My War Against Rain Gear, Part Umpteen

I’ve lived in Portland for almost twenty-two years, and for all of those years, I’ve been an all-year, all-weather cyclist. And if you are an all-weather cyclist in Portland, that means you’re going to have to deal with rain. Rain is the default weather from sometime in October (or November if we’re lucky) to sometime in May (or June if we’re unlucky.) It’s rare during the wet season to leave the house on a bike and not have some kind of protection from the rain.

I remember my first rainy season in Portland, winter of 2001-2. I had been riding my bike around town since summer and I was determined to ride through the winter. I already had a rain jacket, a “whatever” PVC job that I bought for maybe twenty bucks. And I found a pair of surplus West German Military Rain Pants at Andy and Bax, our local army/navy, for about the same amount. This is the combo I used that season. Yeah, the gear kept the rain from getting to me, mostly, but all that unbreathable plastic meant that I sweated a lot. I eventually got better rain jackets and rain pants, but the problems still persisted. I was not in love with rain gear in general.

Rain pants were the first to go. I discovered Rain Legs, which cover the front of your legs down to your ankles, basically, where the rain is going to go. And when not needed, they roll up into a nice baguette package. No more annoying rain pants for me! I eventually got a Showers Pass rain jacket, supposedly “the best of the best” when it comes to bike rain jackets. It was decent, though still not exciting.

Sometime around the turn of the teens I got into the idea of rain capes, as is the wont of many a cycling retro-grouch. The beauty of them is that they are tent like, meaning that they should keep the bottom half of you dry as long as it’s not too wet out. I went through a few of them over the years: First, a cheapie that I’m sure is still somewhere in the garage. Next, a Carradice waxed cotton rain cape. This was the classiest rain garment I’ve owned. But it needed to be re-waxed on a regular basis, smelled like a crayon due to the wax, and then finally got yanked from a bike about five years ago. I got that replaced with a Grundens version sold by Rivendell. 1 It was big, which solved some of the coverage issues on the Carradice, especially when used with the Raleigh Crested Butte. But man, it is super dorky looking.

One of the things that I love about rain capes is you don’t wear it until you need it. It’s not like a rain jacket, where many cyclists wear theirs as their default outer garment from October through June, even if there won’t be a drop of rain in sight for weeks. I don’t think rain jackets are particularly attractive, and even the best make me feel clammy after a bit, so I don’t see the appeal in wearing them all the time. That’s what really appealed to me about rain capes: pack it somewhere until you really need it, then throw it on. So what if it looks dorky, it’s pouring out!

But since I didn’t wear my rain cape until absolutely necessary, that meant that I wore it less and less. And since I’ve been biking less, and rarely going out on a bike in the rain, it’s been a long time since I donned one. But eventually I knew that I’d need it. That happened a few weeks ago: I rode to Montavilla to enjoy a pint. It was dry when I rode up there, but when I was leaving it was pouring. I put on the Grundens, and hated it. Rain capes suck in the wind, and it was windy, so I was constantly fighting to keep it draped over my handlebars. And since this cape is big, the material was getting caught between my butt and saddle, which isn’t how it’s supposed to work.

So what do I do now? Well, I should probably invest in a better rain jacket, but I don’t know what. I have an okay one right now, maybe I’ll get one when the REI dividend and coupon comes around in spring. I’m also willing to give a different rain cape a try. The Grundens was just too big, and it wasn’t that packable. It’d be nice to try something more packable. I know that Cleverhood has something. I thought about them years back, but their prices were a bit steep. They now have a more reasonable option (The Rover) that’s made overseas to keep the prices lower. There’s also venerable J&G Cyclewear (aka Jackson and Gibbens), an Oregon-made company that’s been around for awhile. (Dig their circa 2003 website!) I did own their rain jacket years ago and thought it was OK, so maybe I’ll give their cape a shot? It’s definitely cheaper than the Grundens and looks to be lighter and a bit smaller.

In the end, I realize that I’m never going to be 100% satisfied with rain gear. That’s okay. I just ask it to do what it needs to do when I need it. And if it’s only lightly raining, I’ll go with my good ol’ Northwest default: A thick wool sweater and/or wool jacket paired with quick-dry slacks and a good driver’s cap.

And please enjoy this comic I did about rain pants for the long-gone Momentum Magazine back in 2008! Larger version here.

1 It seems like I write about rain capes every three to five years, eh?

5 thoughts on “My War Against Rain Gear, Part Umpteen

Add yours

  1. I’ve always wanted to try the Carradice cape. I may yet! I’ve got a nice 100% wool Pendleton flannel I tend to wear during rain and it keeps me shockingly dry over a shortish distance, breaths, and dries quickly on the body. Combined with full fenders and a Waltz cap I have found natural fabrics do an actually better job than synthetic shells, which always tend to make me clammy and wet from the inside.

    1. I think the Carradice is worth checking out if you have the cash and are into the idea of waxed cotton. I just felt that I had to reproof it A LOT for it to be effective. Worst case scenario is that you can sell it if it doesn’t work out.

      A good layer of wool is effective for short-distance, light-rain cycling. I also have those quick dry pants–I’ll get wet (and cold if the temp is that low), but once inside, the wetness goes away quick.

  2. I use a Charles River poncho for hiking and cycling. Been rugged for the cost. Look at The People’s Poncho. It’s cycling specific and will be my next one someday! It looks cost effective and rolls up small.

  3. I use the Carradice cape when I ride my Brompton in rain. But I am always trying not to ride my Brommie in rain… Otherwise I use the Sigr windproof jacket (it can handle lighter rain, too). But it is sooo expensive.

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