While many people around the country experience winter conditions that look something like this:
Here in Portland our typical winter looks more like this:
While others are avoiding ice and snow, I’m avoiding streets completely covered in water all the way across (and attempting not to get splashed by cars going by). While we don’t have the same issues to face here as many other places, there are certain things that you have to deal with, and here’s an attempt at explaining what I do to be as comfortable as possible in the winter in Portland.
I find the most important part is my feet and my head, the rest I can pretty easily keep dry with a poncho, in the worst scenario.
So, for my feet, a good pair of weatherproofed leather boots does well for me in even the heaviest downpours for a typical 30 minute ride to work, and of course for shorter trips to the store or out to eat or whatever.
Wear them with some good wool socks so your feet stay warm – there’s nothing worse than the cold, wet 34 F (+1 C) and soaked feeling.
For my head, I find a wool cap or hat does very well. It absorbs a lot of water, and keeps your head dry. Just air dry, then wear again. It helps a lot if your hat has a brim as well. I notice immediately if I ride without a hat, that a lot more water is hitting me in the face. The brim also helps the water which will eventually drip off the brim once it’s saturated to drip in front of your face, rather than just running down your face. See, your grandfather’s fedoras were not only stylish, but very functional as well!
For our usual light rain, I don’t really have a problem just wearing my normal clothes with a blazer or thin wool coat over. My pants get a little bit wet at the thighs on my 30 minute ride to work, but not enough to really bother me much, and they dry in maybe 30 minutes and everything is normal. No big deal.
For slightly heavier rain, I will wear a longer wool coat, so that it covers part of my thighs, and absorbs more water.
Of course, we do have those days when it’s really dumping rain, and within several minutes of getting on your bike, you’re soaked to the bone. For those days, I follow the above guidelines, with the lighter of the blazer/coat options, and put a poncho on over my normal clothes.
In the past, I’ve used nylon or other synthetic ponchos, and they are great except for the fact that they are totally waterproof, so the water all runs right off of them, and directly onto the lower half of my legs, and my feet. Still, that’s way better than being soaked to the bone all over.
Now, my wife and my mom have made me a fabric poncho. This one particularly is Burberry plaid raincoat fabric that we got very cheaply, which we have then sprayed with silicone waterproofing spray. So far there have been a number of things I’ve liked about the cloth poncho over the nylon/synthetic ponchos. Firstly, it’s a bit heavier, so it doesn’t flap around as much. Secondly, it absorbs some water, so I don’t have the constant torrent of water pouring onto my legs, and I actually stay drier with it than with the synthetic ones.
The one downside, is that it does saturate, after about 30 minutes in heavy rain. Thankfully, the only part that saturates is the part where it goes over the handlebars, as a small pool forms there. Luckily, this isn’t touching you, so if it gets a little damp on the inside there, it’s not a huge deal. The rest of the poncho remains un-soaked. This poncho does also take longer to dry than the nylon/synthetic ones (probably 3-5 hours depending on where it’s drying at and exactly how wet it got).
I hope this may come in handy for any of you either in Portland, or other climes where you’re more worried about wet than cold. All-in-all, I’ve found all of this to be quite workable and, though sometimes a bit uncomfortable, not unreasonable at all. For me, personally, it all comes down to that I would rather be a little bit wet, but be calm and relaxed and not stuck in traffic than be stuck on a crowded, humid bus, or be stressed out driving because I can’t see well and the other drivers on the road are jumpy and hurried for the same reasons. It’s not that riding in the rain is always the bees knees, but sometimes it’s the best you can do :)