Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Ready to (rain) Wear 

After 25 years of cycling wet – this is what dry cycling looks like… mostly

Let the French have their Prêt-à-Porter and their Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Let the Yanks Sing in the Rain. I for one would rather ride dry. In almost 25 years of city cycling, I've never really been happy with riding in the rain. Arriving somewhere wet sucks. I tried fenders. Still got wet. I tried head to toe Gore-Tex. Still got wet. I tried fully water proof gear. Got so sweaty I was in fact wet from the inside out.

Then I sort of gave in. You ride. You will get caught in the rain, thus you will get wet. You aren't made of sugar. Man up. Dry out. At best, wear comfortable clothing that dries more quickly.

Years pass and you ride more. Then comes a Spring such as this year when heavy rains are unavoidable. Again I tried rain pants. Still too sweaty and not just dumb looking, but hard to get in and out of. Adding fenders and a chain guard to a single speed bike (see the indispensable Chainglider) takes care of a lot of road water splash. Add cheap gaiters - now the cuff of your pants are drier (or at least clean). Find Rainlegs (I like to think of them as the buttless chaps for the cycling set) which may look odd if you draw attention to yourself but otherwise look like rain pants. You have to sort of "own this look" - walking like a member of a SWAT team helps (not really).

Despite all that, the faux functionality of Gore-tex always bothered me. It was only "breathable" if your heart rate was 140 BPM, and oh yeah, wearing some highly dubious synthetic workout gear underneath, but for everyday wear it always seemed sweaty and not particularly good at keeping the rain at bay. Recently in desperation to avoid perspiration, I picked up a Castelli Leggero jacket. When you're on a four or five hour ride the weather can easily go bad and this was the smallest, lightest jacket I could see. In hindsight I should've bought the smaller, better fitting size as it does get a little on the flappy side, yet this jacket really is the miracle textile it purports to be. The first week I had it, I was caught in the rain 4 times in temperatures ranging from 18°C to 2°C. Yes, you read correctly, that was the range in one week. Welcome to the new normal I guess. Adding to the comfort of being dry with the warmth of merino wool base layers and POW! You've got yourself an all weather cycling solution.
“You ride. You will get caught in the rain, thus you will get wet. You aren't made of sugar. Man up.”
Finally all the technology and best practices have come together in a symphony of worldly biking delights. A light weight wool polo from Ice Breaker and pullover (real merino wool, not acrylic) topped by the Castelli jacket, paired with Rainlegs and gaiters, all of which crumble easily for quick storage make for a warm and dry ride and arrival. My Blundstones are also waterproofed and when worn with merino wool socks – I prefer the thinner ones for running – your toes will be cosy too.

I haven't even mentioned that all of this can be stored in your backpack which also gets its own reflective rain cover which doubles as a beacon while you ride (I have one that when headlights hit it, Russians take cover for fear it is a falling meteorite). What I love about this stuff is once you get somewhere, you shed it and go about your business while not looking like some hiking outfitter knob who just stumbled in from the bush.

There you have it. It only took 25 years, multiple manned space missions and several seasons of sheep shearing to make the most flexible urban wet-weather riding solution. Thankfully, none of this kit is that expensive. The merino polo shirt is the only real "luxury" item but it is amazing. Is it cold out? You'll be warm. Is it muggy? You'll feel dry. And best yet, it remains nearly funk free for ages. You'd have to do some serious sweating to make this shirt smell funky. That alone is worth the savings in antiperspirant. As I write this there's another heavy thunderstorm and it should be like this all week. Better break out the all-weather cycling attack kit and look good doing it.

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