Winter riding in Portland usually means lots of rain and temps in the 40s. If you’re a dedicated cyclist with any spring or summer plans, you’re going to have to figure out a way to ride in the rain. I’m here to tell you with the right mindset and the right gear, it’s completely doable. It’s not only doable, it can actually be enjoyable.
I can hear the voices now. “Why ride in the rain at all?” I understand not wanting to head out in the rain if you’re a casual cyclist, but if you’re an avid cyclist that lives where it rains, I suggest you push your comfort zone and figure out what you’re willing to deal with. Lik Eskimos, who have 50 words for snow, become a connoisseur of precipitation. Some days are stormy and the rain is horizontal. Some days are occasional light rain and that’s it. What I have realized with practice is that from the comfort of home, looking out the window it all looks the same. It’s not until you head out and feel the weather that you realize what you’re dealing with. Staring at your weather app won’t usually get you out the door.
So, the first step is gear up and head out. Well, actually putting on kit is the second step. The first step is to make yourself a nice cup of coffee and get some good calories in you. I swear by a bowl of oatmeal and an egg, but whatever gets you going, you’re going to burn more calories in the winter, so start with a good foundation and bring plenty of extra calories. My suggestion is to reward yourself in the winter. I once interviewed Cadel Evans after his retirement and asked if he had any tips for up-and-coming cyclists. One of his tips was “The more you eat on the bike and the less you eat at home, the better off you’ll be” I took this to mean it’s best to eat when your body is burning fuel, so don’t limit your calories when you’re working. Also, you’re less likely to overeat at home when you fueled properly during your workout.
Next, let’s talk about proper gear. Proper rain gear means fenders with good coverage and buddy flaps and it means good outerwear, gloves, and overshoes. If you’re going out for a training ride, you’ll be surprised how easy it is to overheat in the winter. Overheating is the enemy in winter because you’ll sweat on the climbs and freeze on the descents. My suggestion to avoid overheating is to start a little cool on a ride. Wear a little less than you think you’ll need. When it’s in the mid-40s to low 50s, I can usually get by with just a long sleeve base layer and a shell. If it’s raining hard, a nice waterproof breathable cap with a bill is essential to keep the rain from pelting your face. Lovely, I know. My recommendation for shoe covers is the true fluorescent color of the P.R.O. Barrier WxB. They’re super bright and provide just enough extra warmth. In addition to the water and cold protection, they have what PEARL iZUMi calls BioViz technology which helps drivers see riders faster.
Two more of my favorites for wet riding are the P.R.O. Escape Thermal Bib Shorts and the ELITE Thermal Leg Warmers. Both use new water shedding PI DRY technology. They add great warmth but are still breathable enough that you don’t overheat easily. For Portland where it rarely gets truly cold, I still prefer the bib shorts and leg warmers combo over tights.
Don’t forget about lights! Winter days are shorter, so there’s a good chance if you keep riding that you’ll end up pedaling home after sunset. Buy a good headlight that is 700 lumens or greater and has the ability to be recharged via USB cable. A good rear ‘blinky’ light is the other part of that equation. Make yourself good and visible. Arrive alive!
Finding the will to ride in the rain is usually a case of mind over matter. It seems worse than it actually is. It’s rare to set out on a ride and have it actually rain the entire time. Like anything hard in life, it takes practice. Start slowly. I suggest starting with a half hour test ride and working up to a two-hour ride incrementally. Be easy on yourself. Some days you just won’t be up for it, and that’s okay. But if you keep with it, I think you’ll enjoy the challenge. There’s something really cool about being one of the only cyclists out on a crappy day. You feel like you have secret powers. You’ll feel like you solved a complex puzzle when you manage two and a half hours in the saddle on what seems like a horrible weather day. Also, lower your expectations in winter. Just because you feel the need to always ride 4 or more hours in the summer, doesn’t mean you need to match that in winter.
Finally, make it fun! Invite friends out, meet for coffee and donuts, cheer each other on as the rain beats down harder. Pretend you’re Andy Hampsten winning stage 14 in the 1988 Giro d’Italia. Endure it together, laugh at each other. It’s not actually suffering because let’s be honest – this is a sport, it’s all completely optional, so if you learn to love the difficult and dark days, you’ll find the long summer days that much sweeter, because you learned something about yourself. When Springtime rolls around, you’ll lead your group because you’ve got the fitness from riding all winter and you’ve been training your mind to deal with foul weather, so you’ll keep rolling when those dark clouds roll in. You’re unstoppable!