A year ago I finally started riding my bike to work, 6.5 km each way. I thought my fitness would be the biggest problem, but no, being organised was harder. Suddenly I needed to worry about clothes and the weather. It was a drag for a while but now I love it. It’s the fastest and cheapest way to get to work and I’m not affected by traffic or late buses.
Rain is the trickiest thing. I can’t just show up to work soggy. On the other hand if I was scared off every time Hobart had a forecast of “showers” I’d never ride my bike. Driving or catching the bus doesn’t help much though—I still have to walk at least ten minutes. That’s plenty of time to get wet shoes even if I have a raincoat or umbrella.
The solution is to be ready for rain at all times. I think I have it figured out now, so here are some tips.
Things on the bike
Panniers — Having decent-sized bags on the bike is critical. I can stash my bike repair kit and lock with heaps of room left over for a change of clothes and lunch. You can buy properly waterproof ones but I didn’t bother. Even in heavy rain my cheap panniers keep things mostly dry. Backpacks are worth avoiding. They’re a great way to get a sweaty back.
Fully charged front and rear lights — When I started I had single-LED lights. This continued until I had drivers wind down their windows to tell me that I was hard to see. Terrifying. After a couple of upgrades I’m using a DING light on the front and a taillight with 5 red flashing LEDs. It gets dark when it’s raining hard and my DING needs charging at least every few days. I make an effort to keep the battery full.
Well-adjusted brakes — My rim brakes are terrible when they get properly wet. I have to yank them really hard to get the same amount of braking I do when they’re dry. As they get worn down I have less and less travel so every couple of months I need to crack out the allen key and adjust them. Otherwise next time it rains I won’t be able to pull the brakes far enough to stop.
Bike lock — It’s not really important for the weather but I find a lock super handy if I suddenly decide I want to stop somewhere before or after work.
Things at work
Dedicated shoes — I keep a reasonable pair of shoes at work. I change into them when I arrive and change out when I leave. I can be rained on both morning and evening but these ones stay dry.
Extra socks — Having at least one pair of socks at work or in my pannier is crucial. If it’s raining I can change into dry socks when I arrive. If the same thing happens on the way home it’s okay because I have more socks at home. During hot weather I might get sweaty feet on the way to work so again the spare socks come to the rescue.
Pants and top (temporarily) — Nobody at work seems to care if I wear the same pants and top Monday-to-Friday (and really I’m only wearing them 8 hours a day so it’s not so bad). Often I’ll leave them in a drawer starting Monday afternoon and take them home on Friday. That’s less stuff to take with me on the bike. I do wear a new shirt each day though.
Deodorant — Self-explanatory.
Things I wear
Dedicated shoes for commuting — I have a ratty old pair of sneakers and they can get as wet as they like. It doesn’t matter. I have dedicated shoes at work and another pair of shoes at home. Those stay dry. If I wasn’t using the sneakers for this purpose I’d have thrown them out a long time ago so I guess I’m being good for the environment.
Lightweight raincoat with waterproof pockets — In cooler weather I wear this every day regardless of the forecast. Not only am I ready for surprise rain, it acts as a wind-break which is really nice when it’s chilly. Zip pockets are great for my phone, wallet and keys because I have quick access to them and I can be sure they’re safe from water. I feel kind of sophisticated whipping out a handkerchief while stopped at red lights but maybe that’s just me.
Safety vest — My raincoat is black so I wear this over the top to stay visible. Bright flashing lights are nice but I can tell you that when it comes to being seen by drivers a fluorescent vest makes all the difference. Cheap and highly recommended. If I’m riding somewhere in the evening I’ll often throw it over the top of whatever else I’m wearing.
Fluorescent shirts — In warmer weather I ditch the raincoat and wear brightly coloured shirts instead. This means I have to take another shirt with me for work but it’s worth it. If by chance it rains I might get a bit damp but at least I have a change of clothes.
Thermal top — In really cold weather a shirt plus a raincoat isn’t enough. The thermal top helps but if I misjudge it can also make me sweaty, even on cold days. On the bright side it tends to absorb the sweat so if I’m wearing it underneath my shirt the shirt is still okay. I just have to take off the thermal top when I get to work.
Gloves — If I ride in less than 5°C the circulation disappears from my fingers and it’s very painful. Padded gloves fix it. Highly worthwhile.
Quick-drying shirts — My trip to work is mostly downhill but sometimes I sweat a bit. Sometimes I wear a sports shirt made out of material that breathes well so sweat evaporates quickly. I’m not stinky, I promise. It just means I have to take less stuff with me because I can wear the same shirt all day.
Quick-drying shorts — I have a couple of pairs of shorts that I wear year-round before changing into something else at work. It doesn’t matter if they get rained on because they will be dry enough by the next time I need them. Usually the top part is protected from rain by my raincoat so I can use it as a makeshift shammy to dry the rain off my exposed arms and legs before I put on my jeans.
Now I’m in the habit it’s not too hard to keep all this organised. Every day I ride, which is around 90% of the time, I get the satisfaction of not using my car and not spending $5+ on bus tickets. Life is good. Hopefully these ideas are useful to somebody someday.