Extremely dark photo taken at Council Crest park in the snow, late at night. The headlight and tail light of a bicycle are visible

Be a dolphin, not a turtle

Published 2012-10-22

The rains have arrived, time for the ritual BikePortland “what do you wear on your winter commute” thread. We’ll get to my “advice” in a minute but (spoiler!) you’ll hate it. Everyone does.

Firstly though, I love that Portlanders are so passionate about raingear and bicycles.

Secondly, there is no wrong answer here. If you wear umpteen waterproof layers and have thoroughly befendered your bike, I still love you. If you ditch the bike and ride the bus, hey at least you’re not driving a car. And if you’re off the bike and back into the car, what serious person can blame you? It’s cold and wet and dark out here.

So: “advice.”

Every year I wear a little less in my winter commutes.1 Five years ago I was all about fenders and rain pants and $200 GoreTex rain jackets and waterproof panniers and shoe covers and jeez I’m getting depressed just typing this.

Eventually I realized that I was getting wet anyway: either leakage (that thin stream of ice cold water trickling down my back), or just sweating through all my baselayers. Plus it took me half an hour to dress for my commute and I looked like a wobbly sea turtle.

So now my “advice” is: cowboy up and get wet, ya wimp. If you’re cold, pedal faster. If you’re wet, you won’t be in an hour, when you’re at home sitting by the fire drinking a Black Butte Porter. Which will taste a million times better than usual, by the way. Be a sleek, slippery dolphin, not an ungainly sea turtle.

I’m not faking it. Above is a scene from my winter commute…on Council Crest

FFR here’s my winter gear list:

  • Wool socks
  • Warm gloves
  • A really fricking bright light
  • A change of dry clothes.
  • A little teeensy bit of gratitude for being a free person under the open sky with a body capable of horsing a damn bike 10 miles over a hill in the snow and rain.

Addendum 2018-03-08

Now that a) we no longer live in the West Hills and b) I’m traveling at Kid Speed over Kid Distances, I’m more wont to dress turtlishly. Especially in cold weather. The kids and I actually make this distinction: “is this a Turtle Day or a Dolphin Day?” (Today, for example, is a Dolphin Day)

  1. Actually this is not strictly true. My first two winters in Oregon, after moving here from Nebraska (where I also rode a bike to work), I didn’t even own a raincoat. I just wore [whatever] and got really wet.