Cycling in the rain: Advice for winter commuting

Granted that it is currently the ‘dry’ season in the northern regions of Australia, for the majority of people living in the southern hemisphere winter is only just getting started despite the winter solstice passing a few days ago. For many people this means cold, dark and often wet commutes both in the morning and in the evening. Even in sunny Perth we have had our fair share of chilly mornings hovering around 2-4°C, as well as wet, windy weather as winter cold fronts blast through the southern regions of Australia.

Cycling numbers generally take a massive dive during the winter months. However this doesn’t have to be the case. With the right combination of gear and accessories, good quality clothing and a bit of old fashioned HTFU you’ll be happier and more confident to crawl out of your toasty warm bed in the morning for your daily commute regardless of what the weather looks like outside. Do you think that the Dutch ditch their bikes and drive to work instead just because the weather is a bit on the frosty side? The answer is generally no. Although there are always a few softies out there. If they can muster up the effort to venture out in the cold and wet, then we all can.

Here’s my top tips that I have picked up through trial and error after many years cycling throughout the seasons:

  • Light up: This might seem like a no-brainer, but I see many cyclists on the roads and paths during the darker months in the evening or early morning with no lighting. Not only is this illegal, but it is incredibly stupid and dangerous not only to yourself, but also to other road users around you. Do us all a favour and make sure that you have a good quality bright set of bike lights (red rear light and white front light). It’s also a good idea to have a second set of cheap, lightweight LED lights to give extra visibility and to serve as a backup in case something goes wrong with your primary set. I use a combination of dynamo powered Busch and Muller lights (front and rear) in addition to my high powered, waterproof Ay Up! lights.
  • Be visible: Lights aren’t the only way to see and be seen. It’s also a good idea to wear bright clothing during daylight hours and at night wear clothing that has eye-catching reflective patches or piping that will really show when a headlight catches them. Many cycle specific jackets and jerseys will have reflective properties designed into them, have a look at what you have already and if it doesn’t have anything reflective along it consider getting something more visible.
  • Use mudguards: Many road cyclists don’t like using these on their bikes as they ruin the clean lines (see the next point). However a well designed and correctly installed set of mudguards (or fenders as the Americans call them) will work wonders at keeping water, mud and other nasty stuff away from your back, legs and your bike components (remember water causes rust and grit causes increased wear to your components).
  • Have a rain bike: As per the above point it is often not the best idea to be riding an expensive road bike with delicate, high performance components if they are going to get wet and covered in grit. Instead it is a better idea to have a bike suited to riding in the rain complete with a full set of mudguards, wide, puncture-resistant tyres for stability and grip and more durable or easily replaceable components. Another approach is to have a sealed internal-gear-hub with a belt drive or protected chain on your rain bike which reduces a lot of concern about component damage. This is a big financial commitment though and not for everyone. For most people a cheap flat bar road bike or hybrid with wide tyres and mudguards is more than adequate.
  • Clothing: There’s an old saying “that there is no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing” and this rings true especially for cycling throughout the seasons. A good quality rain jacket or windproof winter jersey can make all the difference between an enjoyable and comfortable ride, or a cold and horrible ride. One issue with rain proof clothing is that it is often quite stifling after a few kilometres, causing you to get sweaty and damp. This is reduced greatly with multi-layer jackets such as the Showers Pass Elite 2.0 which I bought last year (owner review here). However I still find myself getting pretty warm even with the zips down after 6-7km unless if is a particularly cold and wet morning. Rainproof pants are also a good idea, however they can also get clammy and uncomfortable if the temps are warm, so they are only really an option for those chilly, wet winter rides. Ground Effect make a nice 3/4 pair of rain pants which are well reviewed and definitely worth a look if you often find yourself getting wet and cold legs while cycling in winter. The Showers Pass range of rain pants are also highly rated. I also highly recommend to wear a warm base layer underneath your jacket to provide insulation and wick away any sweat. Merino wool cycling jerseys are particularly good for this purpose. Ground Effect also have a decent selection of well designed merino cycling tops. I also suggest using cycle shoes with a waterproof lining or alternatively using water proof/resistant overshoes (aka booties) that will help keep your shoes dry and clean, and, by extension, your feet warm and comfortable. The BBB ‘HardWear’ overshoes (available from Wiggle) are  popular amongst road cyclists and commuters. Finally, a good pair of full-finger gloves will also help keep your hands warm and assist with grip if your handlebars are wet.

It sometimes takes a bit of extra motivation to get out on your bicycle when it is wet and cold. I admit that there has been the odd occasion in the past when I have piked and took the train to work instead of cycling. 99% of the time I regret it as I see people outside on the cycle paths soldiering on while I am stuck inside a crowded train carriage full of miserable looking people coughing germs everywhere. So in this respect sometimes you just have to HTFU a little bit and commit to cycling throughout the year. As the Dutch like to say “you aren’t made of sugar and you won’t melt in the rain!”. With the right combination of good quality gear and ‘can-do’ attitude you should be able to keep cycling all year round, regardless of what Mother Nature throws your way. And remember: do it with a smile on your face!

Happy cycling!


2 Comments on “Cycling in the rain: Advice for winter commuting

  1. Hi Karl

    Have you ever tried a Rain cape? I seen a few of them around lately.

    PS. Thanks for the review of the Vivente, I ended up buying one and like you I am pleased with the purchase.

    • Hi David

      Thanks for stopping by.

      I have seen rain capes before but they are extremely unusual here in Perth. Most people just wear a light rain/wind resistant jacket, long sleeve jersey and longer tights (or pants) during winter. I think if you are travelling slowly a rain cape could be good, but at higher speeds the best bet is a properly designed jacket for wet weather cycling.

      I’m glad you found my review of the Vivente useful. I found that there wasn’t much on this bike out there as it is a smaller company within an already small and niche market (although growing at a fast rate!). I am still very happy with the VWR although as I use it I am definitely identifying things that I would like to change or modify in the future, such as the gear cables from the STI levers getting in the way of larger sized bar bags on medium and small sized models of the STI version of the VWR. This isn’t an issue limited to this particular bike though, and there’s lots of relatively inexpensive and easy work-arounds to solve these types of minor issues.

      I’ve got some more articles in the works to publish before I head off on my trip to Europe next month. I’ll be taking my bike and doing some solo touring for about a month.. so stay tuned.

      Happy cycling!


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