Rain? - No Problem!

Updated October 13, 2011


Many skaters have never dared to venture out in the rain. That's a pity, because skating in the rain can be truly pleasant, even exhilarating, for rain has a way of dissolving barriers, bringing us into intimacy with Nature. All that's needed is a reasonable degree of comfort, and freedom from worry about your bearings.

 If it rains -- Keep your head warm 

A simple shower-cap (over your helmet) makes a world of difference. The best ones are the cheapest, like the ones you find in some hotel rooms; you can usually buy them in a dollar store. If it's cold, start with a thin balaclava before putting on your helmet. We lose heat quickly through the head, so preventing that has a significant effect.

 If it rains -- Keep your body warm 

On the outside, something waterproof. In warm weather, a large garbage-bag will do the trick, with holes cut out for your head and arms. But when it's chilly or downright cold you need serious protection: if you don't have a Gore-Tex jacket (waterproof but breathable), anything truly waterproof will be better than an ordinary windbreaker, because even if it holds the sweat inside it will also help hold your body heat. In the rain, it is infinitely better to be too warm than to be cold.

On the inside, the first layer (against the skin) is the most important. Nothing with cotton. A thin top of polypropylene will do an amazing job of keeping body heat inside while moving sweat away to the outer layers. What you add on top of that will depend on the temperature. Even if the middle layers get significantly damp with sweat, if the layer against your skin stays dry you'll be in much better shape. In cold wet weather, wool can be a smart choice because it retains heat even when wet, unlike cotton.

Don't neglect your legs if it's cold. If your knees are sensitive to chilly winds, wear knee-pads, or make little windbreakers for your knees with plastic bags, taping them on with duct tape or medical tape. For your legs as a whole even thin tights will be more comfortable than wet jeans, but in cold weather you need winter-thickness tights.

Your hands as well may need protection, because when you're cold your body reduces blood-flow to the extremities. I recommend the small, thin gloves made of polypropylene that joggers use. They hold just enough heat, they don't hold moisture, and you'll have no trouble at all putting on other gear over them, like wrist-protectors, sliders, etc.

 If it rains -- Keep your boots dry 

Plastic bags, waterproof adhesive tape, elastics. Instead of those little garbage bags that tear so easily, I recommend large freezer bags, which are tougher. The 38cm x 46cm size is big enough to let you lace up your boots with the bags already installed. As well, this size reaches high enough up the calf to let you keep the rain from dripping in down your legs. (If you have high-cut boots you may need larger bags.)

In a light rain you may not find it necessary to protect your boots. However, if you're going to be skating in the wet for hours, or if there's any risk of splashing through puddles, first of all there's the matter of comfort, and second there's the fact that dry boots keep their shape better than wet boots.

If you have skates with removable frames, take off the frames and put each boot in a plastic bag. Next, make a small hole for each bolt, and install your frames through the outside of the bags. Are there any remaining bolt-holes that aren't perfectly covered? Plug them, or cover them with waterproof adhesive tape.

If your skates have permanently attached frames, slice an opening in the bottom of each bag, just long enough to let the wheels go through. Now you have to make sure that the joint between the bag and the underside of your boot is perfectly watertight. This is where duct tape works best, and if you have to enlarge the hole, do so in order to give the tape plenty of boot-surface to stick to. Work carefully to make it impossible for water to get in from underneath.

When it's time to put on your skates, start by putting on an elastic above each ankle. Then put on your skates and lace them up firmly (you'll notice your hands getting warm as they work inside the bags). Now use the elastics to seal the bags around your calves, and if you're wearing tights pull the cuffs down so they cover the tops of the bags. (If you're wearing socks, obviously they shouldn't be sticking up beyond the elastics.) Do whatever you can to prevent water from trickling down your legs into your boots.

Now you're ready to add some adhesive tape to mold those bags around your boots. This is where everybody pulls out the duct tape, but really I recommend white medical tape. If at some point you need to adjust your skates -- tighten your laces for example -- duct tape won't make it easy. With white medical tape you can easily pull it off without ripping the bags, especially if you've made pull-tabs by turning under the end of each strip of tape. But I'm sure there are other ways of holding down the bags while making it easy to re-open them: elasticized strips with velcro, for example.

 If it rains -- Save your bearings 

Think first about the end: as soon as you've finished skating you have to rescue those bearings! Get yourself ready then by having a little kit waiting at the end with everything you'll need. Tools for removing your wheels and popping the bearings out. A container for yours screws, axles, spacers. Another container, with a good tight seal, where you can drop your bearings into something that will you allow you to leave them safely for up to 24 hours, long enough for you to rest. The something can be citrus cleaner diluted with water, or rubbing alcohol, or water with liquid dishwashing detergent, or even just plain water (since in the absence of air it takes quite a while for rust to set in). If the something is a liquid, a water bottle makes a great container; most of them are too narrow at the mouth, but the water bottles sold at Tim Horton's are perfect. You can also spray your bearings with WD-40: it's counter-indicated as a lubricant, but perfect for rescuing your bearings from the wet. Dry the outside of the bearings with a rag first, then put them in a container -- even a plastic bag -- and spray thoroughly with WD-40. Seal them tight, and if they're in a bag put that in a second bag with a hermetic closure, for safety. Don't forget to complete the rescue by cleaning and drying your bearings within the next 24 hours.

Once you're ready for the after-skate rescue, think about which bearings to use and how to prepare them. Many people recommend grease or gel as a lubricant in the rain, Twincams with TK gel having a good reputation. Personally I'll always prefer oiled bearings, and I'll always use them with one side open to make cleaning super-fast. For skating in the wet I lubricate with Boss Speed Cream (a liquid), or a gel, or a relatively thick skate-oil as opposed to thin racing-oil -- never a spray because it would wash out too quickly. Gels permit a much better spin than grease, while protecting just as well.

Perhaps even more important than the lubricant is the choice of bearing. Many people recommend well-sealed bearings, not so much to keep out the rain as to minimize how much dirt is let in with it. For my part, I emphasize the difference between bearings with cages made of metal and those with cages made of plastic (dacron, nylon, etc). When the only "lubricant" left is the rain itself, metal on metal does not work at all: your bearings will squeak and stutter. With plastic cages you don't have this problem, which is why I never hesitate to skate in the rain with my very best bearings, the Boss Swiss.

Finally, whenever you know you're going to be rolling in the rain, give your bearings a little added protection by smearing a thin layer of vaseline on the outer side of each one.

 If it rains -- Have fun out there! 

When rain shows up for a race, set aside any thoughts of achieving your best time. Wet pavement is slower, and in slippery conditions you just can't push as hard. When it rains for a long time, streets become more skateable as the oil washes out. But even then you should pay attention. A shallow-looking puddle may conceal danger. Autumn leaves are super-slippy, as are wet wooden bridges and metal ones too, not to mention any and all paint on asphalt.

The trick to enjoying a skate in the rain is simply to emphasize enjoyment. Don't push so hard, take shorter strokes in a quicker cadence. Be sure to set your skates down directly under your body, and don't be afraid to put your full weight on one skate at a time. If there's any risk of slipping it will be when your skate is near the end of a stroke, not when it's directly under your body. Rain-skating is terrific practice for the recovery motion, the semi-circle with which you return the skate from the end of a stroke back underneath the body. Perform this movement while concentrating on your knees. If you can bring the knee of your recovery skate close enough inside so that it lightly touches the other knee, you'll be beautifully centered and your weight-transfer will be effective. And if the pushing skate suddenly slips out, it won't matter because the other one will be in position directly underneath you.

Skate for the fun of it, not for the finish. Look all around you, skate wide-eyed, breathe the rich fragrances released by the life-giving rain. For one thing you'll be more likely to see potential danger, but at the same time you'll notice how the wet makes all the colors more intense. Pain and fatigue will be sensations like any other, natural and acceptable, and you'll be thoroughly delighted to be alive.

Rod Willmot