How to Prepare for Rain

We are right smack in the middle of springtime in the Pacific NorthWest and coastal British Columbia, and as many of us know, that means it’s bike season, but it’s also rain season. But, as mountain bikers, we don’t need to stress – riding in the rain can be a ton of fun, if you’re properly prepared.

We at Dirt Series are rain or shine riders – where appropriate. If there is a camp planned, in a location that permits rain riding (keep reading to learn more on how we decide), we are out having a blast!

We’ve created this article as a resource for you to feel comfortable at a Dirt Series camp if it’s going to be wet, but also to use on your own ride days when you are unsure if you should go out or not. While this is not a comprehensive how to, or what to do article, it is a recommendation that we use ourselves, and hope it can help you feel confident about your decision of when to ride, or when to call it a day.

Trail Conditions: When to ride and when to avoid the trails

Many trail areas in the PNW, and coastal British Columbia, are used to the constant winter and early spring rain, and as a result, trails are built in areas that can drain properly, and on soil types that are appropriate for wet conditions recreation. 

Not all trails are built equal, and ensuring that your network is ok to ride in the rain is the first thing you need to do before you go out. Checking in on apps like MTB Projects and Trailforks is a good first step, and second, we suggest checking in with your local trail network / society to see if they have posted anything about conditions of the trail.

If your area is a heavy clay base soil, it’s likely that you won’t be able to ride in the rain. Clay turns into a peanut butter like consistency, and it can quickly destroy the hard work of our trail builders, and needs to be avoided until it has dried out sufficiently.

If you are unsure about your soil type, you can always go for a quick walk in the rain on the trail you are interested in riding. If you stick to the ground, and leave an imprint in the soil, that’s a really easy indicator that your soil type is not appropriate for rain riding. If you aren’t sticking to the ground, or leaving marks, the next way to make a decision is to see if there are other riders out. If you see people in rain gear, and knobby tires with fenders and big muddy grins, you’re likely in a place where rain riding is ok!

The last consideration is the volume of rain. If it has been raining substantially, and constantly for a number of days prior to your ride, with no time to dry out from wind and sun, then it’s likely a good idea to stay home and let the trails dry out. But if it’s sporadic rainfall, the trail societies aren’t asking you to stay away, and your soil composition is appropriate, then it’s fair game!

Gear: Things you can buy, and easy hacks for new riders (or non-rain lovers like me!)

So, you live somewhere dry, where rain is occasional, and you hide inside when it arrives. And now, you’re coming to camp and look at the weather. Shoot. Rain. So, do you have to cancel? No way! There’s lots of things you can prepare for your camp day that will make your rain riding experience comfortable, and a lot of fun. And don’t forget all those amazing learning opportunities on new trail conditions…

For those of us who are not big rain riding fans, or live in places where we can’t or don’t often experience rain while we are riding, investing in expensive rain gear can be outside the normal budget. But there are a number of easy hacks you can use to prepare yourself for a day of fun in the rain, without breaking the bank.

First, the most important, and most useful in all conditions is a rain jacket. A rain jacket is not the same as a windbreaker, and these should not be used as replacements for each other as windbreakers do not repel water. If your windbreaker does have a water repellent rating it is typically a very minimal resistance, and will quickly soak through – becoming a cold, soggy mess. If you don’t own a cycling rain jacket – that is ok – any rain jacket that is waist length and waterproof is fine to use. The key benefits of a cycling rain jacket versus another outdoor sport rain jacket is that the arms are articulated so that you have room to move your arms in the position they need to be on your bike – and the waist is often a touch shorter in front of your  so that your jacket doesn’t bunch at your waist while you are bent forwards on your bike, among other bike specific features.

And finally, it’s super important to make sure you layer with warm, moisture wicking fabrics. Riding in the rain tends to be colder, so you should avoid fabrics like cotton, and focus on layers made of wool, poly blends, merino, modal, etc. Anything that wicks moisture away from your skin and dries quickly. And don’t forget an extra layer (and a warm jacket) to change into once you’re done riding. Nothing is worse than wallowing in a wet riding kit once the day is done.

The Hacks: We’ve all tried these – and they work (although they’re guaranteed to look a bit silly)

The next things we are suggesting are quick hacks from our experience coaching and riding in the rain at numerous camps. They are not perfect, but they are great, cheap ways to still stay out in the rain, but keep a bit drier along the way.

  • If all you have is a windbreaker: You can put a garbage bag on underneath, which seems like a weird thing to do but it keeps your body insulated and warm, even if the jacket soaks through – which is the most important part. As soon as your under-clothing becomes wet, you will get cold, so creating that water barrier is the best way to keep your heat in and the cold water off your skin.
  • Nitrile gloves: Put these medical examination gloves underneath your riding gloves to create a barrier between your wet gloves and your warm hands.
  • Plastic grocery bags: Wrap your feet in plastic grocery bags inside your riding shoes, and under your socks, to keep your feet warm and water-free from your wet shoes and socks.

Now some of you are going to say – this woman is nuts. These will just cause me to get sweaty, and then cold. But, trust me on this one, sweat is a release of heat. If you have a barrier that your heat cannot escape from (ie. plastic bag), between you and your wicking clothing piece (ie. socks), you will be sweaty, BUT you will be WARM. And that’s ultimately what we are looking for with these quick hacks. 

Proper Rain Riding Gear (aka. the Pro Tips)

The first thing, and the least expensive thing, is a mudguard. A mudguard is something all mountain bikers should have on their bikes to keep mud from splashing all over their faces.

Mudguards are also great if you live in a desert or dusty location, as they do the same thing in those conditions, deflecting the dust and small rocks from flying up at our faces and our stanchions. These are an inexpensive purchase at all bike shops, are easily installed with velcro straps or zip ties, and can be removed if you need in just a few quick moments.

Next, we suggest a good quality cycling rain jacket. A cycling rain jacket has bike specific features like a shorter waist but longer back, articulated sleeves, permanent vents (that don’t leak), and a water repellency rating of at least 10,000K. Dakine makes a wonderful riding jacket called the Dakine Dewit Rain Jacket that has a rating of 20,000K and all the cycling specific features you will need to stay dry and comfortable in the rain.

The next thing is riding pants. The best part about pants is they aren’t just great in the rain, and there are SO many options of types of pants these days – as they have become really trendy in cycling apparel. If you don’t want to commit to rain specific riding pants just yet, we suggest you look for a pair of water resistant (low waterproof rating) pants as a great starting point. The next best move is a pair of water repellent riding pants like the Dakine Dewit 20K pants which have all the same waterproofing technologies as their rain jacket – just for your legs!

We are also HUGE fans of waterproof socks. Waterproof socks are often made with a repellent layer between wool layers which helps to ensure your feet stay dry from sweat, and are still able to wick, but they also ensure that rain doesn’t permeate into your sock – keeping you happy and dry for your wet riding adventure. 

Water resistant riding shoes are becoming more popular – either with leather outers, or Gore Tex layers or similar materials to keep your feet dry from the outside in. While you will still find a bit of water leaks through these in lace holes and around your ankles, they are an amazing investment if you find yourself riding in the rain a lot – and they wipe clean after your ride so you don’t have muddy shoes going into your next dry-day ride. Check out the Adidas 510 Freerider EPS or Adidas Five Ten Trailcross Gore Tex as awesome wet riding shoe options that we are HUGE fans of!

And finally, you can even invest in water resistant cycling hats you can wear under your helmet, and waterproof gloves made of either neoprene (like what wetsuits are made from) which keep your hands warm, but still a bit wet – or full on waterproof gloves that work similar to the socks we just mentioned, and a drybag in your backpack to keep extra layers dry in case you soak through.

For all your rain riding apparel, be sure to pop into your local Norco retailer to pick up everything you need before camp. And don’t forget, if you’re coming to camp, we always recommend dressing a bit warmer than you may think as we are spending all day outside, and want to make sure we are ready for anything.

The Cheat Sheet: If you didn’t feel like reading the whole article

Hacks Pro Tips Extra Credit
Nitrile gloves under your gloves Water resistant gloves 2nd pair of gloves (in your pack)
Plastic bags under your socks Wet riding shoes Waterproof socks
Garbage bag under windbreaker Cycling Rain Jacket / Pants Merino / warm wool layers

We are excited to ride some wet with you – and teach you the tricks and tips to master this terrain style with confidence and fun – so you don’t fret the next time it rains, you just grab your buddy, your bike, and hit the trails!

Happy Trails,