Saturday, October 24, 2009

Dodging Raindrops

I now have my illumination set up nicely for my winter bike commute, but I still haven’t figured out what to do in case of rain. We don’t get much precipitation by the standards of the eastern US or Pacific Northwest, but it is pretty much concentrated into six months of the year, from November to April. This year things seem to be off to an early start, with the second largest October storm ever recorded, and then a pretty good soaking on Monday.
I woke up to lowering skies, at least when it was light enough to see them, and a forecast offering “chance of a.m. showers.” I decided to take my chances without raingear, for the simple reason that I have no effective raingear. We’ve had three years of drought, so I haven't had to upgrade my old Patagonia jacket that lost its waterproof powers years ago.

Before I became a bike/train commuter, my approach to rain on the commute was to wear stout footwear and carry an umbrella for the half a block or full block that I’d walk from the car to the office. Working out in the rain was no problem, since I would happily get soaked in anticipation of a hot shower and dry sweats. I never was much for riding in the rain, though. It was an area in which I was, and remain, certifiably wimpy. I didn’t want to mess up my bike, I didn’t want to skid on wet pavement, and I definitely didn’t want to get hit by a car that couldn’t see me. Or even by one that could. So on rainy days I would abandon my plans to ride and head for the pool or the gym or even get a nice wet run in.

My co-worker Simon, however, rides to the office in all kinds of weather, clad in slicker and rain pants, and never seems to fall down or get hit by cars. His commute distance is now about the same as the Sacto end of mine, so it’s clearly possible. And I want to be hard core. At least, I think I want to try to be hard core. But here are the challenges that I perceive:
  1. I will get wet. Even if I spend hundreds of dollars on GoreTex or other such “breathable,” waterproof garments, I will still sweat more than the GoreTex will handle. It’s just the way it is. So I’ll either get wet from the inside or the outside. It might be better just to take my soaking and change once I get to the office, but then there’s that train ride in soggy clothes to think of.

  2. This is one that my friend Sheila, a former San Francisco bike commuter, pointed out: Once I get to work and change out of my wet clothes, I have to put them somewhere during the day. Festooning the office with damp and potentially odorous garments might be perceived as antisocial by my officemate and unprofessional even by my tolerant and flexible management.

  3. The load I carry to work is getting heavier. Ever since I broke down and bought the bike lock, I’ve been reluctant even to carry my lunch in my pack. Carrying a full change of clothes could be the straw to snap this camel’s back. Sheila suggested I could stash a couple pairs of black pants and grey sweaters at the office. Eventually I’d have to take them home and wash them, but that shouldn’t be too sucky. Every so often I have to drive in anyhow.

  4. I carry a laptop to work on the train. Part of what makes my work schedule manageable is that I put in work hours on the train and am rarely in the office for a full eight hours. Plus I have my wallet, cell phone, flash drive, and other goodies in my (formerly triathlon-specific) pink backpack. The pack might resist light rain, but a downpour would put all my crap at risk. Sheila helpfully noted that there are commuter backpacks with rain covers. More $$$. Dang.

  5. The dreaded “brown stripe” effect. In the absence of a rear fender, the wheel will throw up water and dirt, creating a deeply unattractive brown stripe up the back of the unwary rider. Now I have to spend money on a fender? And this also brings up my resistance to making my venerable but racy bike into a commuter mule. Yeah, I know I’m not racing at the moment - but I will. Even if I never race again, though, putting a fender on the Specialized Allez Epic would be like hitching Secretariat to a wagon. I shudder at the thought.
Possible solutions abound. I can look for raingear on the cheap at Sierra Trading Post or Marshall’s. Even Land’s End has pretty reasonable rain pants. Same for the waterproof backpack. The pink tri-pack is looking a little tatty anyway. If I wear rain gear, I won’t care about the Brown Stripe of Doom. I might be able to get away with hanging wet biking clothes in the server room, which is very, very warm, dry, rarely visited, and located behind a door in my office. I already use it as an impromptu changing room for getting out of my bike shorts. I don’t
In the end it’ll all come down to force of will on a dark wet morning. The will will feel a lot more forceful, though, if I feel well prepared. On Monday, I dodged two huge cloudbursts by minutes, and either might have damaged the will in a big way. No rain forecast for the next five days. Stay tuned for updates and storm watches.


  1. Well, you know what we do when we're backpacking and it begins to rain? We cover our backpack with a garbage bag. Works better than anything and it doesn't take up much space or weight in the pack.

  2. I agree with Tinkerbell, no need to buy more gear, a garbage bag works great. I just use the heavy duty bags and replace them when they get a hole in them. However I don't wait for the rain, I simply put everything in the bag, twist the top and fold it over and then put it in my backpack. That way I'm not so uptight about should I stop and cover the pack, everything is safe in the garbage bag.

  3. Jayne - so glad to have found you are back on the web! Got your first book in 2006 to help me re-motivate and train for the tri I'd wanted to do in 1996. Did that one, another one in 2008 and my third one just this past weekend. Delighted to find out you're making a comeback. Can't wait to catch up, get your second book, and follow along from here on out!