Winter riding: Staying warm and dry on a budget

Bike to Work Breakfast-3
Raingear comes in all styles, forms
— and budgets.
(Photo © J. Maus)

Now that the rain has arrived in earnest, it’s time to get the daily wet weather riding routine down pat.

For many of us, that isn’t going to include shopping for a new, name brand rain jacket and pants, fancy washable wool, or a new bike with disc brakes.

Fortunately there are plenty of local options for staying warm and reasonably dry without going broke.

I recently made a trip to Andy and Bax, a military surplus store at 324 SE Grand, right in the center of the industrial east side. They have whatever the military has too much of — and this includes plenty of wool gear as well as perfectly good, basic $10 rain pants with snaps at the cuffs that keep them out of your chain.

Simple, functional, and highly visible
at Earth Day 2007.
(Photo © J. Maus)

A variety of rain coats run more on the order of $30 (some even have features like ventilation and non-drab colors). Ponchos also run in a wide variety of prices, sizes, and options — if you have fenders on your bike, a poncho with a couple of velcro snaps to attach the front to your handlebars is really all you need on all but the windiest days.

By the entrance a vast array of hats, balaclavas, gloves (including some with grips that seem to be made for motorcycling), and mittens (an articulated trigger finger also aids in braking) are made of weather-appropriate wool, fleece, waxed cotton.

The goal of the trip was to find a waterproof bag to carry things in my Xtracycle pannier in the fast-approaching storm. The $14 bright yellow tube I ended up with is suitable for intermittent full submersion and fits everything I need to carry on a daily basis, at a fraction of the price of its fancy step-cousin the Ortlieb pannier.

I couldn’t resist dropping by Next Adventure a block away at SE Grand and Stark. I’ve heard tales for some time of their legendary bargain basement.

Portland’s Free Store could have
just what you need at just (really!)
the right price.
(Photo © Elly Blue)

It more than lives up to the hype. While not as orderly, uniform, or determinedly utilitarian as the stock at Andy and Bax, in 20 minutes of rummaging through you can find everything from an $11 teal vinyl hoodie for a giant to what I presume is a bargain $89 technical fabric, name-brand raincoat made specifically for hiking or cycling. Rain pants were in shorter supply; the ones I found fell in the $10 to $30 range.

Next Adventure’s bargains also include a rack of cycling gear from many eras including this one, a bin of clipless bike shoes, and gems like a trainer and a battle-worn Schwinn child seat ($10).

Many people have reported excellent wet weather gear finds at thrift stores (including the always fruitful, if unfocused, Goodwill Bins that sits conveniently right off the Springwater Corridor). And Portland abounds with clothing exchange parties, both organized and casual. If you can’t find an event online that suits you, organize one with your friends.

I’ve stayed dry — if messily — all winter in years past on a bike without fenders by wearing an impermeable raincoat and $10 rainpants tucked loosely into knee high rubber boots. If you don’t mind climbing in and out of wet, muddy gear at every destination — or being asked frequently if you’re a highway safety flagger — this is a fine budget option. You’ll certainly stay warm this way, though if you’re a fast rider you’ll get too warm and so much for staying dry.

A political campaign sign
has a new life as a
rear fender.
(Photo © Elly Blue)

Fenders are one of the best investments you can make into winter riding on your bike. The water and road gunk that your tires pull off the ground and throw at you (and anyone riding right behind you) is often heavier than what’s coming out of the sky. With full-coverage fenders, you often don’t need to bother with more than just a wool sweater in a light rain.

For affordable fenders (and friendly assistance in putting them on your own bike), check out Bike Farm at NE Wygant and Garfield (near NE MLK and Alberta) — reports are in that they have just received a shipment. You may be able to find used fenders, along with other used parts and gear, at Citybikes at SE Ankeny and 20th.

If you’re handy and inspired, there are plenty of examples roving around town of fenders made out of repurposed campaign signs, mountain bike tires, and plastic water bottles. If you make your own, we’d love to hear how it goes.

What are your equipment strategies for wet, cold weather? Feel free to share in the comments below.

– See also our discussion of the wide world of wool as an option for winter riding from last year around this time.

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