Urban Tribe - Ride with your kids in front.

Slip slidin’ away? Check out these tips and free workshops

Posted by on November 12th, 2008 at 9:43 am

This woman stays dry and
visible with a poncho.
(Photos J. Maus)

Monsoon season is upon us in Portland. When you jump on your bike these days, you never know what awaits you; wind, rain, leaf-strewn (and slippery) bike lanes, or all of the above (no ice yet, but that’s coming too).

This time of year presents challenging conditions for two-wheeled travelers. The good news is that there are others willing to share tips to help make your riding safe and enjoyable throughout fall and winter.

We’ve recently focused on keeping kids happy on the bike, and PDOT has offered a nice set of winter riding tips.

Biker-genius-advocate Michelle Poyourow of the BTA offered some great leaf-riding tips on their blog last week. Wet leaves can present a slew of slippery and tricky situations for bikers. Here’s how Poyourow deals with them:

Leaves look pretty, but danger
lurks beneath them.

1. Do your braking before you hit the leaves, and then ease up on the brakes as you go over them. Especially if you are executing a turn – do it very slowly, but whatever you do don’t brake while turning.

2. Avoid accelerating on leaves.

3. Avoid braking on leaves.

4. Hey, just avoid biking on leaves altogether! Remember that it is perfectly legal, not to mention fair and safe, for you to leave the margins of the road and get out there in the middle if you need to avoid a hazard. The key to doing this is that you absolutely must:

a) look behind you first to make sure you’re not going to cut anyone off, and
b) signal before you do it so the motorists understand and sympathize.

5. If you encounter dangerous leaves, let your local maintenance crew know. In Portland, the phone number of maintenance needs (like sweeping glass or leaves, fixing potholes, or repainting lanes) is (503) 823-1700. (The Portland maintenance crew is really wonderful; be nice.) For other jurisdictions, see our list of maintenance contacts.

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To learn more, check out the BTA’s free (bring a few bucks if you don’t want to feel guilty for eating pizza) Winter Bike Commuting Workshop this Thursday night. They’ll discuss how to stay visible on dark commutes, how to stay dry, basic winter riding tips, and more. Details:

    Winter Bike Commuting workshop
    Thursday, November 13th, 6:00 – 7:00 pm
    BTA office (233 NW 5th Ave.)
    RSVP! to stephanie[at]bta4bikes[dot]org

If you can’t make it on Thursday night, Clever Cycles and Portland Bicycle Tours are teaming up for a free Commuting 101 Workshop.

Evan Ross from Portland Bicycle Tours says the workshop will include an a basic overview of safe commuting skills and some specific techniques for a more confident ride. Attendees will also get a discount on accessories after the workshop. Here are details:

    Commuting 101 Workshop — Free!
    Friday November 21st @ 5:30 pm
    Clever Cycles (908 SE Hawthorne)
    Sign up by contacting Evan Ross at intrepidexperience[at]gmail[dot]com or call (360) 643-3684.

If fear of riding in challenging conditions is keeping you off your bike, these workshops might be just what the doctor ordered.

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  • Martha R November 12, 2008 at 9:57 am

    People who don’t bike in the winter often shudder at the thought, but when the cold, dark, and wet weather hits, my 30-minute morning and evening commute is often the only significant time that I spend outdoors. It’s definitely good for the body and brain and it gets my sleepy head ready for work (and elevates my mood after a bad day at the office). For anyone who even vaguely wonders about winter bike commuting, definitely give it a try. The rain looks wetter when you’re behind a windshield, and the cold feels colder when you step out of a heated car or bus…hop on your bike and you’ll find that it’s not all that bad. Kinda fun, actually.

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  • true November 12, 2008 at 10:06 am

    Remember – don’t try to stay 100% dry or you’ll be disappointed. Try to be comfortable, and get comfortable with the wet. Try out your gear or your set up on a rainy weekend so you don’t have any ugly surprises on that first rainy Monday morning. Then you’ll have a lovely time.

    Don’t let the low gas prices fool you – it’s temporary – get on a bike!

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  • c November 12, 2008 at 10:16 am

    Right on, Martha. Biking in pouring rain and whipping wind like this morning is exhilarating!

    Dealing with wet gear afterwards is not so much fun.

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor) November 12, 2008 at 10:21 am

    i agree martha. it’s funny how often i find myself grinning as i roll through a bunch of leaves, intentionally blast through a puddle, or feel rain droplets hit my cheeks.

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  • Bob_M November 12, 2008 at 10:25 am

    True, it is true.

    Warm while wet is an achievable goal. Just make sure your work clothes stay dry.

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  • Jeremy November 12, 2008 at 10:27 am

    I think the most important part of my rain gear is my clear lensed glasses so I can keep my eyes open in the rain.

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  • El Biciclero November 12, 2008 at 10:36 am

    Who’s had experience with a rain cape (and possibly “spats”)? What are the pros/cons?

    I’ve got impossibly old and crappy (80’s coated poly) rain gear, but I don’t want to (can’t) spend $400 – $600 on “the good stuff” if there is a simpler and cheaper option.

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  • Hollie November 12, 2008 at 10:39 am

    I stumbled upon a new rainy/mucky Fall morning trick today. I park my bike in my office and have left my fair share of black puddles and piles of mulchy leaves on the floor. This morning I filled up a water bottle and when arriving at work, squirted the big chunks off my wheels, bottom bracket shell and downtube before going inside. Worked pretty well!

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  • toddistic November 12, 2008 at 10:55 am

    Lovin the rain and open roads! It was good workout going into that 30mph headwind this morning!

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  • bonnie November 12, 2008 at 11:13 am

    I love biking in this weather!
    El Biciclero: cheap options:
    shower cap over the helmet to keep your head dry (I prefer it).
    Plastic produce bags over socks/inside shoes.
    Shop the REI used gear sale for pants/jackets. (Check for de-lamination, ‘cuz that can’t be fixed.) If the rain gear hasn’t de-laminted, get a $10 bottle of ReviveX wash-in waterproofing stuff. It does work.
    Also, the RainShield 02 jacket is cheap (about $30) and works very well, not clammy like a fisherman suit.
    I like ski gloves to keep my hands warm and mostly dry. Also, glove meant for any paddling sport will keep your hands dry and are cheaper than fancy bike gloves, if you don’t mind not having the padding.

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  • K'Tesh November 12, 2008 at 11:46 am

    You might want to take that “danger lurks beneath” comment to heart…


    links to a shot with my front wheel stuck in a stealty bike eating storm drain grate on NW Pettygrove. The picture is also part of my “Grate Danger – Bike/Wheelchair Eating Drains in the Portland Oregon Metro Area” photo set on flickr.


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  • Tasha November 12, 2008 at 11:52 am

    I agree like riding in the rain is fine – it is the wet hair, socks, sweating underneath because you put too many layers on aftereffets that aren’t so nice.
    I’ve experiemented and I finally got Waterproof Panniers so my stuff stays dry (and an extra pair of socks is good!). But the wet hair is still an issue, even if I put it back. I did see someone with a shower cap over their helmet and their blinky helmet light (which I also have) even showed through! I might have to try that.

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  • jonno November 12, 2008 at 11:55 am

    Biciclero –

    I used a bright yellow Carradice rain cape (like in the picure above) for a couple winters. I don’t anymore, though.

    -They keep you very dry, even the legs.
    -They breathe really well.
    -Only one piece of gear to fiddle with.
    -Some brands are fairly compact, not the carraidice tho.

    -It’s like wearing a sail in a strong breeze. Strong headwind gusts can almost stop you dead.
    -They make you look like a rolling traffic cone. That can sometimes be a plus…
    -You can’t carry anything other than a small backpack/messenger bag — it destroys the fit otherwise. You’ll have to use panniers.
    -They cover your handlebars so you’ll have to mount a light on your forks or a front rack. Or use a helmet light.
    -The rain tends to puddle in between your arms. Be careful when you get off the bike!
    -If you have an extreme upright or extreme tucked position, the fit might not work for you.

    The headlight interference was my biggest gripe, that and the really funny looks. Now I just get wet or take the bus.

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  • beth h November 12, 2008 at 12:14 pm

    (#7) “–I’ve got impossibly old and crappy (80’s coated poly) rain gear, but I don’t want to (can’t) spend $400 – $600 on “the good stuff” if there is a simpler and cheaper option.”

    No need to spend 400 or more.

    A rain suit from Showers Pass, for example, costs around 250.00 for jacket and pants (Touring jacket, Club pant). Toss in some shoe cover booties and that’s another 35 bucks.

    Helmet covers from various makers run around 20-25 bucks, but I personally don’t care for how much heat and sweat they trap under my healmet. Instead, I wear a thin wool cap with ear band under my helmet (mine’s made by Deller but many other examples abound in Portland) and enjoy both warmth and breathability.

    Plus, the rain jacket and pants don’t catch the wind nearly as much as a rain cape does.

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  • Graham November 12, 2008 at 12:46 pm

    This is the winter I’m really getting my act together when it comes to rain gear. For instance, this is the first year I’ve had a decent set of fenders. I’m determined not to get as car-dependent as I did last winter.

    I’m not generally much of a gearhead, but this just means I get all the more of a thrill when I discover that good gear lets me do new things – like stay out in the weather longer. It’s like getting a power-up in a video game.

    Yesterday I had to use my car for the first time in weeks to rent a rug doctor from Freddy’s. Having been riding in the rain up until then, I expected that driving in the warm, dry bubble of my car (which I refer to as “the comfort pod”) would feel like utter luxury. It didn’t. Instead, it just felt stuffy, and dangerously heavy and clumsy. I found that I craved being out in the rain, just me and my bike – and the right gear.

    Once you’re bundled up, it’s a pleasure to play in the rain.

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  • Ashley November 12, 2008 at 12:58 pm

    There’s something funny about walking into a workplace/doctor’s office etc with steam coming off your body and water dripping down your face. I can’t help but chuckle. Also riding in the rain has it’s own charm.

    Have a good rain shell ($65 rei) is essential, I buy one on the bigger size so I can wear layers underneath depending on the outside temperature. Showerpass jackets are great, for rei, ask a clerk. This year I picked up some waterproof shoes (soloman- $99) and I think they’re great. (much better than wearing silly rain booties that are a pain getting on/off and wear down in the ankle) Having warm feet and hands is vital to winter biker happiness. Wool gloves are cheaper than fancy bike ones, they do get wet, but they stay warm. For pants this year I switched from rain pants (hot & sweaty bleh) to rain chaps ($50 at clevercycles). they’re breathable, waterproof and easy to put on/off- they have them at clever cycles. I think I’ll add some gators for extra protection below the knee. ($50 at rei)

    Anyway, enjoy the fun and remember, it’s totally worth if just for the hot shower at the end of the day.

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  • chuck November 12, 2008 at 1:18 pm

    $40 rain pants
    $40 rain jacket
    both bought at next adventure.

    the only thing that gets wet on me these days is my gloves (have yet to find a pair of waterproof gloves that I like), and my feet.

    I love riding in the rain. the wind, however. that’s a completely different story.

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  • neutralwrench November 12, 2008 at 1:29 pm

    I use the seal skin water prof gloves and socks, they keep me dry. I do sweat when getting a workout but when I’m commuting they keep my hands and feet warm. I don’t recommend putting them in the dryer, let them air dry instead otherwise you will be buying a new pair at the begining of each season.

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  • red hippie November 12, 2008 at 1:48 pm

    Any suggestion on treatment for eye glasses?

    I am pretty comfortable with most of my gear, but my achilles heel is my glasses, which always seem to be steamed up and covered in droplets.

    Has any tried rain-x or any of the anti fog formulas for ski goggles with sucess?


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  • mmann November 12, 2008 at 1:53 pm

    I use a Burley (discontinued) jacket that always keeps me dry and vents well. The Showers Pass jacket is a similar design and quality. I’ve never taken to rain pants. Remember, skin is waterproof and the reason most people want to stay dry is really because they want to stay warm. I wear thin running tights with bike shorts and stay plenty warm. If you have the opportunity to change at the end of the ride I find that works fine. Same with gloves – waterproof is pretty impossible (too many seams) and the inexpensive wool gloves like Citybikes sells will keep your hands warm in just about anything our weather can throw at you.

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  • Pete November 12, 2008 at 2:15 pm

    Speaking of Shower’s Pass, there’s an article about their CEO in this month’s Oregon Business magazine.

    Sadly I drove to work this morning (bike still being worked on) and was jealous of friends passing in the bike lane. My local commute is short and easily halved by riding. Another reason to bike commute in the winter is that traffic gets worse this time of year and people become more hectic as the holidays set in. Watch out for wet or frosted reflective paint and be careful out there!

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  • Pete November 12, 2008 at 2:21 pm

    red hippie (#19): I’ve used rain-x but it tends to leave a film and doesn’t last long. I’ve also tried anti-fog solutions for ski and racquetball goggles and again their effects were short-lived. This may sound disgusting but divers will tell you that spit works pretty well.

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  • Joe November 12, 2008 at 4:38 pm

    Good pair of boots are helping me out 🙂
    full zip pants on the sides, good jacket!
    these leaves are wild right now!

    fun riding, some people in autos get worked up with you when you just want to share the road. ahhh oh well.

    This guy gunned it behind me last night!
    careful, good lights get them.


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  • colin November 12, 2008 at 4:38 pm

    When I commute in the rain, I’m more concerned with keeping warm than dry. As long as my work clothes in my bag stays dry all is golden. Even with wool lined booties for my shoes, my socks will occasionally get wet but I bring an extra pair. I wear glasses and one annoyance is getting rain drops on them. No way around it especially in heavy winds. All my cycling clothing are tight fitting so I’m not a sail when the wind picks up. Riding in the rain definitely requires more attention to avoid wet leaves, puddles and allowing lots of room for braking. Coming home in the dark also brings new challenges such as making eye contact with drivers and my least favorite..4 way stops. Have lots of lights!

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor) November 12, 2008 at 4:40 pm

    just have to add.. it’s soaking out there today! monsoon! i’ve been riding all over town today and i’m soaked.. . i need to wash my Showers pass jacket more frequently (they lose their waterproofness if you don’t).

    and my feet/socks are toasty and dry thanks to waterproof timberland boots lined with smartwool.

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  • patrick November 12, 2008 at 5:34 pm

    regarding eye glasses and associated frustrations: this year i finally broke down and got contact lenses, solely for use while bicycling in the rain.

    it is absolutely wonderful.

    regarding rain capes: they’re a great solution for short rides, or for non-commute transportation, when getting in and out of rain pants repeatedly while running errands would be a hassle. Another advantage is that you can easily wear normal clothing underneath a rain cape. I’m using a cape for the first time this year and so far it’s great.

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  • April November 12, 2008 at 6:10 pm

    I’m with the people who complain about glasses. My astigmatism is bad enough that I can’t wear contacts–and trust me, I’ve tried, both soft contacts for astigmatism and gas-permeable hard lenses. Neither corrected my vision well enough to read, let enough bike.

    So I suffer through wet glasses. A hat with a brim, if I wear it under my helmet and pull the brim right over my eyes, helps a bit. Other than that, I’m screwed. :^( And at night? Jesus. I end up riding a LOT slower at night just because the water drops refract all the light and it’s really hard to see.

    Sucks to hear that Rain-X etc. isn’t worth it…I was thinking of trying that.

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  • lisa November 12, 2008 at 6:14 pm

    Whew – today was my first time back on my bike since the luxury of summer .. I got soggy through my so so rain gear, but it was seriously dumping. Showers Pass, here I come.

    I’m impressed that I got home safely with only one car that didn’t see me. I usually commute by car, so I’m well aware of how difficult it is to see bikes and am continually shocked at how brazen cyclists can be in the dark and rain.

    I was amazed on my ride home how many cars did actually see me – especially at two way stops (my right of way). Sad to be surprised at being seen, but I know that’s the reality. Good job drivers!

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  • Jessica Roberts November 12, 2008 at 7:03 pm

    Options is hosting a Bicycle Brown Bag on November 20th on the subject of “Celebrate Biking in the Rain.” It’s on everybody’s mind, I guess. More here.

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  • Cruizer November 12, 2008 at 7:44 pm

    I would like to know where she got that poncho. I haven’t yet been able to find rain ponchos designed for cycling. Does anyone know of a shop in town that carries them?

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  • Stumpy November 12, 2008 at 8:47 pm

    I agree with the wet is fine cold is a problem crowd. I have found that if I am able to keep my upper body dry and warm, the rest is usually aok. I have found that buying your rain pants in the long length prevents the funneling of water into the shoes.

    Just a side rant here, but some jerk stole the light off my bike at the interstate New Seasons tonight. Had to ride home without a front headlight. I guess after many years of commuting I have to take all of my gear in with me if I want to make it home safe and sound.

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  • fuchsia November 12, 2008 at 9:31 pm


    I just got a tiny Planet Bike Spok 1-LED headlight that straps onto your helmet. It is surprisingly bright and works well as a backup headlight. $9 at Hollywood Cycling on Sandy.

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  • Seth Alford November 13, 2008 at 3:01 am

    “If you encounter dangerous leaves, let your local maintenance crew know. In Portland, ….”

    I emailed them last Friday. The leaves are still there, almost a week later. What are they doing, waiting for all the leaves to fall so they only have to run the street sweeper once? That’s less than I what I would expect from a Platinum level bicycle friendly community. It’s time for the League of American Bicyclists to reduce Portland’s rating to gold.

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  • Drewid November 13, 2008 at 8:34 am

    Citybikes carries raincapes from Carridice. The bright yellow one is ideal for an upright bike. For drop handlebars, the one sold by CAT will fit better
    Raincapes work great for shorter trips. You will stay bone dry during the pouring rain; unless you ride in the pouring rain for more than ten or 15 minutes.
    Ultimatly, you will get damp and then wet after an hour or so of riding.
    I bring my cape along as insurance on a day that may have a surprise cloudburst. Just got a showers pass jacket which I will use for rainy days. I have found leather oxford shoes keep my feet dry after a wax treatment, like Sno-seal.

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  • joel November 13, 2008 at 8:53 am

    “5. If you encounter dangerous leaves, let your local maintenance crew know.”

    i cannot read this and not laugh, envisioning gangs of teenage leaf thugs loitering on street corners, roughing up cyclists.

    here in cargo bike land, i have to stop myself from riding through every giant pile of leaves i see.

    personally, i think a platinum level city would have found a way to stop the leaves from falling on the road altogether by now. time for demotion!

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  • joel November 13, 2008 at 8:58 am

    oh, and may i just add:


    combined with proper, full-length fenders (mostly unobtainable, sadly enough – the planet bike and sks fenders are too damn short), a set of mudflaps which just barely clear the ground are AWESOME.

    front mudflap should flare wider, and prevents that last little bit of spash that gets your toes.

    rear mudflap can be narrower, and is really more for courtesy to fellow riders than anything else.

    theyre great, cause they get that last little bit of insult-to-injury dampness. combined with nice toe covers (for us toeclip types) or booties, they make all-day rain rides a joy.

    its the little things.

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  • colin November 13, 2008 at 9:59 am

    I noticed this morning that the leaves on Terwilliger heading up to OHSU have been cleared! Now I don’t have to ride in the traffic lane or on the white strip..ugh. The leaves were there for almost 2 weeks.

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  • Clog wearer November 13, 2008 at 12:06 pm

    I’ve been a big fan of my Swedish clogs for winter riding (the Dansko brand is also common here in PDX). They are roomy enough for thick wool socks. They keep my feet pretty dry when combined with wool socks & rain pants. Since they slip on & off, they make rain pant removal easy, too – no need to sit down & untie shoes. And, they look nice with most outfits, so I don’t always need to carry an extra pair of shoes (but an extra pair of socks is always a good plan). Finally, they’re very durable and super comfy for walking, too.

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  • Malex November 13, 2008 at 3:11 pm

    On the budgetish-yet-effective end, Andy & Bax (military surplus store) has kickass raingear. It’s called ECWCS (pronounced eck-wix) and it’s what the military uses. $100 for the jacket, $80 for the pants.

    Not so stylish or visible and on the bulky side, but COMPLETELY waterproof and quite durable. Breathable fabric and huge vents. It kept me dry backpacking for a week in southeast alaska, which is quite a statement! Be sure to wear a reflective vest on top or something.

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  • DKP November 13, 2008 at 3:31 pm

    I second the Seal Skinz gloves; they’ve extended my riding season to year-round. I have the waterproof AND chillproof kind. Spendy but so worth it.

    And just a reminder, to be careful in the rain. I rode into work recently, on the painted concrete floors, and as I made my (slow) turn, the wet wheels just gave out from under me. Landed on my head and, even with helmet, suffered a mild concussion. Thank heaven I was at work, since I’m uninsured.

    Just sayin’. (oh yeah and wear a helmet!!!)

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  • Donna November 13, 2008 at 7:23 pm

    I would like to thank all Portlanders who have the kind of rear fenders that don’t spray the person riding behind you. Those clip-on fenders are torturous to ride behind.

    Extra love and kisses to the folks who also use mudflaps…

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  • Graham November 14, 2008 at 10:32 am

    I’d been wondering if there was some kind of handlebar-mounted hand coverings available for bicycles, like you see Portland motorcycle cops using. My searches turned up nothing, but then Mark Ginsberg posted this on the Shift list:


    Just what I was thinking, though these seem made only for drop bars.

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