Family Biking: Bikes and kids and rain, oh my!

It will be their first rainy season on the bike. Wish us luck.
(Photo: Shannon Johnson/BikePortland)

The rain has begun.

Having the right gear is only part of it… the even bigger hurdle is psychological.

Which means, for all Portland area bike riders, and especially those riding with children, it’s decision time: will we be fair weather riders, safely packing away the bikes in some dusty corner until the sun reliably returns next spring? Or will we choose to bike on the occasional dry day or sunny afternoon throughout the rainy season? Or (you knew this was coming) will we decide to venture boldly forth, in drizzle, rain, and cold, continuing the biking journey in all the dripping glory and bluster of winter’s wetter weather?

(As your Family Biking Columnist, do I really have a choice? Because I can definitely see the appeal of option #1. Actually, that was my plan. Ask my husband, who bought me not-waterproof-at-all panniers, because why would I bike to the library in the rain?)

Don’t get me wrong. I love Portland’s rain. It’s my favorite sort of weather. Grey, wet, a bit misty and drizzly. Perfectly enjoyable from an armchair in the living room, cozied up beneath my favorite blanket, with autumn scented candle lit, a cup of steaming coffee within easy reach, and a good book in hand.

Yet I don’t want that to be the limit of my interaction with Portland’s lovely rainy season. I have greatly enjoyed a summer of biking with my children, and I want to continue through the rain. But the rain and cold provide new challenges. We have never done any family biking in the rain before.

To get our feet wet, we went on two mildly drizzly rides this past week, and all sorts of questions (or potential problems) quickly came into view: what sort of rain gear do I need for winter biking in Portland? Immediately, I wanted gloves. My hands were cold. But the gloves I have seem unfit for the task. I want something waterproof (or maybe water-resistant will work?) and yet flexible, not bulky, with a good grip. My snow gloves, and regular fabric gloves, and mittens don’t seem right for the bike. But a Google Search of “biking gloves” is absolutely overwhelming. Me reading reviews of biking rain gear could keep us off the bike for a week.


Some folks like this guy have the psychological part well in hand.
(Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

Further issues: winter hats and rain hoods…do I loosen every kid’s helmet to fit a winter hat beneath? What about the hat getting wet? Does a jacket’s rain hood also go over the hat and beneath the helmet? Or should the whole helmet get covered? What about pants? Rain pants with tapered legs for biking? (I’m in third trimester maternity clothing now too, just to make this a lot more fun. I had been fruitlessly searching online for maternity rain-coats, until I discovered the tips from Madi Carlson’s previous rain gear post suggesting rain capes and ponchos: genius! A poncho is pretty much the one piece of rain gear that should fit a late-stage pregnant, and eventually not-pregnant Mama, and help keep pants dry too.

Next consideration: I have a front cargo basket on my bike, but I don’t have the option of purchasing a rain tent contraption (my bike is not a standard model). Maybe hubby will build me something someday. Fortunately, I have rain clothes for all my kids and we’ll just have to experiment a bit, to find what options make everyone happy, including two-year-olds. Or maybe two-year-olds are the most likely to be happy in the rain? I’m probably the biggest concern. The grumpy old pregnant adult who is responsible for all the household laundry and muddy boot print clean-up. I think I will be happier with a poncho anyway, and rain gloves, and…maybe a travel mug of hot coffee. (Any suggestions for rigging that up on the handlebars?)

As you can see, we are just at the beginning of our first Portland fall/winter of family biking. We have lots of questions, and I’m trying to strike a balance between online research and just getting outside on the bike and giving it a try. Some things must be learned a step (or pedal stroke) at a time, by actually doing them. And having the right gear is only part of it. Perhaps, especially when it comes to getting a bunch of young children ready for biking with me in the rain, the even bigger hurdle is psychological: how will we make ourselves get out on the bike in the rain, when we don’t technically have to ride? As always, the biggest challenge is often just getting out the door.

Which is what we are going to make ourselves keep doing. I hope.

I can still enjoy that cozy chair, blanket, cuppa coffee, slippers and indoor heating. I suspect it will be even more delightful after a good bike ride in the rain.

(Please help! Leave me your suggestions in the comment section. Favorite biking gloves? Other rain gear? Kid gear? I’m all ears.)

— Shannon Johnson,
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