Staying dry: Thoughts on motorcycle rain gear

Despite the rise in texting and driving, rain remains Public Enemy #2 for Canadian motorcyclists (with Old Man Winter holding down the #1 spot). There’s been plenty of it so far this summer.

A good downpour stops most motorcyclists from going for a pleasure ride, and precipitation can take the fun out of a tour for almost any motorcyclist. (Zac would know, he seems to be plagued by rain every time he leaves home. Seriously, don’t plan a tour with him – Ed.)

Even though riding in the rain can be miserable, a good rainsuit goes a long way towards easing the pain. Here’s  what we think works, and what doesn’t, if you’re looking to buy a new set of waterproofs for riding in soggy weather.

A lot of modern riding gear, like this REV’IT! suit, uses zip-in liners. It works in a pinch, but it has some serious drawbacks.

What you don’t want

First off: ditch the liners.*

In the past few years, we’ve seen a big rise in textile riding suits with zip-in waterproof liners. In concept, the idea sounds good: protected by your gear’s tough exterior shell, the liners are much less susceptible to puncture, and are fairly easy to pack away.

Practically speaking, the liners can be effective if everything’s attached and zipped in correctly — but if you make a mistake or miss a connector, expect rainwater to start seeping in. But that’s somewhat true of any rainsuit.

The real problem with zip-in liners is their inconvenience in mixed weather. There’s no point in having a textile jacket that flows air nicely if you have sweat-inducing liners installed. As a result, most riders prefer to take out the liners if they’re riding in hot weather, or if they’re off-roading in tight conditions.

The trouble is when the rain starts, you’ve got to pull over, take off your gear, find the liners, zip in the liners, and put your gear back on. By the time you’re all buttoned together, you might be soaked.

If you just leave the liners installed all the time, this won’t be a problem, but again, that defeats the purpose of vented motorcycle gear.

Another drawback of zip-in liners is that even if you aren’t wet during rain, the constant trickle of water against the liner is unpleasant.

Otherwise, use common sense. An ill-fitting suit is going to flap around in the wind, so if you’re going with an oversuit, make sure it’s not too baggy. You don’t want a loose, baggy collar collecting rainwater.

This two-piece Scott rainsuit served Zac well, until he half-ruined a zipper on the leg of the suit.

What you do want

If you’re not looking for waterproof liners, what are you looking for?

First, the basics: Whatever you get, make sure it fits properly. Get a collar that’s tight enough to keep out all-day rain. Look for high-visibility colours so it’s easier for cagers to see you in poor visiblity.

As far as materials used, most manufacturers sell two levels of waterproof gear. The lower-priced stuff has the company’s proprietary waterproofing (for instance, the Alpinestars Drystar membrane). The higher-priced stuff has a Gore-Tex layer. If you can afford it, this is the stuff you want.

This is the tag you’re looking for.

The reason? Gore-Tex has a great guarantee. As their website says: “If you are not completely satisfied with the waterproofness, windproofness or breathability of your GORE-TEX® product then we will repair it, replace it, or refund your purchase price.

In other words, if it leaks, then Gore-Tex will make it good. An added bonus is that Gore-Tex seems to breathe much better than a lot of the other supposedly breathable materials on the marketplace, although all of them are going to leave you sweaty eventually.

With the recent rise of interest in faux vintage motorcycles and gear, waxed cotton waterproofs have returned to the market. These have mixed reviews, but experienced riders who used the stuff the first time around (back in the 1960s and 1970s, when it was all that was available) will tell you to avoid it. It needs regular treatment and maintenance and if nothing else, it gets your fingernails dirty.

What style of jacket should you get? In some ways, it’s hard to beat a single-layer jacket like the Olympia Richmond. These have a waterproof layer built into the jacket, and many (not all) have waterproof zippers that pass through this waterproof layer. This means that, while your jacket is slightly heavier than most textile jackets, you can still flow air through on hot days. For many street riders, this is an acceptable solution. One of my previous single-layer jackets from years back, an Olympia AST, had this type of construction, and remains my all-time favourite jacket for its all-around usefulness.

There are some drawbacks to this system. If your jacket’s allegedly-waterproof zippers start to leak, then you’re screwed — depending on the severity of the leak, you’re going to get damp, or maybe soaked. These sort of leaks aren’t easy to fix, so you’ll end up needing an extra rain jacket anyway.

The second drawback is cost. Jackets with a built-in waterproof layer typically cost more.

The third drawback is the added bulk of the typical single-layer jacket (not all suffer from this problem). For some riders, especially dual sport riders, this makes the jacket too hot. Stop-and-go urban traffic or wrestling handlebars in a muckhole is no fun, but it’s even less fun when you’re cooking to death.

This Aerostich Transit suit served Zac well in several rainy tours, but the oversized neck opening would eventually let water in. It’s hard to find waterproof leathers like this, and they’re expensive, but they are an interesting option if you’ve got the money. They’re especially useful in spring and fall riding.

If these are problems you wish to avoid, then you should look into an oversuit, either a one-piece or two-piece arrangement. A one-piece theoretically has less room for water to get in, but if you hole it anywhere, then the whole suit needs to be replaced, instead of just a separate jacket or pants. Plus, one-piece suits are often of the one-size-fits-nobody variety, and are a little harder to find. And they tend to be more awkward off-road, if you’re into adventure or dual sport riding. Some would say, too, that one-piece suits make you look dorky.

When it comes to two-piece suits, you’ve got lots of choice. A truly good two-piece rainsuit can cost as much as $200, but you can buy them a lot cheaper than that. Just don’t expect the cheaper ones to fit as well, to last as long, or to be as breathable. But, if I’m spending my own money on a rainsuit, I’ll be looking for a two-piece, and I recommend you should do the same.

Do you have raingear, or a setup for rain, that you can recommend or warn others about? Let us know in the Comments below.

(*Don’t actually throw the liners out; they make a good back-up for longer trips, in case your rain suit develops a leak.)

 

14 thoughts on “Staying dry: Thoughts on motorcycle rain gear”

  1. The recent Olympia jackets and pants have liners that zip inside and are best used as a wind layer, but can also be worn outside if you have to put it on quickly or actually want to also try to keep the textile and stuff in pockets dry. The jacket has a hood in the collar that is intended to be worn under the helmet so you don’t get the water down the collar problem. I just purchased it recently so can’t comment on effectiveness, but it certainly sounds like a good approach.

  2. For years I have used a summer air suit with a waterproof over jacket. Last fallout this combination worked well from temperatures of +42 down to +7. I wish I had a heated jacket to supplement when the temperature fell to 0.

    As the suit is starting to wear out, I am considering one the Rukkas air suits. Any one know where I can try one on, on the left coast.

    1. Rukka has exited the Canadian market . They no longer have a distributor in Canada . Revzilla carries the full Rukka line but will not ship Rukka to Canada. Your only hope is a California company called Cycle Gear . I have a Rukka Aramas outfit and the Rukka air jacket and pants . The air suit works very very well . Nothing beats Rukka gear for fit as well. IMHO.

  3. I really like Frogg Toggs, bought a suit 8 years ago, packs nice and small. Fits over my riding gear and I’ve been out in torrential down-storms commuting that I thought would soak me straight through, but only my feet that I had to put down into 6 inches of flooded street water were wet.
    I had some melting issues, and bought the heat resistant pads for the bottom inside legs to correct the problem

  4. Does any of this great 100% waterproof Klim stuff also have vents that open (not backed by a waterproof liner) and are also 100% waterproof? To me that is where things always seem to go wrong – you can have 100% waterproofness, or good venting, but not both. I’ll still wear my mesh when it’s really hot, and maybe add a decent breathable rainsuit for on top of that (current rainsuits I have are 100% waterproof, but also 100% non-breathable, lol – fine in a cold rain, but if it’s warm at all you’ll end almost as wet from sweating underneath it as if you weren’t wearing it). I suspect even a Gore-tex rainsuit is a pricey item, though.

    1. Interesting point about vents. I find it equally cumbersome to have to open the wide assortment of strategically placed vents on my Klim Latitude jacket in hot weather, as well as close them in cooler or inclement weather. So this system isn’t without some hitches as you’ve pointed out. With that in mind – I just discovered this summer, after a particularly hot, sunny, and muggy ride through S. Ontario, that just by lowering the main front zipper of my jacket a few centimeters while keeping the various vents closed – seemed to adequately vent much of the jacket – at least as well as the actual vents for me. And it didn’t take much road speed to fill the jacket with air either – so it seems very efficient too. I rode my WR250R today in 36C (humidex) weather today using the same simple technique and was completely comfortable. So for the time being – I will be keeping the vents closed – and using the main zipper instead. Much quicker and simpler approach to adjusting ventilation for me.

      1. I have been using the main zipper for extra ventilation for years and it really helps. To increase air flow up the sleeves I change my short gauntlet style gloves to ones that have no cuff and fit snug around my wrist then loosen the cuff on the jacket sleeve a bit. Once you are moving it is surprising how much air moves up the sleeves.

  5. After years of dealing with zip-in liners (which I quickly decided were not a viable option for daily riding – they make a great windproof layer during the cooler months though) and separate rainsuits (great when you start out in rain, not so great when you have to constantly stop to put them on/take them off), I decided to take the plunge and invest in a Klim Badlands suit. After riding through some truly torrential downpours I am a convert to the single-layer approach. While the initial outlay of cash was truly eye-wateringly scary, I have never been more comfortable touring and riding through all sorts of weather. What a novelty being able to ride in variable conditions without having to stop and do the side of the road shuffle!

  6. I use a waterproof first gear jacket and pants. I wear a heated liner and a rain coat over the jacket. The jacket can handle the sprinkles to light rain without soaking through, when it gets heavier don the rain coat and I stay dry and warm. Ridden in changing weather, rain, snow, rain for hours and was comfortable. Heated liner, rain jacket. Both the rain jacket and liner takes up some room, but well worth an extra bag.

  7. I’ve done my fair share of riding in the rain, tried the “rain suit” but so far the best outfit I’ve had is my Olympia X-Moto suit. It’s your typical ADV style suit with the zip in rain liners. Most of the time I just leave them in since it’s never really all that warm in the maritimes and I hate being chilled. (I’m the guy with the heated jacket plugged in on a 15C day) Other than the cuffs getting wet, it keeps me perfectly dry, even after a full day of riding.

  8. My experience with wet weather clothing seems to parallel yours Zac. I’ve done the “liners” thing for a few years when touring and found it incredibly inconvenient to zip them in when rain was approaching and then change them out after afterwards. I bought a Klim Lattitude Misano Jacket and pants and never looked back. With that said – the combination is very expensive. And both my lower front pockets let copious amounts of water in when riding through driving rain. I suspect it’s because the pocket flaps don’t provide enough coverage, leaving some small areas where driving rain can make it’s way in through gaps in the enclosures.This design issue effectively led to my passport getting drenched and stained on a trip last year. I now carry my passport inside the jacket, in the mesh breast pocket and it stays completely dry there.

  9. Over the years I have tried every combination of rain gear available. The only real solution is a Gore tex Pro Shell . I use a Rukka Aramas gore tex pro shell 3 jacket and pants in winter and a Klim lattitude gore tex pro shell 2 for summer use . The gore tex pro shell has the Goretex bounded to the exterior of the garment . So there are no liners , this fabric is totally water proof and breathable . As well the outer fabric does not soak in water like the textile jacket with a goretex liner . I log 30-40000 km a year in all weather. I have ridden for hours in driving rain and have been warm and dry . The issues with these products is they are at the high end of the price scale.

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