Cycling to work is one of the best ways to commute. Exercise, fresh air, and not having to sit next to a bunch of other miserable commuters on the bus and train (breathing in their germs – yuck!) are advantages that readily spring to mind.
But, when the weather’s wet, the prospect can be less appealing and that’s when waterproof bike gear comes into play.
Whether (no pun intended) you’re cycling to work in your tight spandex, or a more work-friendly suit and tie, it pays to invest in good quality kit that will keep you protected from the water.
Thankfully, there’s a full range of waterproof gear that you can get – from waterproof helmet covers, down to weather-proof socks, and even fully-waterproof backpacks and panniers so that your laptop stays dry too.
There’s a lot of choices out there though and it’s good to narrow down the options to the kit that you really need. So, I’ve got a list of recommendations here followed by a buying guide explaining what does what. Let’s dive in.
What do you need to wear when you’re cycling to work in the rain?
There are three critical items of wet-weather gear for bike commuting – jacket, pants and (assuming you’re toting a laptop / stuff that you need to keep dry) a dry bag in the form of either a backpack or set of panniers. In addition to these there are some other accessories that can go a long way towards keeping a smile on your face when the rain is pouring down and puddles are splashing up. Below I’ve got a list of each item I recommend and the key features to look out for when you’re making your choice. Let’s take a look.
Rain jacket for biking
A waterproof jacket is your best line of defense against the rain. It should be the third of a 3-layer system for your upper half, comprising base layer, fleece (for colder weather), and jacket. As with any piece of waterproof clothing you must make sure that it states that it is “waterproof” not just “water-resistant” or “water-repellent”. These items will tend to be more expensive but will keep the heaviest of rain out when water-resistant jackets would just curl up and start crying for their mommies.
Cycling rain rackets tend to be a different style to a rain jacket such as you’d use for backcountry hiking. For cycling, the jackets tend to be more fitted, particularly on the arms, so they don’t flap about. They also tend to be quite a lot longer on the back compared to the front. This helps to keep your butt covered when you lean forwards over the handlebars.
Useful features to look for include reflective detailing and/or a bright fabric color. Also, a chest pocket for keeping your phone/wallet in.
Waterproof cycling trousers or pants
When the rain hits your jacket where does it go? Yup, straight down and, unless you have a good quality pair of waterproof pants on, then it will soak right into your smart work chinos. It’s a biking-in-the-rain rule that this will always happen when you’re wearing light-colored chinos and will result in a dark stain across the crotch. Not a good look for the office and unlikely to score you any points with the boss.
As with cycling jackets, cycling pants tend to be a slimmer fit than hiking waterproofs. Partly this is for wind-resistance, but it’s also to stop the pants from getting caught up in your bike chain.
It’s worth hunting out waterproof pants that have zips up from the ankle to the knee as this can make them easier to put on in a hurry when the heavens open.
Cycling bag waterproof
Unless you’re lucky enough to be able to leave all of your work stuff in the office, then you’ll normally have to take at least a few things back and forth. This might be a laptop, or papers, or a change of clothes. Either way, you’ll need it all to stay dry. Having a dark stain on your light chinos is bad, but having a soaked laptop is infinitely worse.
There are a couple of choices depending on your preference and the amount of gear you need to lug. With a lot of gear then it’s worth going with a pannier rack and pannier bags. With just a couple of items then a backpack is usually best. Some manufacturers (such as Ortlieb) go to great lengths to make sure that their bags are fully waterproof.
In terms of style, I like a bag that I can fit to a pannier rack when I’m cycling and then have some variety of shoulder strap when I’m off the bike. This stops me from getting a sweaty back when I’m cycling and keeps my hands free when I’m not.
Lightweight waterproof cycling gloves
Hunt out gloves that are waterproof without being too bulky. This is partly for safety reasons – pulling brakes and changing gear is tricky with thick gloves – and also because you’ll need to take off thicker gloves in order to work your phone.
Waterproof cycling helmet cover
It’s fair to say that there’s not much point in spending cash on a snazzy rain jacket if the rain water is just going to drip down over your head and into the jacket. Assuming you wear a bike helmet (which I’d always recommend) then a waterproof cover is a great way of keeping the rain out.
Waterproof cycling socks or waterproof cycling shoe covers
When it comes to your feet, you’ve got a couple of options. The first is to wear your standard shoes with waterproof socks underneath. The second is to wear standard socks and shoes and put waterproof shoe covers over the top.
Again, it’s a matter of personal choice. For infrequent bike commuting, then I’d go with the comfort of waterproof socks. However for a daily commuter this would get expensive (with 5+ pairs of socks), so I’d opt for shoe covers instead.
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