Biking in the Rain: What To Wear Under Your Helmet To Keep Rain Out


If you live in Vancouver, you already know it rains a lot in the Pacific Northwest (over 2.5 metres annually [1]).

And if you live anywhere else and commute by bike, odds are you will encounter a rainy stretch of road once in a while.

Surprisingly, the head area is commonly overlooked when it comes to rain gear for cyclists. Keeping your head dry and eyes free from debris can make a huge difference in how comfortable you are on the bike.

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If you cycle to work no matter the weather and want to keep your head dry, consider these under-helmet options:

Cycling Cap

rain cap gore equipe
Wet-weather bike cap. Photo by Colin McSherry

If you want a minimalist option for all-weather conditions, the cycling cap is a classic you can wear during all your rides. A cycling cap is not the same as a baseball cap. It has a peak, but is made of thin material, the peak is more flexible, and the cap is made of a stretchy material to help achieve the perfect fit.

The cap is great for stopping your hair from going too crazy, with or without the helmet. The word on the street is that you are NOT to wear a cycling cap without a helmet, doing so is a huge indicator of your annoying hipster status.

There are cycling caps made specifically for use in the rain (made of water repellent, non-breathable materials), but a regular cycling cap worn beneath a helmet is a better option than using nothing at all. The cap’s visor will keep water away from your eyes and the extra layer on your head will provide a bit of warmth in cooler spring and autumn temperatures, protecting your head from the effects of air vents without overheating your head like a thermal cap designed for winter temperatures.

Classic Baseball Hat

Personally, I wear a good ol’ baseball cap year around under my helmet to keep my head dry and to keep my hair somewhat manageable.

baseballhat1
Nothing beats my special hat.

The brim is a little longer than a cycling cap and helps to keep rain and overhead sunshine out of my eyes. Plus I can wear it without a helmet when I’m not riding my bike!

Yes, the cotton does soak up the rain and sometimes water drips from the rim, but my head stays warm while I ride, and the hat dries quickly.

I can also wash my hat or switch between hats somewhat frequently.

Balaclava

sugoimidzerobalaclava
cycling balaclava, a great piece of wet weather gear

A balaclava such as the popular SUGOi MidZero is a great choice for cycling in the rain and snow, and fits comfortably around your head under a bike helmet. The SUGOi MidZero Balaclava is mostly made of a stretchy polyester that fits over your face, neck, and head, keeping you warm and toasty. It works well and dries fast. Plus, it looks super ninja cool.

I have longer hair and this balaclava gives me static-head, so although I will wear it in the dead of winter or on my ride home from work, it isn’t my first choice.

Cycling Bandana

cyclingbandana

For a versatile and easy-to-pack head gear option, cycling bandanas may be your best bet. Doubling as a mask on dusty days or to keep your face warm on early morning rides, and transforming into an extra layer of protection for your head to keep it semi-warm and dry under your helmet on rainy commute days, the bandana does it all. Plus it dries fast! And it comes in an assortment of unfortunate colours and designs (see above…).

A cycling buff is a similar versatile piece of head, neck and face gear. I like the merino wool material for my buff, but it doesn’t hold its shape as well as some others made of synthetic materials. But I’d rather come to work with a rag around my face smelling faintly like a wet dog than a gym bag (okay, synthetics aren’t quite that bad. But eventually they are).

Cycling Helmet Rain Cover

Technically not something for under your helmet, the helmet cover is something to keep your head and helmet dry.

helmetraincover

Many cyclists pick a gore-tex helmet cover as the best protection for riding in a heavy rainfall, since a helmet cover slides over your helmet in a pinch and does an excellent job of keeping you dry. It isn’t the most stylish look, but functionally it does the job. Newer materials have also made helmet covers much more breathable, making them suitable for warmer spring weather as well.

Lots of people in Vancouver wear those gore-tex helmet covers; I prefer my sweaty old baseball cap — it shields my face better and I don’t mind if my hair gets a little wet in a major downpour. I feel alive!

Alternatives

aerohelmets 1

If you want to save a piece of gear and feel the need for speed, wear your aero helmet for rainy day commutes. It will be more aerodynamic (naturally), and with fewer vents, will keep your head better protected from rain drops.

Plus you’ll look like a space cadet.

In winter, if my ears get too cold with my baseball cap leaving my ears exposed, I either wrap my wool buff up around the top of my head, or I wear a tweed hat with ear flaps (something like this one for sale on Amazon https://www.amazon.com/Jeff-Aimy-Herringbone-Baseball-60-62CMCM/dp/B07W575861).

tweedhat1
warm tweed hat for winter cycling

In summer, I wear my usual light cycling hat or a ball cap.

How Do You Keep Your Hair Dry When Cycling in the Rain?

If you don’t have a cap or hat or bandana or any head gear to protect your hair from rain, put your hood on under your helmet to keep your hair dry. If you wear make-up and it’s raining heavily, wait to put your face on at work (or wear goggles to protect your eye make-up).

Banish helmet hair even if you have long hair: If you prefer to wear your hair down, draw your hair back into a loose braid and stick it up under your helmet. Shake it out once you get to work, give it a quick spray of dry shampoo if you must, and you’re good to go.

There are tons of hairstyles out there that will remain looking perfect even after you flatten it with a helmet during a long bike ride.

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