December 9, 2009 4:33 PM   Subscribe

Underground in a secret lab, the hive mind works feverishly and with a single purpose: to create...the perfect Boston bicyclist! Impermeable to wind, water, ice, slush, and mud, there's nothing Boston can throw at him that he can't handle!

We had our first really miserable, blinding drenching ice/slush/rain-pelting-down days in Boston. My SO and I have decided that we're going to make ourselves waterproof.

We'd like suggestions for picking out some waterproof bad-weather bicycling gear. I imagine we'll need:

jacket, pants, shoes, eyewear, headwear, handwear, etc (anything else that you've found helpful?)

to combat the nasty winter weather that Boston can dish out. Specifically I want something that can keep me some close approximation of dry during a 4 mile bicycle commute. Let's say we each have up to $200 to throw at this (hopefully it won't take that much).

I'm a 6'2" male, she's a 5'2" female.

Here are my priorities (in approximately descending order):

1. Keeps me DRY! I'm talking hermetically-sealed/space-worthy.
2. Flexible (i.e. suitable for bicycling-type movements)
3. Stops the wind
4. Simple/fast to remove (I'm usually behind schedule, so speed of operation is desirable)
5. Not too many pieces (I'm terrible about losing accessories)
6. Not too much $$
7. Doesn't accumulate too much sweat

Any ideas are welcome! My SO already has a normal set of rain gear, and she still ends up completely drenched by the end of the ride, so I think we need something a bit extraordinary.

I've seen this question, but brands and products change a lot, and I didn't see the fervent testimonial I was hoping for. My favorite from that was the deep-sea fishing gear, but I'm not sure if it'll be flexible enough for biking, or if it'll interfere with the chain.

posted by Salvor Hardin to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (18 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite is the answer . . .
posted by flug at 5:11 PM on December 9, 2009

I've been commuting in Boston for 10 years or so now, and this is what makes me happy:

- Gore-tex rain pants, with zippers at the ankles so that I can pull them over my shoes/boots
- Windblock fleece top
- Gore-tex shell -- made for bicycling! Extra long tail to cover me bum.
- Windblock fleece hat (fits under helmet)

The fleece is actualy Polartec, I think. The gore-tex stuff is Performance Bicycle's store brand, and I've been very happy with it. I'm not sure if they still carry the same thing -- my outfit has lasted me close to ten years.

When it gets too cold to wear my biking shoes, I just use a decent pair of well-waterproofed hiking boots. I have this sort of pedals so I can clip in when it's warmer and wear boots when the weather calls for it.

This works for me for weather into the high 20s. As the temperature drops lower, I add things like insulated cycling tights under my pants, and if it gets cold enough I just wear my down winter jacket.

I sometimes throw on a pair of ski goggles when the temperature drops into the single digits.
posted by larsks at 5:16 PM on December 9, 2009

In general, you have one of these classic three way choices:

1. Waterproof
2. Not too sweaty
3. Affordable

Pick two.

Also, do you already have fenders? If not, get fenders; way more water comes off the ground on a bike than out of the sky.

The other factor that's going to make a difference is how big your head is, versus your helmet. When my head was shaved there was room to slip a hood under the helmet, which really sealing things up a lot. With hair, there's no space and I get more drippies down the back.
posted by Dr.Enormous at 5:48 PM on December 9, 2009

I hate to say this, but I think finding what you need for $200 or less per person is going to be challenging at best. I'm a 5'1" woman and have a 8-mile commute in Chicago. This is my first winter doing the bike commute, so take that for what it's worth.

I ride in a North Face not-cycling-specific lightweight rain jacket that was about $100, and it works pretty well. Keeps the wind and rain out and I use layers underneath for actual warmth. A cycling specific jacket is going to be closer to $150 in my experience. Once it gets *really* cold I may try out my snowboarding jacket, but we'll see how that goes.

I have some cheapo rain pants that I already had lying around, and they suck. I rode home in the snow last night and my legs were soaking wet and freezing at the end of my commute. I am looking for new ones and it looks like they will run about $100+.

So you're up to/over $200 already without getting in to footwear, accessories, etc. I switch from my clipless pedals to ones with big toe clips so that I can wear some waterproof boots ($120, but useful beyond cycling). Water resistant fleece hat that fits under helmet from REI - $25. Gloves that are good to about 20F but I'll need something better as it gets colder - $35.

I already had a polarfleece neck warmer and most of my warmth inner layers from snowboarding/skiing. Snowflakes in the eyes are starting to get annoying and I'm considering busting out the ski goggles or finding some other solution (as it's too dark to use my sunglasses).

And this doesn't even count considering heftier or studded tires...
posted by misskaz at 6:13 PM on December 9, 2009

And I want to make it clear - I normally don't get things like North Face because I feel you're paying for the name brand/cache. But when I was at a sporting goods store looking for a last minute rain jacket one rainy summer night in Chicago, I saw the Columbia jacket was $30 cheaper but also didn't have pit zips and other features that I thought were important. So as much as I hate being emblazoned with the NF logo, they do make good performance stuff. I was bone dry from the waist up on my commute last night.

Similarly, cycling specific clothing is crazy expensive IMO but is going to address issues (i.e., bum coverage) that other gear might overlook.
posted by misskaz at 6:21 PM on December 9, 2009

Misskaz, alas, is right: I tried every which way to solve this problem on the cheap, and there's just no way to do it. In the end:

1) I bought a relatively cheap (total cost: $60) microlight jacket and pant set at REI. Like someone said above, you can only have two out of three (affordable, non-sweaty, and waterproof) and they are just ok -- they don't breathe and they are not all that water resistant. I wouldn't have ridden today with them, but for light rain they are decent if not great. With lined tights and a fleece underneath they'd be fine. If you have a hooded fleece, you can pull that over your head and strap the helmet around it.

2) I bought fenders ($40). They help a lot.

3) I wear my big rubber boots to ride -- they were the only way for me to keep waterproof without spending $60 on booties to go over cycling shoes and protect my ankles and lower leg.

4) I have water-resistant gloves that I wear with liners. They're not great, but they aren't as expensive as the uber-waterproof gloves.

5) I use my rubber Ortleib panniers to carry my stuff instead of a backpack. These were expensive, but I had them already and they are pure genius. I can go grocery shopping with them in the rain and bring a bunch of stuff home.

6) I'm buying a pair of lab goggles tomorrow at the MIT coop. They are $10 and are less expensive than ski googles or the bike-specific clear or orange glasses. They are critical both for rain and for extremely cold weather, which can impair your eyesight.

Yes, I look like a freak when I ride, but I get to where I'm going.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 6:31 PM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Seconding Ice Bike, they helped me pick out a wonderful pair of tights to wear under my pants as a Puerto Rican learning to ride around in really cold Missouri winters.
posted by lizarrd at 7:28 PM on December 9, 2009

Ductaped the vents in helmet so now it is waterproof.
I have baseball style fleece hat that goes under the helmet, I find that the brim keeps your eyegear from getting all drippy.
OR mittens. I take the liners out when it gets a little warmer, but still want to keep my hands dry.
Panniers, because the straps on most bags interferes with the ventilation of the pit zips.
I got these rainpants for $40 and they are the best I have ever foundand they are completely packable
The coat those guys makes is pretty good too, it looks the same as the discontinued burley one that I have.

Shoes are the hardest part, I don't like using shoe covers, so I had to find something that was waterproof, acceptable for after the ride and had a top high enough that my rain pants wouldn't drip into my socks. I ended up with a pair of black leather hightops, then I used NikWax to seal them up.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 7:38 PM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Wow - thanks for all the great suggestions & advice! Although it looks like dryness is going to be a little pricier than I'd hoped.

Ice bike looks like a great resource - I especially like the looks of the gloves they recommend.

I don't have fenders (a fact of which I was uncomfortably aware this morning), but I'm gonna get some real soon.

I like the rubber boot idea - I have some nice waterproof hiking boots, but they're not very high, and when they get wet, I know from experience that they take ages to dry. Some calf-level rubber boots could do the trick.

Goggles would be also great, although it makes me nervous to have my peripheral vision impaired while negotiating with traffic. I guess it's better than having your whole vision impaired by stinging hail and wind.

It looks like we're probably going to have to shell out for quality waterproof jacket and pants though. Maybe we'll take a trip over to REI and take a look at the stuff y'all are suggesting.

posted by Salvor Hardin at 7:40 PM on December 9, 2009

Keep an eye on the REI outlet store. I've bought nearly all my winter/wet weather gear there - I got a great pair of Marmot rain paints for about $30 a year or so ago.
posted by rtha at 7:58 PM on December 9, 2009

From the ground up and on the cheap.

*Cheap wool socks + Neoprene socks ($20) + SPD sandals OR GoreTex Hiking boots + wool socks if riding the bike with flat pedals
*Wool tights for warmth + Wal-Mart brand rain pants ($20) 1 size too big for flexibility. Need to wear an ankle wrap to keep them out of the chain, but I've never gotten more than dampness through them, and that after a rather long day in the rain.
*Wal-Mart brand jacket ($20), 1 size too big so I can wear a big sweater under it and so there's a bit of air movement to keep the sweat away.
*Head--hood from this jacket goes over the helmet if it's not too cold to promote some air circulation around my head and down my neck to stay warm while limiting sweat, or under the helmet if it's really cold and I want more water protection. I also took an old helmet and put a waterproof liner inside of it permanently, but if I use that helmet much when it's not truly cold I can end up with a sweaty head.
*Various cheap gloves. Yellow dish washing gloves over thin cloth or wool liners are truly waterproof, but get some with grip on the palm. However, usually I use a thin liner under some fishing gloves that are neoprene ($15 at an outdoor store) or use big snowboarder gloves ($30) if it's really cold.

I've also experimented with homemade tyvek booties (like from USPS priority mail envelopes) and had pretty good luck with Frogg Toggs brand jackets. If you want to keep it cheap, it may take some experimentation. But then you're not out too much money as you learn what will keep you really dry.
posted by BlooPen at 8:11 PM on December 9, 2009

You could check out this jacket.

I haven't figured it out totally myself. At one point I was thinking of simply encasing myself in a waterproof coverall, like a Tyvek work coverall for $5. Probably be raining inside from sweat though and the zipper probably leaks as well.

Anyway, that's my picture. Why do bits of clothing for rain protection, when what you really want is a big bag to put yourself in that keeps you dry and works on a bike.

One thing to consider, rain coming off the bike is a miserable experience. So, analyze your bike and consider putting rain/mud flaps on your fenders to widen the coverage. In particular, the rear could use some protection in front of the tire to keep water splashing forward on your feet.

I once rode a recumbent 5 miles in the rain that had a windshield. It was amazing how much better an experience it was. I was comfortable and stayed pretty dry for the whole ride. That may not be practical for your current bike but anything you can do to stop the rain before it hits you is helpful.

I also made a pair of rain booties of black water proof fabric. They slide over the toe of my shoe and velcro in back, and tuck under my rain pants. They leave the sole of my shoe exposed except a small bit in the front where they hook on. They are easy to get off and work really well.

This company has a good idea in rain ponchos for bikes.
posted by diode at 3:27 AM on December 10, 2009

Instead of googles, you can go to a home improvement store and buy safety glasses that look more or less like regular glasses.

My cycle jacket is "water resistant" so for very rainy days I use this rain jacket from LL Bean. I also have rain pants from there, and for the snow I have something Old Navy called snow pants that are fairly water resistant but a bit warmer.
posted by mikepop at 5:45 AM on December 10, 2009

Greetings, fellow foul weather biker!

I've been commuting (15 Mile round trip) year round in Denmark for 20+ years.
The first years on a tight budget. I got wet. There is no way you are going to be comfortable in cheap gear.
My advice is to get some of the better brand name gore-tex or equivalent breathable rain gear. I currently use Haglöfs, but The North Face or similar should be just as good. What you pay for is the design, i.e. the attention to detail in the clothes; witch translates into ease of use every day. Absolutely worth the price. I use my rain gear year round and supplement it with fleece according to the season. Use synthetic fabric or (merino) wool for base layer, it'll keep you dry and hence warm.
I use Gore-tex SPD-boots for the feet, but these might be to cold for extreme winter conditions. Boston seems to get some pretty cold weather.
For the few days a year we get heavy snowfall I use my winter hiking boots, they are useful when you need to get off the bike to negotiate larger snowdrifts and allow for thicker socks.
For the hands I use water resistant finger gloves, mostly to break the wind, but you might want to go for waterproof gloves or mittens depending on personal preferences.
Ortlieb bags are the best, and worth every penny. I use the Office bag.
Fenders are a must and not the short clip-on type either. Go for full length.
posted by Thug at 6:34 AM on December 10, 2009

Thanks, all - I'm the "SO" mentioned in the original post. Great suggestions. My bike has fenders already, and I have a great waterproof bag. I even have rain pants, but water ALWAYS gets in anyway, through the zipper, or up the bottom of the legs. I also have trouble with rain getting down the neck of my raincoat, especially in windy weather - is there such thing as a water-proof neckwarmer or something like that?

I like the do-it-yourself shoe-cover suggestion. That sounds totally do-able, and we do have a sewing machine.
posted by Cygnet at 11:44 AM on December 10, 2009

I've gotten advice re: backpacking that suggested tying a bandanna around your neck, under your raingear. While it's not really waterproof, it will absorb water from any little leaks/spray and keep it from trickling down your chest.
posted by craven_morhead at 12:52 PM on December 10, 2009

Goggles would be also great, although it makes me nervous to have my peripheral vision impaired while negotiating with traffic.

Ski goggles wrap around your face so your peripheral vision is pretty good.

If it gets cold enough out, first your peripheral and then the rest of your vision will go as your eyes get cold, even with regular glasses on. Additionally, this is quite unpleasant feeling.
posted by yohko at 7:31 PM on December 10, 2009

...but water ALWAYS gets in anyway, through the zipper, or up the bottom of the legs.
That's why you'll need boots instead of shoes or some kind of waterproof shoe covers. You need to have some overlap between the pants and the footwear to stay dry. If you go with the shoe covers, bear in mind that they should go under the pants to keep the water from getting in at the top. I've tried it, made them myself, and while better than nothing, I find them too much hassle compared to low cycling boots.
The zippers on good pants usually are waterproof. Also, remember to re-impregnate your raingear now and then. It keeps it from wicking the moisture. Nikwax is one good brand for breathable fabric.
As for the neck, I usually go with a fleece scarf. It gets slightly soggy but it's comfortable enough and keeps the water from entering the jacket in all but extreme conditions.
Again it's crucial to have optimum adjustments on the jacket. If you are able to adjust the area around the neck and the hood precisely, you will minimize the water entering.
In my experience, goggles are a hassle. They get wet (doh!) and thus impairs your vision.
They might be nice in extreme wind combined with hail or sleet, though, but a good hood goes a long way.
posted by Thug at 6:58 AM on December 11, 2009

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