When I first moved to Juneau, everyone was quick to give advice on surviving the weather. Suggestions ranged from planning a trip someplace warm to taking up knitting. But by far the best advice came from the woman who signed me up for electric service at AEL&P. As she filled out my paperwork, she gave me a kind, knowing smile and said, “Just be sure to go outside, no matter how hard it’s raining.”
During my first week at my new job I had a grace period of warm dry weather. But on Monday of week two, I woke to sheets of rain in the channel. With the words “no matter how hard it’s raining” still fresh in my mind, I put on my rain gear, rolled my bike out the door and headed to the office. Much to my delight, biking to work that morning wasn’t just tolerable – it was fun! Because I was on a bike, I was able to stop and admire the dramatic clouds in the channel as I crossed the bridge. Although it may have rained over an inch that day, my rain gear kept me warm and dry. A slow, steady pace kept me from getting sweaty, and I arrived feeling alert and ready for the day.
If you waited for sunshine to go outside in SE Alaska, you would be waiting a long time. To the new cyclist, riding a bike in the rain sounds downright miserable. But with a few key gear upgrades and a small amount of extra caution, riding in the rain can be as comfortable and fun as riding on a sunny day. There is no need to sacrifice the many benefits of bicycling just because of a little liquid sunshine.
Here are a few things to consider as you prep for your next rainy day ride:
More than any other item, fenders will dramatically improve your quality of life during rainy day rides. Fenders protect you from the water and grime spraying up from your wheels. Just take a look at the cars around you this time of year – many are so covered in filth you can barely see through the windows. That same filth will cover you while you ride if you don’t shield yourself from it with fenders. They also help to protect your bike from dirt and grit, which wear down your gears.
Even if you think you will never ride in the rain, fenders are still a good idea. If it rained the night before, the ground will still be wet, and your tires will still throw road water up at you. Get yourself some fenders. Your feet, face and back will thank you.
Rain Jacket and Pants
Chances are good, fellow Juneau-ite, that you already have a good set of rain gear handy. Whatever you use for walking, hiking, or even fishing can work for cycling too. The important thing is that it be waterproof, and layer well over warm undergarments. Everyone has their own preference, ranging from stylish rain capes, to brightly colored GoreTex layering systems, to waxed cotton jackets and pants. If you are in the market for something fancy, there are plenty of companies out there that make rain clothing specifically for cycling. Ideal features in waterproof apparel for your bike are breathability to keep you from sweating and getting soaked from the inside, and extra coverage in the back to keep sneaky raindrops out.
Waterproof Gloves and Shoes
Your extremities will get cold more easily than your core, and need a little extra protection to stay comfortable while riding. Many blog posts out there advocate for warm gloves. I prefer completely waterproof ones. Typical winter cycling gloves, like the neoprene pair I wore for years, turn into a cold soggy sleeve in heavy rain, and once saturated they take too long to dry. Investing in a good pair of waterproof gloves will keep your hands warm and dry in the morning, and they will be dry when you go to put them on for the ride home. You can wear liners inside the gloves for an extra layer of warmth that will also help to wick moisture.
As for shoes, every SE Alaskan has a bombproof pair of rainboots in their closet, which function perfectly as a waterproof cycling shoe. Even with fenders, your feet and shins will get soaked without the protection of a good boot. Ladies, many of you also have some stylish boots that will function perfectly for this purpose.
Chances are good you will have a few things to bring with you to work, and you’ll want them to stay dry during your commute. Waterproof backpacks, messenger bags, and panniers are readily accessible at many outdoor gear shops, and are extremely effective at keeping their contents dry. I have found that a waterproof bag is a solid investment for life in general, and I am often grateful for mine, whether I am going on a rainy day hike or waiting for the bus. A less elegant but cheaper solution is to line the inside of your bag with a garbage bag.
Remember those muddy car windows? The ones with the failing windshield wipers smearing dirt across the glass? Envision that driver as you prepare for your ride. A bright blinking red tail light and a white headlight, even in the daytime, will make you more visible.
Unless your bike is equipped with disc brakes, it will take longer for you to come to a full stop in the rain, when your brake pads are wet. Give yourself extra stopping room.
Puddles, Grates, and Paint
In a fresh rain, metal manhole covers, rain grates, and painted stripes on the road become slippery. When crossing over these potential hazards, keep your wheel straight. Avoid crossing them while you are turning a corner, or your wheel may slip. Puddles are another hazard to watch out for. Beneath the placid surface of even a small puddle could be a deep pothole, broken glass, or some other unknown hazard. Even if it is tempting to splash right through, try to avoid them.
For the times when your headlight battery runs out, your tire goes flat, or you are caught without the proper gear, you can always take your bike on the bus. Every Capital Transit bus in Juneau is equipped with racks that can accommodate two bikes.
by Sarah Bronstein