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How to Survive a Rainy Day with No Car
Living without a car and biking everywhere seems like a really great idea - until the first rainstorm hits. A dousing of water and a blustery wind can kill even the most ardent desire to go carless.
If you're determined to bike your way around town in rain or shine, here are a few pointers that will make your journey easier and more comfortable.
I covered the basics of living without a car in How to Live Without a Car - and Not Hate the Experience and 7 Tips for Families Thinking of Living without a Car.
In 100 words or less- Keep your car. Budget for gear. Be prepared.
Riding your bike in the rain can be safe, but only when you put safety first. When we're talking about rainy days, getting the right gear and preparing the right way can be tricky, so that's what we'll focus on here.
Preparing Your Bike
Most modern bikes aren't automatically fitted with rainy day gear. If you're biking around Germany or the UK, you'll notice the bikes are heavier and contain lots of "stuff".
If you're a spandex-wearing cyclist wedded to a bike you can lift with your pinky, this gear will seem strange, unnatural and worst of all, heavy. Fenders, mud flaps, lights and chain guards weigh your bike down, ruin perfect aerodynamic lines and are to be avoided at all costs.
In areas where bikes are more about transportation and less about sports-riding, these heavy accessories are standard issue, and they make all the difference in rainy day riding.
Fenders & Mud Flaps
Fenders and mud flaps are not the same thing. If you're dead set of rainy day rides, you'll want to ensure you have both.
Fenders are curved pieces of metal or plastic that cover your bike's wheels. They keep dirt and mud from flying into the air and landing on your pants legs or the back of your jacket. Fenders are the perfect guard against dry or damp roads, but they're not much help when mud starts flying on a truly rainy day.
Mud Flaps are pieces of rubber or plastic that attach to fenders. They guard your clothing against the sprays of water and mud kicked up on truly miserable rainy days
Keeping Yourself Dry and Alive
Staying dry in the rain is hard when you're on foot and even harder when you're on wheels. Umbrellas don't work when you're cycling. And you have to watch out from water kicked up from below as well as water falling overhead.
Rain suits are the best way to ride and stay dry, but be prepared - they don't come cheaply.A plastic poncho works in a pinch, but for more than a short ride the heat and humidity inside your rain cover will make you more than a little miserable.
Luckily, rain suits last for years. A lightweight, packable Gortex suit will last longer than your used car, and provide just as many days of stress-free inclement weather transportation.
Unless you're a real stickler for staying dry, you can save money by buying a super-awesome Gortex jacket, and much cheaper semi water repellent pants. When you're biking, your torso leans over your legs and takes the brunt of the rainfall. With fenders and mud flaps installed, minimal water comes up from below. A full-on Gortex suit is great and looks quite snazzy, but in most cases, it's overkill.
There are a few VERY important things to remember when shopping for rain gear:
- If it won't fit into your purse/backpack/messenger bag, don't bother. Getting caught in the rain without a jacket isn't the same as getting caught without an umbrella. If it's going to work, you have to carry your jacket with you all the time, not just when you think it's going to rain.
- Don't buy black, or dark blue, or dark grey, or any other color that blends in with rainy weather. Cars can barely deal with bikes on a good day. Add stormy weather, people rushing to the warmth of their homes or offices, and cyclists trying to travel safely, and you have a recipe for disaster. A jacket that makes you hard to see just makes everything worse. Opt for a bright orange or yellow. You may feel silly, but silly and safe isn't such a bad thing.
- Don't bike without lights. If you don't have a headlight and a taillight, you probably shouldn't be on the road. Bikes without lights are hard to see, and easy for cars to hit. Be safe. Be smart. Be prepared. Equip your bike with a permanent set of lights so you're never caught without them.
- Watch out for the white lines. The paint used for crosswalks, street lines and other traffic markings can become dangerously slick when wet. If possible, avoid riding along the lines. And take extra care when crossing them.
My Favorite Rain Gear
Rain doesn't bother me, but I've invested time and money in picking the best gear for the worst weather. Remember Tip #1 from How to Live Without a Car - and Not Hate the Experience.
Brompton is my go-to bicycle for rainy days. The standard model comes with a dynamo light, (generator-powered so you never have to worry about batteries), fenders and mud flaps. The only thing missing is a proper chain guard. The flimsy piece of plastic they include just doesn't cut it, and real chain guards are only available via a custom metal-working shop. Go figure.
Arc'teryx Rain Jacket
Arc'teryx is probably Norwegian for awesome. If it isn't, then it should be.
Arc'teryx ultralite packable gear is designed for the heavy wear and tear of mountain vacations. And it's priced for people who spend summers in the Alps. But there's not a smaller, more waterproof jacket on the market.
The best thing about the Arc'teryx jacket is its packability. When shoved inside an xxs stuff-sack, it takes up the same room as a mini-umbrella. It's 100% waterproof even at the neck, wrists and pockets, so you're assured of a dry ride. Best of all, it's breathable, so you won't take it off to find as much water inside as out.
Arc'teryx is bigger on function than fashion, so there aren't a whole lot of colors to choose from. But the bright orange is highly visible without being garish, and it's hard to go wrong with red.
The only downside (besides the sticker shock) is the pit flaps. You'll find them on the winter versions, but not on the summer models. Luckily, the summer models are so breatheable, you barely notice the difference.
Really, any old pants will do. Look for pants you can treat with waterproofer, and pants that can pack into a small bag. They don't need to be super-special and awesome. They just need to keep your clothes from getting soaked and dirty.