Question of the Day: What is the Best Bicycle Rain Gear for Commuters?

Rain gear vs. rain cape: My first fashion advice post in the history of this blog.

Recently, a friend of mine started commuting to work by bike. (That’s one more Nashvillian down, another 691,242 to go.) As it had been raining in Nashville for the past 40 days and 40 nights, he texted me to ask if I had a suggestion regarding rain gear. After trying to answer with a text message (something like, “just enjoy getting wet”), I realized that bicycle rain apparel is a highly personal and technical topic. Not quite up there with whether or not wear a helmet (I do), but still an existential matter that can’t be addressed in anything less than a few hundred words.

So here we go.

First, follow my grapefruit rule

No matter what style or brand of rain gear you get, you should be able to compress it into a nylon bag the size and shape of a grapefruit. That way, you’ll put it in one of your pair of yellow Ortlieb bike bags (or “panniers” ) and always have it handy. Now that I think of it, everything you have when cycling to work (except a laptop) should be able to compress into something the size and shape of a grapefruit (even better, a tangerine).

Rain cape or rain gear?

I. What is a rain cape? 

In Britain, the word “cape” means “expensive poncho.” As in, “Those Yanks will pay twice as much for a poncho if you call it a cape.”

Option #1 Rain Cape | Brooks | $120-$160 

| Brooks Cambridge Rain Cape |

I have a Brooks rain cape. Before doing ten minutes of google-research for this post, I  thought my Brooks cape was ridiculously expensive.

However,  my wife gave it to me as a birthday gift and threatened to divorce me if I ever again used a Hefty 55-gallon leaf bag (sometimes called, a Tennessee rain cape).

Brooks is the British brand of a company that makes leather “saddles” (which translates into American as, “expensive seats”).

Some people think Brooks saddles are over-rated and too expensive. As I’ve used a Brooks saddle for the last 5,000 miles or so, I have discovered that after about mile 4,000 of getting broken in, the value of a Brooks saddle starts revealing itself.

On the other hand, a Brooks “cape” seems to me to be a licensing deal with an Italian company — not something that is manufactured by Brooks. Nevertheless, it can keep a person dry in most situations. While I haven’t been in most bicycle situations many times, I have been in nearly every bicycle commuting situation at least once. For example, since my commuter bike (Jamison) is made of steel, I try to avoid the situation of lightning. (It only took one near miss.) Because my Brooks cape has kept me dry but not sweaty, I think it would be a good option, unless I was from Rhode Island (see next cape option).

Option #2 Rain Cape as a Lifestyle Brand | Cleverhood | $250

Note to my friend who asked for advice about rain gear. Don’t look at the rain cape on the right. I’ve advised people not to pay this much for bikes. But when you click over to Cloverhood, you’re going to discover they are a Providence, RI, product. As you are also a Rhode Island product, perhaps you know someone who knows someone. Ask for the RI native discount. There can’t be that many of you from such a small state. Perhaps they are having after summer sale?

II. Rain Gear

Rain gear is for serious lobstermen and all-weather bike commuters. It comes in various colors (black and yellow) but should always be yellow. According to this article in a long-ago Bangor Daily News about what real lobstermen wear, Tom Martin of Mackerel Cove on Bailey Island starts his day on the docks in $5,289 of lobsterman gear.

As this Flickr album will prove, I am no stranger to Bailey Island and the humor of its natives. (A native being someone who has at least two great-grandparents who were born there.) I can only imagine that Tom Marting of Mackerel Cove is still laughing that a “not from here” writer believed him when he said his rain gear cost $5,289.

However, I do suggest that New Englanders try out traditional lobster-person rain gear in the way I imagine real Mainers get theirs — as cheaply as possible.

Option 1 | Find some lobsterman gear in a garage sale and make up a story about it being the only thing to survive the Andrea Gail back during the “perfect storm” of 1991 — perhaps you found it after it floated to shore near Gloucester, Mass.

Option 2 | Turns out (according to Google) that there is Louis Vuitton rain gear that cost thousands of dollars; perhaps for those Mainers (or more likely, New Porters) who own a  Hinckley Picnic boat.

Option 3 | Or, (and this is my actual advice) Search for “Commercial Rain Wear” on Granger.com (like an industrial REI). They have hundreds of yellow rain stuff priced from little to a lot.