Question of the Day: What is the Best Bicycle Rain Gear for Commuters?

Rain gear vs. rain cape: My first fashion advice post in the history of this blog.

Recently, a friend of mine started commuting to work by bike. (That’s one more Nashvillian down, another 691,242 to go.) As it had been raining in Nashville for the past 40 days and 40 nights, he texted me to ask if I had a suggestion regarding rain gear. After trying to answer with a text message (something like, “just enjoy getting wet”), I realized that bicycle rain apparel is a highly personal and technical topic. Not quite up there with whether or not wear a helmet (I do), but still an existential matter that can’t be addressed in anything less than a few hundred words.

So here we go.

First, follow my grapefruit rule

No matter what style or brand of rain gear you get, you should be able to compress it into a nylon bag the size and shape of a grapefruit. That way, you’ll put it in one of your pair of yellow Ortlieb bike bags (or “panniers” ) and always have it handy. Now that I think of it, everything you have when cycling to work (except a laptop) should be able to compress into something the size and shape of a grapefruit (even better, a tangerine).

Rain cape or rain gear?

I. What is a rain cape? 

In Britain, the word “cape” means “expensive poncho.” As in, “Those Yanks will pay twice as much for a poncho if you call it a cape.”

Option #1 Rain Cape | Brooks | $120-$160 

| Brooks Cambridge Rain Cape |

I have a Brooks rain cape. Before doing ten minutes of google-research for this post, I  thought my Brooks cape was ridiculously expensive.

However,  my wife gave it to me as a birthday gift and threatened to divorce me if I ever again used a Hefty 55-gallon leaf bag (sometimes called, a Tennessee rain cape).

Brooks is the British brand of a company that makes leather “saddles” (which translates into American as, “expensive seats”).

Some people think Brooks saddles are over-rated and too expensive. As I’ve used a Brooks saddle for the last 5,000 miles or so, I have discovered that after about mile 4,000 of getting broken in, the value of a Brooks saddle starts revealing itself.

On the other hand, a Brooks “cape” seems to me to be a licensing deal with an Italian company — not something that is manufactured by Brooks. Nevertheless, it can keep a person dry in most situations. While I haven’t been in most bicycle situations many times, I have been in nearly every bicycle commuting situation at least once. For example, since my commuter bike (Jamison) is made of steel, I try to avoid the situation of lightning. (It only took one near miss.) Because my Brooks cape has kept me dry but not sweaty, I think it would be a good option, unless I was from Rhode Island (see next cape option).

Option #2 Rain Cape as a Lifestyle Brand | Cleverhood | $250

Note to my friend who asked for advice about rain gear. Don’t look at the rain cape on the right. I’ve advised people not to pay this much for bikes. But when you click over to Cloverhood, you’re going to discover they are a Providence, RI, product. As you are also a Rhode Island product, perhaps you know someone who knows someone. Ask for the RI native discount. There can’t be that many of you from such a small state. Perhaps they are having after summer sale?

II. Rain Gear

Rain gear is for serious lobstermen and all-weather bike commuters. It comes in various colors (black and yellow) but should always be yellow. According to this article in a long-ago Bangor Daily News about what real lobstermen wear, Tom Martin of Mackerel Cove on Bailey Island starts his day on the docks in $5,289 of lobsterman gear.

As this Flickr album will prove, I am no stranger to Bailey Island and the humor of its natives. (A native being someone who has at least two great-grandparents who were born there.) I can only imagine that Tom Marting of Mackerel Cove is still laughing that a “not from here” writer believed him when he said his rain gear cost $5,289.

However, I do suggest that New Englanders try out traditional lobster-person rain gear in the way I imagine real Mainers get theirs — as cheaply as possible.

Option 1 | Find some lobsterman gear in a garage sale and make up a story about it being the only thing to survive the Andrea Gail back during the “perfect storm” of 1991 — perhaps you found it after it floated to shore near Gloucester, Mass.

Option 2 | Turns out (according to Google) that there is Louis Vuitton rain gear that cost thousands of dollars; perhaps for those Mainers (or more likely, New Porters) who own a  Hinckley Picnic boat.

Option 3 | Or, (and this is my actual advice) Search for “Commercial Rain Wear” on Granger.com (like an industrial REI). They have hundreds of yellow rain stuff priced from little to a lot.

Bicycle Commuting Calculator

How to save $2,000 in commuting and parking expense each year.

For the past five or so years, the phrase “transportation and fun (but not exercise*)” has been my standard answer to the question, “Why do you commute to work on your bike”?
 
After checking out this Kiplinger “bike commuting calculator,”** I’ve decided to add, “to save $2,000 a year” to the list.
 
*I’ve found that calling something “exercise” sucks all the joy out of it.
 
**While their methodology for calculating upkeep and bike depreciation seems accurate, they don’t include the cost of the baseball (or playing) cards you’ll need to motorize the back wheel spokes of your bike. Confused? See: “spokecard” (https://goo.gl/MdLc1y) Gallery of 500+ spoke cards: (https://www.flickr.com/groups/spokecards/)

Slowly, but Surely, Rollng Towards a Bike-Friendlier Nashville

My passions these days include doing what I can to make Nashville a city for people who walk and people who ride bicycles

Recently (4.11.2016), I took this photo of about 30 representatives of various Nashville bicycle tribes. Walk Bike Nashville organized a “round-up” of them held at Yazoo Brewery. Good job, Walk-Bike Nashville. Good beer, Yazoo. (Unsolicited shout-out: Try their Daddy-O Pilsner.) I was at the gathering representing Mayor Barry’s Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee.

The group represented many different bike-related organizations, ranging from non-profits, to various types of cycling enthusiasts (roads, off-road, commuters, slow-riders, night riders) to people who own pedal-propelled businesses — from shops to bike-tour businesses to food delivery services to the owner of Pedal Pub (although, I guess, technically-speaking, it’s not a “bicycle,” but it is powered by pedals ).

Each person who wanted to could spend five minutes talking about what their company, non-profit, advocacy group, public agency does. One after another, I heard some very inspiring stories about groups who have done various things, ranging from helping to build many of the off-road bike trails in Middle trails to learning more about one of my heroes, the quietly inspiring Dan Furbish of the Oasis Center Bike Workshop.

My passion for bicycling is focused on transportation, recreation and travel. It’s amazing to meet others who love bikes but who express their passion in so many different ways and that have so many different positive outcomes.

635967579643256482-IMG-2290One day, when Nashville completes what’s necessary to have the walking/biking infrastructure necessary to make people feel safe, I’ll be appreciative to the folks I’ve met in the past three years who have, in often quiet ways, done so much to create the foundation that’s necessary to build a great bicycling/walking town.

Which brings me to an announcement Nashville Mayor Megan Barry made earlier this week and that is covered in this Tennessean story.

As my passions these days include doing what I can to make Nashville a city for people who walk and people who ride bicycles — as well as people who drive cars — these kinds of projects regarding specific locations and time-frames for development are what is needed to convey to Nashvillians why I’m optimistic about the future. (Impatient, but optimistic.)

A New Rule: Re-mojo Your Bike After Every Time a Car Knocks You Down

The weather finally being nice, I got to test out my newly re-mojo’d bike…and it is great.

On December 1 of last year, I was knocked down by a car’s side-view mirror while riding my bicycle home from work (and no, the car didn’t stop but a wonderful good samaritan did). While I was scratched and bruised, the major injuries were invisible: a concussion that wiped out a couple of hours of my memory and what turned out to be–although I didn’t realize it until a couple of months of denial–a chipped-off bone in my left hand that required surgery and a wire that’s still inside my left ring finger.

But enough about me.

It was my bike I was concerned about. While I’ve ridden it several times since  December 1, it just didn’t seem to have its mojo. Read more “A New Rule: Re-mojo Your Bike After Every Time a Car Knocks You Down”

Riding a Bike in Cold Weather is Like Cross-country Skiing on Wheels

ortlieb-pannsI rode my bike into work yesterday (Thursday, Jan. 2). It was raining lightly and the temperature was around 40. It’s fairly easy and not terribly expensive to have the necessary gear to layer up for such a ride. The most expensive thing for me is a pair of Ortlieb Front Roller Classic bags (panniers)–what I use to make sure my Macbook Air (which I also slide into a gallon-size Zip-lock bag), camera, and clothes all stay dry.

By the time I was ready to head home, it was dark and the temperature was 25 degrees with a windchill of around 12. That’s my weather threshold for riding (nothing below 25), but I decided not to use the handy Nashville MTA #5 Bus with its front bumper bike racks and friendly driver who is always willing to stop and let me off a block from my home, despite it not being an official stop. (Sidenote for Nashvillians: MTA busses will also pick you up if you flag them down where there is not an official stop.)

Whenever I ride in such cold or rainy weather, I get the feeling people driving by think I’m nuts–even more than when they see me riding in normal weather. But the fact is, riding in such weather is about as close to cross-country skiing as you can get if there is no snow.

If you take care of your extremities and have the right gear, it is invigorating and a whole lot of fun–and you don’t have to fly north or west to enjoy it.

Unfortunately, we don’t have a mountain range in Nashville to provide the scenery one can enjoy in the Rockies. That is, unless you count the range called the Green Hills.