Most of us recognise the sound: pitter patter on the roof which heralds the start of another wet ride. We pull on an assortment of cycling gear, only to emerge, blinking into the harsh outdoors, ready to embark upon the task of getting gradually wetter.
Riding in the rain is rarely the first choice for most cyclists, but unfortunately sometimes there’s just nothing that you can do about it if the heavens decide to open.
There are also very few items of cycling clothing that promise to keep you bone dry whilst you work hard in the bike. Commuter focused brands offer a few completely waterproof options, but most are not designed for rides where you intend to sweat. The optimum for a road cyclist is as much water resistance as possible, paired with the maximum breathability that can be allowed.
Here are some of the best wet weather items we’ve discovered to help you find the perfect balance…
Packable Jacket: Fierlan Cycling Layering Jacket
Every road cyclist planning to ride in Autumn or Spring needs a packable jacket. A staple to the jersey pocket, these light layers roll into an easy to transport parcel.
Firstly, lets not get over ambitious. There is no such thing as a packable, breathable, waterproof jacket – most brands instead focus on packable, breathable and water resistant. They won’t keep you dry, but they will keep the worst off.
We particularly like the Layering Jacket from Fierlan. Having worn one over longer rides, I can offer assurance that it provides a good degree of breathability, and does the job in taking the brunt of the spray.
What sets this version apart is its styling. Most such jackets are available in black, grey or white, but Fierlan have opted for a vibrant navy with coral accents. Not only that, the collar is cut high for optimum coverage and the sleeves have lovely stretchy cuffs for a close fit and therefore minimal water drippage. The jacket never fails to attract interest when I wear it, and comes in at £100, cheaper than some of the bigger brand name options out there.
Winter Water Resistant Jacket: The Women’s Castell Gabba
A packable will prevent the worst of the rain from reaching your skin, but it won’t really keep you warm. If it’s wet and chilly, you need to opt for something more substantial.
The recognised piste de resistance in such a garment is the Castelli Gabba, the women's version of which was introduced only last year. An icon in the cycling clothing world, the Gabba is all about combining breathability with a degree of warmth which fights off shoulder season chill, and enough water resistance to keep you comfortable in showers and slightly less miserable in a downpour.
It’s well known that even professional riders with contracts to other clothing companies still opt to wear the Gabba when they can get away with it, so this garment really has gained a lofty stamp of approval.
They’re not cheap – the women’s long sleeve version will set you back £170. However, with the right treatment, could last you for several years.
The Sportful Fiandre Jacket (£165) also offers similar protection, and really impressed our reviewer. Made from a slightly lighter fabric, the Fiandre isn’t quite as warm, but is flexible and allows easy movement and shouldn’t cause you to overheat.
Water Resistant Tights: Castelli NanoFlex Donna Tight
In the last couple of years, bottom-half water protection has really stepped up. The leaders have been Castelli, with their NanoFlex technology, and Sportful with their No-Rain collection. Both provide warmth and stretch, whilst being treated with a water resistant finish that beads water and allows the very worst to roll off the fabric without touching your skin.
Unfortunately, though there’s an array of bib shorts, tights and 3/4ers available for men, the women’s range is somewhat limited to the Castelli NanoFlex Donna Tights (usually around £110). This said, the fabric design is fairly new and we do expect to see more women’s options to become available in coming seasons.
For now, the Donna tights come with a KISS Air Donna Seat pad, an endurance design that I can confirm provides comfort without being too thick, and should last at least a couple of seasons.
The alternative is to stick with your normal shorts, and pair them with Sportful No-Rain knee warmers or Castelli NanoFlex leg warmers. These won’t be as warm as traditional Roubaix thermal tights, but if conditions are warm and wet, you’re better off opting to fight the rain than colleting it in pockets in an attempt to stay warm.
Overshoes: Depends what you’re after…
Riding through puddles is bad enough – cycling with puddles collecting in your shoes is even worse. There are many different styles of overshoe, each offering a different degree of protection and combating a slightly different winter ailment.
Oversocks are there to provide a little extra warmth. They aren’t waterproof (with the exception of those from rainwear ninjas Sealskinz), and generally made from a mixture of polyester, cotton and elastane. Truth be told, most oversock designs will collect water rather than repel it. This said, they are usually fairly inexpensive and will keep in the warmth, and if I could choose between wet and warm, and dry and cold, I reckon the former wins. My personal favourites are Mavic’s Knit Shoe Covers, which are usually around £13.
Stepping it up on the waterproofing front are the latex goodies from Velotoze. Again, pretty inexpensive at about £15, these are ideally designed to aid aerodynamics on race day. However, the swimming cap material is waterproof. The only downside here is that they’re pretty fragile, and the material does nothing for breathability – so expect sweaty feet when you do take them off.
If you’re after waterproofing as well as warmth, then your best bet it to look for a neoprene overshoe, like these from SealSkinz at just under £30. Using the same material as wetsuits are made from, these should keep the water out, and also feature Kevlar (the same stuff used in winter tyres) to help prevent the heels and toes from wearing, a common cause of overshoe replacement.
Wet and cold feet can be a little unpleasant, but wet and cold fingers can be dangerous if you find you lose enough sensation to struggle with braking and gear changes.
Unfortunately it’s hard to make a glove that is completely waterproof, and some of the most popular varieties instead focus on ensuring the rider is kept insulated, even if that means being a little wet.
Both Endura and Castelli provide a neoprene glove that offers a great deal of flexibility, allowing easy movement of the hands, for around £30. These don’t claim to be waterproof, but instead work much like a wetsuit – trapping water (rain and sweat) between the glove and the skin, where your body heat warms it up. Yes, a little clammy, but also incredibly warm once you get used to it.
If this idea doesn’t appeal, there are heavier weight varieties, such as the thicker and more traditional winter cycle gloves from Sealzkinz which feature a polyester lining and a primarily Nylon outer.
Riding on the road in the rain is something that takes a little practice - check out these top tips to help you out if you're struggling with the slippery tarmac.
Knowing that you can trust your tyres makes a big difference, so if you've been feeling nervous on wet roads, take a look at our winter tyre buying guide.