How to Keep Riding Your Bicycle on Rainy Toronto Days

Red Rubber Boots and Training Wheels

Perhaps one of the greatest hurdles to really becoming an everyday bicycle rider is rain.

No one wants to show up to work soaked to the bone, but on a humid, rainy day, taking the TTC can feel like giving up, and if you have to wait for a bus or streetcar you’re still going to get wet.

I started rain riding by accident. Riding home I knew I was racing a storm. About half way through my ride the sky opened and within seconds I was soaked.

But I was also smiling, ear to ear. After a long day in an office a rain ride is refreshing, invigorating. It’s like going for a jog in your shower (if that was even possible). Rain riding feels great and you’ll be the envy of your workplace, soaked and smiling and buzzing all day. Sure, you can take to rain riding cold turkey, but a little preparation can help you really enjoy the ride. Here’s what to do:

1) Accept that you will get wet: Fact, you will get wet riding when the rain starts to fall and there’s nothing you can do about it. Some people will ride faster, as if trying to outrun the falling rain, and rushing can lead to poor decision making. Pedestrians will be dashing across streets heading for the nearest shelter and drivers will be distracted and nervous. If you’re rushing, trying to outrun the falling rain, you’re more likely to put yourself in dangerous situations. Slow down and accept getting a little wet, you’ll be safer for it.

2) Dress for a mess: You can go out and purchase rain shells to wear over your work clothes, but in my experience these keep the rain water out and also keep your sweat in, still leaving you soaked. Shelling out for rain gear can help you stay a little drier and more comfortable, but during warm summer rains simply wearing clothing you don’t mind getting wet and dirty works great. Quick drying fabrics will make storing your riding clothes at work less problematic, so a thick cotton t-shirt that takes a day to air dry may not be the best option.

3) Get the right equipment: Fenders! Get fenders for your bicycle. If you don’t have them they are probably keeping you from rain riding because no one wants that “skunk stain” running up their back. You can buy a set at your local bike shop for around $25 or $30 and pay a little extra to have them installed (or learn how to do it yourself). A decent set of panniers or backpack will keep your change of clothes dry. I have a set from Mountain Equipment Co-op that are water-resistant, so on wetter days I would place my clothes in a plastic bag first to keep out the little moisture that would seep in. Reusable lunch bags can be used for valuables like your phone and wallet. A plastic grocery bag can be used to cover your seat and keep it dry during the day. Also, bring your lights and use them, anything to make you stand out on the road is going to benefit your safety.

4) Slow your roll: Wet rims and brakes take longer to slow you down and wet roads increase your chance of skidding. And when there’s a lot of rain, you can even start to hydroplane slide on water-covered streets, which reduces your control. So simply slow down and enjoy the water streaming down your face, it’s wonderful.

5) Take the lane: Beware the gutter. Puddles can conceal potholes and uneven sewer coverings. Moving into the lane, ideally where the right side wheels of cars would typically roll, can save you from the unexpected and will force drivers to pass you with less speed and greater caution.

6) Use extra caution near streetcar tracks and crosswalks: Streetcar tracks can be a nightmare for some even during the best conditions. In the rain, not only are the tracks more slippery, but the smooth concrete surrounding them becomes a sliding hazard as well. Same goes for crosswalks that use paving stones as smooth surfaces mean less traction for narrow bicycle tires. When turning left on roads with streetcar tracks you can perform an “indirect left turn” to allow you to cross the tracks at a 90 degree angle. Or simply dismount from your bicycle and use the crosswalks.

7) Think “muti-modal” transportation: The TTC is currently installing better bicycle parking at subway stations around town. If you’re not comfortable riding in the rain for your entire commute you can still skip waiting for buses and streetcars and simply head to the nearest subway station. You may be a little wet on the subway, but you certainly won’t be the only one.

8) Have fun: Always remember, enjoy yourself. Getting wet may seem like a pain, but if you pack dry clothes and a small towel and once you get comfortable changing at work, you can simply start to enjoy the rain and beauty of a soaking wet city. You may also feel a little super-human for braving the rains, so don’t let that go to your head!

Photo via the BikingToronto Flickr Pool


  1. Dawg, I love your blog, but #3 should have been first.

    And you shouldn’t have downplayed rain gear. You just need stuff that breathes for warm weather.

  2. Ben, I’ve never been able to find rain gear that “breathes”. No matter how hard I have tried or how much money I have spent. It just doesn’t exist for hot summer days. Fall/Winter/Spring is another story.

  3. Paul, oversize it and make sure you use wicking. That way air can circulate that’s not saturated with water.

  4. Great pic!

  5. #6 is the kicker for me. I have a hard enough time with streetcar tracks on nice days let alone rainy days. And the route I take to work, I have to cross so many intersections with streetcar tracks all ways. So, if I take the TTC, it’s ok, because it’s still better on the environment than a single driver vehicle :)

  6. Nice Duncan… but perhaps ya have nEVer broken trail through three inches of fresh powder (snow) headed west on Sheppard Ave?
    Agree ya need to move #3 to #1…

  7. lock: Uhm, snow?

  8. C’mon guys… I don’t think it matters what order these are in.

    It’s not like someone is going to read #1 and then stop, thinking “okay, I’m gonna get wet” and then close the page. :)

    Thanks for a great resource, Duncan.

  9. Great little piece, love your blog, and I agree, i’ve yet to find a ‘rain suit’ that I don’t end up a sweaty mess in!

  10. Nice article, but it is physically impossible to hydroplane on a bicycle. The narrow, curved, high pressure tires simply can’t trap enough water beneath them. Other than that, it’s a great piece.

  11. Thanks, Jack. Yes, someone pointed me to this Sheldon Brown article as well. I personally thought the slipping around my front tires sometimes do is actual hydroplaning, which also sounds more dramatic than simply sliding. Learn something new every day.

  12. Great article – and I totally agree with Paul T; I’ve given up on rain gear completely since I always arrive just as wet, but hot and sweaty instead of cool and rainy.

  13. Great article… now I’m one of those lucky downtown workers that has the luxury of a shower and changeroom at work, where I leave my soaked gear to dry during the day (usually soaked on hot days too).

    Any advice for others on how to handle wet riding clothes that they don’t feel like draping all over their desk?

    And isn’t it crazy that you haven’t had to bust out this article until August this summer? We NEEDED that rain big time!

  14. “fact 1: you will get wet”

    You don’t actually have to get wet. If you have fenders and a rain cape you can ride in any rain and still remain fairly dry. Your head and face will get wet (ahhh) and feet are also likely to get wet in big downpours. When it’s really heavy – like the last couple of days – I roll up my pants and wear sandals (summer) or slide on gortex booties (cooler weather).

    A rain cape can be tossed over any outfit. It drapes over the handlebars and keeps the rain off everything below while at the same time air circulates so you stay relatively cool.

    Another must-have is a waterproof pannier – or two – to carry your stuff and keep it dry.

    And a tip: assuming you are equipped as above, you will stay drier if you take your time and keep to quieter roads with fewer cars – splash splash.

  15. Hey Joe Byer. Good question. When I was commuting up to an office I luckily had the space (and the lack of visitors) to let my bike clothes air dry on a small rack. Maybe some other readers will have tips on what to do with wet clothes.

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