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Rain/Cool weather gear

We are traveling to Bruges in mid-October and Accuweather is suggesting weather in the mid-forties to low-sixties. As a resident of Houston, this is fairly cool/cold for us and I need to purchase an appropriate travel jacket for our trip. We will be biking a considerable amount, so I prefer it to be waterproof. I usually travel with a dark fleece for layering.

Does anyone have a favorite jacket that they'd recommend?

Posted by
1147 posts

Since you're asking this I'm guessing you don't have a lot of experience biking in the rain. Which brings me to my advice part. Try biking for a while in the rain here in the US before you devote a considerable amount of your vacation to this.

There really is no perfect solution to staying dry and comfortable. When you bike, even at a modest pace, you build up heat. Sweat ("glow" for you ladies) is your body's way of cooling. So for a brisk hike or bike ride there are really 2 incompatible goals - water you generate out, no outside water in. An ideal clothing system would offer no resistance to sweat leaving your body (or, even better, wick it out) but complete blocking of external water coming in. There are new "miracle" fabrics for jackets announced each year, but the truth is none of them really work that well. That's why any of the technical wear for biking/hiking/climbing are loaded with pit zips, arm zips, front pocket mesh liners, zippers that have pulls on both ends to open a gap, etc. because they know they just can't get all the moisture out of the jacket thru the fabric.

Water vapor depends on a difference in humidity to move, but if you are generating water vapor thru work on a rainy day when the exterior humidity is 100% then the vapor off your body doesn't tend to work thru your clothes. So people wear all kinds of clingy synthetic wear in an attempt to wick moisture from their body to somewhere it can escape, otherwise you feel clammy. Still it all ends up as a compromise. You are not going to be warm and dry biking around, unless perhaps you are riding very slow in an area that is very flat. And keep in mind that a jacket is just part of the outfit you'll need. Even with fenders, water will get everywhere. You'll need waterproof pants and booties, along with some gloves. Gloves get water inside them, even if Goretex and completely sealed, and once wet inside are not easy to slip back on.

Even with a hood and brim on the jacket, water will still hit your face. Sit outside for a few hours in the rain and some finds its way down your neck in front. Also the water hitting your eyes makes it hard to see, so you'll need to wear some clear or yellow-tinted glasses, which themselves will get a bit blurry and be another source of water dripping onto your neck. And cold throws in another twist. Starting out you may be cold, but its not convenient to remove layers in a downpour as you warm up while riding. Honestly, biking in the rain isn't a lot of fun. People do it, but you don't see them smiling ;-)

Posted by
2393 posts

I would google "rain gear for biking" and start reading reviews of the different products and see what appeals to you. Even though some of the new gear says it breathes some folks say it doesn't.

Visit a sporting goods store like REI and try some on - walk around the store a bit in it or go to the changing room and run in place. You really need to see BEFORE you haul it on vacation how you like it. REI has a great return policy - if you don't like something return it for a refund for a year. Well worth buying and trying - but maybe in late September when it's not disgustingly hot in Houston!

The rain cape or poncho is nice because your moisture wicking garments will still function. Some of the new "performance wear" can get pretty pricey.

I would suggest two pairs of gloves - if one gets wet you will have a dry pair to wear. Same with socks.

Wool is naturally water resistant and dries quickly - cotton is the opposite.

Posted by
5837 posts

We biked northeast Germany second half of Sept 2010. We experienced one or two days of short sleeve and bike shorts weather, a couple of off & on rain shower days and a couple of rain & wind days. Most days were bike tights and wind (NOT waterproof) shell days.

As a starting point, I agree with John's overall assessment. Biking in the rain means getting wet from inside, outside or both meaning wet from sweat or from rain. A true waterproof jacket will guarantee getting you wet without ventilation. For light drizzle and intermittent showers a bike pancho can be handy if you can tolerate the flapping.

A good bike rain jacket as John notes needs vents - arm pit zips, cape vents and the ability to snap closure without zipping. The tail should be longer than the front to accommodate an aero ridding position and deflect back wheel spray. (Our rental bikes were equipped with fenders generator hub powering headlights and tail light). For high water repellency/waterproof conditions, look for "breathable" membrane (e.g. Goretex or similar) lining and sealed seams. The outer shell material should have a water repellent finish. High visibility colors are my preference since black is for funerals.

I would not ride with fleece. Layering is a good idea. On cold wet days consider a very light wicking base layer toped with a bike jersey. Add wind shell or rain jacket as appropriate. I must add that if you need arm protection, you should definitely have leg-knee cover. I start thinking bike tights or knee warmers for under 15C and would definitely wear bike tights for under 10C days. I use Craft base layers:

You should be able to skip booties. If you ride in the rain and your toes get cold, plastic bags over synthetic or wool cycling socks will guarantee wet feet but they will likely be warm wet feet. Bring long finger riding gloves and or light glove liners in addition to your usual riding gloves. You should consider treating gloves with Nikwax.

I have rain pants but its a last resort for extreme rain. Rain pants are too constricting for peddling, but handy when you stop and need to hold body warmth. But stopping in a cafe is an even better way to warm up.

Posted by
86 posts

Biking in the rain is a routine event for us, but as Houston residents, we are far more likely to be grateful for the rain to cool us down. Both my husband and I have multiple MS150s under our belts, but in Houston in we rarely train outdoors below fifty degrees and any new gear I buy before we leave can't be road tested because it will still be in the eighties down here.

Insulating activewear is just a new category for me, and one that I really can't walk into a store in Houston and find much to try on. Even our REI will tell you to just order it all online. Thanks Edgar, for the Craft link. I don't own a long sleeve bike jersey, as I usually wear a sleeveless jersey and my arm warmers so I can strip them when I warm up and then just deal with the funky tan lines...

Posted by
4132 posts

I can't tell from your posts if you necessarily want cycling gear, but I would recommend technical clothing. For the rain layer in particular, a lightweight breathable waterproof shell that will double as a wind shield. That is Gore-Tex or similar. Pit zips a very desirable feature if you will be using this for riding.

Layer under this article of clothing to meet the conditions of the day. The inner layer should be wicking.

A dedicated cycling jacket will give you an elongated back and perhaps a drop tail to keep your seat dry.

I spent a week riding around Burgundy one April. The temperatures were similar and the trip was, alas, often wet. Here is what I brought, and it served me very well:

Wicking polypro long underwear
Long and short sleeve cycling jersey
Padded cycling shorts
UNpadded cycling tights (the padding is in the shorts)
Gore-tex-clone cycling jacket (I think it was REI Elements, not real Gore Tex)
Gor-tex-clone pants
Polypro and wool cycling socks
Cycling shoes
Long-fingered and short-fingered cycling gloves
Gore-tex-clone helmet cover

I didn't wear all of this all the time, but it let me layer. I also brought regular clothing too.

The only thing that was less than satisfactory is that sometimes my feet got pretty wet.

If you are bringing your own machines, I'd put fenders on them.