Water from the Sky!

Yesterday I rode off to South Pasadena through the second rain of the season, and the first to fall on a weekday. It wasn’t much of a rain–no doubt in Portland folks would be lying out in it trying to get a tan–but it was actual water falling from the sky, a rarity here, and one that often confuses LA drivers and scares cyclists onto the bus.

Or used to, I must say. I was very happy to see a nearly full complement of bike commuters heading west on Fourth Street as I rode eastwards during the morning rush hour. Not quite so many as I usually see, but nearly so.

I also saw a number of bikes, kitted out for commuting, parked at various locations along Fountain a little later. (These, by the way, are both sharrowed streets, part of the city’s evaluation program that verified the effectiveness of sharrows; see last week’s post for more about that.)

By the time I crossed the LA River, the rain had stopped, and I could take off my jacket. (And so the picture of my bike in the rain at Buster’s Coffee is from sometime last year….)

It’s not hard to ride in rain; bike tires, even slicks, grip pretty well in the wet, and the cooler temperatures mean less or no sweating even on longer rides, such as my 38-miler yesterday. There are some basic accoutrements that help a lot, and I’ll list them (nerdy though some may apear to be), since despite the current La Niña building up in the Pacific, it will rain at least occcasionally over the next three or four months, and there’s no reason you should let it keep you off the bike.

The basics:

  • Lights front and rear
    Even if you don’t ride at night. Rainy days are dark days, and water obscures the windshields of drivers who are often oblivious and incompetent under the best of conditions. Lights stand out better than bright clothing. Steady lights are easier to track than blinkies. Lights are cheap; hospital care isn’t. Use them.
  • Fenders
    Keep filthy road water from being flung up at your clothes and face. Fenders are cheap; walking into work looking as though you just slept in the gutter could be very expensive. Even race bikes can fit fenders; SpeedEZs from Planet Bike work okay, though standard bolt-on fenders work better. The fenders on my Bottecchia weigh less than a pound, total. I keep them on all year, as there’s often liquid on LA streets even in summer, and it isn’t always water.
  • A rain cape or poncho, made for cycling
    The most expensive part of your rain kit, ranging in cost up to several hundred bucks, though good ones are about $100–and you can find cheapass ones for under twenty bucks. They fit over you like a fabric bell, covering doby, head, and hands, as well as most of your legs. If it’s not raining torrentially you don’t even need leg covers.
  • Pocket handkerchief & comb
    You wipe your face with it when you get off the bike, then comb your hair.

That’s it. Flying Pigeon can get you everything except the comb and hankie.

Everywhere else in the civilized world, as the photo from my trip to Japan will show, people ride in the rain. Ordinary people, not bike “enthusiasts,” riding ordinary bikes (which all have fenders), wearing ordinary clothes, often riding ordinary streets. (Maybe the umbrella is a bit much, but it’s pretty common in Tokyo and Osaka.)

If millions of aging clerks can do it without a second thought, then so can you.

I’ll tell you, I think LA is never so beautiful as under rain. Why cut yourself off from that experience because America has trained you to be a weather wimp?

Rain riding is a form of gentle revolution.

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  1. […] who goes through a stop sign; thanks to Mike for the heads-up. Advice on how even Angelenos can ride in the rain. Don’t miss the Velo Cult Bike Swap on November 5th, even though I will, since I’ll be getting […]

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