Photo: Madame de PeLast Friday, it was raining lightly, but that didn’t stop my friend Meghan Sinnott from riding her bike up to the coffee shop where we were meeting at 8 a.m. She arrived looking professional and perfectly put together in a skirt, blazer, and wool jacket.
This is typical of Meghan, a proud non-driver whose job as a social worker requires her to look presentable every day. So her appearance didn’t really register until she revealed she’d just spent the night in a damp park downtown with the Occupy Portland protesters. “I came straight here,” she said matter-of-factly.
What really made my jaw drop, though, was realizing after we’d parted ways that she didn’t even have a raincoat with her.
A few days later, I demanded that she tell me her secrets. She obliged. Here are Meghan’s expert kung fu wardrobe tips for those of you who want to stay fashionable — or at least workplace-presentable — while riding in the rain.
First and foremost, Meghan says, “suck it up and get some fenders.” She’s right. Far worse than any downpour is the rain and road muck that your tires heave up onto your legs, face, and back as you ride — not to mention into the face of anyone unlucky enough to find themselves riding behind you.
Planning your wardrobe is just as important. Judicious investments are key. Wearing technical rain gear can mean getting just as damp from sweat as you would from a light rain, but it can save you from getting drenched in a downpour. Here are Meghan’s suggestions as you find that wardrobe balance:
- Wear black. Or brown. Or dark colors and patterns. Black bottoms don’t show rain and mud and a black top doesn’t show sweat when you get overheated wearing a rain jacket.
- Wear wool if you can. I love my wool tights. They’re not cheap, but you can get them in the off-season on sale, and they’re totally worth it. Guys, go for wool pants. They’re sexier than khakis anyway. Seriously.
- Don’t ever wear cotton in the rain. You’ll regret it for hours. (The stuff takes forever to dry!) Even synthetics are better than cotton if you can’t or don’t wear wool.
- If it’s truly pouring, I accept that I’m going to get wet and go bare legged. I wear shoes that dry quickly (like Crocs or Melissa brand shoes). I dry off MUCH quicker than everyone else! (If you decide to fight it, try some rainboots. I like the Tretorn ones because they’re lined, but you can get any ol’ boots and put some sealant on them and they’ll do the job.)
- A tight cap under your helmet will sop up rain and keep water from trickling through your hair and down your face.
- Invest in a good-lookin’ raincoat! Like the kind you’d wear to walk down the street. You don’t have to look like you’re mountaineering every day.
Once you’ve got the wardrobe, you need to maintain it. “When you get home at night, it’s totally worth hanging your stuff so that it dries properly,” Meghan says, and adds this gem for the olfactorily challenged: “If you’ve worn something for three months and you don’t think it stinks, you’re wrong. Wash it.”
A little TLC for your bike will also help keep you looking good. Nothing will keep your hands clean if you have to deal with a mid-commute chain malfunction. (Nothing, that is, but a pair of rubber gloves tucked away with your bike tools.) But you can prevent such mishaps by storing your bike inside and wiping and re-greasing your chain after riding in the rain.
I think Meghan was as surprised as I was by how much she knows about the subject. Years of experience will do that for you.
And that’s my biggest tip to would-be year-round bike commuters — whether you’re an office worker who has to show up for work looking pressed and starched or a student whose most urgent need is to keep a bag full of library books dry, your best bet for figuring out bicycling quandaries is to look around at what other people are doing. And then ask them about it.
I’ll leave you with this last bit of wisdom from Meghan: She says she always has bus fare with her, just in case it’s that kind of day and she doesn’t feel like swimming home.