Rainy-day cycling gear

Prepare for the deluge this rainy 'Junuary' Bike Month.

To ride through Vancouver’s rainy weather, equipment is key…

We know the drill: it’s rainy, it’s cold, the sun hasn’t shown its face in days (weeks even!) and no way, no how are you going to hop on your bike until summer.

But… but! Just because the Pineapple Express has begun it’s yearly torrent of cloud tears doesn’t mean you have to decommission your wheels. With the proper gear, rainy-day cycling ain’t all that bad. The key is to be prepared.

And you don’t even need to spend a lot of money: Some experienced commuters even use plastic bags to cover their shoes, helmets or panniers! Just think, the money you save on makeshift shoe covers could be spent on safety precautions like lights and extra reflective tape.

Let’s get started…


Safety first


Helmet1. Wear a helmet

There’s no way around it. It’s the law: check out the B.C. Motor Vehicle Act (section 184). All the helmets you’ll find at your local cycling equipment store have passed the same safety test… even the cheapest ones. They should clearly show the CSA, ANSI, ASTM or SNELL standards approval.

David McInnes, master mechanic for Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC), advises to replace a helmet after 5 years and of course after any accident.


2. Be visibleLights

Especially in the fall when the days are shorter—and it’s dark both when you leave the house in the morning and return home in the evening. Lights get even more important when it’s raining or foggy…

Actually, equiping your bike with lights after dark is required by law (B.C. Motor Vehicle Act, s. 183). In the front of your bike, you must have a white light visible for at least 150 metres. The rear light must be red; for additional safety, it can even be flashing. “A flashing light is harder to ignore for the other road users than a solid still light that they get can get used to after a while,” David explains.




3. Be even more visible

“My head is like a bulb at night!” jokes Eric Lorenz, commuter cycling skills instructor, bicycle maintenance instructor and mapping consultant for the Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition (VACC).

“I wear as many reflective pieces of clothing as possible: on my jacket, my helmet cover or my shoe cover.”

Wear lots of lights, reflective material and bright colours for those dark mornings. And follow VACC office manager Kathy Sinclair’s advice: “Be more visible than you think you need to be!”

Reflective band

Every piece of equipment or clothing can come with reflective bands, and strips: jacket, pants, shoes, helmet cover, panniers, bags, etc.


Rainy-day cycling gear (cont’d)


FendersOutfit your ride


4. Stay clean and dry

To stay as clean and dry as possible, get a couple of fenders mounted on your front and back bike wheels (or do it yourself). These are a must for any Vancouver cyclist, as they prevent dirt and puddle water from flying up and soaking your bum and back

Depending on the type of bike you own, you might want to go to a bike repair shop to get advice on how to properly mount the fenders. It’s easier on some bikes and trickier on others.



5. Tire know-how

Get a pair of slick road bike tires. They’re lighter, smoother and commuter friendly.

Pay attention to the tread patterns when choosing tires, as you want the water to be channelled out from under the tire to get better traction on wet pavement. V-shaped grooves are ideal.

To change your bicycle tires, check out this video:


Waterproof panier


6. Keep your lunch, your laptop and your papers dry

There are many options for carrying your belongings while keeping them dry during rainy fall rides.

Panniers mounted to a bike rack are great for those wanting to maintain a healthy back. If you don’t get a waterproof pannier (as pictured), keep them dry with pannier covers—or just upcycle some of those plastic bags you’ve been keeping around.


Another option is a waterproof shoulder bag or backpack.

TIP >>> “Wrap everything in a plastic bag as well just to be sure,” adds Sean McKibben, director of programs, VACC).

TIP >>> Your carrying bag can also serve as an additional spot to display reflective material.[pagebreak]

Rainy-day cycling gear (cont’d)

What to wear


Helmet cover


7. Head cover

Helmets usually have holes to allow your head to breath… and those same holes allow rain to get in, meaning by the time you arrive at your destination, you’ll be looking like a drowned rat.

Crazy helmet cover

So consider covering your helmet. You can either buy a helmet cover or craft your own using a plastic bag.

<<< Or you can get one of these nifty helmets with no air holes…

TIP >>> Wearing a hood while cycling can be dangerous, as it could block your peripheral vision. However, there are some cyclists who recommend wearing the hood under your helmet; if trying this, be sure to test this method before setting off on a longer journey.




8. Rain jacket

Depending on the distance of your commute, you might want to invest in a waterproof/water-resistant jacket. Check the length in the back to make sure you’re completely covered. And choose one with reflective strips to be more visible.

A regular rain jacket may work just as well. “It might not be as long in the back but don’t feel limited. You don’t need any specific expensive jacket. Get on a bike first. Make sure you’re safe and just have fun!” encourages MEC’s David McInnes.Pants


9. Rain pants

The length of your commute will determine which waterproof pants you’ll need. If you have an hour commute everyday, go for a more water-resistant pair than if you ride less than 20 minutes a day.

If you plan on wearing your dressed pants underneath, you may want to choose a pair of rain pants one size larger than your actual size.

But keep in mind: the longer your trip, the hotter you might get under all these layers of clothing, so look for a pair of waterproof pants with zippers to allow ventilation.

TIP >>> Just as with all cycling gear and equipment, the magic two words are “reflective strips.” If your pants don’t have any, just slip on a reflective band around your ankles.

Shoe cover


10. Shoe covers

Wet feet are the worst! To be completely protected from the rain, the last piece of clothing you’ll need are shoe covers to keep your toes dry. These may be your best investment since wet feet equal sadness.

Again, many experienced cyclists reuse plastic bags for this purpose. [pagebreak]

Long sleeves




Preferred fabrics

Merino wool manages moisture very well, is odour-resistant and, more importantly, it keeps you warm even when it’s wet. You’ll find many clothes made with merino wool: socks, long sleeves crewnecks, t-shirts, longs, boxers, panties, caps or hats.


Precious cargo

If you have more items to carry with you than can be managed with a couple of panniers or a shoulder bag, go for a trailer.


Trailers are useful when picking up groceries or dropping off kids at daycare. Rain and sun shields can be added too.

But remember when carrying kid cargo: All the same safety rules apply. “Your kid should wear a helmet, be properly strapped in, and you should have a red light on the back of the trailer,” adds MEC’s David McInnes.

You might consider having a bike mechanic mount the trailer, to ensure your child is absolutely safe.

But if it’s really pouring out, it’s best to opt for something other than the trailer, as trailers often have lots of zippers and velcro, which don’t make them 100 percent waterproof.




Lock ‘n load

The best way to avoid a bad surprise after a long day of work is to always secure your bike with a lock. A U-Lock passed through the frame, one wheel and the bike rack will do the trick.

“Park it in a very public place and a well lit area. Make sure you give a quick shake to what you attached your bike to. If you lock it to a stop sign, make sure no one can pull out the sign,” advises David McInnes (MEC).


For more bike safety info and rules of the road…

Check out the British Columbia Bicycle Operator’s Manual (pdf) and sign up for one of the hands-on workshops put on by the Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition (VACC).