Comment of the Week: A paean for ponchos

It’s raining! Luckily Shannon Johnson already posted about it, I was ready to ride in the rain, until it rained, and you all had much to share on the topic of riding while it’s wet.

I learned a lot reading your comments. I learned that my husband probably needs some waterproof socks. I learned about chaps (they aren’t just for horse riders). The comment thread was oddly intimate, but hey, it’s nice to forget about policy and politics for a while and get down to the brass tacks of dressing for dry. There were a few common themes that many of you touched upon, “no bad weather, just the wrong gear,” “tubeless is a game-changer,” ventilation . . .

(Looks like hail out my window, sleet maybe. Definitely getting dark and cold.)

Anyway, out of your bounty of comments, Aaron’s put a smile on my face. It was a cheerful combination of practical advice, encouragement, and appreciation of our city’s beauty.

Here’s what Aaron had to say:

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.

I think the torrential rain just started.

Thank you Aaron, and everyone else for all the good advice. I hope you arrive home dry, with a steaming mug of cocoa waiting for you.

If you aren’t as dry as you would like to be, you can read Aaron’s comment and the whole thread under the original post. And stay tuned for Shannon’s next post Tuesday morning where she’ll share her personal rain gear recommendations and wishlist.

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)

Lisa Caballero is on the board of SWTrails PDX, and was the chair of her neighborhood association's transportation committee. A proud graduate of the PBOT/PSU transportation class, she got interested in local transportation issues because of service cuts to her bus, the 51. Lisa has lived in Portland for 23 years and can be reached at lisacaballero853@gmail.com.

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Paul
Paul
4 months ago

I’ll give some offbeat, unpopular advice: forget the rain gear and just embrace being wet. It’s not so bad and then you get to enjoy getting warm and dry again afterward.

Chris I
Chris I
4 months ago
Reply to  Paul

That’s fine for recreational rides, but sometimes people don’t have the ability to shower and change at their destination. Bikes are also for transportation.

Trike Guy
Trike Guy
4 months ago
Reply to  Chris I

Also, having to put back *on* wet clothes at the end of a work day because they didn’t dry out is truly nasty.

John V
John V
4 months ago
Reply to  Trike Guy

My office (when I had one) had a shower available, which was the best thing ever. Coming in with my ice cold road grime covered knees and just getting in that hot shower (my fenders apparently weren’t good enough). I wish that was more commonplace, it’s not that hard to provide.

My cubicle at the office had enough space I could drape my clothes out so they got completely dry most of the time, other than maybe the shammy. Normalize clothes drying at the office!

idlebytes
idlebytes
4 months ago
Reply to  Chris I

Not to mention you don’t just get water on you. I would have to get new shoes every year if I didn’t wear covers over them. Even with full fenders they get encrusted with road grime every rainy ride.

John V
John V
4 months ago
Reply to  Paul

That’s true when it’s not cold enough to get hypothermic. It will be that cold though, and you will need rain gear (even if that is a warm layer that insulates when wet).

But mostly I agree, embrace being wet. I would recommend keeping your shoes dry because they’re the hardest piece of clothing to dry out. And for me, my cycling shoes are the same shoes I wear all day so I don’t really want them soaking wet.

Allan Rudwick
Allan
4 months ago

I will say that this option doesn’t work if you have drop bars, I had a pretty annoying crash about 6 weeks ago when we got the first day of rain.

Chris I
Chris I
4 months ago
Reply to  Allan

Plus the aero penalties.

John V
John V
4 months ago
Reply to  Allan

How does it not work? I’m curious how the crash happened. I have drop bars and I use a rain cape (still getting used to it).

SD
SD
4 months ago

The best thing about the rain cape is that most days I don’t know if it is going to rain during my ride or not. Rain pants and jacket are too much of a hassle, too warm and an over-commitment for most days. Most capes can be tucked into a backpack or jacket pocket and popped out when needed.

Trike Guy
Trike Guy
4 months ago

Unfortunately ponchos don’t work on recumbents – though I’m tempted to try chaps.

You end up with a very different set of needs in that position.

I’d kill for a jacket that’s waterproof on the front with an apron and light stretchy lycra on the back.

Did I mention an apron? Riding leaned back the rain impacts your chest and runs into your lap 🙂

To keep my butt/back dry I have a piece from old rain pants (the zip off leg) that I secure inside the mesh of my trike seat.

Feet stay a lot drier than an upright – since they are bottom forward.

Also – you must beware of standing water. Hit it fast enough and you will get soaked (ask me how I know 🙂 ).

dw
dw
4 months ago

I want to like rain capes but I just have a couple mental blocks. Help me get over them.

One is that I think they just look kinda dumb. I get that I look like a huge dweeb in my bright rain coat and reflective rain pants but it still seems like it looks cooler than cosplaying as a Dalek.

The bigger one perhaps is that it just looks like a lot of material to get caught on stuff. Like getting a loose pant leg or shoelace caught in the chain, but times a thousand.

Please tell me why these hang ups aren’t logical.

Damien
Damien
4 months ago
Reply to  dw

One is that I think they just look kinda dumb. I get that I look like a huge dweeb in my bright rain coat and reflective rain pants but it still seems like it looks cooler than cosplaying as a Dalek.

One thing I like about my big, yellow, and yes, ridiculous-looking rain cape is that I’m very visible. And whether drivers are looking at me because I’m bright or because I look ridiculous, they are at least looking at me. I know the Cleverhoods come in different colors, some of which are likely much more stylish, but none are as visible as bright yellow.

The bigger one perhaps is that it just looks like a lot of material to get caught on stuff. Like getting a loose pant leg or shoelace caught in the chain, but times a thousand.

I certainly can’t speak for every make/model, but the two I’ve ridden quite a bit in were designed so as not to come even close to the moving bike parts – I’ve never felt any indication that they could (on either my commuter or Brompton). Closest to is sitting on the back of the cape, but usually just standing a moment while in motion solves that. And in both cases, the rainproof material was the sort that overhanging branches/other foliage brushes past rather than catching anything. Thought to be fair, I haven’t tested them against something really pokey like a blackberry or rose bush.

Shannon Johnson (Family Biking Columnist)
Shannon Johnson (Family Biking Columnist)
4 months ago
Reply to  Damien

I needed to hear this encouragement! I originally ordered the “cool looking” earth tone green rain cape, but then I felt like a bad Mom for choosing a preferred style color instead of visibility. So I exchanged my hip green cape for bright yellow…. and now I almost never wear it, because I think I look like Big Bird! My favorite winter hat is red, so then I think I look like ketchup and mustard. Now I wish I had picked red cape! But alas, Big-Bird yellow it is….I do look wretched in yellow –but that wasn’t the point. Oh vanity! I’m going to have to get myself to try this cape again.

On a practical note, does anyone else have trouble wearing the hood of the Cleverhood cape under their helmet? When I pull the hood out far enough to shield my glasses from the rain, it gets all rumply. I always end up fiddling and fiddling with it. If I am wearing the helmet properly (far enough down my forehead), the rain hood doesn’t sit in the right position… Do I have to get a certain kind of helmet to work with the Cleverhood?

I want to love my rain cape, but the struggle to get the hood-helmet position right makes me avoid it. (That and the yellow! Anyone want to trade me for their red cape?)

Aaron
4 months ago
Reply to  dw

Not sure I can help you with the looks since that’s subjective, but I think they look cool in their unique way. I have this one in the “Dazzle” pattern which I think looks cool and breaks up the lines of the cape a bit: https://cleverhood.com/products/rover-rain-cape?variant=40416267632845

Regarding the material getting caught on stuff, it’s not an issue in my experience. The bottom of the rain cape isn’t much lower than your seat so it’s still up above all of the moving parts of the bike. The handlebar flap in the front is something you’ll have to get used to, but it took me all of five minutes to figure it out. You can just flip it up and let your hands get wet if you don’t want to bother with it, I do that sometimes if it’s warm and raining.

There’s an optional belt that attaches to the inside rear of the cape that keeps it from flapping around, I highly recommend adding that on if you decide to get a rain cape. You can also clip it over the front of the cape to hold it flat against you for times when you don’t want your arms covered.

John V
John V
4 months ago
Reply to  dw

I don’t think there are any moving parts that get anywhere near a rain cape. By design, they only really cover the top and they’re like wearing an umbrella.

However, the part you hold with your thumbs (they have little loops you hold on to), if that comes loose, I agree it can feel like a bit of a tangle. Or if you need to do *anything* with a hand other than hold the bars you’re out of luck. You have to pull over, otherwise you risk getting something caught in the brake lever or something.

For me, it hasn’t actually been an issue. It works. It has drawbacks but the benefits are pretty great.

Al Dimond
Al Dimond
4 months ago

One thing that keeps me away from ponchos is lighting… so many capes and ponchos fully cover the handlebars, and the overlap between poncho conditions and headlight conditions seems very thorough. Is it just that the overlap between poncho wearers and people that mount their headlights in other places is also very thorough?

I know headlight mounting can be a minefield in itself. I am personally opposed to helmet-mounted headlights — I won’t tell anyone else what to do aside from, “Just try not to blind me,” but I’m not going to mount anything bright enough to light my way that high. While I’d prefer to mount lights lower, it’s in conflict with my current strategy of not putting much time or money into my bike because that makes theft more likely and makes me care more when it happens.

I guess this applies to taillights somewhat… it seems like a typical cape would drape over the places I typically mount taillights… but there are lots of alternative options there.

Matt
Matt
4 months ago
Reply to  Al Dimond

I didn’t have an opinion on helmet-mounted headlights until I tried it. Now I’ll never go back: Having the light shine where I’m looking is a game changer for looking around corners in the dark (especially at intersections). But yes, one must be conscientious not to blind others (this starts with making sure it’s pointed down, not forward). When used and adjusted properly, it’s certainly no more dazzling than the typical car headlight.

Damien
Damien
4 months ago
Reply to  Al Dimond

One thing that keeps me away from ponchos is lighting… so many capes and ponchos fully cover the handlebars, and the overlap between poncho conditions and headlight conditions seems very thorough.

This is a problem I haven’t found a great solution to (besides the helmet mounting) – it’s one of the things I appreciate my electric Brompton’s built-in lights for (they’re just above the wheels, not on the handle bars, so completely unhindered by rain capes), so whenever I know I’ll be riding in dark rain I use that. I have been caught out once or twice with my regular commuter bike when it started raining and kinda just had my light awkwardly shining from inside the cape, which…with a yellow cape isn’t the worst for oncoming traffic at least, but definitely not the intersection visibility you want.

For one particularly bad ride I literally just held the light between my teeth. Just as effective as helmet mounting but much, much less comfortable.