Bicycle Astronomy in the Rain

Bicycle Astronomy is not just a fair-weather project. As the second goal of the project it to demonstrate the utility of cargo cycling to the community, it’s important that the bike be seen out there–in the community–as much as possible. And that means rain or shine.

Now, something you need to know about me. I hate wet shoes. I hate being wet in general, in spite of the fact that reasonable evidence suggests I was a swimming fetus for nine months.  I guess I like being in water more than having water on me, in the form of clammy clothes and shoes. Two summers ago, at Capitol Reef National Park in Utah, I took a walk with one of the Rangers down Kane Creek, and when I realized that we’d have to ford through the water in places, I sighed. Lots of memories of hiking in the eastern forests, getting my boots wet, and listening to that squish squish squish for the rest of the day. But in the parched Utah air, my soggy boots were dry after 3o minutes! So I guess I really hate having wet clothes and shoes in a overall soggy environment where even the idea of dryness is a distant memory, like life without cell phones would be for many moderns.

In a wet climate, you start dry, and you have to fight to keep it that way. Lose it, make one false step, and it’s all over until you can get home and change. So, when faced with the prospect of full-time biking rain or shine, I thought a lot about rain gear, and went to some length to put together a workable system to keep the squishes away. And what I have found is that staying dry is possible, and biking in the rain is easy, if a bit fiddly.

The first step in rainy day cycling is to square away the bicycle itself. In rain, fenders are the indispensable accoutrement.  The Yuba Mundo cargo bike comes with fenders as a stock option. I upgraded them to pretty aluminum ones from Velo Orange, but the important thing about fenders isn’t looks but the nice way in which they protect your undercarriage from tire spray. Without fenders, you might as well walk through a car wash.

I would also highly recommend lights. My Mundo has a 6-volt Shimano generator hub on the front tire, which powers a Schmidt Edelux LED headlight and a Toplight Flat S Plus red LED tail light. This is a great system. The headlight is extremely bright. The lights are always on, which is great because I like to run the lights during the day, anything to keep cars from trying to kiss me while I’m riding. And when I stop pedaling there’s a capacitor-powered “standlight” feature that keeps the lights on for up to four minutes. This is useful at traffic lights and even at city parks when I can get much of my telescope set up done in the time the standlight is still running. The downside to this is people are constantly telling me that I left my lights on!

My Mundo also needs some raincoats, too. My Brooks B67, which I have been breaking in for years, came over to the cargo bike from my single-speed, and I added Brooks leather grips. Both need to be protected! The saddle cover is custom made by Randi Jo Fabrications in Elkton, Oregon, and I figure Oregonians know much about rain, except those that live in the high desert.) The grip covers I made myself, from some waxed canvas that will eventually become a pannier system, once I get around to actually sewing it up.

So that’s the bike. It’s ready for a rain adventure!

Now what about the rider? Let’s start from the bottom to the top. First is something to protect my footsies. Remember, no wet feet! I use the Club Shoe Covers from Showers Pass, who also happen to from the wet Northwest. If I know it’s going to be raining, I wear mid-weight soft shell trousers from the nice folks at Swrve. Though I’m generally not a fan of synthetic fabrics (if it’s not wool, it’s crap!), I love these pants. They shed most of the water and dry immediately. An errant cinder from my wood stove put a hole in the thigh that makes me look like a careless smoker, however.

Up top I usually wear a Fjallraven greenland jacket, and a poncho called a “Cleverhood,” made by a nice lady in Rhode Island. I love this thing to an irrational degree. It’s a subtle green plaid. It has two thumb hooks under the front that keep it taught between the handlebars as you ride. It’s big enough to wear with a backpack on. I feel like a 1950s Italian postman when I’m riding. Off-bike, it makes me feel like I’m ready to take out that shield generator on Endor with the help of a furry retinue of muppets. Here is a close up of it and another photo of it in action, on the bike. (Well, staged action. The kickstand was up so I could hop on before the timer on the camera went off.)

It actually keeps most of the rain off my lower half, making the water-resistant trousers not quite as essential. But on a really rainy day, I go all out. The hood on the Cleverhood lives up to its name; it stays on and out of my line of vision. Who knew good design could fix the unruly hood? (It fits over a helmet, too.) Jim at the bike shop warned me that a poncho like this is nice, but could act like a big sail in a cross-wind, toppling me over. I have yet to hit such a cross-wind, and so far I have not gone flying off the bike. I love my Cleverhood, and it’s a reason to keep Rhode Island in the Union in my book.

That’s my rain gear. I hate being wet. This stuff keeps me from having to hear that squish squish sound when I walk and feel cold and clammy in my clothes. And it keeps me on the bike, rain or shine.  It reminds me of the Scandinavian saying “There is no bad weather, only inappropirate clothing.” The Nordics should know, they have forest kindergartens where the students are outside all the time. There is a great video about those here.

So gear up and get on your bike. They work in the rain, too!


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