Cycling as serious transport in a country without a commitment to it requires a lot of guts and a lot of great gear. Over the years, I’ve gone through a lot of money and strife finding that gear. Here I profile only the best gear that has worked for me.
For wind and rain protection, I’ll discuss the top down, then discuss the extremities. I’ll skip the head since I don’t use more than a helmet. In icy conditions, I can see getting a cover for the helmet but I didn’t need one while biking to work in snow at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Whistler. I’ll also skip eyewear since I haven’t found any good way to keep those clear in the rain other than simply wiping on occasion.
For the torso, there are some great options. However, it took a while to find them. For years, skiers and hikers have had Gore-Tex: a material that won’t let moisture in but will let moisture out. The great value in this is to manage perspiration and rain at the same time.
Having done all three activities (cycling, hiking, and skiing), I can safely say skiers and hikers never sweat as much as a cyclist. If breathability were needed anywhere, it is needed in cycling. Given that, it is surprising how very little breathable material I’ve found in cycling outerwear. Instead, I find lots of plain old nylon jackets and pants with a little bit of elastic at the ends. The plain nylon outerwear tends to be a big sweat factory. Consequently, I avoid it like the plague with one exception.
The nylon jackets with removable sleeves work pretty well. Obviously, having no sleeves is a great way to produce breathability. It obviously leaves you less protected which matters greatly in really cold conditions but I’ll get to a solution for that later. In most conditions, a jacket with adjustable sleeves has met most of my needs for rain and wind protection.
Amongst the removable sleeve jackets, the best I’ve seen is the Cannondale Morphis Shell. This jacket is head and shoulders above all the other removable sleeve jackets because it is so easy to detach and attach the sleeves. It is the only one of its kind that I can do this while riding. With other jackets, you might get the sleeves off while riding but you will be hard pressed to get them back on at all, much less as easy as you will with the Morphis.
Why? Because the Morphis uses magnets, yes magnets, to attach the sleeves instead of zippers or velcro. These magnets break away more quickly and easily the any fastener but, more importantly, the magnets are self-attaching. When you are ready to re-attach the sleeves, you simply slide them on and the magnets find each other like something out of a Transformer movie.
The jacket is simply incredible. This kind of rapid flexibility is just what I want while riding in mixed to bad weather. All the other jackets with removable sleeves make you stop and futz in the rain to get the zippers, snaps, or velcro together but with the Morphis I detach and attach sleeves with impunity as conditions change. It’s awesome.
The one issue is that the magnets leave space for air to get through the seams which can be an issue on very cold days. However, for those days you probably don’t need adjustable sleeves at all.
As amazing as the Morphis shell is, having no sleeves obviously provides no shelter for the arms. Consequently, I use this shell for moderately cold and relatively dry days, windy days, or days where I don’t know what it’s gonna do.
For the really serious storm, a full jacket with breathable material is the way to go. You’ve got to really search in the bike shops but it is there. In the breathable category, the best I’ve found is the Endura Luminite Jacket. In addition to being breathable it is super visible. My friend Johan and I really value visibility since we are really not into premature death.
The jacket has a wealth or reflective material all over it and it comes in “day-glo” yellow. It even has a blinking red LED light embedded in the jacket for added visibility. I’ve worn this on the worst kinds of days and not been wanting for anything else. It has velcro straps to close the sleeves and a very high, cinchable, collar to keep rain off your neck. I’ve even worn this sailing with satisfactory results.
Flexibility and breathability are sufficient for the top of your body. However, in cycling the action is on the bottom. For this, breathability and flexibility (zippers and stuff) are essential but what is ideal is stretchability. To keep things simple, I’ll sidestep all this as long as possible and just ride in rain in bike shorts until it gets below 50 degrees fahrenheit. Below that, I’ll throw on some long rain pants. Thankfully these days, you can now find long rain pants that are both breathable and stretchable.
The best I’ve seen of this type of outerwear is the Sugoi Firewall Pant. These pants breathe and stretch beautifully. They also have a nice reinforced material inside the ankle where you might interact with the crank and a zipper along the outside of the ankle to make them easy to slip over your shoes.
Running the zipper is a two-handed operation so you can’t do that while you ride. However, the only time I ever want to do that is when I forget to zip before I get on the bike which is kind of my bad. The zipper is tough to zip because of the rubberizing around it so it is a feature not a bug.
Nevertheless, what really makes these pants stand out is the cut. These look and feel like regular pants. They have a matte finish to the fabric so they don’t reflect light all the time like typical rubber rain gear. They even have two side pockets with zippers. The cut around the leg is just loose enough to look like normal pants but just tight enough to not get caught in your chain. From a distance, if it weren’t for some reflective graphics, you’d think they were slacks of some kind. custom logo socks