What you'll wear in a deliberate rain ride is probably a lot different than what you'll be wearing when you're caught by surprise -- be prepared for both scenarios. Options range from full rain biking suits, a solid investment for a racer or hard-core bike commuter, to simple ponchos to stuff in a pocket or bike bag for emergencies.
Most rain gear is water resistant -- the fabric incorporates an impenetrable, water-repellent coating -- which many bikers find sufficient but won't stand up to a long ride in a deluge. A real waterproof garment features taped or coated seams that prevent water from penetrating tiny gaps and holes in the fabric.
Rain gear generally falls into the following categories:
- Plastic (including PVC, poly, vinyl and blends) is used for basic jackets and cover-ups. They're totally waterproof but don't breathe at all, and often aren't durable enough to incorporate vents. In general, these are the least expensive options.
- Coated fabrics are considered mid-grade -- they're a little more expensive and reliable. They're fairly flexible and comfortable (they fit more like actual clothes than their plastic counterparts).
- Laminated fabrics consist of multiple synthetic layers bonded together, and sometimes a moisture-wicking inner layer is added for comfort. These are the most reliable, but all those layers add up to drawbacks: cost, weight and stiffness.
Consider fit and features, too. The back of the jacket should be longer than the front for extra protection. Fleece-lined collars wick moisture and protect your face from abrasion; high collars stop rain from dripping down your neck. Make sure the hood fits over your helmet.
If rain pants are too hot or restrictive, try wool or ventilated tights to cover your full legs or mountaineering gaiters for just the lower legs. Your pants should have a zipper or Velcro closure to slip over shoes, and they should be cinched or strapped so they won't snag on your bike's chain. Waterproof socks are available, but you can also put plastic bags over your regular socks to provide an extra layer of protection in your shoes. Consider investing in slip-on booties to shield your shoes from water and mud.
Wear glasses or goggles with clear or yellow lenses to shield your eyes and improve visibility. Even though you'll be wearing a helmet and possibly a hood, add a hat on cold or windy days; protecting your ears will spare you a lot of discomfort. Gloves can be waterproof material, fleece, wool or neoprene. Neoprene (wetsuit material) won't keep your hands dry, but it'll keep them warm. Gloves should provide good protection from wind, but shouldn't impair your ability to shift and steer. Another option is lobster-claw-shaped mittens that can be layered over thinner gloves.
You might not be eager to hit the roads in the next rainstorm -- but at least you know it doesn't have to be unbearable. In the meantime, see the next page to learn more about cycling.