Review: Cleverhood Raincape

Review: Cleverhood Raincape

Okay.  Below is a review of a product- and it’s taken way too long to make happen.  Between using it in the fall of last year, moving back to Alaska, my video review process shitting the bed, then it being summer- the time wasn’t right.  But as can happen, fall has arrived once more, and it’s time for folks to start thinking about the rain that comes with it.  So here is my review, as originally written, with photos from last week.

cape

A couple months back I got the opportunity to put the Cleverhood Rain cape through a long term review process. I of course jumped on it because rain capes have seemed like a good idea to me since I first saw them in the Rivendell Reader.  I have a tendency to run hot-  when wearing a waterproof shell I often get to my destination soaked from sweat, not rain;  the thought of not needing a waterproof jacket and pants when the clouds open up was like a breath of fresh air.

You may wonder why I haven’t put one through the paces already if it’s been in my mind for so long.  In one word: cost.  Quality rain gear is expensive and rain capes are no exception.  I’d seen Carradice and Brooks rain capes over the years, but they were difficult to source (being from across the pond) and over $250 a pop.  That, and they were made of waxed cotton- which though aesthetically pleasing, is fairly bulky, dries slowly once saturated and they take maintenance (more maintenance is needed the more it is used in the rain, the wax being something of a sacrificial element.)

So now that we’ve established that I’m a cheap bastard frugal, we’ll get on with it.

Cleverhood was born in, and still based in Providence, Rhode Island.  They are made in the United States and inspired by the slow bike movement, or in their words: “the simple, elegant way the bike is affecting broad change in our cities.”

I must admit- when I saw the video they made with the Street Kings of New York- it didn’t seem that rain capes and fixed gear bikes would go well together.  Sure- nothing says it absolutely wouldn’t work- but I had a different bike in mind.  To me, rain capes seem much more conducive to casual riding with rim brakes, not whip skids and racing lights downtown.  It would be the perfect match for my Port Townsend.

I got the rain cape days after Susan Mocarski (Ringleader of the surprisingly large team that makes up Cleverhood) told me she’d send one out.  I immediately donned it in the house (is that bad luck?)  There were a few things I noticed that differed from other rain capes I have seen.

  1. There was no waist draw string to limit the “cape factor” that can sometimes happen in high winds or while riding fast.
  2. There are two arm holes that allow more freedom if trying to do anything while wearing the cape.  If you don’t use these holes, the amount of fabric (especially when wet) can get a little bungled in your lock, bag, or in whatever else you may be doing.  These arm holes have a single magnetic closure that is designed to keep them from opening while riding.
  3. 3M™ piping to help in visibility.
  4. A chest pocket to hold a phone or keys (though I wouldn’t be 100% sure on keeping a bare phone inside (the fabric seems just a little too thin.) I use a Lifeproof case so I don’t worry about it.

The Cleverhood also has a hood, a loop to hang dry it with, and elastic thumb loops to keep the front end down.

Day one: Our biggest storm of the season to date was upon us and I figured it was a good time to give the new rain cape a test ride.  I put on my Swrve WWR pants with my Bogs and was out the door.  Wind was out of the south at a steady 20mph, easily gusting to 35. Perfect.  I got on my bike headed down the block.  Took a left onto Greenwood Ave and the wind hit me square in the face.  Stinging rain. The rain cape flagged out like a Old Glory. The thumb loops held the cape in place, but the 18″ or so of fabric below the thumb loops kept flying up, exposing my hands.  Rain was falling hard, and pooled up in the loose fabric between the neck and thumbholes.  Occasionally a gust of wind would come underneath and pop the water up- right into my face.    With the bigger gusts, the arm holes would be blown open, the single magnet not enough to keep them closed.  Even with all this, it seemed to keep me fairly dry underneath.  My lower legs got a little wet from the spray coming from my fenders but it wasn’t bad- especially with waterproof shoes.  I got down to the Myrtle Edwards trail and made the corner- the wind now coming from my side.  This proposed a bit of a problem. The wind had it’s way with the rain cape from the side- and I got a bit wet on my upper leg and even my shirt.  It felt like the wind might want to rip it off of me.  Riding with the rain cape for my first time in these extreme conditions was…. exciting.

Now I should say this- this was not a good day for riding.  These conditions kept many people inside for the day and it was only my eagerness that sent me out and about on such a craptastic afternoon.  I have been called young, dumb, and full of… uhh… rum before.

Day two:  Day two of testing took place about a week later.  The weather turned and we didn’t have rain for quite a while.  When it returned, it was much milder.  A gentle rain that came straight down.  No wind.  Stand outside and you’ll get wet, but at least it wasn’t falling up.  I rode 10 miles in my same outfit: Cleverhood rain cape on top of a tee shirt and wool flannel, Swrve WWR pants and Bogs.  This was the ticket.  10 miles later I got to my destination, unzipped the neck and pulled the whole thing over my head.  I felt like a magician.  I was dry.  Still a little moisture around the cuff of the pants from spray, but the WWR pants dry very quickly.  It was love at second ride.

The days that followed: I’ve been using the Cleverhood rain cape for 2 months now.  I’ve ridden with it mostly while on my porteur bike- but it also works just fine when I’m on my road bike.  I haven’t ridden with it while riding fixed because I don’t like the idea of the thumb loops being attached to me.  I grab it if it’s raining on for my ride to the store, bar, or coffee shop. It fits easy in my bag when I get there.

The recap:  If riding for long distances, the cape has a tendency to collect water; it saturates and drips through at points where my hands touch the fabric- much like condensation on a tent. I don’t think this would happen on a thicker cape (especially one of the rubberized options.)  I don’t like that the thumb holes make signaling difficult.  I’m not able to expose my hand if turning or changing lanes while in traffic- which I think becomes a safety issue.  If you remove your thumbs from the holes, they can be difficult to put back in while riding.  I have worked around this by attaching the thumbholes to my brake levers.  It leaves my hands free to signal, snot rocket or adjust my light.  I’d like to see a more solid attachment of the thumbholes and maybe a snap system that could attach to handlebars.  Perhaps a toggle thing, as snaps might pop out in a wind gust.  The hood fits nicely under my helmet- I don’t like it over, as it reduces peripheral vision.

The real question everyone wants to know…  Is it worth $240?  I’d say yes- with some notes.  If you ride a fendered bike, aren’t trying to win any races and don’t like the idea of donning full rain jacket and pants, a rain cape is for you.  If you want something to go between cross rides, road rides, turning tricks on your sweet fixie, or mountain biking- you’re going to be better off with a jacket/pant combo.  The Cleverhood rain cape seems built around urban cycling/commuting and in that, it works very well.

I don’t think I’ll ever be rain cape-less again.  It’s not the best in really windy conditions and therefore may not be suitable for your only form of rain protection- but it works pretty damn well when it comes to keeping the rain out. Sure- some of my friends laugh when I tell them that I’ve been using a rain cape.  I think they might have the idea that you have to be over 60, or British to ride with one- but what do they know?  I show up dry and dapper in my Cleverhood Rain Cape.

You can get yours HERE

*authors note: The sixpack of Fremont Brewing beer that mysteriously showed up at my door with a note attached saying “MADE IN THE USA, LIKE CLEVERHOOD” had no sway on this review- though it was greatly appreciated and made the review much more enjoyable.  Thanks Susan and the Cleverhood crew for doing what you do.

*Also, the first picture is of Ali checking out the Cleverhood raincape, taken last year by Greg. (because I’ve had the cape that long…)

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