Off-Road Rain Riding in Marin or
How I Have Fun On 4 (or more) Hour Rain Rides
In January 1996, I wrote an article, for the Grizzly Peak Cycling (GPC)
newsletter, called "Cats and Dogs", about bike riding in the rain. It
mostly about road riding in the rain. (it is copied below, after this
article for anyone interested).
Now, it is 10 years later, and I thought I would go back and review that
article, and see what changes, in clothing and equipment, I now use for
mountain bike rain rides.
Ten years ago I wrote: "Of course the secret to enjoying riding in the full on conditions of a January rain storm is careful planning and
preparation. However, low IQ, poor interpersonal skills, dysfunctional
family life, boring meaningless work, lack of indoor hobbies, also can
helpful in getting you out the door on your bike when the rain is coming
down in buckets."
Yeah, that still is true.
Anyway here are some things that work for me for day long rain rides
off-road in Marin:
Front and rear fenders are a must. Disc brakes are great in the rain.
lube I like something really heavy, made for wet conditions. I know
experienced riders who like 10W30 motor oil on their chains, to prevent
chain suck. What ever you use, put it on thick, and then bring a bottle
along for the ride to put on again.
Mt. Tam, and most of Marin's fire roads, and legal singletrack, drain
well, and are good for riding, however your choice of route is
Riding up Tam and going down Railroad on a rainy day is an example of a
poorly chosen rain route. The weather is generally worse at higher
elevations, and long downhill's, especially on something like Railroad,
because it is so easy, your speed is high, just makes you cold. I like
chose a route that stays lower on the mountain, with many shorter ups
downs. Also, it is easy to bail if you get chilled or miserable. For a
stop I like West Point Inn (closed this winter for renovation) or a
coffeehouse in Mill Valley, or store in Lagunitas.
I have found that doing a 3 plus hour ride in the rain, it is just about
impossible to stay dry. However, it is possible to be comfortable, not
cold or hot. This is what works for me, starting from the top and
1. Baseball Cap Under Helmet- this adds warmth, and keeps the rain off
face. I also carry in my pack a ski hat and balaclava. Both weigh very
little, and when I get chilled, or stop, they are great to have.
2. No Glasses- they just fog up and get wet. If you have a front fender
works, otherwise you will probably get stuff in your eyes.
3. Base Layer- I like the Pearl Izumi tank top. Adds warmth, with little
4. Wool Short Sleeve Jersey- Yeah, wool, the new miracle fiber that has
around for 500 years or so. Lycra is crappy in the rain. The downside
modern wool is the high price ($85 or more for a well made jersey) and I
have had a problem with durability. The upside is that it can keep you
when wet. My favorite rain jersey is an all wool short sleeve made by
Kucharik. I also wear a lightweight vest.
5. Arm Warmers- I use the BTCEB arm warmers made by Defeet. They are
than the standard lycra arm warmers I have used before.
6. Gortex Jacket- Gortex is completely waterproof. Yeah, and Iraq had
weapons of mass destruction. I have had over 8 Gortex jackets in my
and none are waterproof. The spray on stuff doesn't work very well
Still, the best thing to have on a rain ride.
7. Gloves- Nothing works too well in the rain. I have tried several
"waterproof" models, all crap. Wool gloves from Walgreens, costing $7
as well as anything in the rain. I bring two pairs of gloves on a rain
A light pair for the first half of the ride, and then a heavier pair
second half of the ride, when I am soaked and tend to be colder. If you
of a brand and style that works for a long rain ride, I am interested.
(Wetsuit gloves are not the answer.)
8. Bib Shorts- I like the extra material on my lower back that bibs
better than regular bike shorts.
9. Rain Pants & Tights- My favorite item for a rain ride is an old pair
wool tights by Pearl Izumi. When I use them I don't need rain pants,
don't care for. Unfortunately, my wool tights are small on me, and not
comfortable anymore, so I go with regular lycra tights, and a very light
rain shell pant cover. Works fair.
10. Feet- Bike shoes are all about ventilation, and are not suitable for
winter riding. It is like walking in the snow in sneakers. About 8
I bought winter riding shoes, and use them from Nov to March. Several
are available- Lake, Northwave, Sidi, etc. Everyone I know, who has
winter shoes has been very happy with them, so the brand doesn't matter
much. I bought a pair that was very roomy, and wear wool ski socks for
winter ride. For a rain ride, I wear gortex socks over the wool, and
that my feet can stay dry for about 3 hours or so, and then, even when
I am still comfortable. (Booties, work for road riding. They are not
suitable for mtn bike riding. The problems include traction and
11. Gaitors- I had knee-high gators from backcountry skiing, and tried
for rain rides. They work great--they help keep your shoes drier, they
reduce wetness on the lower part of your leg, and keep water from
down into your boots. The downside is that I look like a dork. So it
If you have a pair from skiing, try it on the bike in the rain, and you
be happy with them.
12. Backpack- In the winter I use a large size Deuter pack, that has a
in frame, that can hold all the extra clothing I bring. It has an
rain cover as well. To keep the weight down, I don't bother with a water
bladder in the winter. My water needs are so much less than in the warm
weather, I find a couple of water bottles on my bike is fine. So, my
larger than most, but actually weighs less than my friends.
A. Garbage Bag- I like to change after a ride, and put all my muddy, wet
clothes in the bag.
B. Towel- for changing after the ride
Of course, what works for me, and my style of riding, will not be
for everyone. I would be interested to hear what other riders find work
For anyone who cares, this is the article I wrote 10 years ago about
CATS AND DOGS
by Danny Forer
Liberating. That is the word I would use to describe bike riding
the rain. Not so much the ride itself, but the freeing of yourself
whims of weather. I used to feel hostage to weather conditions. I
wake up on a Sunday with a ride planned, and if it was raining all my
would be canceled and it would turn into a ³Macyıs Day². (That is a day
boring that the highlight is reading the bra ads in the Sunday Macyıs
Now my rides are on regardless of the weather. No more rain
in my own personal ride descriptions. Of course the secret to enjoying
riding in the ³full on² conditions of a January rain storm is careful
planning and preparation. However, low IQ, poor interpersonal skills,
dysfunctional family life, boring meaningless work, and lack of indoor
hobbies, also can be helpful in getting you out the door on your bike
the rain is coming down in buckets.
So based on years of riding in the rain, as a 7 year everyday bike
commuter during the wet winters of the 80ıs, and numerous single and
multi-day tours, here are some of my suggestions for other cyclists who
to cast off their chains (and Kryptonite locks) to the all powerful
Good Weather, and experience the freedom of all weather bike riding.
First a small digression. The most inspirational example I saw of
cyclists riding in ³full on conditions² was a February night a couple of
years ago. I was in Manhattan, on the Upper East Side. A snowstorm had
just moved in and there was about 5² on the ground. It was snowing
and more was expected. Making conditions even worse was the cold and
wind. It was about 8pm, and the streets were deserted of cars, but
were lots and lots of delivery boys (men) on bicycles taking Chinese
all the Yuppies who didnıt want to leave the warmth and comfort of their
apartments to go out for dinner. These guys were wearing sneakers and
jackets and seemed to be doing ok as they rode through the snow. No
booties, no Thinsulate jerseys, no high tech bike wear or cycle
Just a positive attitude and a job to be done. I keep them in mind
think the weather is too bad to go out in.
Safety-- The guy in Volvo with the underpowered defroster and the
blades that have not been changed since the Carter administration can
barely see the road, and most definitely canıt see you. Rain riding
requires brightly colored clothes and quiet road. Also your brakes
work. Bike brakes in the rain are like Rollerblade brakes, they just
you down, they donıt stop you. I have had times where I pressed the
as hard as I could and by the time I came to a complete stop I was in a
different area code. Try to ride around objects in your way, or jump
them. So, ride safely and attentively and anticipate problems before
occur. Activities suggested in this article are for professionals
donıt forget this sentence when/if you get hurt and think about legal
action against this well meaning author.
The Bike--I know titanium canıt rust, but the best plan is to have
rain bike. Mine is an older non-suspended mtn bike with fat boy tires.
is great. Rule number 1- Never, ever, clean a rain bike. If you do
you will end up spending more time cleaning the bike than riding. Just
marinate bike in WD 40 at the end of the ride and let it be. I like a
bike for a road ride in the rain because I like having a wider tire on
road, the cantilever brakes offer some advantages over road brakes
note safety above), and less chance of flats. In rain rides the roads
often covered in debris and the stability of this type of bike canıt be
beat. This is not a ride that will be entered into your log as a
record for your average speed. This is a ride to enjoy the outdoors,
get exercise, and to get away from the ones you love.
Accessories--If you can put on fenders on the bike do it. I use
detachable fenders--Backscracher for the rear and Splash Guard for the
front. The Backscracher is fabulous, and the Splash Guard is somewhat
helpful. Both are cheap and take less than 1 minute for this
challenged person to put on and remove. Your comfort on a rain ride
increase dramatically with fenders.
Clothing--This advice is based on what has
worked for me.
very personal (just look at my son who likes to wear pants with the
below his knee) and follow your own instincts and pocketbook. The goal
course is to be comfortable. You will get wet. I think it is
no matter how much you spend or what you wear to be dry on a 2 hour
rain ride. You get wet from either the rain on the outside or sweat on
inside. I have been able to be comfortable for long rain rides with the
right clothing. I start with basic bike clothes of shorts, long sleeve
jersey ( go Pearl Izumi) and tights. I like my Gortex shell top and
pants. The company that makes Gortex claims it is waterproof and
Right, and OJ is looking for the real killers. But it seems to work OK
me. It is very wind resistant and that is important. Under my helmet
wear a baseball cap. I have been telling friends how good this works,
keeping rain off my face and providing extra warmth, and absolutely no
has followed my advice. Nada. No one. I want to maintain my perfect record
in this regard, so please ignore this brilliant suggestion, and keep
hatless, but this is the best tip for clothing in the rain. For hand
comfort I bring two pairs of gloves, both heavier than I would be
not raining. The important thing is hand warmth, donıt worry about
resistant, none are. I like the lobster gloves from Performance. On my
feet I wear full booties. Donıt mess with the half toe kind, your feet
be underwater and squishy very quickly and you need warmth. Wool
you can fit them in your shoes are also a good idea. I also bring
heavy weight jersey as well. To carry all this I ditch my fanny pack
instead carry a light day pack. If the weather does clear, which is
unlikely, usually it just gets worse, the pack can easily hold my
extra gloves, extra jersey, etc. I also wear clear glasses which keeps
the debris on the road from getting in your eyes.
Route--In full on conditions I have ridden in downtown SF, route 1
the Coast near Gualala, off road on Bo Ridge and Pt. Reyes, climbs up
Sonora Pass and Tunitas Creek, and a 70 mile ride from Freemont to
However, a good idea is to choose a route that has little car traffic,
numerous bailout points. Avoiding ridges or summits is a good idea as
wind can be intense on these rides. For me a Tilden Park ride from my
has been an excellent storm ride. There is almost no traffic (none on
closed South Park), and it is easy at any point to come to my senses
bag it and go back home. Being out in the rain in place like Tilden
wonderful. The park is never more alive than at these times. Streams
flowing, trees bending in the wind, smells of nature more intense than
times. It is a great time to be out there. Make sure to say hello to
hikers and dog walkers. You will find everyone to be extra friendly,
the shared camaraderie of survivors of disaster.
After Ride-- Your friends, family, co-workers, will all be
you are crazy when doing a ride in a downpour. Nothing ruins a good
ride like ending up in a locked unit of a local psychiatric hospital,
against your will, under State Statute 5150, as a danger to yourself or
others. So it is important to tell everyone that it was a horrible
and that you will never do that again. Try to not smile when saying
Then go directly to the washing machine. Take off every item of
until you are standing naked (only do this if you live with friends).
Start it on gentle setting. You want to make sure you have everything
and dry for the next time it rains.
January 28, 1996