“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.”