It's possible to cycle across town on the coldest, wettest day Portland has to offer without even the slightest chill.
I suspect it is, anyway. Call me naive, but with an unlimited budget for gear I suppose cyclists can stay as comfortable as that asshat splashing up potholes in his SUV. Like most Portlanders, I lack the means to try such solutions. So solving the problems along my 13-mile round-trip winter commute has required some ingenuity.
Wise people, and sad to say I am not one of them, buy what they need the first time. I'm plagued by pound-foolishness—always trying to scrape by with a more modest solution and often suffering in the process. All bike commuters seem to have different problems and peeves—some fear blue fingers, others fret a skunk stripe—so it's hard to tell anyone where to spend their dough. But here's what I've learned in four wet months of not driving to work despite having a nice little car I'm still paying off.
Just wear any old stocking hat—like a thin wool cap from H&M—under your helmet. The big foam-and-plastic helmet keeps you warm, right?
Better yet: Any old hat will work until you start flying down hills or the wind swirls down the valley. Then it gets mighty chilly. Which is why it's worth getting a Gore Windstopper stocking hat with big ear flaps (Outdoor Research, $25).
Really, though: A balaclava made of sumptuous Smartwool ($35) would be wonderful on extra-cool days.
A cheap old pair of wool gloves from an army surplus store ($1) wicks the wetness away from your fingers and keeps the wind off. So does a pair of latex-palmed work gloves from a hardware store ($3).
Better yet: A pair of 200-weight polar fleece gloves (cheap pairs can be found at Marshalls) are usually thick enough to not soak through until I get where I'm going. They need to be dried out at night, which is a hassle, but it's definitely endurable.
Really, though: I've got my eye on a pair of Pearl Izumi Cyclone bike gloves ($40) with a waterproof softshell, grippy synthetic leather palms and helpful reflective accents.
A standard raincoat—which any Portlander should own—will work, though the unused hood tends to catch water and my trusty Columbia lacks armpit zips, causing a little too much condensation for comfort.
Better yet: It takes some scouring, but you can score a decent used cycling coat at a thrift store or a secondhand sports store like Next Adventure. My Performance Bike coat (made in Canada, eh) runs about $129 new, but I found it at Goodwill for $7.99. It's too big and muted red instead of eyeball-popping neon green, but it's served me well.
Really, though: When I run into a little cash, I'll be buying an Endura Luminite cycling jacket ($139) made of waterproof material and with an LED fiber-optic strip sewn into the tail.
A regular pair of camping rain pants, available for about $10 at an army surplus store or used camping-equipment shop, will protect your jeans from muck but probably not keep them dry. I just wore old Adidas running pants through December and changed into jeans at work.
Better yet: Since the top of your legs are flat during much of your ride, they take the brunt of the falling rain. I finally decided it was worth getting a nice pair of seam-sealed pants with drawstring bottoms (Marmot Precip, $60).
Really, though: Honestly, $60 solved my problems. It'd maybe be nice to have basically the same thing but with articulated knees, higher-end fabric and reflective accents sewn in (Vaude, $130).
Your feet are the hardest thing to keep dry on a bike commute, so why even try? I just put on a pair of wool socks and old shoes.
Better yet: Cheap yellow nylon cycling shoe covers (Log House Designs, $15) without taped seams aren't bombproof, but they do keep feet largely dry and shed the mud. A pair of cheap Planet Bike fenders ($12) helps you not ask too much of them. If you can't deal with wet feet, a pair of rubber boots from the Urban Farm Store ($20) will keep you dry, though they tend to slip off the pedals.
Really, though: Two Portland companies make cool water-battling footwear products. Shower's Pass Club shoe covers ($40) are higher-end than the cheapies I have, adding zippers and better fabric. The Bogs Hawthorne ($68) are ankle-high rubber shoes that look like sneakers and have a patch of ventilating mesh. It's surprising more companies don't make something like them. Then again, how many people outside Portland are crazy enough to have a need for such fancy rain boots?
— BEN WATERHOUSE.