How to: Stay dry on a motorcycle

Sooner or later, if you’re a serious rider, you’re going to encounter rain. The fair-weather open pipes enthusiasts, who only use their chrome barges as transport to-and-from poker runs and coffee shops on sunny days, don’t have to put much consideration into waterproof gear [Tell us what you really think, Zac! – Ed.], but for the rest of us, it’s important to stay dry. Wet clothes, plus wind chill, can add up to a cold, miserable ride, or worse, hypothermia.

With that in mind, there are three different approaches to waterproof riding gear:

The Scott Ergonomic Pro I tested in 2014 was one of the best bits of waterproof kit we ever had at CMG. Eventually, I managed to ruin one of the zippers on the legs.

Rainsuits

Rainsuits are simple. Get a waterproof jacket and pants, pull them over your riding gear, and away you go.

There are some advantages to this approach. You can buy a rainsuit for a decently low price, and they’re easy to find. Many riders simply use off-the-shelf frogg toggs, designed for hiking or other outdoor pursuits. You can find these rainsuits anywhere for around $100 or less, at places like Wal-Mart or Canadian Tire.  Army surplus stores are another good source for rugged waterproofs, although some riders may not like the camouflage look, as it’s not as noticeable as hi-viz on the highway.

If you want to spend more, there are motorcycle-specific rainsuits on the market. Some are very basic, just repackaged outdoorswear with some reflectors. Others are designed to be stretchy, moving with you on the bike, with extra straps, gussets and drawcords built in, for the ultimate fit.

If you put a hole in a rainsuit, it’s probably simple to fix, as long as you’ve got some sort of patch kit with you and the hole isn’t too big.

Frogg toggs makes motorcycle-specific suits as well as generic rainsuits that you can find anywhere.

When the rain is over, your gear under the rainsuit isn’t soaked (theoretically), so you’re not walking around in soggy jacket and pants. You can go back to wearing your leathers, or vented textile gear, or whatever, in comfort.

There are a couple of problems with a rainsuit, though. The first is, where do you keep it? Unless your bike has saddlebags or a tail trunk, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a place where the rainsuit can stow away inconspicuously. The second is, rainsuits aren’t as rugged as regular riding gear. This isn’t a problem for most motorcyclists, but if you’re riding off-road, you may end up with rips in your rain jacket or pants from trailside brush or other debris poking holes in the suit.

But the thing with rainsuits is that they follow the KISS principle: Keep It Simple, Stupid. They just plain work, even if they’re mostly sort of ugly and flappy in the wind. If they’re not working, it’s easy to figure out why, and fix the problem.

A lot of adventure riding gear, like the REV’IT! Sand 2 suit we tested back in 2013, has a waterproof liner to keep rain out. It works fine on blue sky days as seen here.

Liners

The majority of waterproof motorcycle jackets and pants use a liner to keep rain at bay.

This is arguably an advantage for adventure riding gear. It means your waterproofing is protected by the tough exterior of your riding gear. Sticks, bushes and even minor falls aren’t going to compromise your rain gear.

Liners often pack up into compact bundles, so they’re easier to stow away on your bike, and they don’t flap in the breeze like an exterior rain suit does.

However, liners have major disadvantages, particularly when used in pants. Say you’re riding, and you see rain ahead. You pull over to install your rain liners, but realize you’ve got to stand roadside in your skivvies while you zip the liner into your motorcycle pants.

Look, it’s me, and my rain liner isn’t keeping me dry …

If you  install the rain liners ahead of your ride, you’re not going to have the same breathability in your riding gear.

Either way, when it rains, internal rain liners feel kind of trickly, clammy and unpleasant if worn without another liner underneath. Some gear makers include a thermal liner to wear under your rain liner for this reason.

Another problem with rain liners: they tend to allow leaks between the jacket and pants.

All in all, liners are a good backup, and better than nothing, but there are good reasons to avoid using them, especially when touring or on longer day rides. For shorter around-town jaunts, they’re not so bad.

This Aerostich Transit suit was perhaps the best piece of waterproof gear we ever tested at CMG, with a layer of Gore-Tex bonded to leather. The outer leather would get soggy, but the inside would stay dry, unless water ran down the neck.

Single-layer waterproofing

Some gearmakers provide jackets and pants with waterproofing and abrasion protection packed into a single layer, with no extra liner or outer rainsuit needed.

Most commonly, this is done by making a sort of fabric sandwich, with Cordura or similar crash-resistant material on the outside, and Gore-Tex or some other waterproofing bonded to the inside. Usually, there are some waterproof zippers for venting.

Another approach is to take a fabric and soak it with a waterproofing substance. This is how the old Belstaff and Barbour riding jackets were made, from waxed cotton. Several other gearmakers use similar processes now (Aerostich, Merlin, Richa).

Single-layer waterproof jackets are, in many ways, the ultimate solution. You don’t have to remember to bring anything, because the gear is always ready for whatever the weather throws at you.

This Belstaff Mcgee jacket has a waterproof membrane bonded to the waxed cotton shell for foul weather utility.

However, they do tend to be heavier than other motorcycle jackets, and more sweaty. And when the waterproofing in the single-layer jacket starts to leak, it can be a pain to fix, or impossible. Waxed cotton isn’t so bad — it can be re-waterproofed — but if your single-layer jacket relies on a Gore-Tex layer that becomes compromised, good luck fixing it.

However, at least in the spring and fall, it’s hard to beat the utility of single-layer gear, as long as it actually works.

One point about single-layer waterproof gear: although the inner liner should theoretically be enough to keep the rain out, a lot of this gear will benefit from application of waterproof sprays or wash-in chemicals like Nikwax (and, as mentioned above, waxed cotton is designed to be refinished at certain intervals). Check with the manufacturer of your jacket or pants for their recommendations.

In-the-know riders swear by Aerostich’s Triple Digit glove rain covers. Sometime, we’ll get around to testing a pair, to see if they live up to the hype.

Other considerations

Boots/Gloves

You have three choices here: Rain covers (the equivalent of rain suits), boots/gloves that come with factory waterproofing, or boots/gloves that you waterproof yourself.

Boot rain covers are cheap, and while they don’t work well for walking around off the bike, they’re fine while you’re riding. Most boots with factory waterproofing don’t stay that way for long, even the more expensive boots, and they just don’t breathe that well. However, if you’ve got a place to store them, they’re an excellent choice for street riding.

Rain covers for gloves are less common, but Aerostich makes sets that come highly recommended, and would work well in almost any riding scenario.

Of course, you can buy boots or gloves that claim to be waterproof from the factory. Some waterproof boots do work fairly well, especially if they’re lined with Gore-Tex. However, I have yet to see a pair last more than five years. As for gloves, I find all factory waterproof gloves tend to eventually leak through the cuff anyway, and the waterproof liner layer makes them hard to pull on and off. For that reason, I’m not a fan at all, although I have several pairs.

alpinestars toucan
I have parts of five seasons on a pair of Alpinestars Toucans, and they are just starting to leak a bit now. They are not bad, but they will probably need replacement at some point next year. In my experience, that is about the best performance you can hope for.

You can also take a pair of non-waterproof boots or gloves and apply mink oil, Nikwax, Sno-Seal or another waterproofing agent. This is a good solution for shorter rides, and will also help boots that are starting to lose their factory waterproofing.  You can even use Vaseline as a crude waterproofing agent by rubbing it into leather riding gloves.

Zippers

Even if your gear has waterproof zippers, eventually water tends to leak through. You can keep the seepage at bay by waxing your zippers. You can get all fancy and buy wax from a dive shop that’s made for this purpose, or you can use plain ol’ fashioned lip balm, or even candle wax.

Adventure touring bikes like the BMW GS series are excellent choices if you have to ride in foul weather. Of course, for that kind of money, you could also buy an economy car and be perfectly dry no matter how hard it rains.
Bike choice

A touring bike with a big fairing or cleverly-designed bodywork will help keep the rain off you. Touring and adventure touring bikes are particularly excellent in this regard. It also helps if you can run heated gear; if you do get wet, this will keep your core temperature from dropping.

Clothing choice

Pick the right clothes for under your riding gear. If you wear a hoodie, the hood hanging out of your jacket will soak up rain and eventually seep downwards. Wool is the best choice for rainy days, because if you do get wet, it will still help you stay warm. Pick up some merino from Costco, or go with something from the army surplus store, or the classic Canadian standard, Stanfields.

The bottom line

From my personal experience, it’s difficult to find waterproof gear that can be relied on. On my last trip to BC, I had a pair of Alpinestars Revenant pants leak in the crotch, despite their $899 price tag in Canada, and that’s in the first season of use. You’d think that you’d be guaranteed waterproofing for that kind of money, but you aren’t. I’ve had allegedly waterproof boots that likewise only lasted a season, and I have yet to find a pair of gloves I’ve been happy with in the rain.

Mike Saunders rode to the four corners of North America on a Honda Ruckus, wearing his Aerostich suit. Is he frowning because he is experiencing Stich Crotch? We will never know.

Having said that, some brands are better than others, and I’ve personally found Aerostich to be mostly good, although it’s expensive and the infamous “‘Stich Crotch” leak still pops up for some users. Klim also has an excellent reputation; although I’ve never personally used Klim, Warren had great luck with his Latitude gear in a 2015 test.

With that in mind, if you’re headed out on a tour, I’d recommend you check any allegedly waterproof gear you own, if possible. Ride in the rain around home, or have a friend spray you with a garden hose, or in the shower, or something. If you find leaks, buy a rainsuit. It’s cheap insurance. And if you have a recommendation, or a warning, let us all know in the comments below.

15 thoughts on “How to: Stay dry on a motorcycle”

  1. You do not need $$$$ for good rain protection. I got a cheep rain suit from RD and when it started to leak at the seams I put some tape on the inside of the seams and would water proof the out side seams every so often. The suit is about 15 yr old and still working. As for boots get them good and warm then put the dubbin or mink oil on and let dry good the wipe down. I went from Barrie Ont. to Grand Bank Newfoundland and went through very heavy rains and my feet state dry. ( the rain was so bad at night crossing Newfoundland that I had the road all to myself ) It was on a older stile KLR. and do the same for go gloves get them nice and worm then dubbin, but I always have a spare but seldom need them now that I use hand protectors on my bikes. There is also a Thinsulate glove that has a rain guard zipped up in the top part of the glove, I have a pair but have only used the pull out twice. When the weather gets cold try a pair of army mitts, they keep your hands much warmer.

  2. I have had my kit for 4 years and have had many rides in torrential downpours. Always stayed dry and warm.

    Klim Badlands Pro jacket
    Klim Lattitude Pants
    Sidi Adventure Gortex Boots
    BMW Dual chamber Gortex gloves (made by Held)

    This stuff really works, did my homework before buying. However, it’s not cheap, that’s about $3000 worth of gear right there. You get what you pay for I guess. Having said that, my friend has a Revit rain suit he bought for $125 US and he stays pretty dry too, but not as dry as me and convenience is a big factor too.

  3. When shopping for a rain jacket, be sure to get one with a hood! This keeps the rain from running down your back.I also carry medical gloves, get the ones with the powder on the inside, easy(er) to get them on and off.

  4. Can anyone recommend rain suit pants that don’t allow the water that pools on your seat from seeping through after an hour or so? I believe that Zac referred to it as Stich Crotch! I used to use a Revit suit. Now I use the rain layer from my Olympia jacket and pants, which can be worn on the outside for rain, or inside for cold wind. Along with glove covers and Goretex boots, both kept me dry, except for the dreaded Stich Crotch!

    1. Get some good tape and tape the inside of the seam then put some water proof spray on the out side of the seam every so often. I have a real cheep pair pants from RD and they are over 15 yr and still work. I used duct tape and it has been on for over 14 yr. and still good but there are some brands of duct tape, that are better than other.

  5. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate this post. I’ve always used rainsuits over my regular riding gear. Last year, my rainsuit started to leak, badly, while touring North of Superior. I immediately replaced it with a similar generic rainsuit, as this was all I could find in Wawa. It works like a charm and it’s always made sense to me to go with the layered approach. I encountered plenty of rain this year touring the Okanagan and riding the north shore of the Gulf of St Lawrence, but stayed dry as toast.

    Nonetheless, I’ve been looking at those fancypants Aerostitch suits (and the like) and wondering if it would be better to have a single do-it-all outfit? Particularly since I tend to buy over-sized rainsuits (the better to not leave my lower shins exposed and prevent binding due to an overly snug fit), your typical, one-size-too-big, $200 rainsuit looks pretty silly on or off road.This post convinced me to embrace the homeliness. It works.

    I’ve distilled the formula down to this:

    1) Basic riding gear is vented jacket and pants made of a combination of ballistic material and mesh;

    Cool in warm/hot weather.

    2) Heated vest.

    Simply to block the draft if it’s coolish, or plugged in and turned on if we are headed for single digits.

    3) Rain suit.

    Just the jacket to check the wind on really cool days, or the whole thing when it’s wet.

    4) For boots and gloves, I really don’t worry too much. I love my Blundstones and keep them well oiled. They’ve never let me or my feet down. With heated grips, wet hands don’t bother me in the least. Your experience may vary.

    It helps that I ride an old R1200RT and have room to store this stuff. The thing is, equipped this way I can leave for a week on the road and know that I can adapt to conditions within 2 minutes, no matter what or where.

    Knowing that a fancy all-in-one suit would be just another compromise is my take away from this article. Merci!

    1. I have done all-day tours wearing Aerostich gear and not had a leak, on multiple occasions.

      I have, however, had ‘Stich crotch once in my R3. But that’s only once.

      My Olympia AST one-layer jacket was ALMOST 100% waterproof, but sometimes the zippers would leak in a real frogchoker. I wore it out eventually.

      I’d probably tour in an Aerostich without a backup rain suit, but that’s about the only gear I have that I’d do so with. Maybe my latest Alpinestars jacket, which has proved much more waterproof than the pants.

  6. My two cents, I’ve owned numerous outfits with the attachable rain liner. So you’re riding in 30 degree weather and as the day goes on, you notice clouds forming nearby. You continue to ride hoping you’ll miss it. You don’t, so you stop at the side of road while it is pouring to put in the liners. Yes, way too late but you know putting the liners in anytime sooner means you’re in a sauna as your ride. Gloves are the next fun things to fit. As once your hands are wet, you can’t get them in the waterproof gloves properly as the liner sticks to your wet hands and you can’t get them into the individual fingers so you ride like you have no fingers, not the safest form of riding.

    So I bought a BMW Streetguard suit this summer as it’s waterproof and is supposed to wick away the heat with it’s space age materials. I can tell you that both times that I was down in West Virginia this summer I was sweltering with the heat and sweated to death inside the suit. It never rained once on these trips so I can’t even comment on its rain protection.

    I do have a one piece rain suit that, to me, makes the most sense as it can go on in seconds and you’re not on the side of road in your underwear looking like a dork. It’s also high viz, which I really could care less about, but in this circumstance, I like that I can be seen.

    In regard to boots, I have to recommend my waterproof Alpinestars Faster rainproof boots which are more like a tall shoe than a boot. I have never had rain soak my feet while riding in these for the past 5 years and I have been caught in some huge storms. Can’t recommend them enough.

  7. I find the regular rain suit works best although one tip I found from experience is to get a pair of rain pants with a zipper all the way along the leg. That makes getting them on and off without removing your boots much easier. Without them I’ve been caught many times on the side of the highway hopping around on one leg trying to get my boot into the pants.

    I haven’t had much luck with boots and gloves. Even when I bought the Gore-Tex expensive gear it didn’t take long for the water to soak through in a heavy downpour. When I called up the company to complain they offered a refund but were reluctant to explain why they leaked. At the end of the day if you want totally waterproof gloves and boots your best bet it’s something made of rubber. This will keep you dry but of course the compromise is breathability. If it’s warm weather you’ll sweat to death.

    At the end of the day I found the best way to deal with wet weather is to manage your expectations. If you’re riding in part of the country thats known for wet weather you need to be prepared. On a June road trip to Canada’s eastern provinces a few years ago I ran into 10 days of nonstop on and off rain. The following year I picked a more southern drier route.

  8. In my experience, if you really have to ride all day in the rain, and want to stay (almost) completely dry (some always seems to seep down the neck), there is no substitute for a rainsuit and waterproof glove covers. And the glove cover gauntlets need to go under the cuffs of the rainsuit, else rain will run down your arms and seep under the glove covers. Used properly, you can ride all day in a cold to cool rain and arrive essentially dry. But if it’s hot and raining, you’ll sweat to death under the thing, so good luck!

    1. And on the boot front, my previous pair of Alpinestars Web Gore-Tex boots stayed waterproof (AFAIK) for many years (like 10-12, probably). Hoping for as good of luck with my new pair (old ones finally wore out).

  9. As far as gloves, the only way the water will stay out, is to wear the rubber impregnated ones like those the guy that operates the vacuum truck does. The water will stay out, but they will still get wet, from perspiration.

    Moral of this story, trying to find gloves that will keep your hands dry is a fool’s errand. Bring many regular pairs, run the grip heaters, and be happy the rest of body is dry thanks to the nice gear you were able to buy with all of the money you saved by not buying ten pairs of “waterproof ” gloves that turned out not to be, Don’t ask how I learned this lesson.

    You’re welcome. 🙂

  10. I have an old Rukka one-piece coverall style rainsuit for longer trips.
    It keeps the water out, but when the rain stops you’re walking around inside a shower curtain.
    For short trips, an Alpinestars 2-piece works fine, but as you say, is more likely to leak.

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