When we first started bike touring, a friend gave us 3 words of advice for rainy days: “Gore-tex. Gore-tex. Gore-tex.”
Wise words indeed. Good waterproof equipment is essential for cycling in the rain. Of course, no one really plans on bike touring in wet weather but unless you’re going to the Sahara, chances are you’ll encounter at least a little drizzle.
Here are our equipment recommendations for wet weather bike touring in cooler climates. We assume your bike already has fenders or mudguards and that you have waterproof panniers like Ortliebs or rain covers for your bags.
Gore-tex Jackets and Rain Pants – We invested in Gore-tex for our 3-year world trip. Friedel got the Ladies Power jacket (£194.67 on Wiggle) and Andrew picked an older model from the sales racks at a sports store. We both bought waterproof pants made of Gore-tex Paclite material. It was an expensive up-front cost but the quality paid off. The jackets and rainpants were light, compact and they lasted the entire trip – saving us from being wet on many rainy days and insulating against cold and wind on more occasions than we can count. The jackets eventually suffered too much UV damage to be useful and we threw them out at the end of the trip but the pants are still in excellent shape. We expect them to last a few more years yet.
Sealskinz Waterproof Socks – Before we started cycling, we didn’t know waterproof socks existed. When we bought our Sealskinz Thermal Socks (£18 on Wiggle) it was a revelation. You can cycle happily in the rain for hours and even if your shoes get soaked, your feet stay beautifully dry and warm. When we pulled these on in the tent at night after a long, damp day it felt as good as putting our feet up next to a fire – they were that soft and insulating.
Shower Cap – The next time you’re in a hotel, grab a free shower cap or two for your bike touring arsenal. A shower cap can cover your saddle when you’re off the bike, so you never have to start riding with a wet bottom. It also fits nicely over your helmet and keeps your head dry.
Sunglasses – It seems odd to recommend sunglasses for riding in the rain but they are essential for keeping water out of your eyes as well as the cold wind that often comes with wet cycling. Sunglasses can be a mixed blessing. Sometimes they fog up or so much water collects on the lenses that you have to pull over and clean them off. Overall though, we feel it’s better to have sunglasses than to not have them. You can also use clear glasses, if you feel sunglasses will be too dark. Keep a bandana handy to wipe away the drips. More about sunglasses for a bike tour.
Tarp – This is one for the campers. If you’re planning a long trip that might involve more than a handful of rainy days, get a tarp. It easily doubles your living space, which means you can spend wet days outside doing things like reading, cooking and socialising with friends instead of feeling increasingly claustrophobic inside your tent. We got the Hilleberg XP10 and we loved the extra room it gave us, as well as some unexpected bonuses, like the ability to collect rainwater off the tarp. This meant bottomless cups of tea in situations where we would otherwise have had a limited supply of water.
*These recommendations are for cycling in cooler climates. If you find yourself in the tropics, we say embrace the rain! Get soaked. Have fun. Normally in places like Thailand, the sun soon comes out again and in any case, it’s so humid that you’ll only sweat until you’re soaked in rain gear anyway. In these types of climates, a poncho can sometimes be useful.