Finding the Best Cycling Rain Gear: What Works, and What Doesn’t?
I live in Vancouver. While it is a beautiful city with picturesque mountain views and the mildest climate in Canada, it has one significant downside: rain.
You might think that would deter the many cyclists who prefer to commute by bicycle. Not so!
The truth is, a well-equipped rider can ride in moderate comfort, even in wet weather. A few good pieces of cycling rain gear will keep you dry and warm on that gusty ride to the office.
That being said, the word ‘waterproof’ is thrown around a bit too liberally in the apparel world. So, finding something that actually works is imperative, or you’ll be right back behind the wheel.
But what do you actually need? In this article, I’ve compiled a list of fantastic rain gear for cycling. I will list 4 essential pieces to keep your ride dry.
My purpose is twofold: I want to help you get properly equipped so you’ll arrive happy and dry, and I also want to recommend a few brands that really work.
Interested? I hope so!
Covering Your Bases: Waterproof Cycling Clothing
It may seem obvious to cover yourself from head to toe, but there are some factors that you might not consider.
Often, when faced with the intimidating wall of accessories at your local bike shop, you can be tempted to skimp, skipping certain items because they don’t seem necessary.
Riding a bicycle in the rain all depends on the individual rider’s comfort level. If you’re happy to get a little soaked, no problem! If not, gear up.
Forward Momentum: Even a light sprinkle can get you more soaked than you’d expect. Why? You will be travelling at high speed, and that means you’ll collect a lot more moisture along the way.
In order to stay dry in all types of rain, you probably want to make sure that your most exposed portions are well protected. The better quality cycling rain gear companies take that into consideration, and the front half will often be more reinforced.
The Jacket: The Essential Piece of Cycling Rain Gear
The waterproof cycling jacket is a no-brainer. Keeping your trunk dry and warm is mandatory for a comfortable ride.
It’s tricky, however. You have a delicate balance between staying dry and being too warm. Sourcing bicycle rain jackets and pants that breathe well can be an exercise in frustration.
Cycling rain jackets are cut a little differently than convention. The front is cut back, and the rear is extra long. This gives you ample protection while in a lean, without interfering with your pedalling.
They stop moisture in one of two ways: by using a membrane, or by utilizing a protective outer coating. What kind of jacket you buy depends entirely upon the rain you’re expecting to see.
Heavy Rain: In seriously wet conditions, a water resistant windbreaker isn’t going to be enough. I recommend you get something purpose built to withstand adverse conditions.
Full on waterproof cycling jackets tend to be a little bit heavier, and a little less breathable. That doesn’t mean they have to be oppressive, though!
A great example is the Gore Bike Wear Power GT AS. It reviews well and has a lot going for it, including renowned Gore-Tex material. All the seams are taped, and despite the water repellant qualities, this jacket breathes surprisingly well. It fits slim, and looks nice with reflective components. It will get a bit hot in milder rain, so it’s a better option for heavier weather.
Light Rain / Mixed Weather: I strongly recommend that you opt for a shell in lighter weather conditions. Why? A shell is the most versatile option.
First, most shells will scrunch up and pack very easily. Secondly, a shell allows you to layer appropriately, so you can stay comfortable. They’re more breathable, and most will work well as a windbreak also.
An example of a fantastic shell is the Showers Pass Double Century ES. It’s a really nice looking jacket with a long back for extra protection. It utilizes Cocona Xcelerator fabric, which reflects moisture while breathing surprisingly well. It’s a form fit, and with taped seams and lots of reflective detailing, it’s a strong choice.
Jacket Brands Worth Checking Out:
So other than the above recommendations, what are some good waterproof cycling rain gear brands to look into? There are plenty of good options in the jacket realm, and you don’t have to spend as much as you’d think.
As mentioned before, I think that Gore Bike Wear produces some of the best and most practical cycling rain gear on the market today. All their stuff reviews extremely well for rain and weather protection.
Showers Pass is another brand I really like. They tend to have extremely breathable wet weather cycling clothing, and their price range is a bit more affordable than Gore.
Giordana has a few fantastic rain resistant race options, and they’re worth a look as well. If you’re on a budget, Pearl Izumi has a good line of cheap cycling rain gear, and it does an admirable job when compared with the pricier brands. They can be found all over the place, though mostly online.
Bicycle Rain Pants: Don’t Wet Yourself
Let’s be honest: rain pants will never look cool.
But they’re an essential addition to your collection of waterproof cycling clothing, because nothing is worse than arriving somewhere in wet pants.
I don’t consider rain pants to be something you wear all the time. They’re something to be stowed in your pack, ready if you need them.
They’re usually fitted with an elastic waist, and legs large enough to step through while wearing shoes. That way, you can pull over and slip them on in a pinch.
Waterproof bicycle pants aren’t really in the same realm as fitted cycle trousers, in that they aren’t intended to look all that great. They’re pure practicality.
Showers Pass has produced a good, water resistant shell pant intended to keep you dry during a sudden cloudburst. The seams are taped, and the ripstop poly material will keep your legs warm in wind as well. The elastic waist and generous leg room lets you slip them on quickly. They come with a stash pack, so you can pack them effectively.
Other Brands to Check Out:
If those don’t do it for you, I have a few other recommendations.
Norrøna produces a good set of cycling pants for mountain riders, called the Flex1. It also happens to be a great choice for rain riders, since they’re so mud and water resistant.
Again, Gore Bike Wear has some awesome selections, truly waterproof. They’re on the pricier side, however.
You don’t strictly HAVE to wear pants. I see a lot of people ride to work wearing a good, water resistant cycling jacket and race shorts. The nice thing about spandex is it dries very quickly. Just be sure to have a towel and a spare set of dry clothes waiting so you can change. That segues nicely into our next topic…
The Overshoe: Wet Shoes Begone
Wet weather cycling clothing tends to overlook one significant portion of your body: your feet.
Water will naturally run down your leg in a downpour. And where does it pool?
To keep your shoes from squishing, there are limited options. The first is simple to ensure that your shoe’s outer is water resistant. Additionally, you could just find a long rain pant that can cover your shoe, though that’s often awkward and unsuccessful.
The best option in a torrent is the overshoe. These wonderful things work much like you’d imagine, fitting over your shoe and providing a water resistant barrier.
At first glance, they might seem awkward, but once you’ve used an overshoe in wet weather riding, you’ll be surprised that you lived without it!
Gore produces an awesome, all-weather cycling overshoe that provides excellent water resistance and added warmth in the colder winter months. It’s great for avoiding mud too.
The Gore-Tex outer shell is adjustable and easy to put on. It is compatible with all major clipless systems, and (probably most importantly), the overshoes themselves fold up nicely to stow in your pack. They’re one of the best cycling rain gear additions, and they’ll help preserve your shoes.
Other Overshoe Brand to Look At:
Pearl Izumi has an amazingly affordable overshoe, part of its Elite Barrier system. But for the most part, Gore has the corner in this market, they’re the prime brand to look at.
The Bag: A Bicycle Rain Gear Essential
When it starts to rain and I’m unprepared, my biggest concern is my bag. Much like the contents of a pickup truck bed, many bags aren’t built with rain in mind.
Fortunately, we live in a golden age of waterproof cycling bags and accessories. You no longer have to stow your computer and phone in plastic baggies.
The best bicycle rain gear option (in my opinion) is a pannier bag. The lower centre of gravity and carrying capacity make them very worthwhile. But the bag itself should be watertight.
Backpacks can also be a good choice, though they tend to get wetter on your back. Be sure that they’re truly water resistant, or you’ll be in trouble. I also find that riding in a storm with a backpack on just feels ‘icky’.
For material, you have several options. Nylon can be quite water resistant, depending on its thickness. Waxed canvas or cotton is a very good choice as well, and generally holds up for years.
One of my favourite backpacks is by Giro, a commuter pack that features subtle good looks, welded construction, a waterproof material (including the zippers), and an attractive and user friendly rolltop.
If panniers are more your style, I’d recommend checking out the Axiom Typhoon set, which (as the name indicates) was built with rain in mind. It features a welded poly construction, as well as integrated hooks to fit just about any type of rear bike rack, with quick and convenient removal. It’s a really smart system that has a ‘dry bag’ that rolls down over top of each side, for extra protection.
Other Bags Worth a Look:
If you’re hunting for a more classic, vintage look, Brooks has a series of fantastic roll-up panniers made out of waxed canvas. They’re probably not quite as water resistant as the Giro or the Axiom mentioned above, but they’re made from natural materials and look much better on a stylish bicycle.
Timbuk2 has some excellent, waterproof cycling gear and bags that are made from synthetics, and they can be found in many bike shops.
So What is the Best Cycling Gear for Rain?
The recommendations above are all items that work for me. When it comes to finding the ‘best’ solution, you’ll find a lot of mixed opinions.
Ultimately, be diligent and read some reviews before diving into anything. Be aware of sizing (whether it fits small or large), and keep in mind the kind of cycling you intend to do, as well as how you like your clothing to fit.
My biggest piece of advice is that you should always layer. Use shells, dress warmly, but be prepared for the sun to burst through those clouds! Thanks for reading!