Everybody talks about the weather but no one…

A wet trip homeIt was raining so hard when I got up Wed. morning I didn’t ride my bike to work.

Don’t worry, I still got there on the Xtracycle, but like most days, I found it made more sense to take my time getting underway.

My morning (many mornings, in truth) went something like this: I got up. It was raining. Had my Grapenuts and coffee with the kids. Raining. Helped them get ready. Raining. Said goodbye to the kids. Still raining. Shower? Yep, still raining.

Yet 10 minutes later I was on my way to work dressed in my normal (non-bike) clothes, rain gear safely stowed in the Xtracycle Freeloader. Rain-gear optional is a a pretty usual way for me to roll (and maybe the reason I can still justify owning my hideously ugly purple/pink/black, 18 (!) year-old REI Turismo jacket/pants

I’m not saying all this to sound like a total time-challenged-douche-bag-schedule-slouching-weather-rock-star or something—though if you got soaked yesterday you might think  I sound like one of those. Nah, I just want to share my two simple tools (well, three if you count the merino wool and four if you count fenders, but everyone knows that one, right?)  for staying dry this winter.Here goes:

  • A flexible schedule
  • Weather radar

The whole reason for this overblown topic is because I was reminded of the latter (family, friends and co-workers can’t shut up about my creative use of the former) this evening when ran across a great post from a couple days ago by local UW Prof/NPR media personality/author/general weather stud, Cliff Mass.

Cliff began the post discussing Seattle’s so-far-pathetic efforts in the name of bike mobility and safety, then switched to promoting Thursday’s Traffic Justice Summit (an event I had planned to blog, attend, and make some noise at, but my week/month has kind of got away from me. BTW, if you went of have any insight, please holler in the comments).

The view from 120 Miles

Cliff finally cut into the meat of the day: tips for keeping dry on the bike (Cliff Notes version [ha! get it? “cliff!!! notes”]: use the weather radar). I’ll leave bulk of the radar advice to the professional weather professor, but I will go out on a limb and recommend King5’s doppler radar (KING! FIVE! LIVE! DOPPLER!) as a liberal-arts-major-friendly weather tool.

I find the way their animations display (I like the 120 mile view) give me a fighting chance of actually judging where the rain is going next.  When using a static view or less dumbed-down animated version, I’ve more than once misjudged the actual rain direction and instead of arriving dry and happy, found myself pedaling into a major squall clad in less than appropriate attire.

doppler image from King 5OK, so you’re thinking: “radar is great. I can stay dry all the time, right?”

Well, the problem with radar is that it doesn’t change the weather. It helps you find gaps, but doesn’t do squat if you have to be somewhere now, and now on the radar shows a green spot the size of  Holland hovering over the city

You Deserve Flex Time!

This is where the flexible schedule tool comes in.  We’ve talked about this before in the context of hourly forecasts. While radar animations further refine the dodging raindrops concept, if you really want to ride all through the winter, you need to negotiate with your power structure to get you on a “flex” schedule.

Flexible. That’s the key concept to get across to the man. Use it a lot when you are discussing the idea. This isn’t about working less. It’s about working smarter. You may also want to mention the Commute Trip Reduction Law and maybe “Work Life Balance” 10 or 12 times. It probably wouldn’t hurt to mention how  much you are saving them health care and absenteeism, too.

Go ahead, cajole them, drop hints around the water cooler, lie. Whatever it takes (“…I was talking to my friend Earl, and I says to him ‘Well, I was finally getting used to not carrying my shotgun to work, now that I’m riding the bike every day, but it looks like this weather means I’m gonna start driving the truck again soon. Yee-ha!'”). You may have to lay it on thick, but this is important stuff—it’s your wet (dry!) butt we’re taking about here.

A little rain never hurt me

In fact, the only time I really ever get really wet is riding home. Mainly it’s because I can’t stand hanging out in the office at night waiting for a gap in the Doppler Green when all the drivers have left the building and my family is snug at home. Getting wet then is OK because I’m doing it on my terms. I also find the knowledge that I missed a mega storm on the way in tends to shield me from some of the weather fury on these return trips.

And another little secret: I kind of like riding home in the rain—it’s the wet from the sweaty rain gear or road spray and then having to work I hate. Especially when I can take a warm shower and wear my PJs after the return commute (even I can’t get away with that at work).  I like to think of the trip home as epic and civilized all in one. Like getting a massage, sauna, and soft Turkish robe on the summit of Mt. Rainier.

So, how about you? Any great wet-weather riding tips? Forecasting, visibility, and gear suggestions welcome, too (and not just because I need a new rain coat or poncho, and maybe some of those goofy Rainlegs, assuming they make’em in a giant size).


11 responses to “Everybody talks about the weather but no one…

  1. I think if you want to ride through the winter, you just have to be ok getting wet a bit, in the morning and in the evening. However, living in the NW which is infamous for its rain, I’ve actually been really surprised how few days I really get drenched, going either direction. Probably a total of 3 or 4 all winter.

    I do have a little bit of gear – a plastic poncho – but most of the time, I just wear a wool coat, and that keeps me dry and warm. I also have a wool driving cap that I’ve worn in absolute downpours and while it’s gotten soaked, my head has been completely dry afterward.

    The biggest problem, one I still haven’t quite figured out, is the tops of my thighs, which are really the only part of me that gets very wet. The poncho is long enough in front to partly cover them, but without the poncho they get very wet. My wife and I are thinking about playing around with specific poncho designs and seeing if we can’t work out something that fits our specific needs better.

    I have a very upright-sitting bike, and if it’s not too windy, I can actually ride with an umbrella without any major problems, and that helps a lot on days when it’s not a torrential downpour.

    I’ve also used the weather radar on weather underground, but they only have animated radar in about 30 minute increments, so you have to kind of keep an eye on it. They do show the whole system though, so you can kind of estimate how long it will be until a break moves your direction.

    But again, you just have to be willing to get a little wet if you want to ride in the winter. Just think of it this way – that hot coffee tastes damn good when you’re drinking it at your desk after riding to work in the rain.

  2. Merino shirt, wool cap under helmet, wool socks, wool gloves, jeans, water-resistant (but not Gore, etc which don’t breathe enough for me) jacket.

    But you knew all that.

    But did you see the latest Clever Cycles post – the one where he’s “romancing the stove”? Damn that store. It has a way of making the money fly out of my wallet. My wife and I are now obsessed with a clean wood/wood brick-burning stove for warming up by, drying wool near, not-TV-watching next to, etc etc etc …

    So that’s my gear suggestion for you.

  3. Thanks Gents.

    Dave, I agree the upper legs are a pain. I think the rain legs are a pretty good solution but I don’t know if I could handle the “so are you wearing anything under those chaps” jokes _every_ day. I’m also guessing they may be a little on the short side for me, negating most of the benefits.

    And yes, we know what you mean about Todd and his “enhanced revenue stream.”

    I think I can resist the stove, but that damn Brompton …

  4. Umm… for the record, what Tim DOES wear at work is pretty dang close to pajamas.

  5. Tim,
    I’m 6′ 7″ and own a pair of rainlegs in their largest size. They fit and work great.

  6. Thanks Simon, that means they oughta work just fine for my measily 6’6 frame.

    And Janet? *SNAP! that’s a mighty cheeky throwdown. It just so happens I have a camera with me today so I’ll post up a photo when I have a chance.

  7. Tim,
    Your rain jacket is out of fashion.
    I wear a lime green rain jacket with 2′ reflector tape. This does not breath so it is only good for short trips.

    In the summer I suggest the same colors in mesh
    (I have the orange version)

    The pants, helment cover and shoe cover I got here:

  8. Janet beat me to it – I was going to say if you are putting in all that effort to cajole at work, why *not* work on getting them to let you wear pajamas (and bunny slippers!). My car-free strategy is a little different: on downpour days I ride the warm, fast, friendly express bus. True downpour days are remarkably few here, though.

  9. Pingback: How-To: Cycling in the Rain « Let's Go Ride a Bike

  10. Last Monday, it rained here in SF. The forcast was for it to be in the North Bay and then gradually move south. There was no warning that we would be hit with a deluge. I was totally soaked to the bone. I have no fenders and was carrying a back pack, which by the way did not keep anything dry. Did I learn from this episode. Most likly not. Once soaked, I really didn’t care after that.

  11. I’ve been caught in heavy rain about once for my ride in. It was warm enough so I just didn’t wear much and I rode hard. Plastic bags for the duds to change into, with a few extra minutes ’cause I rode fast. Indeed, once soaked, soaked — but I have yet to dissolve.

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