I was ready to ride in the rain, until it rained

Shannon and the kiddos trying out a new light for the box. (Photos: Shannon Johnson/BikePortland)

Does this sound familiar?

After so many hot days, I was looking forward to the return of chilly wet Portland weather. With anticipation, I went to a thrift store to pick out a new-to-me rain jacket. I checked the kid’s gear to see that I had jackets, pants, and boots that fit them. I washed items still caked in last year’s mud with Nikwax tech wash to re-waterproof those outer layers. I even attended a fantastic Winter Gear Clinic with Ride Westside in Beaverton. I was ready.

And then it rained.

I kid you not, I looked out the window at the dripping, dreary wetness and said, “weeeelll, maybe we’ll just drive.” To make matters more ridiculous, the drive was to soccer practice, outside, in the rain, and I’m the coach. That’s right, I was heading out to stand outside in the rain for an hour, and I was still intimidated to take my first rainy ride of the year! 

In fact, the only reason I had the gumption to head out, with all five of my children, to bike in the rain, was because I didn’t want to be a hypocrite. And the only way to avoid that, was to put on all that rain gear — and a brave face — and head outside.

As is usually the case, once we put on our gear, got everyone on the bikes, and began to pedal, we were fine. Better than fine. We were smiling, delighted to be pedaling, laughing at the drips and drops of water that trickled down my face and the kids’ fancy raincover. Truth be told, we thoroughly enjoyed it.

I hope you also made it out to ride in the rain this week, but if you stayed inside or hopped in a car at the first sign of water, I do hope you’ll give rainy riding a try. It’s not so bad. It’s not so hard. You might even find you like it. 

You will definitely want to get proper rain/winter gear, which makes a world of difference for rainy riding. (I’ll share our family’s favorite gear in a separate post). If you already have the gear, but are still tempted to reach for the car keys, here are some ideas to get you riding in the rain with a smile. 

Rainy Inspiration

  • Read: There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather: A Scandinavian Mom’s Secrets for Raising Healthy, Resilient, and Confident Kids by Linda Åkeson McGurk. I like this book so much, I think about it every time it rains and I consider re-reading it every autumn. You can find it at Powell’s.   
  • Watch: Be inspired by year-round family bikers and see how they manage winter weather. I enjoy seeing what local dad Shawne Martinez is up to, riding around greater Portland and Tigard with his kiddo every day. I also follow cargobikemomma Maddy Novich on Instagram. She rides year-round with kiddos in NYC weather. And she has an awesome winter helmet. Sometimes Instagram can make you jealous. Their pics just make me want to go for a bike ride. 
  • Challenge: Make a fun rain challenge for your family. How many rainy rides can you do this month? Can you make it a competition with another bikey family or group of families? Which of you will win the most-bike-rides-in-the-rain challenge? Maybe you can even come up with a prize for the winners. If you want to make it a collective (rather than competitive) challenge, you could decide that you’ll all have a pizza party once your group completes 100 rides in the rain. (This sounds like a fun way to get kids riding to school too.) It’s amazing how a little challenge, accountability, or promise of a reward can be just the nudge you need to get on the bike. Your kids might really get into it and even try to come up with extra reasons to go for a rainy bike ride–if it means winning!
  • Reward: Treat yourself to quality winter gear. I take the reward-in-reverse approach. I start with a reward, which encourages me to use it. Every Fall, I pick at least one new-to-me piece of winter gear that I am really excited about. Last year, I splurged on an Alpaca wool hat and fingerless gloves from a local HIllsboro Alpaca farm. I wore them every day. I liked them so much, I wanted an excuse to go outside, just so I could enjoy wearing them again. 

After all that, the best thing to do is just get out there and ride. Sometimes the first rainy ride of the year is the hardest. Go ahead and get it done! We’d love to see you out there.

Shannon Johnson (Family Biking Columnist)

Shannon Johnson (Family Biking Columnist)

Shannon is a 36-year-old mom of  five who lives in downtown Hillsboro. Her column appears weekly. Contact her via shannon4bikeportland@gmail.com

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John V
John V
7 months ago

Just getting started really is the hardest part. I’m basically never motivated to go out in the rain, but once I’m out it’s really fine. Same with you, I’ve been waiting for the hot summer to go away and as soon as it does I’m always taken by surprise somehow just how cold it is (even though it isn’t even cold yet!).

For me it’s somewhat easy because my commute is to take my kid to daycare and go back home, so it doesn’t matter if I’m wet. I tend to wear cycling shorts almost all year. Sometimes I’ll add rain pants but it has to really be coming down or really cold. I got a rain cape to try (maybe on your suggestion? Not sure where I heard about it), and that’s actually pretty good. Keeps most of the rain off and doesn’t make you hot. I’ve also found, with a bakfiets bike (or something like what you ride), the box keeps most of the rain off your feet and legs, and the front tire is too far away to spray you. Pretty good.

Nick
Nick
7 months ago

Also: fenders, they’ll help you stay dry from below

Daniel Reimer
7 months ago
Reply to  Nick

Not all fenders are the same! My new front fenders go only a could inches off the ground and they make a huge difference in keeping my feet clean and dry.

dw
dw
7 months ago

I love commuting in the rain. I’ve got a good rain jacket, rain pants, and waterproof gloves that have really made a huge difference. I put them all right next to the front door to make it that much easier to choose the bike when it rains.

Let's Active
Let's Active
7 months ago
Reply to  dw

What waterproof gloves do you have, dw? I’m looking for a good pair

Uiop
Uiop
7 months ago
Reply to  Let's Active

Showers pass crosspoint waterproof knit gloves are great, Imo. Perfect winter glove for Portland’s climate, except for the rare occasion when the temperature drops well below freezing.

Middle of the Road Guy
Middle of the Road Guy
7 months ago
Reply to  Uiop

They are great for everything! Love them when hiking.
Can’t keep track of how many pairs I have given as gifts.

Aaron
7 months ago

Riding in the rain is just as enjoyable as riding on a sunny summer day, just a different kind of enjoyable. Glad you could get out there and see for yourself!

I’m an advocate of the rain cape/poncho for cycling in the rain. I switched to one a few years ago and I’ve never looked back, between that and waterproof socks I feel like I am prepared for basically any kind of wet weather. I have one of the Cleverhoods that are popular, as far as I can tell Cleverhood and Showers Pass are the only two companies making good quality rain capes these days.

The rain cape keeps your upper legs dry and because the bottom is open you get a TON of ventilation so you can even be comfortable riding in the rain on a warm day, unlike a regular rain jacket that will have you drenched in sweat after a while. If it’s cold and rainy I will often wear my fleece and/or windbreaker underneath the rain cape.

Portland has too many days filled with a beautiful foggy misting rain to just stay inside all winter, everyone should try enjoying the PNW for the unique type of beautiful weather we are lucky to have. When I first bought my rain cape I was living in a city where rainy days usually meant heavy rain that comes in punishing, torrential sheets. The rain we get here is like a dream compared to that, but I rode happily in both. There’s no bad weather, just the wrong gear.

Damien
Damien
7 months ago
Reply to  Aaron

I’m an advocate of the rain cape/poncho for cycling in the rain. I switched to one a few years ago and I’ve never looked back, between that and waterproof socks I feel like I am prepared for basically any kind of wet weather. I have one of the Cleverhoods that are popular, as far as I can tell Cleverhood and Showers Pass are the only two companies making good quality rain capes these days.

I swear by my Cleverhood cape/boncho. I even take it with me on iffy weather hikes. While you’ve still got to do something for your feet/lower legs on really rainy days (if it’s warm enough…shorts and sandals. No joke, skin and sandals dry so much quicker than soggy socks and shoes). The thing I love most about it is I can basically dress however I want, and then if there’s rain, throw over the cape – it’s so much less friction (and more comfortable) than my old days of schlepping on my waterproof pants (dragging over shoes or taking shoes off) and waterproof jacket which no matter how “breathable” they claimed to be still amounted to wearing a heat-trapping layer.

cap'n pastry
cap'n pastry
7 months ago
Reply to  Aaron

I too am a Rain Cape fan. I like that my cape covers my hands so I can use a light, breathable glove without getting too wet.
I’m stumped to find a Showers Pass cape though – do they make these? In the past I’ve used the Carradice cape and enjoyed it thoroughly until I lost it. Rocking a Cleverhood now.

idlebytes
idlebytes
7 months ago

My main rainy commuter is down for the count so I’ve been riding my fixed gear around. I sure am missing those disc breaks, wide low pressure tires and quality fenders but I’m getting by.

My reward this year was rain chaps. Showers Pass stopped making their rain pants that zip off at the knee and I get too hot in full pants unless it’s pouring and 40 degrees so I gave these a shot. So far I’m not disappointed. Even on heavy rain days they keep me dry and are so much cooler. You can also roll them up to get even more of a breeze if it’s not raining. I promise I don’t work for them just passing along a tip to my fellow sweaty riders.

PaulF
PaulF
7 months ago
Reply to  idlebytes

The best thing I bought was suspenders for ShowersPass pants. The pants have velcro straps at the ankles to keep the pants away from the chain ring.

Uiop
Uiop
7 months ago

My main issue with wet weather riding is flat tires. The sharp, pokey stuff just sticks to rubber when it gets wet. I have kevlar reinforces, puncture resistant tires, but invariably, once the rain starts falling, I pick up flats. Nothing bugs me more than trying to swap out a tube in the rain on the side of the road. If only they’d do a better job sweeping the glass and metal bits out of the bike lanes…

BB
BB
7 months ago
Reply to  Uiop

Get Tubeless tires put on , problem solved.
For the incredibly rare times you get a flat, a $2 tube of sealant and
and a CO2 cartridge and you are riding again in minutes.
No more removing wheels and tires.
I have ridden 10,000 winter miles on tubeless tires over 4 years with One flat tire
that was quickly resealed and I was back on the road.
I am not sure why more people don’t use them.

Ray
Ray
7 months ago
Reply to  BB

Seriously…tubeless is a game-changer. IMO the best bicycle innovation since disc brakes. There have been a couple times that I’ve gotten punctures which were sealed before I even stopped riding.

Kee
Kee
7 months ago
Reply to  Uiop

I’m in a similar boat with the gator skins and still get flats. About to make the move to tubeless. I’ve used them in my mountain bike for years and love them.

PaulF
PaulF
7 months ago
Reply to  Uiop

Tannus inserts for for me.

Trike Guy
Trike Guy
7 months ago
Reply to  Uiop

I find putting Stans Sealant in the tubes takes care of the majority of the tiny punctures you can get from this stuff.

You need tubes with removable valve stems, but I’ve had 1000’s of miles on tubes with it in – when I replace them while replacing the tier i find a bunch of spots where the sealant fixed a leak and I never knew.

rebecca
rebecca
7 months ago

I loved the title of this article. That’s exactly how I feel every year on the first dark, rainy morning!

Ed
Ed
7 months ago

I love your story and, so far, the comments. Until now, I didn’t know how well my own experience and feelings matched those of others, perfectly summed up by the title, “I was ready to ride in the rain, until it rained.” True for me but I’ve been ashamed to admit it . And like the author and some commentators, I’ve always been glad I got out there once I did. And,yet, I still have to repeat the whole process every time!

Granpa
Granpa
7 months ago

My GoteTex over-booties are a favorite piece of rain gear. Keeping my tootsies dry is obvious but the road grime they keep off my feet and ankles is serious mess averted

John V
John V
7 months ago
Reply to  Granpa

Yeah for me I think a jacket and over booties are the most important parts. I can change my shorts (they’re cycling shorts anyway) but I’m a flat pedal rider and my cycling shoes are just my shoes. If they get soaked they might take a whole day just to dry out.

Kip
Kip
7 months ago

Theres no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.

Eric J
Eric J
7 months ago

I just started bike commuting this past April–and I love it (Beaverton to SE Portland). After my first ride in a late summer rain I got myself some gear–wasn’t going to let the rain deter me and I love wet weather anyhow. Then one day I slid crossing wet railroad tracks. Bike was ok but messed me up pretty good. And tore up my rain gear :/. But…I’m healed up (mostly) and my rain gear has some cool new patches, we’re hitting the road again starting tomorrow with some added caution for wet rails and leaves.

Kyle Banerjee
7 months ago

I took a shower once — and I got wet! But it wasn’t so bad.

Rain has never been an issue for me, and with traffic being even worse the minimal attraction of driving is even less.

But 5 kids — seriously hard core and outta my league. If you drive, no one should be casting shade.

Jo
Jo
7 months ago

Any tips for the glasses-wearing folks out there?

Shannon Johnson (Family Biking Columnist)
Shannon Johnson (Family Biking Columnist)
7 months ago
Reply to  Jo

I haven’t tried it, but someone at Ride Westside recommended an anti-fog product made for surgeons. I usually wear glasses and I am still experimenting. I think the hood on my Cleverhood rain cape lessens the rain on my glasses, but I have trouble getting the hood–
Helmet position just right and I get annoyed to be fiddling with it. Other folks mentioned keeping a handkerchief in a pocket to wipe glasses. I haven’t totally figured it out. I hope others will reply with more glasses suggestions.

Shannon Johnson (Family Biking Columnist)
Shannon Johnson (Family Biking Columnist)
7 months ago

I forgot to mention: if using a rain hood, it seems wise to invest in a cycle-specific rain jacket or rain cape: the hoods are cut in such a way to keep your peripheral vision clear, and I think they usually cinch/tighten in the back, to keep it secure in the wind but not block your side vision. (Ride Westside folks taught me this.)

Aaron
7 months ago
Reply to  Jo

Someone recently suggested to me a bike helmet with a visor like this one and I haven’t tried it yet but I think it might be just the thing to make cold and wet riding more comfortable with glasses.

Shannon Johnson (Family Biking Columnist)
Shannon Johnson (Family Biking Columnist)
7 months ago
Reply to  Aaron

Please report back if you try it. I’d like to hear what you think about it.

EP
EP
7 months ago
Reply to  Aaron

Wow, that moto-helmet type clear visor-shield is pretty cool!

I like bike helmets with a regular visor for keeping the sun out of my eyes, and the same visor can help keep _some_ of the rain off my glasses.

賢進ジェンナ
賢進ジェンナ
7 months ago
Reply to  Jo

I just let the drops collect!

If you don’t want to do that, you can get Rx swim goggles.

Peter
Peter
7 months ago
Reply to  Jo

Personally, I’ve settled on wearing a cap with a long visor. It doesn’t keep the water off completely, but it does help a lot. Just make sure to get something thin that can fit under your helmet, if you wear one, and ideally synthetic so it doesn’t become waterlogged.

Resopmok
Resopmok
7 months ago

Most underrated/underused piece of rain gear is a pair chaps – partial pants that cover the fronts of your legs down towards the knee. It was a popular garment for horse riders, but is well suited to cycling. Why? Chaps cover the bulk of your leg area where water hits from above, and fenders (you have full fenders, right?) keep all the wet from below. During all but the heaviest rains, your legs stay dry while having good ventilation at the back. Compare standard rain pants which suffocate you and your legs until you are as wet inside as outside anyway.
Unfortunately there is only one commercial brand available, but they are decent and practical – they also compress a lot smaller for storage in bags than a pair of standard rain pants. Stay dry and all that out there!

Trike Guy
Trike Guy
7 months ago

Riding in the rain requires decent gear.

Once you have that you just have to get past that first couple of minutes of raindrops smacking you in the face and everything is fine.

The biggest issue I ahd was it was too dang warm for my rain gear 🙁

Byerly
Byerly
7 months ago

Riding in the rain isn’t so much fun if you have to wear glasses to SEE!