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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)