Rain Canopies for Cargo Bikes

It’s raining! It’s wonderful, though it makes the logistics of parenting more complicated. I used to hate biking in the rain. But I’ve learned to love it — to a certain point. I’ve tried driving or taking my kids to school by MUNI in the rain, and it is always far more time consuming, frustrating — and wet — than if I had just biked. Surprising, but true.

Tips & Observations

  • Rain gear doesn’t have to be gear-y. While many smart people purchase and use extra strength rain suits to ride in the rain, don’t feel like you have to. A good rain coat — preferably knee length — a helmet with a visor and your regular rain boosts are a must, but you don’t necessarily need rain pants or anything that screams “gear!!!!” Many women’s leggings, tights and/or wool pants take the rain and then dry very quickly thereafter. In short, you can still look like your regular, stylish self when you bike in the rain. Or not, if you prefer 🙂
  • Kids rain suits are super adorable. Enough said.
  • Your kids might love it (surprisingly). The first time I ever picked up my eldest child, then a toddler, from school on a longtail cargo bike in the rain, I was dreading his complaints. I rode home feeling pretty tense that he was going to flip out at any moment. But he was silent the whole way until we pulled up to our garage and he said, “Mom, that was awesome. I hope it rains every day!!!” Huh?! Lesson being that some kids (certainly not all) love sensory experiences. A visor on or brimmed cap under their helmet helps keep little eyes free to take in the beautiful rainy world.
  • The bike lanes are wide open. Though more and more people are riding through the rain in San Francisco, you’ll find that a lot of bike paths and lanes are a lot more open. And sometimes that feels great: it’s pretty lovely to quietly slalom through the Panhandle, taking in the vibrant green colors, during the rain without having to worry about the crush of people who normally want to whiz by. I remember riding to a doctor’s appointment and then to work during a day of very heavy rain. As I rode down Valencia Street on the home stretch, determined to get to a meeting on time, even the messengers were pulled over, cowering under awnings and waiting for the downpour to ease. I rode right on by, getting some “you’re hardcore, lady!” from many a dude. It felt good. Parenting logistics are hardcore, and sometimes we just have to ride through the downpour.
  • Keeping your bike rain season ready. We always advise proactive maintenance every quarter for cargo bikes. If you haven’t already, be sure that your brakes, tires and lights are in great shape. When you start your ride, test your brakes lightly as you begin to ride in the rain before you really need to stop, so you know what to expect in terms of response delay. Expect to go slower and be more cautious with your braking throughout your ride. Your rotors and chain will get extra dirty from being used in the rain, which may lead to hearing more sound from your bike after the rain is dried up. You may need to clean your rotor and grease your chain at that point to get back to smooth riding.
  • Slippery stuff on the street. If you’re not used to riding in the rain already, keep an eye out for three things that can send your bike slipping: wet leaves, oil slicks and metal plates/grating. Do your best not to ride or brake directly on these materials.

Rain Canopies

Rear Carriers

If you use a rear carrier, there are currently no off-the-shelf rain canopies available. Some creative parents have repurposed stroller canopies for their bike. But most just invest in good rain suits and boots and helmets with visors (or put caps with brims under their kids’ helmets) for their children.

Front Carriers

The ability to have weather protection for your children is often a big motivator for people to get a front carrier instead of a rear carrier. One other nice perk of the rain canopy: easier and safer naps. If you keep your canopy on the bike, it’s even easier for your child to lean gently to the side and fall asleep. Their head will be supported and remain within the confines of the bike.

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  • Bullitt: The Bullitt has two types of rain canopy options. They both have their pros and cons.
    • Larry v Harry canopy: These canopies are fully enclosed and fit to the frame of the Bullitt with a one kid box. They can stay on the bike but fold open so that your kids have a nice sun roof and sides. It’s a nice option if you have very small kids and the one kid box. The top of the canopy if quite low, so this is not a great option if your kids are four years+ or you want something that will last a long time.
    • Blaq Designs canopies: Note that Blaq can make rain canopies for all kinds of front carrier bikes, including Workcycle, Cetma and Metrofiets as well as custom canopies. The things we like about the Blaq canopies are that they have a much higher head clearance than the Larry v Harry or off-the-shelf Workcycle canopies. If your kids are tiny, you may not care. But as they get into the 4+ years range, you may find that they can’t sit up straight without bonking into the top of the canopy. One thing to know about the Blaq canopies for the Bullitt: they have an open back, so they’re not fully enclosed. This usually isn’t a problem in terms of kids getting wet, but it does mean that the bike will be more sensitive to wind. Most riders manage that well after getting used to it, but you’ll want to be extra careful at known wind tunnels (like McAllister at Fillmore and Market at Polk). These canopies come in the one, two and three kid box sizes. You get the canopy on and off the bike as you would the door of a Delorean. Most people prefer to take off their canopy when it’s not raining since it does make loading and unloading slightly more complex and can make the bike stuffy when the sun is shining.

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  • MK1: The Butchers & Bicycles MK1 has one of the best rain canopies in the market. Truly. It zips on both the front and back, giving you options for airflow and talking with your children. To us, it’s one of the best selling points of the bike. We usually leave the canopy on the bike year round since it’s useful in all weather and doesn’t impact loading and unloading.
  • Urban Arrow: The Urban Arrow canopy is also well considered. It’s an interesting blend of the Blaq Design canopies and the MK1 (though designed and produced by totally different companies). Like the BLAQ design, most people only keep it on during rain or snow. And it comes on and off like a Delorean door. But like the MK1, you can roll up the rain cover. Unlike the other canopies, it has a unique top area that is designed to protect you from the rain, and to see your children. If you are on the petite side, you’ll want to test the bike with the rain canopy on to be sure that you can still see comfortably. It’s an especially tall canopy. (Same with the Bullitt Blaq canopy.)