One thing I love about living in Northern California is that the weather is fairly predictable. We have hot dry summers, during which we can go 6 or 7 months without rain, and cool wet winters. This year the rainy season has been a little more erratic: instead of wading our way through December, January, and February, we’ve had a very soggy March and April, so I keep having to deal with biking in the rain.
Obviously, your base layers are going to depend on what temperature it is outside. Since rain and cold are synonymous here, I stick with the basic outfit I described last week. The key part here is to wear synthetic fabrics. They help keep moisture away from your skin, will keep you warm(er) even when sopping, and dry quickly.
When it’s 50 and pouring or I’m wearing nonathletic clothes, I throw a pair of rain pants on. They’re noisy, they feel funny against any bare skin underneath, but man they keep me dry. On top I wear the same waterproof jacket I mentioned last week. It has mesh under the arms so any sweat can evaporate and is slightly longer in the back than in the front so it covers my butt and prevents rain water from dripping down the back of my pants. It also has reflective tape on the seams, so that drivers can see me better. The one thing this jacket does not have is a hood. To me, cycling in a hood isn’t fun: when it’s up, it blocks your peripheral vision, and it’s hard to keep up, unless it goes under your helmet, which I find uncomfortable. When it’s down, which is more comfortable and practical, the hood can fill with water, which by the way, doesn’t feel good when you get where you’re going, flip your hood up, and then let all that rain water run down the back of your neck. Not that I’ve ever done that or anything.
While I prefer the rain pants and jacket combo, since both items can be multi-purposed, I’ve seen a number of cyclists around town wearing specialty ponchos. They’re big enough to fit a backpack under, and long enough in the front to drape over your handlebars so that your hands and legs stay dry.
For me, biking in the rain means I have to wear a helmet. Visibility is lower for me and for drivers, plus bicycle brakes don’t work nearly as well when it’s wet. I also always wear my sunglasses, since they keep the water out of my eyes. If it’s dark enough that I can’t wear the sunglasses, I slow down, or suck it up and walk or drive.
As for the bike itself, make sure you have working lights, which goes back to the visibility thing. I figure if drivers need to use lights, then I should use mine in the same situation. Also, if you don’t have a rear mounted rack or basket, look into getting a rear fender, which are usually around $10. The back tire kicks up a lot of water and muck, and without something to block that, you end up with a nice line of mud up your back.
Finally, for the commuter or errand runner: how to protect your stuff. Since I don’t have a bike poncho and my budget doesn’t run to the fancy waterproof panniers or backpack covers, I have a surprisingly low-tech solution. I wrap my backpack in a Hefty bag and throw it in the basket as usual. It’s the one time I use top of the line garbage bags.