Seven things I learned while testing waterproof cycling jackets

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I’ve been spending a lot of time lately checking the weather forecast. You may have done the same to avoid the worst weather conditions, but I did my best to time my entire ride with the rain passing wherever I was at the time, to bring you a very comprehensive guide to best waterproof cycling jackets.

My shoes, both road and gravel, genuinely stayed soggy all the time, I accidentally submerged my crankset misjudging puddles, and on one memorable ride managed to destroy a brand new front light in less than an hour, such was the level of the spray coming out of my front wheel.

Through this testing, I was able to give you some recommendations on what I consider to be the best option for specific use cases, but I’d like to share some more general learning points with you so you can skip a best time when riding in the rain, no matter which jacket you choose.

Without further ado, here are six lessons I learned from becoming borderline amphibian.

Rapha Pro Team Gore-Tex Infinium Long Sleeve Jersey

If you’re going out for a power hour, just use a softshell (Image credit: Josh Ross)

1. For an hour of intense riding, just use a softshell

If, like me, your winter riding goes from the long, beautiful epics of summer to ripping hours in twilight darkness, and you go for intensity over distance, then my advice would be to just use a jacket softshell. Our guide to best winter cycling jackets has a lot of options, but in terms of maintaining an ideal temperature, something like the Rapha Pro Team Gore-Tex Infinium Long Sleeve Jersey – with its concise nomenclature – will serve you far better than the most breathable waterproof cycling jackets.

Cycling at high intensity generates an enormous amount of heat, more than any waterproof jacket can handle without leaving you sweaty, and in turn more or less as wet as you would be anyway, except that ‘it’s way too hot. That’s why you see pro riders throwing away their rain capes for the last 50 kilometers, unless the weather is bad enough to start discussing canceling the stage early. Softshell options, by comparison, allow you to get wet, but allow you to offload much more body heat, making life more comfortable.

For long days at a lower intensity, however, a hard shell will be better if it’s actually raining.

2. Fit is more important than you think

While a flap jacket isn’t aerodynamic, riding with a jacket sized for your riding position makes a huge difference beyond better cheat the wind. If you ride in an extremely cut race jersey in an upright position, you will likely leave your lower belly exposed. Of course, it can be covered by the best winter tights if they have a good high waist, but letting it get wet can make it cold. The stomach has a lot of blood flow but doesn’t generate much heat, so keeping it covered by your shell is a great way to keep yourself comfortable.

Likewise, wearing a relaxed-fit jacket in a racy position risks exposing your rear end and, if you’re not running the best road bike fenderswet too.

Finally, on this point, a waterproof cycling jacket can be made from the most waterproof and breathable fabric on the planet, but if it doesn’t sit well at the hem, cuffs and collar, water will leak out. will infiltrate through these large openings. . Elastic cuffs can get soggy around the wrist, but do a good job of sealing out water. If you opt for adjustable cuffs, make sure they can be snug enough to seal in as much water as possible.

A man in a red hooded jacket gets wet

Surprisingly only the Rapha Commuter jacket had a stowable hood (Image credit: Will Jones)

3. Hoods should be stowable, but usually aren’t

My biggest frustration when testing all the hooded jackets was that, with the exception of the Rapha Commuter Jacket, none had a stowable hood. While a cowl is, if well designed like the Rapha Trail or Albion Zoa’s, certainly beneficial to your overall driving experience if you don’t go to hell for leather, when it doesn’t is not used, it acts as an air dam if you are riding in anything other than an upright position.

Even with the full-zip jacket, if you even watch the drops, the hood picks up a giant clump of air and swells behind you, slowing you down and in some cases constricting your neck. A simple fabric tab and a press stud, or Velcro, is enough. Even touring jackets, where aerodynamics are not considered, often have it as a feature, so for the majority of waterproof cycling jackets, omitting them is really baffling to me.

4. Don’t neglect the rest of your body

Rain, especially heavy and/or prolonged rain, will penetrate through the best cycling shoe coversthe best winter cycling shoesthe best winter cycling glovesand the best leggings, whatever DWR treatment or waterproof membranes these items offer, it is really a matter of time rather than a lack of protection. Does that mean you should avoid them altogether? No.

Not only is being wet unpleasant in itself, because the water evaporates, but it absorbs heat from your body, making you more prone to chills. On some rides, I got sick of the feeling of soggy pantyhose against my legs, or the laden feeling of sloppy shoe covers, and went without instead. “My skin is waterproof,” I said to myself before leaving through the garage door, soon shivering.

At some point, even in milder climates, you get to a point where cycling harder won’t warm you up, so it’s best to avoid getting there altogether if you can by protecting your whole body as best you can for the conditions you face.

A man with an extremely muddy face

If you look like this after 15km, maybe you shouldn’t gear up to the top end (Image credit: Will Jones)

5. If you’re throwing away your gear, don’t buy high-end

When I raced cyclo-cross for several winters in Yorkshire I had to deal with some of the worst conditions I have ever ridden in. Ankle-deep mud tours, drops, sleet and pouring rain made me question every decision that got me to this point. For my warm up laps, despite the really atrocious conditions, I opted for a ten pound softshell jacket which I bought in the center aisle of my local supermarket, as every week it was covered in mud, falling on the floor and almost lost in the chaos of the starting grid.

Yes, better, more expensive jackets will give you better protection, but if you’re particularly hard on your gear, you might be better off going for something that’s technically worse, allowing you to replace it more easily when you need it. possibly destroy. It’s the same reason I ran Shimano 105 rather than something fancier, because ripping out a derailleur wasn’t uncommon: don’t run (or ride) what you can’t replace . This is primarily for those of you who venture off-road I might add, unless you get into the habit of crashing every fortnight on the road in which case you might want to consider the best smart trainers instead or a set of best winter road bike tires In place.

6. Wash your gear properly or you destroy it

Waterproof membranes are generally fragile, which is why they are usually sandwiched between an inner and outer fabric. Although they are physically fragile, they are also chemically so, and for reasons my A-level chemistry class didn’t teach me, soap – specifically, Bio laundry detergent and fabric softener – will destroy the membrane. , as well as elastane and lycra. I’ll be very clear here:

Do not wash your waterproof cycling jacket with normal laundry detergent!

At some point, you will need to wash your jacket, both to restore the durable water-repellent coating and to remove micro-debris that clogs it, which affects breathability. When the time comes, use sport-specific waterproof garment washes such as those from Assos or NikWax, and follow the recommendations on your particular jacket.

Now that you know everything I know, go to the guide to best waterproof cycling jackets to see which options made the cut.

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