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    What should I know about rain gear?  
    [For a WARM rainy day….]

As a Californian who had never spent a day riding in rain, the experience wasn't all that bad. Once you get soaked, you can't get any wetter and there's no point in trying to stay dry. From that point on, the only thing I worried about was whether to keep my sunglasses on (to keep the spray out of my eyes) or off ('cause they were really hard to see through). Off won.

Ron Scheldrup

Since I work in that industry.... Ultrex is a Burlington Coat Factory patent on a lamination process to provide a waterproof breathable layer on clothing. Columbia started using that in some rainwear and later got their on patent on a slightly different twist (Omni Tech). Neither breathes worth a darn under bicycle exercise levels. They work great for walks in the park, sitting on chairlifts, etc.

REI has a jacket called the Randonee made of their "Elements" fabric. It looks like Omni Tech/Ultrex. I have two of these and they breathe almost as well as the Zephrr PI shells do. Not quite but almost.

Problem is that the mesh lining wasn't properly finished at the edges prior to assembly and I have one where the lining is barely attached and in several sections. (this may be a one off but since ALL seams were affected I suspect its in the manufacturing process). Nonetheless, these function as a rain jacket yet breathe enough to wear even when the weather is just "iffy".

Don "they may have correct this in current stock" Bolton

I haven't used GoreTex in heavy rain, but I hope it is better than Ultrex!

Bob and I have a couple of regular long (non-cycling) raincoats that are Ultrex and I wore one of them on a very rainy and windy campout a couple of years back. I was totally soaked and freezing within a couple of hours. Bob wore one of the fabric-lined plastic raincoats that run around $15 or $20 and was nice and dry the whole campout. Granted neither one of us was exercising heavily so sweat was not a problem.

I have heard complaints about GoreTex and similar that they cannot keep up with someone exercising heavily and that with sufficient wind they can leak. Many cycling books do not recommend them. Plastic is often recommended - you get wet from sweat, but you are nice and warm.

Our current bike raincoats are plastic and nylon laminated and come from REI for $50 each. On the rainy day of CO XI someone was asking where we had got our coats and was about ready to ditch his expensive GoreTex coat. Kind of surprised me, but I have heard similar since. People seem to either like GoreTex or hate it for cycling.

Rox Heath

I have a goretex jacket made by Montbell that has been my best friend for several years. It's not specifically a cycling jacket, in that it does not have an extended tail.

I have worn it on my bike in the heaviest downpours and never gotten wet. I bought the matching rainpants and have always taken them with me on extended bike tours. They too have been fabulous. Back in the days when I was commuting by bicycle, the outfit got daily use in the rainy season. I've used the outfit backpacking and been equally happy.

I bought both pieces for $200, and though it seemed like a big expense at the time(4 yrs ago), it has paid for itself many many times over. I rarely felt as if I were overheating. The wrists are velcro and thus adjustable, and I think that's something important to look for in a rainjacket. Pit zips are also a good thing to look for.

Susan Otcenas

Mike and I have the Burley jackets and they do keep us dry. However, we find them quite warm and don't pull them out until winter or else we're as wet from sweating as we would have been from the rain. Also, we wear a light long-sleeved shirt under them because we don't like the feel of the sweaty Ultrex against bare arms.

Amy Buondonno

I would look at Bellwether. I bought a Burley and it is a great coat; however, when you are leaning into your handlebars, most of the high visibility color is hidden by your back. The back of the coat is black; low visibility. The bellwether on the other hand is yellow all over. It is also on the spendy side. $175 in the Nasbar catalogue.

Ted Magnuson

[This thread started in October…]

I have used Nik Wax on my Gortex motorcycle suit in the past, and it worked well. I just treated my Pearl Izumi shell with it, and I will keep you posted as to how well it works. Everyone I have talked to swears by Nik Wax.

We will see.

Phil Ford

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NikWax on textiles? Really? Keep us posted. I've got some of the "smooth leather" variety for my hiking boots. Given the way it smells and runs all over the place, I'd never have considered putting it on anything made out of cloth. Seems to be working fine on the shoes, but I don't know if I'm ready to trust it to my screaming yellow jacket.

Scott "no actual middle name" Saulsbury

I have been using one of the expensive Burley's now for five years. When it springs a leak I just Nick Wax it again. Personally, I really don't think any of the fabrics really breath enough to keep a REAL bicyclist evaporated. The feature's I like about my Burley is the zipper flaps on each breast location for scooping up cool air without rain leakage. Also, the rear exhaust vent across the back of the jacket to let the air flow through. Another feature I use a lot is the over-sized sleeve openings for scooping air right up and along my arms. These also can be adjusted by Velcro closures while riding. The zippers down the under side of each sleeve is a feature that I haven't seen on other products either, and they are usually the second feature that I open up when I get too hot.

When everything is undone you literally have nothing on but a canopy. One can open this jacket up pretty good and still not have the front main zipper open and continue to have decent rain protection. For my needs - the fresh air coming through the jacket is better at keeping me dryer/evaporated and I'm able to adjust the temp just by zipping up at what ever body part that gets cold.

YES, it's expensive, but I feel it's been worth every penny I paid for it.

Hope this helps with your decision making
Capt. Dink ~

I rode to work on Friday in the rain, and the Nik Waxed Pearl Izumi shell kept me nice and dry. I read Cap't Dinks description of the Burley, and I think I will eventually have to have one of those, but for now the shell works OK.

Phil (vowing to ride to work all winter) Ford

What is Nik Wax, and where can I buy it?

Stacey "Surf's up, Dude" Gray

Probably anywhere quality outdoor footwear is sold. I got mine at REI. They have several varieties available there. Don't know which one is best for fabrics.

Scott Saulsbury

It's also sold at GI Joe's.


I have been commuting for three weeks now, and I am delighted with Nik 'wax. I have been wearing a PI shell, and REI tights/pants? with wind block and fleece lining. With a warm jersey and full fingered gloves, I have stayed dry and relatively warm.

Phil Ford

Unless it is really windy, there is one thing that _will_ keep you dry, but it is rather hard to find in this country. It is a cycling cape.

Back when I started riding, in England, every cyclist rode with a cape rolled up on top of their saddle bag--until it started raining, when they put it on! For those who have never seen one, a cycling cape is like a poncho, but cut to cover the handle bars and your back and saddle when in the riding position. There are thumb loops to keep the front end secured over the 'bars, and a tape to tie around your waist. The big advantage is that since the cape is completely open underneath, it provides plenty of ventilation. Rain that hits your upper body drips off the edge rather than running down onto your legs and into your shoes.

If you have mudguards too -- and all British cyclists have mudguards – it is amazing how dry you can stay even in a day-long rain storm. (In the USA, mudguards are called fenders, presumably because it never rains, and thus there is no mud to guard against, but cyclists need to fend each other off :-)

The only other snag is that capes are rather hard to find, although easy enough to make if you have the sewing skills. My current cape is a rather nicely made Dutch model in proofed nylon, which is however cut to fit the typical Dutch sit-up-and-beg riding position, and is thus a bit too long in the front and too short in the back when in the touring position. For the previous 20 years I had used a PVC 100% waterproof model that cost me 20 pence in a University lost property sale when I was an undergraduate. I guess I got my money's worth out of that one.

I was amazed to find that I was the only cyclist on CO XI (that I saw) to ride in a cape. And one of only a handful to have mudguards. And one of the few who rode into camp on day 6 _not_ looking like a skunk.

> The big thing is to prevent wind chill. You want to keep warm - above all.

This is absolutely correct. I rode for an hour yesterday in the big rainstorm that we got on the west side, and was wearing only a sleeveless cycling shirt and cycling shorts. I was as wet as a salmon in about 5 minutes. But because of the warm weather I was comfortably warm, and because wet bike clothes still stretch and don't chaff, I just kept on riding. If I had had to stop, of course, I would have started to cool off rapidly, and would have needed to add layers -- before I started to chill.

I've been very happy with Performance Neoprene booties, which are probably not so small, but are often available on sale. I can't offer any comparison with Burley booties, which I'm sure are as great as Curt says.

Andrew Black

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In one of his emails, Andrew mentioned a rain cape he brought from England. I did a little wandering around on the web and found a British company called Cyclestuff. I emailed them and asked about the capes. They carry them in three styles. A PVC lightweight that did not sound worth the little bit of money it cost, and the two mentioned below.

I am including their answer to my inquiry about shipping and about weight. The shipping seems steep, but if anyone else is interested, perhaps we can order together and save some of the shipping cost. I am going to order one sometime in the first week of August. Let me know if you are interested. Here is the reply:

The man made fiber cape is available in navy blue, red or black in sizes large and xlarge. They have a detachable hood and a large chest pocket, sealed seams, and neck zip. Very lightweight and folds up small. Price $58 US plus shipping at $15 US total $73 US. The waxed cotton garment also has a pocket, hood, neck zip. Only available in khaki green. A tough, quality garment made by Carradice (they are famous for their British bicycle saddlebags, a large canvas bag bound in leather which hangs behind the saddle - favoured by many British cyclists). The cotton cape costs $88 US plus $15 US shipping. Many people like them but they do have a faint oily odour which is not to every taste. They require periodic reproofing with the special oil.


The email for cyclestuff is: (Arraton)

Phil Ford

I happened to notice a cape in the CAMPMOR Catalog. As I recall, it was a fairly inexpensive PVC model. I believe that they are also on the web at

Andrew Black

I bought a rain cape, from England, prior to CO. I bought the mid-priced one at $58.00, and when it came I was not impressed. It appears to be nylon, backed with a soft PVC(?) type of material that is "clingy" feeling. Fortunately we had no rain, so I did not get to try it out. In cold weather it may work OK. On the road, on day 7, someone asked me about the cape. I told him I would post it on the e-mail site, about what I thought of it. Needless to say he was going FASTER the I was, so we did not have time to discuss it.

Phil Ford

[Written in the fall...]

I'll remind Phil and others who might be interested in this experiment: capes work well only if your bike is equipped with mudguards (aka fenders). Otherwise, you will get drenched with dirty water from the underneath.

You just have time to get fenders installed before the rain starts ...

Andrew Black

Some comments on wet feet. I decided not to buy any cotton socks. (no cotton shirts or pants for that matter) All my cycle sox are wicking fabric and/or contain some wool, yes even in summer. I now have a pair of over booties that did soak through but cut wind and insulated enough to keep my feet warm on the CO XI rainy day, tho it wasn't so cold . On CO X over McKenzie Pass (cold and rainy), I put vegetable baggies over my sox inside my shoes and that really worked to keep my feet warm. I'm watching out to get a pair of gortex sox, which I hear are great. Anybody know about them?

Also, polyester glove liners inside the fingerless gloves work very well for wet riding. It was pretty sad to see so many freezing people up on McKenzie Pass, so drag along a little more than you think you'll need on iffy days; I think it's called insurance. And if you have limited hi tech fabric gear, rain is a good indication for using them. Weather warnings by CO organizers are not frivolous. I had several thin layers on top and two on the bottom and kept adequately warm tho wet while cycling over McKenzie. We were a miserable looking bunch on top, sipping cocoa under a tarp, remember? Neither rain nor fog.... cycle on!

Amy Ream

I had three pair of Smart Wool socks, that I bought for COXII, but I needed more pairs. I bought three pair of "Craft" wool socks, but I took two of them back. They are really comfortable, but not nearly as warm as Smart Wool. REI carries Smart Wool, about $4.00 a pair less than the Craft.

Phil Ford

The booties come either with a hole in the bottom for cleats, or without one so you can make a hole customized for your cleats, presumably a smaller hole that will let in less water. Scotchgard will not do it. Some booties are not waterproof (mine keep me warm but wet). Low end solution is vegetable plastic bags inside your shoes; keeps feet warmer, sweaty wet, and lets shoes get wet. It worked for me over McKenzie Pass. Yet another reason to avoid cotton sox.

Amy Ream

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We tell new Boy Scouts that spraying the suede/fabric boots with Camp Dry 3 times (letting it dry each time) works well for making them sort of waterproof for a few campouts. Your feet stay dry walking through wet grass, but if you stand in a deep puddle it will eventually soak through. This stuff stinks pretty bad for the first few days so do it well ahead of time.

Something that works better consistently is to get 1 gal. freezer bags (not heavy duty and not ziplocs - the twist tie kind) and put them over your dry socks in wet shoes. The socks get wet with sweat, but your feet stay toasty warm. We do this a lot and it is quite comfortable. However, the bags only work once so bring several pairs for several days. They are also handy to cover your bike seat overnight and as trash bags, etc. It is also nice to have one along to put gooey stuff from sag stops into you want to carry in a hot bike bag or pocket and don't want to take chances with (such as chocolate chip cookies or pop-tarts).

Rox Heath

PS If your feet are big you may have to use veggie bags from your local supermarket.

PPS We don't bother to rubber band around the ankle, but we usually cut off most of the top of the bag that is flapping around in the wind.

PPPS Bob took booties on CO 7 and never used them so we didn't bring any last year [CO 11]. We had one very wet day and our feet got wet. No big deal. Don't wear cotton socks on rainy days.

My first thought is that the Scotch Guard will keep those shoes from breathing at all, hence wet feet when it is not raining.

Dave Stranahan

I hope I don't have to use them, but I've dragged out my neoprene booties and put them in my bag. These are the heavy-duty numbers with wetsuit-type soles and giant no-fumble zippers at the back. They won't keep me from getting wet... I'll get soaked from the inside if nothing else. But, I've never had cold feet while wearing them. (These are definitely NOT fashion-forward gear!)

You have to customize (read: cut) them for your pedal system if you go clipless, so make sure you don't wait until the very last minute if you want to go that route... you'll want to try them out before you really need them.

Short of that, there's always Gator socks, if you have enough room in your shoes. These are all-neoprene socks you wear (almost) like a normal sock. Again, you'll be moist, but not cold. Make sure you get a size that won't constrict your foot... they don't stretch as easily as regular socks, and they're thicker, which will affect your shoe fit. You'll probably want to find the thinnest liner sock you can, or things might get pretty slimy-feeling as you warm up.

And, you could always use bread bags and rubber bands. Low-tech, but they work in a pinch!

Scott Saulsbury

1. Neoprene booties. Very warm, dry until your sweat or the water runs down your leg and into the bootie through the ankle opening.

2. GoreTex socks. Tight ankle cuff fits under your tights or leg warmers. Not as warm as booties but they kept me comfortable on the Community Cycling Century. Available at Performance (house brand), REI (sealskins), and probably BG, River City, etc.

3. Plastic bags (produce bags or bread bags) inside your shoes. Be careful to wrap them smoothly so there aren't any creases in uncomfortable places, and watch the ankle-leakage.

Amy C. Buodonno

Can anyone recommend a particular style or brand of rain booties? I want to get a pair for CO, but I'm not sure what type to get.


Lots of room for personal preference. There are some that have thick rubber soles and neoprene construction. These are the best at keeping the feet dry. The cost is that they do not compact and carry well. I wear mine only when I expect to have them on all day.

Several brands have the more "normal" booties. I use the QR (Quintanna Roo) units (cheaper cost and given the abuse these things get). The foot will soak but the insulative value of the bootie is worthwhile. These units compact and carry well.

Also QR makes "Toe Buddies" a bootie-ette that slides over only the front of the shoe. Great for cold weather mornings, better than nothing in the wet.

You will also find some waterproof socks "Sealskins", great at keeping the wet off but thermal they ain’t.

I'd just find a basic bootie, make sure it fits and have it along in case of extreme cold or liquid sunshine...

If you ever decide to become a hard core rain rider then the heavy duty rubber soled neoprene ones are the ticket for those days

Don "Mother says 'wear your rubbers (shoes)'" Bolton

I have used Burley booties (Yes, that is the one and the same company that makes tandems, as well as pretty good raingear).

I find that they are good for the cool-damp weather we have in the fall and spring (I don't do winters). They are the thin variety, zipper in the back. They roll up in to a very small package and they are light weight. I have cut a hole for my SPD's and they work just fine. Many bike shops carry them.

Curt Coleman

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The new Early Winters catalog has a thin neoprene sock that looks good. I like the seal skins over sox inside my sandals. Kept me warm, not dry.

Amy-cold toes at night-Ream

Bootie application is an art. Part finesse and part brute force. I roll mine partway inside out, cram the shoe in, pull hard on the bootie (make animal grunting noises *important part*) and roll them out over the rear of the shoe. Then there is the final tugging into place. I assume for others my antics may be judged as a spectator sport :-)

Don "the bootie boogie" Bolton

I have some performance booties, and the only way to get them on is the kind of animal struggle that Don Bolton has described. And I'm a size 8.

Just before CO I bought some "Sidetrack" overbooties from the Bike Gallery. These are much better. The whole of the back is Velcro, so there are no zips to struggle with. There is less sole, so they are more packable. I wore these this morning too, and still had dry feet when I got to my office. In really heavy rain, of course, nothing helps: the water will just go through your tights and run down your legs into your shoes _inside_ the booties. But they will still keep your feet warm. The Sidetracks were about $30.

Andrew Black

If it is raining hard, nothing will keep you dry. The big thing is to prevent wind chill. You want to keep warm - above all. To that end, the coated nylon which seems to be the material of choice for raincoat manufacturers, will work very well. Burley, while not cheap, is one of the more popular, but Bellwether, Pearl Izumi, and many other companies make good ones. I use my rain coat for cool weather, and used it on the Larch Mountain descent last Saturday. It worked very well for that purpose. I use rain pants for heavy downpours and very cold weather. If I know it is going to be very cold, I wear both the rain pants AND leg warmers.

Layers are always good.

Booties Are Beautious!! For a lot of reasons. In cold weather, they keep your piggies warm. In wet weather, like the rain coat made of coated nylon, they prevent or minimize the effect of wind chill. My opinion is that Burley booties are best. They are very light weight, easily cut for your SPD's and roll up very small for toting in your pack.

Curt Coleman

Anything that will keep the rain out for 30 miles, will cook you at the same time. Breathable, non seam sealed, water repellent shells are best. Controlling evaporative heat loss (Wind Chill) is most important. Yes you can be wet and comfortable all day on a bike. If water still beads and rolls off your shell, it will breath, and allow body heat to warm and dry your under layers, while keeping wind out. If it gets saturated, it will not breath, and either cook you, or siphon body heat as you ride. If water no longer beads on your old shell, wash it in a product called "Nik Wax". It will be like new again.

Since your legs are the biggest part of your cycling engine they generate a lot of heat, covering them with nylon will definitely fog the old windshield. You can't keep them dry, so it's best to just keep them warm. Knee warmers work the best. Better than tights because they can be removed and fit in a pocket. One of the best investments you can make in cycling wear, is arm warmers, knee warmers, and a mesh backed wind vest. These three items will do more to extend your comfort range in variable weather, altitude, and temperature ranges than any other. Include some shoe covers and you are ready for some really nasty weather. All of these together will easily fit into the pockets of your jersey when the sun comes back out. In fact, by the time you feel the need to remove them, they may already be dry.

Dana C. Ham

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  Page Last Updated: Jan. 20, 2003  
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