Buyer's guide: waterproof clothing for cycling in the rain

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Buyer’s guide: wet weather clothing for cycling in the rain

If you want to make riding in the rain as painless as possible, you need to be kitted up properly

Rain is one of life’s inevitabilities, particularly if you live in the UK. It’s only slightly less inevitable than death and – particularly if you’re a multi-national corporation – significantly more definite than taxes.

In all seriousness though, rain can derail even the most strident rider’s plans and as much as we all like to claim that we get out in all kinds of weather, everybody winces when they look out the window in the morning only to see rain hammering down outside.

It’s particularly bad in the autumn and winter because it’s cold as well, and the combination of cold and wet is as potent a ride-killer as anything. So if you want to stay out and about while weather’s bad, you need to make sure that you have your clothing choices dialed. You’ll never beat the rain, but you can sure make riding in it a more enjoyable experience, and here’s what you need to do just that.

Rain jacket

These come in all shapes and sizes, so much so that we’ve already written a dedicated buyer’s guide on rain jackets. But it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that if you want to stay dry, then a jacket should be at the top of your list.

Race capes come in all shapes and sizes, from the very cheap to the more expensive, like Rapha’s £195 Pro Team Race Cape

As with everything, though, there are concessions to be made. Essentially, you need to decide what properties you need in a jacket. If you want something warm for winter but with a modicum of water resistance, there are plenty of softshell jackets that can do a job in a shower.

– Buyer’s guide: how to choose the right rain jacket –

A waterproof race cape is perfect example of this. It’s a thin, packable jacket that you can grab out of your pocket and put on if the weather turns nasty mid way through a ride. Most of them, like Endura’s excellent FS260 Pro Race Cape, offer a degree of breathability so you don’t feel like you’re riding in a plastic bag, and others offer features like under arm vents or a vent on the back with overlapping material.

– The clothing of the Classics: weatherproof kit from Castelli, Sportful, Endura, Santini, Rapha & more –

There are, of course, other options like Castelli’s Gabba, or the myriad of other similar Spring Classics-inspired jerseys that have appeared over the last few years. But the important thing to remember about the Gabba and Gabba-alikes is that they’re not waterproof, merely water resistant, and designed to keep the rider at a comfortable temperature when working hard. That means that when you’re out in the pouring rain, you’ll still find yourself getting wet and the Gabba is bulky enough that you can’t really remove it and store in a pocket either.

Waterproof tights or shorts

Now this might sound crazy, but in the rain it can actually be better to go with shorts than tights, as it’s the feeling of cold material against the skin that makes it hard to warm up. This is doubly the case if it’s also windy. That’s why you’ll see a lot of pros riding without tights or warmers in the pouring rain, because they’re in the know.

Sportful’s No Rain bib shorts and tights are just the thing to help keep your legs dry when it’s cold and wet

The caveat, however, is that when the temperature’s low you will inevitably want your legs covered. And for those days there are water resistant bib tights on the market that’ll serve you well. Sportful’s No Rain bib tights are a prime example, made with a fabric that repels water. Sportful have also added a Fiandre edition of the tights to the No Rain range for this winter, with a second layer of water resistant fabric on the knees and thighs, as well as a flap which covers your bum, for the very worst conditions.

– Buyer’s guide: winter tights –

But because they’re made from water resistant fabric, they’re thicker which means a slightly restricted range of movement for your legs. But if the choice is between that and getting totally soaked through and feezing cold, it’s not really a decision.

Overshoes

Overshoes come if different varieties, from knitted Belgian Booties that keep your feet warm to thick, waterproof offerings that aim to prevent any water from dampening your socks.

Belgian Bootie-style oversocks might look cool and keep your feet warm, but they’re pretty much useless in the rain

Personally, I think that warmth is the most important factor when it comes to overshoes. Whether your feet are wet or not, you don’t want to start losing feeling in them an hour into your three-hour weekend ride. A lot of riders make the mistake of thinking that warmth and dryness are related. This isn’t the case. Actually, some of the most effective winter overshoes are neoprene, and work using the same principle as a wetsuit. That is, they let water in, but that water inside the shoe/overshoe is warmed up, keeping your feet warm even though they might be soaking. Admittedly, the feeling of soaking wet feet might not appeal to everyone, but it is very effective.

– Buyer’s guide: overshoes –

The main problem waterproof overshoes face is that bike shoes are really very good at letting water in. This comes from the fact that most have ventilation holes in the sole. Plus, there will always have to be a gap in the bottom of the overshoe for the cleats to engage the pedal, and that can leak as well. Something with a quality level of waterproofing and an insulated inside layer are Shimano’s S3000R overshoes, whereas if you only want to keep the rain out, Velotoze’s Tall Shoe Covers are sort of like shrink wrap for your feet.

Shimano’s S3000R overshoes offer good winter protection from wind and rain

If you want full waterproofing, you’re going to have to resign yourself to a lot of added bulk around your shoes. Something with Gore-Tex or a similar fabric should do the trick, but they’ll also make you look like you have double plastercasts on both feet, and can rub on the chainstays if you have a bike with close clearance as you pedal. But if you’re totally committed to staying warm and dry, then that’s pretty much your only choice.

– Six of the best… overshoes for autumn and winter –

One handy little tip is to cover the vents on the bottom of your shoes with tape – it’s low tech but it works. Of course, you do run the risk of spoiling that lovely carbon finish, but needs must.

If you want to go into the subject of overshoes in greater depth, check out our buyer’s guide for everything you’ll need to know, or here are six of our favourite pairs of overshoes.

Aeroshell/aero helmet

While the pros might use aeroshells (a detachable shell which can be clipped onto some lids) on their helmets in an attempt to grab a marginal gain or two, the rest of us can use use them for a significantly lower tech reason: they keep the rain out.

Ian Stannard demonstrates excellent bad weather deployment of the aero helmet in 2013’s edition of Milan-San Remo

The reason your £200 high tech road helmet leaks like a sieve is the same reason it keeps you cool in summer: the vents. Yep, anything with holes in is going to take in water, and the bike helmet is easily the most porous bit of kit you own. So grab that aeroshell that’s been sitting in the garage since you unboxed your helmet, and put it to good use. Italian manufacturer LAS have even began marketing the aero Victory Vento version of their flagship helmet as a winter lid thanks to the fact that most of the holes are covered up.

– Buyer’s guide: how to choose a cycling helmet –

Another pro technique is to stick a cycling cap under your helmet. It won’t do a whole lot for keeping you dry, but the peak will keep at least a little rain out of your eyes. You could, of course, opt for a helmet with a peak instead – but being a dedicated roadie you wouldn’t want to do that, would you?

Gloves

Gloves are another area in which it’s not always essential to keep the rain out completely, you just need to stay warm. As anyone who’s ever tried to brake with freezing hands, it’s difficult at best and downright frightening at worst, and if you want to keep control of the bike in the worst of conditions, you need to make sure that your hands stay warm.

Castelli’s neoprene Diluvio gloves use the wetsuit effect to keep your hands warm even in the coldest temperatures

Something like Castelli’s Diluvio neoprene gloves use the wetsuit technique to keep your hands warm even though they’re wet, but the trade off is that you’ll have to cope with the ‘slimy’ feeling that will produce.

– Buyer’s guide: what to look for in winter gloves –

Again, if you want something that keeps water out completely – and that really is a struggle when it comes to gloves – you’re looking at adding considerable bulk into the package, and that doesn’t always work well when you’re trying to brake or change gears. Added bulk almost always results in restricted movement which isn’t often an ideal situation, but if you’re riding in mid-winter and trying to stay warm it’s sometimes unavoidable.

Eyewear

You know those clear lenses that came with your sunglasses? Well when it’s raining is perfect chance to take them out of the plastic sleeve and put them to use.

Some people ditch their sunglasses altogether in the rain, while others wear theirs in all conditions. There are benefits and drawbacks to both, but ultimately it comes down to personal preference.

Glasses with clear or light-enhancing lenses are an excellent way to keep water out of your eyes when riding in the rain. They’re particularly useful in driving rain when your eyes can start to sting after a while

One of the main bonuses about glasses when it’s raining hard is that it stops the rain stinging your eyes. This isn’t an issue unless it’s really lashing down, but when that happens it can occasionally be impossible to keep your eyes on the road which, obviously, is never a good thing. Plus, wearing glasses protects your eyes from grit or anything else that kicks up from the road.

– Buyer’s guide: cycling sunglasses –

The flip side of that, of course, is that in light rain the drops on the lenses of your glasses are sometimes more bother than wearing the glasses is worth, so it can be better to just stow them in your pocket in case the weather worsens.

Most glasses come with interchangeable lenses to switch a conditions dictate

You’ll also want a large lens coverage to block the maximum amount of rain you can. There’s no point in wearing your fancy glasses if the rain still hits your eyes as the lenses aren’t big enough to stop it. Some glasses even have a hydrophobic coating on their lenses, which means water runs off them more effectively, obviously making those lenses prime candidates for rides in the rain.

Clear lenses aren’t the only ones that are applicable for the rain, either. Some glasses come with what are called ‘light enhancing’ lenses. Rather than making things look brighter, which obviously won’t be happening without a light, they actually diminish the contrast between the bright and dark areas in poor light which correspondingly helps with depth perception. This can be useful because rainy days also tend to be rather dull, and makes it easier to see greater detail in your surroundings. If you’re interested, they do this by filtering one colour of the electromagnetic spectrum – usually blue light – which is pretty smart indeed.

Mudguards

As well as water from above, there’s also water from below to contend with when it’s raining. As soon as the road surface starts to become wet, you’ll find that your tyres are kicking up water onto your chest and face at the front, and extra water onto your rear, back and feet. In fact, you’ll often find yourself getting wetter from road spray than the actual stuff falling from the sky.

If you can fit mudguards on your bike it won’t be just you that’s thankful – riding mates will appreciate it as well

The best way to stop yourself getting wet on both sides is a set of mudguards. It’s also the best way to not piss off anyone you ride with when they’re behind you, as you won’t be kicking water up into their face the whole time.

If your bike has mounts for mudguards, you’ll be laughing. You can pick up a set of full mudguards for less than thirty quid, and something like Flinger’s F55 ‘guards will cover more than enough of your wheels that you’ll all but eliminate road spray.

– Buyer’s guide: mudguards for road bikes –

But if you don’t have the luxury of mudguard mounts on your bike, there are still options. The Ass Saver or Rear Guard – two brands offering a very similar product – sits on your saddle rails to stop you ending up with that wet trail up your back from rear wheel spray. You can also get clip-on mudguards from the likes of Crud and SKS for road bikes without mounts or clearance for full ‘guards. If you want to know  what’s suitable for your bikes, check out our mudguards buyer’s guide.

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