You have questions? We have answers! Coping with rain

I received an actual e-mail the other day from an actual reader who was asking me an actual question. Actually, she was asking for “insight,” which is quite more than someone like me might be expected to deliver.

Nevertheless, we thought this would be a good time to inaugurate a new Dear Abby-style feature here, which we will call:

Eugene Bicyclist: Rolling answer man!

So, off we go.

Hey, I have a question: So I’m moving from D.C. to Eugene and, of course, I’m nervous about the rain. I want to be able to ride all the time, and I know I have fairly good resistance — it gets cooooold in the city o’ DC. Some days I’d get into the apartment and take my mondo-gloves off, and my hands would be bright red and screaming with pain.

But I don’t know how I’ll fare in an Oregon winter. How do you deal? I’m talking: What you advise every Eugene biker should possess as far as clothing and whatever accessories (?) as well as … um, mentality?

Hope you might have a moment to lend some insight. Thanks!

If it’s any comfort, we all start out nervous about the rain. You will find, however, that your nervousness will quickly be replaced by disgust. Then despair creeps in. And from there on out, it’s festering hatred.

But don’t worry. We have really excellent beer here. Or, if you don’t drink alcohol, you may find solace in the boundless array of teas.

I hate to blather on about myself, but in this case we might be best served my personal story. You see, I grew up in a place that was dry — a desert, actually. My arrival in Eugene required several difficult, but doable steps:

Step 1: Identify problem. “The weather here just sucks! Every time I go outside I get caught in the rain. I’ve been wet for weeks now.”

Step 2: Attempt to avoid problem. “The weather here just sucks! But I think I’ve got it figured out. My supplies for the winter will consist of a tall stack of books, lots of tea and some craft projects. I will fire up the wood stove. I will listen to the rain pattering on the window while I ‘curl up’ with books and do decoupage.”

Step 3: Get really bored. Replace tea with beer.

Step 4: Grasp this bullish problem by horns. “The weather here just sucks! You know what though? Screw it. I’m going to do what I want to do. I don’t care what is happening outside.”

Step 5: Identify solution. Go to REI and buy rain pants and coat.

Step 6: Change outlook. Begin using the term “sun break.” A sun break is when — in the course of a gray, overcast and/or rainy day — the sun emerges for three or four minutes. You begin to see this as an exciting opportunity, as opposed to a sadistic tease.

Step 7: Become tuned in to the natural world. I finally learn — the hard way — that it matters not if you look at the sky and it is blue. Do not allow this to give you false hope. If it is sometime between the months of November and May, you take your rain gear with you no matter how nice it may seem at the moment.

Step 8: Rain gear starts leaking; buy new rain gear.

Step 9: Consider contact lenses.

Step 10: Having tried rain booties with little success, I decide the better course is to keep a pair of shoes in the bottom drawer of my desk at work. When I get to work, I do the Mr. Rogers thing, changing my shoes and slipping into my cardigan. I wear these same shoes at work every single day.

Step 11: Rain gear starts leaking; buy new rain gear.

Step 12: Overcome stubborn case of Roadie Snobbery Syndrome. I break down and finally buy and install a bell, lights and fenders on what I formerly considered a serious road bike. The fenders make it sound like I am riding around with a tin can of nuts and bolts in my water-bottle cage. I do not care. I was taken aback, though, that a pair of simple plastic fenders cost me about $60. But there are cheaper options. If you are handy and a DIY kind of person …

… you can make creative use of an old water bottle.

Step 13: Keep your stuff dry. This could require some heavy duty waterproof panniers or a waterproof bag of some sort. About 10 years ago I purchased a Timbuk2 bag. It seemed insanely expensive, but it is still going strong.

Finally, it’s probably worth a look at what’s inside my bag.

Here’s what we have at the moment:

  1. Important rumpled papers and receipts
  2. Allen wrenches
  3. Spoke wrench
  4. iPod earbuds
  5. Used napkin
  6. Gloves
  7. Checkbook
  8. Random USB cable of uncertain origin and purpose
  9. AAA batteries for my lights, perhaps good, perhaps dead. But often some random combination of these will make my lights work better.
  10. Two pencils with broken tips, plus an eraser
  11. Old crumpled “Eugene Bicyclist” sticker
  12. Lots of back-up valve stem caps
  13. What appears to be a petrified piece of bagel
  14. Tarnished old dime, perhaps placed in the bag in the days when you could make a phone call with a dime
  15. Patch kit
  16. Spare tube
  17. Set of three tire irons, plus two that were part of a set of which one broke
  18. Small pump

Additionally, you will often find in my bag, though not pictured today, my lunch and a U-lock.

Now if you add up the cost of the rain gear, the waterproof bag or panniers, the fenders, good lights and the bike itself, you could probably save money by going to craigslist and buying yourself a used car.

But you’d never do that, right?

Anyone have any other thoughts about cycling through the winter? Leave a comment …

14 thoughts on “You have questions? We have answers! Coping with rain

  1. I have to say I subscribe more to the Copenhagenize ideal of wear whats in your closet. Beyond a good rain jacket (I use showers pass) and rain pants (still have an old pair of Burley’s) I don’t wear any special ‘bike gear’ and don’t think you need to carry tools, patch kit, or spare tube. Sure you can, but cycling is supposed to be easy and fun.

    The #1 thing I would recommend is buy a CITY bike. One that has fenders, chain guard, racks, lights, bell, etc. A bike that has good full coverage fenders and a chain guard require less special gear and will keep you more dry as a lot of moisture comes UP from the road and your tires!

    PS I love that you have a bunch of spare valve caps in your pack- super helpful =)

  2. Hello,

    Wonderful pessimistic attitude, melancholia is a plenty in Eugene. I have learned over the years of riding in the rain all winter (fall, spring and summer too) that I was destined to live here until I learned to love the rain. All I needed was a good pair of waterproof and easy to wear (and love) shoes, a good jacket with a hood, and one of God’s great creations: the bike poncho as made by The Center for Appropriate Transport. Here is a link:
    It really works! My waterproof pannier is another work of art.

    Funny, now that I have learned my lesson, destiny is moving me to sunny California.
    I will look forward to the few days I can get out my CAT poncho and ride with pride.

    All the best,

  3. I have to disagree w/Mr. Shane. Being prepared for a flat tire doesn’t make biking harder or less fun; having a flat tire (inevitable) and not being prepared for it, makes biking harder and less fun.

  4. I think you make a choice with rain riding… either soak through or sweat through. I can’t wear waterproof without feeling like I’m in a tinfoil suit in the middle of the Arizona desert.

    So I roll dry fit – even my underwear and yeah I look like some kinda cross between a classic fixie rider, a roadie in logoless kit and a Jane Fonda workout video. But I’m covering over 8 miles into work at brisk pace. That might not be the “style” and attitude for you. I got one of those 15 dollar clear plastic jackets for the really bad downpours. And I wrapped my feet in bread bags and then applied my booties… Cuz FEET – that’s the exception – KEEP YOUR FEET DRY – seriously – it’s ALL the difference.

    Feet are the one thing I’d rather sweat than soak.

    It’s a great time saver – in the mornings – to ride planning to soak through like Alberto Contador in a monsoon – simply apply soap… then ride! Mother Nature takes care of the rest.

    And I’ve never been to Arizona. Nor have I ever been wrapped (completely) in tinfoil.

    But you get the idea.

    FENDERS – or – keep it around 10-12 mph during heavy rain (if you have those itty bitty thin like tires). On second thought – nah, get the fenders. If you don’t put them on the rain gods will laugh and punish you and everyone else relentlessly. The moment you do put them on the rain gods will laugh and actually make it stop raining during the exact time you plan to commute. Yes! I’ve seen it before… but the rain gods my have just been in a forgiving mood. I think we pissed them off out here recently.

  5. For me, riding without a proper flat kit more than a few minutes’ ride away from home or an open shop is begging for a flat. The mere act of having a wrench/driver, levers, patches, and a mini-pump actually creates a force field around your tires that wards off invisible pieces of glass and pinch-flatting cracks.

    Someday I will add a bike to the collection with ample clearance for legit fenders on both wheels, but right now it’s limited to the all-weather track bikes (rear clip-on fender only) and nice-weather road bike. When it’s raining, I usually have riding clothes and normal clothes in my bag. A good rain jacket never leaves my bag from September until July. (Does anyone else feel like the Willamette Valley rain season has stretched over the last few years?)

    There are two “modes” I have. One is defensive, riding a bit slower and being careful not to get soaked. This is on the way to work or special occasions. And then there is the “f– it” mode, where you just let yourself get soaked and have a good time. This can be on the way home from work or if I have nowhere to be and can go home and dry my gear out overnight.

    It’s very rewarding to get around Eugene on bike, and there are many stretches, especially around the river and it’s network of paths, by which you can reach your destination faster than by car. Plus you are a part of the secret society. How do you know you’ve met another member? If it’s pouring down rain, you are drenched, and you cross paths with another rider in the same situation, there is the “what are we doing?” smile and nod. You’ve just met a member.

  6. My top few items are good fenders, good lights, gloves, a helmet with a visor, and some clear glasses to keep the rain out of your eyes if you don’t have prescription ones you wear anyway. I’m another one with a pair of 15 year old Burley rain pants that are good enough. I want a poncho. Other thoughts: Avoid hairdos that a bit of water will ruin. Don’t worry about getting a little wet, because you generally dry off when you get where you are going and are inside for awhile. You do get used to the rain, and usually it isn’t all that cold. On the other hand, I think it’s relatively insane to ride when it’s icy and snowy. I’ve done it, didn’t like it. Luckily, that doesn’t happen very often.

  7. I cannot speak from personal experience, but there are two “year- round” bikers in my office. Riding in the Eugene-Springfield area year around should be way easier than riding in D.C. The weather her is mild all winter compared to what you will find in D.C. , in the valley it will get wet, but no snow, in the Summer it will get hot, but not for more than four weeks.
    You are in a perfect place to ride every day, yeah your gunna get wet in the winger, but the Spring and Autumn her cannot be beat. Enjoy biking in the Great Northwest.

  8. I think the weather is better than in most places. When I was commuting in Iowa I had to deal with several foot deep snow and sub-zero temperatures all year. Eugene is easy!

    My regular commuting gear is whatever pants I’m wearing that day, wool socks, and a long-sleeve wool shirt. Wool can get wet and stay warm, and you rarely need to wash it. I wear a bandanna on my head and one over my face if it’s sub 45 deg. Is it’s sub 35 I throw on an old vest – but those days are nice because it rarely rains when it’s that cold.

    When I get to work I change out of my wool socks and shirt and hang them to dry along with my gloves and bandannas. They are usually dry by my ride home.

    My only rain gear is a cat poncho because I hate rain pants. The poncho stays on my bike at all times, keeps me super dry unless it’s really windy, and I can take it off while riding if the rain stops. I can also throw it over any clothing, like if I’m going to a show at night.

    Anyways, it only rains constantly in the middle of winter. In the fall you get many breaks, in the spring it only rains for part of the day and you can time the windows once you get practice, and it almost never rains in the summer.

    1. “…and it almost never rains in the summer.” **

      **Summer: Last two weeks in July and most of August.

  9. Enjoyed reading everyone’s comments on this one. People here really do like talking about the weather …

    Yeah, I never feel good going out without a way to fix a flat. I’ve had to walk (or call for help) too many times.

  10. It was really great to read through both the post and the comments section, I look forward to the challenge of a Eugene winter. I especially like the idea of becoming a member of the rain drenched biker society…

    I don’t mind arriving home wet but getting to school is another story. I was thinking of renting a gym locker to keep some dry extras in. Hearing about the CAT poncho is especially thrilling-I mean, who wouldn’t want to look like a bike-riding flying squirrel?!

    Heading out across the country in just a couple of days…today on my bike I was getting all pumped up imagining I was riding around Eugene, can’t wait!

    1. Welcome to Eugene — when you get here. At least you’ll get to enjoy summer before you have worry about the rain. Summer here is lovely. (Of course, in June, there’s the pollen, but let’s hope you’re one of the lucky people who does not suffer grass pollen allergies.)

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