An unfortunate consequence of riding a bike is that it exposes you to the miseries of the elements: rain, snow, cold, heat. You don’t have a protective steel cage enclosing you in a crash.
But a steel cage works both ways. Driving a car, you are also barred from experiencing you surroundings; gliding along in a quiet cocoon of mechanized comfort, you are also isolated from your neighbourhood, your senses anaesthetized from the sounds and smells of your surroundings.
On a bike you get to live life to the fullest, with nothing coming between your senses and the world around you. Instead of trying to replace the world with a quiet, comfortable mini-environment, you are immersed into life as it is.
Riding your bike, you can stop to chat with a neighbour; pull over at a lemonade stand; smell the lilacs in bloom as you pass by. The slower speed allows you to pay attention to your surroundings more, to notice the shop signs as you go by.
In a car, it is a Big Deal to do these things. Stopping takes a lot more energy. To stop to talk to a neighbour, you have to keep an eye on the rearview mirror in case you are blocking someone, or find a place to pull over and park.
The purest form of cocoon isolationism comes when the car is paired with the automatic garage door opener. Going from the garage at home to the parking garage at work you and your neighbours are shielded from the outside the whole way, never having to see one another, except for the backlog of cars clogging the roads; the trek in from the parking lot to the grocery store; the exhaust of the drive-thru. Instead of sharing a path as you would on a bike, you compete for the remaining parking spaces in a car.
But what about the cold and the rain? The dark? All you need are the right clothes and the right perspective.
I bike year round and I’ve found that there really isn’t any situation that I can’t adapt to. 1
With that in mind I present you with:
Mr. One Wheel Drive’s guide to biking in the rain
With appropriate clothes you can, in essence, make your own mini-cocoon of comfort, selectively isolating yourself from the cold or rain without anaesthetizing all of your senses. There’s no magic to it. Years and years of the free market and technological advances have solved all of your weather problems for you.
In the summer, if it’s raining, there are two things that I worry about: the rain falling from the sky, and the dirty water splashed up by the tires. To protect myself from the former, I bike with an amazing $15 device especially designed to keep you dry, called an “umbrella”. That’s it. Specifically, a Callaway golf umbrella, part of a two-umbrella set sold at Costco. Needless to say, it’s important to use one that can withstand gusts of wind.
I could wear a rain coat, or at the extreme end of the spectrum, a Goretex jacket, but I find that I get too sweaty in these, and am more uncomfortable than I would be if I just got wet from the rain. When it’s colder, between 0 and 10 degrees C, I wear these, and also wear my rain pants if the rain was particularly intense and it’s too cold to wear shorts.
In Europe it’s pretty common to see people biking with umbrellas, but for some reason in Ottawa I haven’t seen anyone else doing this. It’s quite easy to do, and keeps you nice and dry without getting sweaty. I use my right hand mostly to hold the umbrella because the front brake is more effective than the back, unless I’m somewhere that requires more gear changes in which case I switch hands.
Some of you might criticise biking one-handed as being dangerous, but I’ve practised this quite a bit. I can do an emergency stop, pedal standing up, and nearly any other bike manoeuvre one-handed, and feel like I can do it safely in all conditions. Anyways, if things got hairy I wouldn’t hesitate to drop the umbrella and use both hands to steer.
The other thing that I worry about is the water being splashed up by the tires. This water is usually a disgusting mix of water and the filth that builds up on the streets and the gutters. To minimize this I have a good set of fenders that I’ve fitted very closely to my tires, but I’ve accepted the fact that I can not completely avoid getting splashed so I wear shorts and airy running shoes that dry off quickly. If I can, I wipe off my legs when I get to my destination. I learned this the hard way when I wore my white suede shoes and got caught in the rain.
Clothes are important, but having the right perspective can be equally important. You can choose to let rain bring you down, wishing that it was nice and sunny and cursing your clothes getting wet; or you can fully be in the moment with the rain. Think about how important it is for life. Marvel that some of these drops have been floating as vapour in the air since the atmosphere first formed, and are now falling for the first time ever. Some evaporated from the Indian ocean, only to come down again on your arms.
Stop. Take a deep breath. The oxygen molecules that you are inhaling have been around for billions of years. They’ve been breathed in by more people than you will ever meet. The rain isn’t … anything at all. It’s just rain. Soon you will be dry again.
1. If I’m biking with my daughter it gets tricky. If I had a proper bike trailer I think that she could come too in the rain and winter, but exposed to the elements I don’t think that she could handle a long ride and I leave her at home.