There comes a time in spring when dazzling dry days lure unsuspecting cyclists into ditching the rain gear. Inevitably you get a mile down the road and that innocuous puffy cloud has developed a menacing gray underbelly. A patch of blue sky remains enticingly ahead of you while the cloud bestows its blessings. That’s when you regret your impulse to forego clammy rain pants in favor of what are now waterlogged jeans.
Our coastal weather is rapidly changeable; what starts out as a clear day may transform to a full-blown storm by afternoon. The sight of Tillamook Head collecting clouds, which I glimpse from my office window, warns me to suit up for sideways rain.
As the weather warms, rain gear can become intolerably warm and you end up getting wet from inside the clothing rather than from nature’s gifts on the outside. This mini greenhouse effect can convince you to leave the waterproof stuff behind. I’d advise you to carry rain gear in your basket or bag just so you can slip it on in case the sky opens and sends you for an unexpected swim.
Water-resistant garments each fall somewhere along an imperviousness-breathability scale: maximally breathable garments are the least protective against the R Word and the most armorlike garments can become your own personal sauna. I like testing water-resistant gear on a warm but damp day, when I’m most likely to perspire beneath them and I’m not going to get critically chilly if they’re more breathable than warm. Features like pit zips (zippers that go from the chest to the forearm on jackets, allowing for ventilation in a spot that’s hard for water to reach) can assist you in striking the balance between waterproof and breathable.
Some vapor barriers require periodic re-application. Observe whether water beads on the surface and rolls off or gets absorbed into the garment (that’s time to use a spray-on or wash-in product to restore the vapor barrier). Others are part of the material and wear out over time. Some garments have taped seams. The tape wears out after a while and needs to be replaced. If you see it fraying and separating from the material, then your seams could experience a hull breach from rain, if not Romulans.
Well-made rain gear can be expensive, but I wouldn’t skimp by purchasing those heavy rubber pants or a jacket that’s basically a glorified garbage bag with holes for your head and arms. Cheap rain gear is less durable, its waterproofing degrades quickly or is insufficient, and it’s rarely breathable, leaving you just as damp as you’d be if you didn’t have any weather protection at all. You also have to hear it flap as you ride along.
Besides the obligatory jacket and rain pants, you can also accessorize with booties that zip over your shoes, gloves, and helmet liners. I haven’t yet mustered the courage to spend $50 on those rain booties, but a daily dose of foot-prunes is getting old.
The ultimate in rain protection comes with full fairings: a custom process where the bike is enclosed all around, like a small pedal-powered car. You’ll see this most often in specialized races of human-powered vehicles. It’s out of my price range, but sometimes I dream of stepping, dry and crisp, out of my bike/space capsule, wowing all those poor dripping folks who share the river-like road with me.