Front and rear fenders

Fenders are essential city riding rain gear. I always procrastinate on putting them back on in the fall because it means that Seattle summer is really over and that we have colder, wetter, darker days ahead. But I've never missed my fenders more than when I've gotten caught in the rain without them: mud in my mouth, mud on my back, mud all over my water bottles. And not nature mud—street mud. Gross.

My plastic SKS fenders do a great job reducing mud splatter, though you can get fancier with your fenders if you prefer. Make sure that whichever fenders you go with are compatible with your tire diameter and tire width, and that your bike frame has attachment points for fenders.

Headlight, taillight

Since we have to share the roads with cars who can smush us, we have to do everything we can to increase our visibility in the rain. For rear lighting, I strap a red battery-powered taillight like this one to my rear rack or seatpost.

In the front, I made the switch last year from a rechargeable light that I clamped to my handlebars to a Busch and Muller IQ-X dynamo headlight. The rechargeable light worked well, but the dynamo setup is nothing short of a miracle; by some physics magnet magic, my pedaling generates the electricity that powers the light.

In other words, the light shines as long as I pedal, with no battery replacing or recharging needed. This setup is expensive since it does require a special wheel built around a dynamo hub in addition to the light itself, but I do enough riding in the dark and rain that I've found it to be a worthwhile upgrade. It's also been nice when bike camping to not have to remember to bring a separate light and charger.

Waterproof pannier or backpack

I rode with the the Chrome Urban Ex Pannier for years until the waterproof inner layer peeled off and Chrome mailed me the 2.0 version of the same pannier as a replacement (hey, lifetime warranty!) I seriously love that pannier: fully waterproof with a buckling roll top design like a dry bag; padded laptop compartment; and solid, easy-to-use clips for attaching the pannier to the rear rack.

The one downside was that it didn't have backpack straps, so, off the bike, I would have to carry the bag by its top handle like a briefcase. When I was just commuting to the office, this wasn't a big deal, but when I was meeting people out, I didn't love the briefcase look.

More recently, I've been riding with the Ortlieb Commuter Daypack. Terrible for my back? Maybe. But it has many of the features I loved about my old pannier, with the added bonus that I can wear it out and about.

Waterproof outer layers

Last but not least, let's talk about waterproof clothes. Before I got a rain jacket, I would ride in a cotton sweatshirt and denim jacket. The outer layer of denim would keep me decently dry, but it would get really heavy when wet and then take forever to dry out.

When I decided I wanted to bike through Seattle's rainy season, I got the Showers Pass Elite 2.1 jacket. I love many things about this jacket—its light weight, waterproof chest pocket, reflective stripes, adjustable wrist cuffs—but the most important features to me are the armpit zips and back vent because they allow for airflow. And the thing about waterproof clothes is that they do not let water in but they also do not let air in, so they can quickly get uncomfortably toasty. Venting is essential if you'll be spending a lot of time biking in the rain.

Waterproof pants often don't have the same venting features as waterproof jackets, so it has to be a rain emergency for me to wear waterproof rain pants. I'll also use rain pants as an insulating layer over leggings if it's really cold out, even if it's not raining; they'll trap all my body heat inside and never ever let it out.

In those cases, I've enjoyed the Showers Pass Transit Pants and have also heard great things about the REI Junction Cycling Rain Pants. If it's not pouring when I leave the house, but may start later, I'll roll up my rain pants and pack them in my backpack just in case.

Summing up

So that's my list of essential rain riding gear:

  • Front and rear fenders
  • Headlight and taillight
  • Waterproof pannier or backpack
  • Waterproof outer layers

How do you ride in the rain? Let me know what I missed and share any tips you have in the comments or via email at [email protected].