Bicycle, Gear

Rode hard and put away wet. Rain jackets for cyclists.

Something you may not know about Seattle- it rains here.  It’s also occasionally windy, making umbrellas something that aren’t ideal.  Many pedestrians give up on umbrellas and invest in a waterproof shell, putting their heads down and trudging along to their destination.  Cyclists don’t even have the option of an umbrella, and unless you want something like this:

You better get a shell as well.

You by no means need a cycling specific shell for riding.  I’ve used a Northface lightweight shell for a number of years with great success.  It’s a lightweight rain shell, with no insulation- perfect for Seattle.  When the weather is really foul, I do have to revert to my least favorite jacket that I’ve ever owned:  The Burton AK Continuum.

A little story on my Burton AK Continuum jacket- I bought it about 5 years ago while I lived in Alaska.  I was snowboarding quite a bit, on ski patrol and pretty active in the winter months.  I bought the best jacket I could afford- and loved the clean lines of the Burton jacket.  When it came in the mail I was stoked- it does look great.  A hardshell with taped seams and lots of vents.  It was great until I tried to zip it up.  The tight fitting waterproof zippers are always pretty tight- but the problem on this jacket is the fold on the back of the zipper snags in the zipper half of the time.  If you have ever been on the mountain, with gloves or mittens on and tried to zip up your jacket only to have it snag- you understand my frustration.  My jacket got thrown in the closet and forgotten about.  Upon moving to Seattle I figured I’d give it another shot.  The material is much thicker than a lightweight shell, and in being so- lends a lot more to the waterproofness. It didn’t work any better after sitting in time out.  Even the thinner full finger bike gloves have to come off when you are messing with that damn fold of fabric and pulling it out of the zipper.  Frustrated- I contacted Burton’s customer service.  No reply.  That is a double fail for Burton.  Poor product, poor customer service.  Oh well, the jacket was only $400- a drop in the bucket for a wealthy bike blogger such as myself. But I digress.

You can get a softshell- which are generally more comfortable, stretchy, easier to move in and often more breathable- but once wet can feel saturated.  They work best in showers where you can then hang out inside and dry off a bit afterwards.  In most climates a softshell will work just fine.

Swrve Milwauke Jacket

  • $150.00
  • 3-layer softshell fabric
  • fleece interior
  • pit zips

Mission Workshop Orion Waterproof Jacket

  • $395
  • Made in Canada
  • Fully taped seams
  • 4-way stretch Schoeller fabric
  • Internal ipod pocket
  • External cell phone pocket
  • Pit zips
  • Removable hood
  • Touring style zippered rear pocket

Showers Pass Portland Jacket

  • $200
  • waterproof softshell fabric
  • 2-way front zipper and hidden pit zips for venting
  • Chest pocket with audio port
  • Drop down 3M reflective rear panel and reflective piping

And then there are hard shells.  Style-wise I generally prefer the cut and look of a mountain bike jacket.  Some have reflective piping and few are as loud and yellow as many road jackets are.  I ride with lights and prefer to feel comfortable and not look like an STP rider when I arrive at my destination.  You can get different weights in a hardshell- the lighter not being as warm (which is generally good for riding) I have used a lighter hard shell for many years before it started leaking.  They then can be retreated or used as a windbreaker.

Mavic HC H20 Jacket

  • $325 (estimated)
  • Gore-Tex® Paclite® fabric
  • Full length front zipped vent (XL Vent)
  • fully taped seams
  • Rear zip pocket with 3 inner mesh pockets and 1 zip chest pocket

Fox Dawn Patrol Jacket

  • $80
  • Material: 100% Nylon 3mm rip stop 3000MVP/3000WP, 112g/m2
  • Longer in back for butt coverage
  • Waterproof front zipper
  • 2 hand pockets
  • Waterproof rear zippered pocket

And then of course there is the rain cape, or poncho.  You don’t see these very often in the US for whatever reason.  When I have ridden with them (briefly, never on extended trips) I have seen some potential.  They allow air movement below while keeping you dry from on top.  They are a little cumbersome and limit your movements on as well as off the bike and just aren’t that great when you arrive at your destination and want to walk around.  They also aren’t easy to use while carrying a messenger bag or backpack.  Wind can be a little bit of an issue as well, though most will have some waist band and thumb holes to keep it from flying around.  I didn’t find myself feeling too comfortable at a fast clip.  It seems better suited to a more casual paced rider.  They may be left for the randoneers or Euro-philes out there.

Carradice Duxback Rain Cape

  • $120
  • waxed cotton
  • look so-so Euro
  • sewn on hood.

There are options out there to be sure.  It’s a matter of function in your climate, comfort, price and taste that will determine which is right for you.  For many of us- we’ll use the same jacket on and off the bike and as I said before- you by no means need a bike specific jacket.  What you will gain hopefully in finding one for the bike is better ventilation, a longer tail to keep the rain off your butt and possibly some reflective piping or stripes.  And then of course you can always give your non-bike jacket some DIY treatment.

What do you ride with?


  • Matt

    November 29, 2011

    I picked up a decent/cheap Novara rain jacket from REI for $70 or so. Keeps me successfully dry. I have to ride with sleeves. It doesn’t breathe well and bare arms will start to sweat..

  • greghxc

    November 30, 2011

    Most of the year, I ride with a North Face Summit Series GoreTex XCR shell I purchased from the outlet store down in Bekeley maybe four years ago. I’ve worn it nearly every day since. It has a couple vents, and breathes reasonably well until it gets fully saturated. Like Matt said above, I ride with sleeves or warmers to avoid clammy arms. I can get through most of the winter riding without much more than that, especially with a wool jersey or arm surplus sweater underneath.

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