Biking in the Rain with a Kid
Our family doesn't own a car, so when it rains we often have to still ride our bikes. This sometimes can present challenges when riding with a kid. The rain has returned, at least temporarily, in the Bay Area. So we got out our waterproof outerwear for the rides to school and back. Here is how we bike in the rain.
What we do (for the adults)
I've been bike commuting to school/work for nearly 20 years now, and my bikes and gear have evolved considerably. Here is my current setup for biking in the rain:
On the Bike
- Fenders: I have the type that mount to eyelets on the bike and cover a lot of the wheel. Some of the temporary solutions work ok, but it's nice having more wheel coverage. I highly recommend using fenders when riding a bike in the rain.
- Waterproof panniers:I biked with non-waterproof pannier bags for a while. My work clothes got wet almost every time. It was nice to switch to waterproof panniers. I usually ride with an Ortlieb pannier on the rear rack.
- A change of clothes: I bring a set of "regular" clothes in the pannier to change into once I reach my destination
- Waterproof breathable jacket: I like having a waterproof breathable jacket. Pit zips and adjustable cuffs are important. I can get warm pretty easily, and the cuffs and pit zips help me adjust air flow. Showers Pass makes some nice waterproof, breathable bike jackets.
- Waterproof breathable pants: Waterproof pants made a big difference. In medium to heavy rain, I'd end up soaked from the waist down if I didn't have waterproof pants. Rain water falls on your thighs and splashes up from your tire and fenders near your pant cuffs.
- Waterproof socks / shoes: I went on a memorable ride through Golden Gate Park in the rain a number of years ago. I was wearing waterproof shoes, because I had anticipated the rain. This worked out poorly. The shoes were indeed waterproof, but water ran down my legs into the shoes. I felt like I had two fishbowls on the pedals. Neoprene waterproof socks (The SealSkinz are nice and quite comfortable) make riding in the rain much more comfortable. Having waterproof pant cuffs that prevent water ingress into your shoes helps a bunch too.
- Waterproof bike gloves: Some of the bulkier gloves make shifting and braking difficult. I prefer neoprene waterproof gloves, and have a pair from Sealskinz. Showers Pass also makes nice neoprene waterproof gloves. The thin ones aren't as warm, but do a good job of keeping your fingers from getting too wet.
- Waterproof cap: This isn't totally necessary, but I have a waterproof cycling cap that I wear under my helmet. It is also from Showers Pass as well.
For the kid
We're still figuring out what works best for the kid, but here is what we do currently.
On the bike
- Fenders: Our child rides a 20" bike now. There are some dedicated fenders that exist, especially for folding bikes. It looks like our bike has eyelets for fender mounting. I wasn't sure how biking in the rain would go at first, so I opted for cheap fenders made of flexible plastic. The zip tie to fork legs and the seat stays. They work okay for the price. They cost about $10. I don't love them, but they get the job done.
On the kid
- Poncho or raincoat: We have a bright high-vis waterproof raincoat that is by the kind people at Charlies Coat. It was brighter and more reflective than it is currently until our daughter embarked on a painting activity while wearing the jacket. Now black and brown paint spots cover it. smh. We also have a poncho, which is a bit less comfortable but provides more leg coverage and packs smaller. We have alternated between using the two.
- Boots / galoshes: These are nice for keeping feet dry, but we have problems with them slipping on the pedals. Maybe this is just a matter of everything being wet. Wet sneakers would probably slip on the pedals also.
And of course we carry a change of clothes for our kid just in case it's needed.
Rainy Day Attitude
Riding in the rain can be cold, wet, and miserable, or it can be an exciting adventure where you brave the elements. We try to keep it fun and encourage our kid to make and follow water trails, and to ride through puddles and "rivers" of water near the curb.
It does not feel great to have cold rain drops ping your eyeballs, but there is a neat feeling of invincibility that you can feel when fully decked out in waterproof gear in a downpour.
Other things we want to try for biking in the rain
- Waterproof bag: If your kid likes to carry stuff, they might already have a bag on their bike. We have a top tube bag that is not waterproof. I had forgotten about this, and we twice went biking in the rain. I ended up cleaning out soggy bandaids, napkins, granola bar wrappers, rocks, sticks, leaves, and plastic beads the next day.
- Proper kid big fenders: I still have to check for eyelet compatibility here, since most fenders for 20" bikes are made for folding bikes that have fender eyelets.
- Cleverhood: A poncho-like rain cape for riding a bike in the rain.
Things that didn't work
- Waterproof shoe covers: I tried two versions of these. The first ones were too hard to fit onto my shoes, and still could leak. I tried a larger version that looked like astronaut boots, and those were too bulky to work well. I only used them once.
This list is evolving, as we've only just had the first heavy rain of the year. Hopefully there'll be more opportunities to test our setup.