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Soggy Cycling Ahead

Tell us how you roll in the rain. Last in our self-propelled summer series featuring the best of Momentum.

Karen Johanson 26 Aug 2011TheTyee.ca

Karen Johanson is a photographer and writer from Washington State. She lists action sports, urban culture and photography as her three primary passions. To find out more about Karen and her work, visit here website here. This article first appeared in Issue 49, Feb. 2011 edition of Momentum.

Headquartered in Vancouver, Momentum is an independent media company that promotes, encourages and inspires smart living by bike. Published six times a year, Momentum Magazine focuses on transportation cycling and bike culture in North America.

[Editor's Note: As we round into the homestretch of a summer that was far too short, many fair-weather cyclists throughout B.C. may be tempted to lock away their bikes until the return of the sun next spring. Though this marks the final installment of our "Self-Propelled Summer," a weekly series of cycle-centric articles from Momentum magazine, we urge you to stay self-propelled whenever and however you can all year round.]

Biking to work or play in winter doesn't have to be a chore. By following a few simple guidelines, you'll get to your final destination rejuvenated and looking fantastic.

Wool keeps you dry even when it's wet. Look for merino wool base layers, hoodies, glove liners, socks and everything else for cold-weather commutes.

Even those sensitive to other wools seem to have success with merino.

Check out thrift stores for wonderful wool options on a budget. Cut sleeves off cashmere and wool tops to create one-of-a-kind arm warmers. Consider repurposing oversized wool sweaters by washing them in hot water, then drying in high heat, to create a "felted" top that fights off wind and rain.

Not too hot, not too cold

Biking is a physical experience, so don't forget that you'll get warmer as you exert yourself. Depending on your speed -- and perhaps the number of hills on your commute -- consider dressing for 5 to 7 degrees higher than the forecast temperature. Always wear layers that you can add or subtract along the way.

Finding outerwear that will keep you dry without turning you into a pool of sweat is essential. Gore-Tex is the most waterproof and breathable option for rainy or slushy days, but also one of the most expensive. Look for anything with a finish labeled "DWR," aka Durable Water Repellent, at your local bike shop or outdoor apparel store -- these materials wick moisture while keeping out the wet and won't take a bite out of your budget. Also look out for taped seams -- waterproofing will get you almost nowhere if rain is seeping in at every seam.

When looking for safety options for your head, consider a helmet that has ear covers, or invest in a helmet liner or cover.

After calculating your needs for performance versus style, decide whether you want neoprene booties over shoes and socks, classic knee-high boots, or funky galoshes. Anyone who commutes in the rain should consider stashing shoes in their bag and sporting bootie-covered shoes for the ride, as it's never fun to slosh around in soggy shoes after arriving at a destination. In a pinch, create gaiters by covering stylish shoes or boots with plastic bags.

Keeping the spray away

Those who have easy access to showers at their destination and/or great rain gear can ignore fenders, but most others will want them to avoid road spray.

Fenders come in three basic varieties. Full fenders are frequently a hassle to install, but keep the vast majority of wetness away from you. Race blades are designed for road bikes; they usually keep most of the moisture away and install in a fraction of the time. Others, most often used for mountain bikes, attach to your front fork or seatpost and are a breeze to install, but don't deflect quite as much wetness.

Especially when using full fenders, buying those designed to fit your wheel circumference and width is crucial -- look on the sidewalls of your tires to see what size your tires are if you're not sure. Some full fenders are compatible with disc brakes. Some come with mud flaps for an added level of protection -- most useful if you're riding with others in a paceline, not so much if you're riding alone.

When choosing messenger bags, backpacks and panniers, look for waterproof (not just water-resistant) materials and padded compartments -- your day clothes, documents and other gear will thank you. Some backpacks and panniers even come with additional rain covers.

And don't forget headlights and taillights for those early-morning and dark-afternoon commutes!

The post-pedal primp

Having showers, lockers and/or bike lockup facilities available at your workplace is definitely a bonus on days when the weather is inclement. If there aren't any where you work, check with your city officials or local bike clubs. They might be able to recommend nearby public or private facilities where bike commuters can prepare for work. Some end-of-trip facilities even have staff who can fix your bike while you're away!

Don't have the shower option? Seattle makeup artist Akemi Hart suggests getting blot papers from your local drugstore's cosmetics section and using them to remove residues and oil, and prime your face. Add a bit of powder, and you're good to go.

Kat Sweet, who spends most of her life on two wheels between mountain biking and teaching kids the joys of cycling, always wears makeup -- liquid liner, shadow and mascara -- then packs backup liner in her bag. Her tools for fending off rain include glasses with clear or yellow lenses, plus a helmet with a visor.

Robin Randels, who shares her expertise about life on two wheels daily as an educator with the Cascade Bicycle Club, has a ton of tips:

• Arrive early to primp.

• Pack a stuffable washcloth or wet wipes for a quick cleanup in the restroom.

• Do your makeup -- lipstick for everyday and shadow, mascara and liner for dates or dancing -- before you go, then touch up when you arrive.

• Stash shoes and accessories in your bag -- or leave them at your desk if you'll be using them after bike commuting to work.

How quickly can Randels transition from year-round cyclist to her other roles?

"I can pretty reliably transform from 'drowned rat cyclist' to 'meeting ready' in about five to 10 minutes, depending on how much rain gear needs to be to removed and the level of posh required. 'Date ready' takes slightly more time, especially if it's a complete costume change."

What are your tips and tricks for biking in a rainy place? Please post a comment below.  [Tyee]

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