof vest and arm warmers do the trick. For the bottom I cut a cheap pair of rain pants into shorts.

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  • the future October 31, 2008 at 9:24 am

    leaves! fallen leaves on the road get wet and soggy and super slippery. be especially careful when rounding corners where there are lots of leaves.

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  • Jeff October 31, 2008 at 9:28 am

    Buglas: I swear by goggles, I use them when it gets into the low 30’s.
    There are actually goggles that would work really well for those who wear glasses. They have a built in fan.
    I actually have a pair on ebay- I’m not here to advertise (I’ve only sold like 1 other thing on ebay ever), but here’s the link if you want to check them out. Very very good goggles and a great deal on them, brand new: http://tinyurl.com/smithotg

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  • Pasture Ted October 31, 2008 at 9:37 am

    Mens’ wool dress pants are great for the in-between times–wet roads, constant drizzle, intermittent rain. Support your local thrift shop and pick up a pair or two, keep yourself warm, dry and a kinda stylish.

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  • velo October 31, 2008 at 9:39 am

    Fenders: Nothing keeps your feet and legs dry (or drier). They also prevent the stripe up your back. Full fenders are the best if they work on your bike. They also keep your bike a little cleaner.

    Lights! Front and rear, the more the better. Get some, use them, replace the batteries when they go dim.

    Clothes: Bright colors and reflective. Dressing up as a ninja is fun, but I see too many bicycle ninjas all in black that look they are about to get run over.

    Riding tips:

    Keep your bike tuned up, particularly take care of your brakes. Pads wear out faster in the wet and grime. Being able to stop is well worth a set of new pads from time to time.

    Try to anticipate what drives and other cyclists can see. Riding with an understanding of their road perspective, sight lines and stopping distances will improve your safety. There are situations where you might be able to see them, but they can’t see you (corners/intersections). Act accordingly.

    Slow down a little: I like to ride fast, but it is harder to stop and control a bike on wet and leafy roads. 2 extra minutes a trip is well worth not going to the ER for a crash.

    Be safe, have fun and keep riding! I was amazed at how many people were happily pedaling across the Hawthorne Bridge in the rain this morning.

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  • Kt October 31, 2008 at 9:44 am

    Speaking of bright colored clothing:

    Red may be a good choice during the day, but when it gets dim out there red looks the same as black.

    The lighter– and brighter!– colors you choose, the more likely you’ll be seen.

    Pick clothing with reflective parts, either patches or piping or, for a great effect, go full IllumiNite. That stuff rocks.

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  • Dave October 31, 2008 at 9:44 am

    Oh yeah, I guess I should also have mentioned that my bike has full front and rear fenders and skirt/coat guard… that helps a lot with not getting wet πŸ™‚

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  • Bob_M October 31, 2008 at 10:01 am

    Utility vehicles!! Trash trucks, leaf scoopers and other utility vehicles frequently leak hydraulic fluid. If you see a oily sheen on a wet roadway avoid it at all costs. Not only is it as slick as wet ice, but when you fall, you will get real dirty.


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  • ayresjk October 31, 2008 at 10:09 am

    as for bright, visible clothing…..red is not bright, orange is kinda bright, blue is NOT bright….wear YELLOW!!! it looks dorky, but so does a bike crunched under a cars tire. Pearl Izumi is the brightest thing I have seen. There screaming yellow is awesome!

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  • Moo October 31, 2008 at 10:13 am

    X-tra large pair of scotch guard sprayed wool socks (Andy&Bax) over your shoes – cut a hole for clips. Cheap and reliable.

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  • Zaphod October 31, 2008 at 10:23 am

    Planet Bike makes fenders that attach (and detach) quickly using stretchy rubber bits. I highly recommend these. It’s good to mod them with a flexible extension “mud flap” using zip ties both front and back. You can find these mudflaps in bike shops but they can easily be fabricated from any plastic you’d find in your recycling bin for the nicest price.

    I’d love it if someone made an easy to install “skirt guard” that covers the same section as the fender so much of the wheel is completely enclosed. This could be done fairly easily with thin stretchy neoprene and a bunch of fasteners & maybe some shock cord.

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  • Moo October 31, 2008 at 10:32 am

    X-tra large, scotch guarded wool socks (Goodwill,Andy&Bax) over your shoes…cut holes for shoe clips. Very reliable and cheap.

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  • the future October 31, 2008 at 10:36 am

    showers pass also makes excellent waterproof jackets and are based here in portland.


    btw i don’t work there i just like their jackets

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  • Dave October 31, 2008 at 11:08 am

    Waterproof outer layers are great, but just as important is banishing cotton of any kind. Sooner or later you will get so doused (or work up such a sweat) that waterproofing is hopeless, and you want to know you can stay reasonably warm when that happens. Wool, poly, even just going bare-skinned under a windbreaker or rain jacket – anything is better than riding in wet cotton.

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  • Coyote October 31, 2008 at 11:20 am

    Timing helps too. I don’t know if there is any science here, but it seems to rain less intensely and often stops for 20 minutes or so just after dawn. Conversely I often get drenched at dusk. Has anyone else noticed that?

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  • Sam Hill October 31, 2008 at 11:26 am

    Big wool sweaters will keep you warm and dry. They breathe extremely well, unlike gore-tex, etc.

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  • McAngryPants October 31, 2008 at 11:33 am

    I can’t say enough how awesome my MEC “whoosh” gear is out in the weather. My set is 6 years old and still going strong.

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  • K'Tesh October 31, 2008 at 12:01 pm

    Lights… Lights… More Lights… and Reflectors…

    Blinking LEDs are great for alerting motorists to your pressence. And don’t forget to replace your batteries. What may seem bright when you turn your light on, can dim in only a few minutes if it’s old.

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  • hanmade October 31, 2008 at 12:05 pm

    I would love to see side lights for bikes developed, maybe enclosed in the front light, with red lenses on each side that blinked rapidly. While crossing intersection on dark wet mornings and evenings, it would be nice to be very visible at 90 degrees to your direction of travel.

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  • GlowBoy October 31, 2008 at 12:20 pm

    My offbeat — but very effective — solution to the leaf problem is studded tires.

    Laugh all you want, but I work in Beaverton. Clear winter nights are often frosty over there even when it’s 40-ish in Portland. Not only is a studded front tire awesome security for those fast descents down the west slope into the frost zone, those little studs are able to punch down through several layers of leaves to make for a secure trip down leafy side streets.

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  • Paul Tay October 31, 2008 at 12:39 pm

    Coroplast is great for DIY fenders.

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  • FauxPorteur October 31, 2008 at 12:41 pm

    A poem:

    Fenders, fenders, fenders, fenders, mudguards if that’s how you like it, fenders, fenders, fenders, yes you do need a front fender, fenders, fenders, a rear rack isn’t good enough, fenders, fenders, add flexible mudflap extensions that go almost all the way to the ground, fenders, fenders, bolt on, full wrap fenders, fenders, fenders, don’t take them off in the summer, fenders, fenders, they weigh less that a wet pair of jeans, fenders fenders, nylock nuts are your friend, foe of rattle, fenders, great place to put reflective tape, fenders fenders, they improve the look of ALL bikes, fenders fenders, best $30 you can spend on a bike upgrade, fenders, fenders, Im sorry if your bike lacks eyelets and clearance, sell it, fenders fenders, they will bike so happy and clean, fenders fenders, because when it’s not raining the roads are still wet. Fenders.

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  • LizardMama October 31, 2008 at 1:20 pm

    And watch out for wet train tracks… I bit it this morning… I was dry in all my raingear until I ended up laying in the middle of the road. πŸ™‚ Also, I got this great, really dorky reflective vest that has blinky LEDs on it. If I wear it I look like a Christmas tree. My other great buy has been my helmet cover made of reflective fabric. Dry head = happy.

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  • Eileen October 31, 2008 at 2:42 pm

    Buglas, ask your optometrist. I remember something I had years ago that prevented fog on my glasses and it came from the optometrist. You wiped it on and then wiped it off – kind of like rain-x I guess. I wear contacts now so don’t mess with it, but there is something out there. It was green and the texture of lip balm. I know, super helpful.

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  • jrep October 31, 2008 at 3:24 pm

    I’d like to see the City of Portland do more by way of street sweeping and leaf removal during the fall AND I’d like to see an agressive enforcement program to keep residents from pushing leaves from their yards into the street.

    The city claims that putting leaves in the street is prohibited by city ordinance, but they DO NOT take any action to discourage this dangerous practice.

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  • Faux Porteur October 31, 2008 at 3:41 pm

    Eileen, I believe you are referring to a product called, no lie, Cat Crap. http://tinyurl.com/5pqzjw

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  • Dianna October 31, 2008 at 3:44 pm

    I’m gonna try the Copenhagenize strategy this year: put on your street clothes, ride the comfy upright bike with big tires and big fenders, and go slow. It’s a bit of a wrench for me, but if I put the zippy roadbike away in the garage and learn some zen time management (I will get there whenever I get there), I think it could be a hit.

    Now I just need to invent a rear-rackable waterproof socks carrier!

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  • Robert Sanders October 31, 2008 at 11:34 pm

    Gloves, so far I’ve tried lots of “waterproof, breathable” and “windproof” cycling gloves but nothing works better than a pair of those $15 fingerless wool gloves over a pair of full finger REI “lifeline” gloves. Wet but warm.

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  • Tim November 1, 2008 at 11:49 am

    Rear Lights! Not Relectors.
    Reflectors do not work as well as a rear light. Also, change the batteries often, because with LEDs they work, but the light gets quite dim.

    If anyone knows of a good rechargable AA or AAA batteries please post, I want some!

    Also, placement of your rear light. Many clip em on their bags, but when you are bent over your bike sometimes the light shines up, rather than back where motorists can see it. Ask a buddy to check if they can see your light well!

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  • […] are some tips via Jonathon Maus @ bikeportland.org on rainy weather riding.  Thanks […]

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  • Opus the Poet November 2, 2008 at 3:57 pm

    If anyone knows of a good rechargable AA or AAA batteries please post, I want some!

    How about these: http://www.bgmicro.com/index.asp?PageAction=VIEWPROD&ProdID=10997
    Nice capacity and decent price.

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  • Aaron November 2, 2008 at 6:43 pm

    lots of great tips here.
    for those who can’t afford expensive gear, you can use zip-ties to attach cardboard or coroplast (thanks Paul). One long piece on the down tube for your front wheel and one on the seat tube for the rear wheel (assuming you have a rack).
    For those with glasses, a sun visor or hat will keep much of the rain from dribbling onto your glasses.
    Also be sure to not make the mistake I made. Check your rims and clean them all winter (once a month or so) to keep grit off. The grit gets between the brakes and the rim to act as sandpaper on the side of your wheel. Next thing you know a new wheel could be necessary.
    More than one front light is also a great thing (flashlights are cheaper than bike lights).
    Happy riding and stay dry πŸ™‚

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  • Laura November 3, 2008 at 8:01 am

    Another suggestion: check your tires for wear, or put new ones on. Wet pavement,darkness and leaves hide broken glass.

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  • dryguy November 3, 2008 at 9:16 pm

    I have to second the suggestion of Showers Pass wet-weather gear. Based in PDX (support local!) and they rule the category. the best. also: some of it’s even stylish!

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  • brettoo November 4, 2008 at 3:21 am

    thanks for the Showers Pass recommendations, which inspired me to buy one of their rain jackets and hoods during Clever Cycles’ 30% off sale last week. I’ve worn it twice during the rains of the last few days and (along with some old rain pants I already had), it’s kept me totally dry and relatively cool, even without unzipping the vents. I also like how thin it is, making it easy to keep in my pannier while taking up almost no space. It’s the low end jacket, and my rides were admittedly short (less than 20 minutes) but that’s pretty typical of my biking around town, so I can second or third the props to SP. Also nice to buy a local product from a locally owned business. Now to see if I can make it all winter without buying shoe guards….

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  • G.A.R. November 4, 2008 at 5:58 am

    No one has mentioned routes. Your favorite route in light and dry conditions may leave you invisible in the dark and wet. Maybe it’s a busy street with winding corners. Maybe it’s being lost in a sea of commercial lights along the street. Maybe it’s being forced out into traffic more often by piles of leaves. Think again about your choice of routes and try something new.

    I’d like to complain about people who drive with their parking lights on in the dark. Reflectors are not good enough for your main lighting, but we all rely partially on reflection (from pedals, shoes, clothing, etc.) These don’t work unless the motorist is shining a light on you. Also, that light needs to be near the motorist’s eyes in order for the reflector to work right, which means those nifty fog lights down by the ground are not as good as regular headlights. I’d like to see enforcement in this area.

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