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Family Biking: What’s your favorite rain gear? (I asked my kids too)

Posted by on October 9th, 2018 at 9:09 am

(Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

What is your favorite rain gear?
What prevents a wet and shiny nose?
Is it something on your bike like fenders?
Or is it waterproof cycling clothes?

Our Family Biking column is sponsored by Clever Cycles.

➤ Read past entries here.

We don’t need special gear to bike for transportation, but for a lot of us a couple key things make things a lot more pleasant, especially if we want to bike in all conditions.

I type this with my damp basket-dog burritoed in a towel on my lap as I listen to the soft hum of my glove-and-boot dryer readying my 11-year old’s gear for tomorrow’s ride to school, and I’m trying to decide on my number one favorite piece of rain gear.

My rain skirt keeps my legs dry without overheating.
(Photo: Kathleen Youell)

Today I’m going to vote for my rain skirt. Unfortunately, it’s not commercially available — my friend, Alyssa, made it for me. Before I had the rain skirt and before years of wear had compromised their waterproofness, my rain chaps were my favorite thing. One can get Rain Legs rain chaps here in Portland at Clever Cycles, available in silver and black.

I also checked with a couple kids and friends on Monday, while pedaling alongside them in drizzle to keep things real…

Rijder is stubborn (I have no idea where he gets it!) and forgoes rain gear.

Rijder, my nine-year-old son, laughed and shouted, “Nothing!” Getting wet is a perfectly feasible way to deal with rain. We tend to forget we’re waterproof and skin’s quick to dry so Rijder’s minimal coverage (it was 54 degrees when we left for school this morning) worked well for a one-mile commute in drizzle. Many people who opt to just get wet also opt to change into dry clothing upon arrival, though.

Fenders are fabulous!

Brandt, my 11-year-old son, says his favorite rain gear is “fenders” so I don’t chide him for riding through each and every puddle. Fenders are good for both protecting your bike’s drivetrain from muddy, gritty water and for keeping your clothing clean.

Clever Cycles has many fenders, including ones that fit 20- and 24-inch kid bikes.

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Drape passengers in blankets if they don’t have rain gear.

Pixie, my nine-year-old chiweenie, indicated her blanket keeps her cozy in the rain. As a non-pedaling passenger, she’s prone to getting a little colder than the rest of us so she needs to have an extra layer when it’s cold. Her blanket isn’t waterproof, but it did a fine job of blocking the drizzle for 15 miles to the pumpkin farm on Sunday.

Kathleen Youell’s rain cape provide full coverage.

Kathleen Youell said her rain cape is her pick. It covers arms and legs and doesn’t get as hot as rain jacket plus rain pants.

Armando Luna wears wool and quick-dry fabrics.

Armando Luna (of bike commuting during tram closure and Pedalpalooza fun seeking fame) says, “Wear stuff that dries quickly and wool.” His shorts are quick-dry technical fabric and his shirt is wool.

So what’s your favorite piece of rain gear and why? If you bike with kids, ask them (or decide what you think they should say and share that). Let me know in the comments! Thanks for reading.

Remember, we’re always looking for people to profile. Get in touch if it sounds like fun to you. I’d especially like to feature families of color so please get in touch or ask friends of color who bike with their kids if they’re interested in sharing their stories. And as always, feel free ask questions in the comments below or email me your story ideas and insights at madidotcom [at] gmail [dot] com.

— Madi Carlson, @familyride on Instagram and Twitter

Browse past Family Biking posts here.

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38 Comments
  • axoplasm October 9, 2018 at 9:24 am

    I love that Portlanders have Strong Opinions About Raingear

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  • The eBike Store
    The eBike Store October 9, 2018 at 9:31 am

    Ever Seen a Bike Umbrella?!?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j-1PU5bSx8c

    We are trying to become dealers.

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    • maxD October 9, 2018 at 11:41 am

      the bike umbrella is a cool idea, but probably only good for a few trips a year. It would pretty sketchy on a windy/story day. Imagine riding on the sidewalk over the St John’s Bridge on a blustery day with a bike umbrella!

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    • Dead Salmon October 9, 2018 at 1:41 pm

      That’s pretty cool – I’d be interested to see if it cut your wind resistance on a calm day. I’d think if it was made of a transparent material, you might not need to poke your head in a hood; it could cover a little more to the rear to protect you. Windy days might be a problem.

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    • SD October 9, 2018 at 8:43 pm

      Awesome. I would have to add antennae to the head cover if I had one.

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  • David Hampsten October 9, 2018 at 9:37 am

    I live in a hot humid climate where most of the rain occurs during our long 9-month summer. Then it’s usually too hot to wear any sort of jacket, so like most cyclists here, I do without and shelter under trees or alcoves to escape the heaviest showers, relying on synthetic clothing to shed the rest. However, I do agree with your kids, fenders are vital, especially full fenders with mud flaps. It’s also very important to have waterproof bags like those made by Ortlieb to protect my phone, wallet, and anything else that can’t be allowed to get soaked, or else carry zip-lock bags in your tool kit.

    I’m a big fat rider, so during our 3-month Fall-Winter-Spring, I use a breathable oversize rain parka made by ML Kishigo that’s actually designed for the folks who repair power lines, in obscenely-bright orange or neon green, complete with a giant hood that’s designed to fit over a hard-hat.

    It’s also important to have tires that work well in both the temperature you are riding and in rain, so during the hot season I use gravel tires or semi-slicks, as too much rubber tread tends to literally bend in hot temperatures. In the cooler season I use tires with large grooves to shed the rain but still provide good traction on slick leaves and washed asphalt.

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    • Toby Keith October 10, 2018 at 7:45 pm

      I know some consider them heavy and slow rollers, but I really like the Schwalbe Marathon Supremes. Great all all weather performance and puncture protection. Awesome tires IMHO.

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      • David Hampsten October 11, 2018 at 11:51 am

        I’m a Marathon Plus Tour person myself, 28×40 (622×40) in winter, but use Delta Plus tires in the hot part of summer. But we got a hurricane today, 3″ so far.

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  • Tom October 9, 2018 at 9:49 am

    Quickdry and highly breathable, Merino, laceup rubber boots. Packed emergency lightweight parka for rare heavy rain depending forecast. Pack dry work clothes. Leave work shoes at work. No horrible raincoat/rainwear.

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  • Henry October 9, 2018 at 10:21 am

    I love waterproof overshoes to keep my shoes & socks dry! I have a long commute & don’t want to bring an extra set of shoes & socks to work, so that’s my vote! I like some of these other suggestions in the article (rain chaps!) and will have to look into them for 1-3 mile rides. I’ve tried a poncho, which is kind of like the rain cape, and that works fairly well! I’m all about quick & lightweight things when you aren’t going far.

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    • Brian October 10, 2018 at 8:32 am

      What waterproof shoes do you like? I am shopping around.

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  • Jason Hamm October 9, 2018 at 10:37 am

    I have an old Burley rain jacket (made in Eugene) that I’ve been sporting for 15+ years. I hope lasts another 15.

    I’m intrigued by those cowboy hat visor things to keep the rain off my glasses and out of my face. They seem like they could easily be more trouble than there worth. Anyone recommend those?

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    • dan October 9, 2018 at 11:40 am

      My last helmet came with a removable visor which I promptly took off and lost, but I may have been a little hasty. I have used a baseball hat under a helmet and it does help keep rain off your glasses, seems a visor could be worthwhile. Even a tennis visor, though it might look goofy, would probably be helpful.

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      • Mick O October 9, 2018 at 12:04 pm

        Note that wearing a ball cap or visor under a helmet negates some (much?) of the actual safety of wearing a helmet in the first place. (https://www.helmets.org/hair.htm)

        Certainly adults can wear whatever they want — but parents advising kids should understand that wearing anything between head and helmet can lead to a poorly protected noggin.

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        • Dan October 9, 2018 at 1:40 pm

          I didn’t know that, thank you for posting!

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        • John Liu October 10, 2018 at 6:52 am

          I suggest folks read the link, as I disagree with this sumnary.

          It basically warns that the cap shouldn’t make the helmet fit loosely, sit too far back on the head, or have metal studs. It doesn’t warn against visors.

          So, yeah, don’t wear a tall truckers’ cap with a bunch of pins in it and then loosely perch a helmet on top.

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    • Madi Carlson (Family Biking Columnist)
      Madi Carlson (Family Biking Columnist) October 9, 2018 at 2:06 pm

      Do you mean Da Brim helmet visors? I know people with them who love them!

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  • John Liu October 9, 2018 at 12:01 pm

    I have a rain cape (fluo yellow by Carradice) and it works well for moderate speeds on an upright bike, not so well on a drop bar bike (cut for upright position), not when wearing a backpack (not cut to fit over a backpack), and not at all for riding at higher speeds (wind resistance). So I don’t use it much.

    Rain gear is as much about staying warm as about staying dry. Staying dry is partly about keeping the rain off and partly about venting body moisture aka sweat.

    My legs don’t often get cold, so I just use thermal but not waterproof cycling tights over bike shorts. I have a couple pairs of waterproof rain pants but they don’t vent at all so I end up wetter than with the tights. Someone needs to develop cycling rain pants with vents.

    My upper body gets cold more often, so I wear a waterproof rain jacket, sometimes over a light sweater-fleece-wool vest thingy. The issue is how to vent body moisture. I haven’t much luck with breathable fabrics. For cycling, I feel armpit vents and back vents work better. My favorite for a long time was an old yellow Burley jacket – the stereotypical bike commuter YJA (Yellow Jacket of Authority). Burley no longer makes clothing, but other companies make good jackets too, with reflective details and a collar that can be snugly zipped to cover your neck.

    Rain booties are an inexpensive way to keep your shoes fairly dry. Or you can simply wear waterproof shoes.

    Gloves and a cap under your helmet take care of the other extremities.

    I used to talk with a lady who tended to ride up in the same office elevator at 5 am. On really foul pouring mornings, she’d ask “aren’t you soaked?”. I would point out that with the right gear, you can stand under the shower and stay dry (ish).

    Ride in the rain! It is fun, makes you feel alive, and in our climate, being a fair-weather cyclist is really limiting.

    [Safety-nanny comment: rain reduces visibility, so lights/reflectives are even more important.]

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    • Dante October 10, 2018 at 5:00 pm

      Get you a pair of Showerspass Skyline pants. They don’t have vents but since they fit snug, you never have that sweat feeling and they’re water proof in certain areas also.

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  • Dead Salmon October 9, 2018 at 1:30 pm

    For panniers, I have Ortlieb copies made by Trans It. Performance used to sell them but I suspect Ortlieb spanked them for copying their product so no longer available.

    For rain jacket, I wear a yellow rubber coated nylon jacket with reflective material from REI. It works. Also have rain pants, helmet cover, shoe covers, and waterproof gloves. If commuting long distances where I’ll end up sweaty, I pack all dry clothes, then shower/change into those.

    That bike umbrella mentioned above looks like it might be a good idea, but should be high viz color if you don’t like dirt naps. Also that bright lineman’s type poncho mentioned above would work for short trips on days without high winds.

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  • Dave October 9, 2018 at 1:31 pm

    My three favorite items: Fenders on the bike–Velo Orange on the bike I ride most of the time. I’ve found no better way to keep my feet dry than to use a long front fender. Wool socks, and a cap under my helmet so there’s a visor to keep rain off of my glasses.

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  • resopmok October 9, 2018 at 3:56 pm

    Full fenders with flaps on a bike that you will ride in the rain are a must, without question to protect your butt, crotch, and drivetrain from road wet and grime. +1 to Rain Legs, which I’ve been using for over 5 years now. I’m on to my second pair now – the first lasted about 3 years before becoming too worn. The chaps/fender combination is a great way to shed all but the heaviest rain off your legs while not having nearly as much material suffocating them as a pair of rain pants. They dry quickly when not being used and bunch up small to fit in your bag. Shins and ankles can become a bit dirty on longer wet rides, but it is a small price to pay for the comfort and convenience.

    Ortlieb are definitely among the best for waterproof panniers, though I have loved my North St convertible pannier/backpack for a couple years now and the versatility it allows in the bike/walk mode change.

    It can be hard to get layer combinations right in certain temperature bands, but experimentation will eventually find anybody in the place they feel most comfortable. In the end, comfort while riding in the rain is paramount to making year-round biking a habit, but it is always personal.

    P.S. Reuse those plastic shopping bags to cover your seat and keep it dry while you’re parked outside.

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  • Ken S October 9, 2018 at 4:49 pm

    I split my time between bike commuting and long recreational rides, so I got the gear to do both.

    FENDERS!! They make such a big impact! Even my seat mounted mini fender improves a day in the rain, but the full coverage fenders with low-hanging mudguards and extra coverage around the BB and front derailleur are the winner.

    Hardshell rain jacket: I have a 7mesh renegade for the truly brutal days. If it’s just light drizzle or low % chance of rain, I’ll just wear a jersey and work hard enough to dry off.

    Leggings: I have Pearl Izumi softshell tights that repel and wick water, insulate down to 15F and are comfy for very long rides.

    Accessories: softshell gloves, shoe covers, arm warmers, lighter lens for my sunglasses, crazy bright lights, reflective bits all over

    Ortlieb backpack! Other commenters have mentioned Ortlieb and they’re right. It’s good stuff and your stuff stays dry.

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  • Christopher of Portland October 9, 2018 at 9:33 pm

    Fenders are great since the water on the ground is so much nastier than the water falling from the sky. My SKS Chromoplastic Longboards were a nightmare to install and it turned out that the size I got was the one that isn’t actually very “Longboard.” I was still getting gunk all over my bottom bracket area. I tried a custom leather mudflap but it warped with use. A large piece of a plastic salad container with strong tape covering it worked well but looked silly and wasn’t flexible. I eventually got some Buddy Flaps (http://buddyflaps.com) but the front flap was way too narrow for my 40mm tires. A few bike shops around here sell custom Buddy Flaps. There’s a “commuter” flap now. It’s very wide. I’m still waiting for some proper rain to fully test it.

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  • John Liu October 10, 2018 at 9:17 am

    The ultimate rain protection is a velomobile – Google it.

    At one time I was all hot to get – or make – one, and kit it out with lights, wipers, turn signals, electric assist, etc. The idea was to have something I could ride (drive) in traffic lanes. But the cost was going to be very high and I realized the more suitable for traffic lanes, the less human-powered it would be, plus they don’t really fit in standard bike lanes. I’m still faintly interested in the idea.

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  • Paul Wilkins October 10, 2018 at 9:23 am

    Board shorts and a windbreaker

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  • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) October 10, 2018 at 9:37 am

    My fave rain thing is a poncho. I’m using one from People’s Poncho and Cleverhood right now and both are really great. I don’t have to worry about my legs or shoes getting wet! Combined with an upright riding position and full coverage fenders (of course!), ponchos also make the getting-all-suited-up-just-to-ride-my-bike routine much much easier. I’m overdue to share more thoughts about ponchos on the site! Stay tuned.

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    • Dave October 10, 2018 at 11:19 am

      Ponchos have good air circulation under them, too.

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  • boriskat October 10, 2018 at 10:09 am

    My Bar Mitts! I can go through the entire Portland winter without even wearing full-fingered gloves. The neoprene is so wind-cutting and insulating [and waterproof]. Every time I get asked about them, I tell the person, “THEY CHANGED MY LIFE!”

    I also have Reynaud’s so I was having a devil of a time keeping my hands warm enough to feel my brakes, even. Gets worse in the rain, of course.

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  • mikeybikey October 10, 2018 at 12:25 pm

    Don’t overlook the humble umbrella. I know this is likely an unpopular opinion here but it is absolutely my go-to and my favorite piece of “gear” because coupled with whatever coat/raincoat/etc I happen to have in the closet, it is a no nonsense and cheap way to stay dry for shorter trips. I tried using an umbrella a few years ago after seeing many people using them in The Netherlands. I kept using one because it proved to be extremely effective in two ways:
    first, it leaves your peripheral vision, particularly to your immediate left/right, unobstructed. second, and for you glasses wearers out there, it mostly solves the problem of having your lenses immediately covered in raindrops. Yes, it is unwieldy for longer trips and thus a non-starter for many full commutes. Yes, it is not the best choice on super windy days. Yes you need to have a good city bike (i.e fenders, upright riding, bonus points for coaster brake), for it to be feasible, but overall i have found it to be an excellent and flexible solution for shorter trips (to the neighborhood school, grocery store, etc).

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  • chris October 10, 2018 at 4:46 pm

    off topic, but in the first pic, is the thing in front of the baby some sort of water bottle of a crash cushion for the baby’s face/head? Trying to figure out the best seat setup to get my 15 month old on my bike.

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    • KYouell October 10, 2018 at 10:48 pm

      I never used one myself, but I was told by other cargo biking mamas that the gray roll it’s for I napping babe to lean their head on.

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    • Madi Carlson (Family Biking Columnist)
      Madi Carlson (Family Biking Columnist) October 11, 2018 at 11:28 am

      Yep, that’s the “sleep roll” by Yepp/Thule. If you don’t have that brand seat you can knot a pool noodle around your baby for a similar effect 🙂 If you do have a Yepp/Thule or a Bobike mini I highly recommend the windscreen that goes with them for rain protection!

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  • Korrin October 10, 2018 at 8:42 pm

    My husband and I bought a cargo bike this summer and now that we are comfortable with it are selling our second car. That means the kids (4yo and a 1yo) and I will be out on the bike all winter. We can’t wait.

    In a former life I was a year round bike commuter that would ride pretty much anywhere. The game changer for me was when I started biking in a pair of waterproof trail running shoes. Warm, dry feet feel amazing.

    When I asked my 4 year old what her favorite part about riding in the rain was she said, “listening to music” which plays on a waterproof bluetooth speaker.

    My one year old seems to like that she can bring all of her toys and books in the bike to play with while we ride.

    Our cargo bike has large clear rain shied over the box so the kids can be dry and out of the wind. I dress them in layers and keep a small wool blanket in the box so they can cover up if they get cold. When the weather gets cooler I thought we might try putting warm rice bags in the bottom of the box so they can put their feet (with shoes and boots) on top of it to keep off the chill.

    I also have quit trying to put their coats on in the house. I let them out on our covered patio so that they can feel for themselves that it is cold outside and that they need to put on their coats. It saves a lot of arguing.

    So far we have only been out in one downpour. I was surprised at how dry I stayed with the box and rain shield blocking the oncoming deluge.

    I use a feed reader to read the Bike Portland Blog so I rarely read the comments. So after going to the website and reading through all the comments hoping for some additional tips and tricks on winter riding with littles I was left wondering where all the moms are at. I mean, I see you riding around, we smile, wave, and ring our bells as we pass each other, but I was surprised that there weren’t any other (obvious) mom commentators.

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    • KYouell October 10, 2018 at 10:57 pm

      Oh man, a long-john bike with a rain cover is the best! I got my rain cape when we still had a Bakfiets; when I switched to the Haul-a-Day I got a quick lesson in how much that box and rain cover had protected me!

      I can tell you that it doesn’t take much sun to turn that covered box into a greenhouse. I had more trouble with them keeping coats and blankets on in there. I’d just dress them in layers and provide blankets and towels (they could fold or roll into pillows) and let them manage themselves. While it’s true they aren’t pedaling they aren’t really out in the weather like Mom.

      P.S. Some of my favorite photos are from the kids’ perspective on the box. That only happened when the cover was on because I didn’t trust them not to lose the iPad or phone in an open box.

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      • Korrin October 11, 2018 at 12:12 pm

        Letting the kids take pictures while we are riding is the best idea ever. We have a GoPro that might be able to stand up to the abuse 😉

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    • Madi Carlson (Family Biking Columnist)
      Madi Carlson (Family Biking Columnist) October 11, 2018 at 11:31 am

      I usually read BP delivered to my inbox so I don’t see comments unless I go out of my way, either. Maybe the other moms are in the same boat as us.
      Have a terrific bikey winter!!!

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      • Korrin October 11, 2018 at 12:21 pm

        I figured. I am always happy when I can make it through an article uninterrupted, let alone participate in any kind of meaningful online discussion about it.

        Thank you for writing the Family Column. It was part of the reason I started thinking about getting a cargo bike in the first place!

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