Not all heroes wear capes, but some of them wear rain ponchos

“What do you do when it’s raining?”

It’s a common refrain directed at people who bike for transportation all year in our notoriously rainy Portland. It’s also something that has come up in a lot of conversations about why biking in the city taken a dip — even though Portland’s winters were just as rainy back when there was gridlock bike traffic on the Hawthorne Bridge every morning.

But it’s possible the rain has become something like the final straw on a camel’s back for some people who now opt for different modes of transportation. If you’re already reluctant to bike because you’re worried about traffic safety, bike theft, or another issue, you probably aren’t going to be convinced to dust off the pedals if it’s pouring rain out. However, there are plenty of people who brave the rain on their bikes all the time, and they’ve figured out that with the right gear, almost any weather is manageable to cycle through.

Some of those people attended last night’s ‘Clever’ ride co-hosted by Portland bike shop Clever Cycles, Rhode Island-based rainwear company Cleverhood and Portland bike advocate and TikTok influencer Jenna Phillips. We experienced a range of weather on the ride: it briefly hailed during my bike ride over to Clever Cycles, then it was mostly light drizzle and sunshine for the rest of the evening. But there was no complaining form anyone donning the right gear.

If Cleverhood sounds familiar to you, it might be because they’re a major advertiser on the very popular War on Cars podcast or because of the special ‘Bike Bus’ design they came out with to support kids riding their bikes to school. Susan Mocarski, Cleverhood’s founder and designer, is in town from Providence, RI for a sustainable fabric conference, and she wanted to host an event to meet some of her West Coast fans while she was here.

The ride consisted of about a dozen people, including Mocarski (who rode in the covered bucket of Sam Balto’s Urban Arrow cargo bike) and Clever Cycles co-owner Eva Frazier. Jenna led the way, guiding us from Clever Cycles on inner SE Hawthorne across the Willamette River to Tom McCall Waterfront Park to get some photos with the cherry blossoms. It was fun to show Mocarski around during what’s arguably the most beautiful time of year in Portland, when you can’t go a minute without seeing something spectacular in bloom.

Mocarski told me she started the company after a rain cape she made for herself started getting a lot of attention and she realized there was a need for more gear like it. She said she thinks good rainwear is a crucial part of getting more people to bike and walk in all weather.

“I just want to get more people out in their neighborhood by foot or by bike, regardless of the weather,” Mocarski said. “A lot of people don’t commit to an everyday cycling or walking routine because of weather. Sometimes if you have one thing that makes you more comfortable, it helps.”

Seven-year-old Eliza was the star of the evening in her adorable light blue Cleverhood cape. Eliza is well-known in the Portland bike scene for her hardy, upbeat attitude, rain or shine. She and her dad bike everywhere, and she told me never wishes she was in a car instead.

“I really like [biking in the rain],” Eliza said. “You can have fun in the rain [when you’re] not in a car and you can see much more on a bike.”

Plus, all those miserable days are worth it when we are finally blessed with the reward of gorgeous weather. I think it feels better to soak up the sun on a late spring afternoon when you’ve had to work for it a little bit. So while we’re all very excited for the fruits of spring and summer, you don’t have to wait for the perfect day to go on a ride.

The Dutch, famous for biking through cold and rainy Northern European winters, have a phrase to get people to toughen up and bike in the rain: “You’re not made of sugar.” Unless you’re the Wicked Witch of the West, a little water won’t melt you. Jenna said she thinks we could develop a more resilient culture if we were willing to do things like bike in the rain.

“There are things you can do to make yourself more comfortable, but you can survive exposure to the elements,” she said. “It’s a mindset shift.”

Taylor Griggs

Taylor Griggs

Taylor was BikePortland's staff writer from 2021 to 2023. She currently writes for the Portland Mercury. Contact her at taylorgriggswriter@gmail.com

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Surly Ogre
Joe Bicycles
1 year ago

There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing/clothes … https://twitter.com/BikePortland/status/1616900042081857536

Shawne Martinez (Guest author)
Shawne Martinez
1 year ago

We ride 365 and it’s all about the gear! My panniers are full of layers of clothing. We have a rain cover for the bucket bike as well as studded winter tires! This was the first year that I used bar mitts (aka pogies) and they are amazing! Waterproof hiking boots are my winter riding footwear. I like the ventilation of the rain cape but also a good cycling rain jacket with armpit zips is great. So many options to help you #LeaveTheCarAtHome !

Pockets the Coyote
Pockets the Coyote
1 year ago

My schedule doesn’t often lend itself well to getting to participate in group outings, so I very much appreciate getting to tag a long via these articles and Jenna’s tiktok.

Just speaking into the void of potential future readers here maybe new or returning riders, something I’d add to the pre-ride check list is checking air pressure before going out. Picking a pressure you find comfortable and maintaining it will produce a much more consisent and confidence building experience. In addition, again for those that may not be aware, letting a little air out of your tires normal running pressure can make for a much better time riding in the wet, especially for those concerned about, or have previously had a bad experience with traction. I’ve personally found this applies even when I’m not running higher pressures, the drop from ~30psi to 25-28 is notable and has a positive impact on traction.

Roberta
Roberta
1 year ago

OMG those capes look amazing. They look like bike shaman ponchos, in lil sizes too! I ride with a lama wool poncho but not enough water proofing like these. Someone get some lama wool lining for gortex style waterproof material.

WANT!

rainbike
rainbike
1 year ago

Regarding the post title, there was a time when “hero” meant more than bring willing to ride a bike in the rain. You’re diluting the power of the word. None the less, I hope all the hero participants went happily home with a participation medal or trophy.

Shawne Martinez (Guest author)
Shawne Martinez
1 year ago
Reply to  rainbike

Hi rainbike! One of the products I wear is called a rain cape. That may have contributed to the title. We do award trophies and medals at the end of Summer if you would like to join us! There are hundreds of group rides. If you organize a ride you may be recognized with an award! I hope to see you on your bike soon!

Will
Will
1 year ago
Reply to  rainbike

Touch grass bud.

rainbike
rainbike
1 year ago
Reply to  Will

I don’t touch grass, Bud, but if you do, that’s cool. Not judgy.

John
John
1 year ago
Reply to  rainbike

Oh, won’t someone please think of the power of the word “hero”.

Shannon Johnson (Family Biking Columnist)
Shannon Johnson (Family Biking Columnist)
1 year ago

Yes! My favorite mind-set-changing book on this topic, as it relates to parenting and getting outside with kids, is titled: “There’s no such thing as bad weather,” by Nordic author Linda Åkeson McGurk. It’s a great challenge and encouragement. Now we go outside and bike in all weather, and we’ve learned to enjoy spending a lot more time outside in general, including cups of hot tea on our covered front porch on wet chilly days.
Back when I started biking, my husband was looking up panniers to buy for me. He asked, “do you want waterproof?” (more expensive). At the time I laughed and said, “we’re not biking in the rain!” Now we laugh about the dumb not-waterproof-pannier choice! Because we definitely bike in the rain!

SteveBinEugene
SteveBinEugene
1 year ago

re:

> “do you want waterproof?” (more expensive)

…and heavier!

My lightweight panniers are lightweight all year round. And in the winter they hold my stuff in plastic bags — any ol’ bags. Which bags probably still don’t make the whole setup weigh as much as (heavy) expensive ‘waterproof’ panniers.

Slightly off-topic, but thanks for sharing Shannon — as always. And Taylor, thanks!

John
John
1 year ago

The most inconvenient thing for me is putting on any kind of rain pants. So I usually don’t and either accept I’ll get a little wet (which is usually so minor it was the right choice) or I let the rain deter me. One of these capes is an intriguing solution, it looks like it would also be really breathable and let you wear completely normal clothes.

Aaron
1 year ago
Reply to  John

They’re exactly that! They allow a lot of circulation which is fantastic for warm rainy days and they keep your legs pretty dry so you don’t need rain pants. My go-to is one of the cleverhood rain capes and sometimes waterproof socks if I know I’m going to be out all day.