Waterproof cycling capes: Stay dry on your bike the traditional way

As cycling becomes more than a hobby, more options are open to cyclists when it comes to accessories. Thanks to Merino wool there are now tons of stylish clothes than are appropriate both on and off the bicycle and thanks to the popularity of bicycle culture, there are tons of bike accessories, vacations and tools to make the life of a cyclist easier.

So what about the one thing that can invariably ruin a planned outing on your beloved cycle: weather.

Cycling in wet clothes isn’t much fun, especially as they take a long time to dry when you reach the destination.

In this post we’re going to focus on a traditional solution to the problem:

Waterproof cycling capes and ponchos.

The question is are capes and ponchos right for you…or are they a little too Sherlock Holmes?

Why Bike Capes/Ponchos?

If you live in a place like London or the Pacific Northwest then rain is a part of life one must accept. You can either stay in when it rains (all the time) or find the perfect way to stay dry when its wet out.

The best thing about bike capes is that they are made especially for cycling. Typically these bike ponchos are equipped with an extra long tail that allows you to sit on it and avoid a wet seat. You can even use the long tail to cover the seat and prevent any future wetness.

In fact you get full coverage from your head to your thighs, and even if you find the right one you can even find one that covers your handlebars. These full-coverage “cycle slicks” are gaining popularity for cyclists living in a rain-soaked region.

Bike ponchos and capes also come in a variety of textures and colors, and most importantly come in one-size fits all for quick online ordering.

Why Not?

While cycling capes are pretty magnificent they are not infallible. In fact many people have forever forsaken these capes decades ago when these babies first debuted. There have been complaints that some capes make signaling close to impossible, which any London cyclists knows can be a dangerous thing.

Other disadvantages include the wind, specifically that they easily catch the wind, which can make a routine trip treacherous. Of course there are different designs to help combat this, but you are basically cycling around in a gigantic tent so catching the win on occasion is to be expected.

The two most common gripes in regards to cycling capes and ponchos are lack of ventilation and water sneaks in when you attempt to avoid turning into a human steam room. Overcoming these objections will require a willingness to do your research and often, a willingness to lay down some serious cash. Properly ventilated usually means higher end material, which often means a higher price tag.

Despite these drawbacks, living in a rainy place like London means some type of cycling cape or poncho is a cycling necessity.

What Your Cycle Poncho Must Have

A good bike cape should be sturdy, like heavy-duty, so that it can actually protect you from the rain. Some of the cycle cape/ponchos on the market are quite thin and will only keep you dry in a light drizzle and nothing more.

Rain doesn’t only fall in the day time so it is important that the poncho you choose has some type of reflective material to increase your visiblity. Much of the bicycle gear has this, but when you have to cover that gear up you want to make sure you’re still seen.

I’m sorry to say, in this instance, size does matter. You want a poncho that is going to cover you, no matter how much of you there is. Don’t simply look for “one-size fits all” or focus only on small, medium or large; you need check out the actual dimensions to make sure the poncho will fit over your rucksack, helmet and cover enough of your body to actually keep you dry. Otherwise…what’s the point?

Where can you find one of these handy cycle ponchos? Here are a few you might find cool enough to wear.

Cyclepro Cycle Cape

Cycle cape

This brightly colored cycle cape will not only make sure you’re seen when  visibility isn’t the best, but it’ll make sure you stay dry as well. The 3M schothlite reflective material is available in medium and large, as well as multiple colors if flourescent yellow isn’t your cup of tea. This poncho is large enough to fit over your helmet as well as any other carriers on your person, so you and your stuff reach your final destination untouched by rain.

Water Off A Duck’s Back Cape

Water ducks back cape

If you’re worried that you won’t be able to find a stylish way to keep dry while you cycle, worry no more! Water Off A Duck’s Back produces some high quality–and suitably stylish–coats and capes to help you stay dry and safe while you cycle around the city.

The coat is a double-breasted trench with reflective material (cuffs, belts and collar) and tailored for cycling. This means you can wear a real coat without worrying about a tight fit about the arms and shoulder areas. It looks good enough to wear without the cycle but it’s perfectly suitable for those days when you just have to get out on two wheels. It is waterproof and perfectly breathable and it comes with a detachable hood.

Then there’s the cape which is also waterproof and breathable, despite the fact that you might still get a little overheated, you are after all engaging in physical exercise. But what’s more is that these capes have reflective piping on the back and collar so you can be seen on the road and it is long enough to cover your backside as you lean over to cycle. This brand is amazing because it allows dual-purpose clothing that active cyclists will find attractive.

Cycle Chic Rain Cape

Cyclechic cape

This is a great budget-friendly cycle cape that is waterproof and large enough to keep most of you dry during a wet spell. It also comes with a detachable hood if that’s the part you loathe most about cycling capes. Get to where you’re going dry as the desert and then fold it up and put it away until it’s time to head out again.

Of course some of these capes are quite pricey and you can pop down to your local army surplus and get one cheaper…if you desire. Just make sure you give it a good look to make sure it’ll get the job done, or you’ll still have to shell out more for one that does get the job done. The Cycle Chic cape, for example, is just £35 but if you want the cheapest you can find your best bet is army surplus or Argos where £15 or less will keep you mostly dry.

Before you brush off the idea of a bicycle cape as utterly ridiculous take a moment and ask yourself what are the chances you’ll stay indoors when it rains? If you’re like me, chances are slim you will and these capes–stylish they are not–gives cyclists a way to get around in the rain without getting wet.

Surely that’s good enough to forgo being cool for a few minutes…isn’t it?

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15 Responses to Waterproof cycling capes: Stay dry on your bike the traditional way

  1. Alan Moore 05/07/2013 at 9:57 am #

    For most London commuters proper rain that you can’t avoid is actually surprisingly infrequent. But for those days, I do have a cheap high-viz cape which lives in my pannier. It comes out a few times a year, and it does the job nicely. Tip: put the hood inside your helmet to stop rain running down your neck.

    It is difficult to signal, but I have the appearance of a high-viz tent with lights on, so it doesn’t seem to be a problem!

    One day I might even attach curtain weights to the bottom to stop it flapping about so much…

  2. carolyn 06/07/2013 at 8:22 am #

    I used to have a cape, but found the hood blocked peripheral vision plus if heavy rain then watch out for water collection in the lap area!

  3. Phil Russell 07/07/2013 at 3:08 am #

    [[[[[ Yes, I have often used a cape in heavy rain, but never with a hood……hoods get blown off in a headwind, and if they do stay in place, they seriously restrict side- and rearward-vision, as mentioned elsewhere.
    Lack of ventilation? Not at all! Air flies in from underneath, so the’re much cooler than waterproof jackets and trousers. However, practice is needed to get used to sticking your right arm out to signal, but it’s not rocket science. A proper one will cover your back,and the handlebars too, which will keep your hands dry—-and warm, in winter conditions. The last one I bought was from Argos, cheap and cheerful. Just remember to cut the hood off and wear a sou’wester instead.
    P.R.

  4. Alan Southern 07/07/2013 at 11:20 am #

    London is not particularly wet (I see the weather forcasts of the whole of the UK). If you travel beyond London’s ringroad (the M25) and go west and north you catch far more rain than London. London is dry unless you go to East Anglia where it is dryer again. It is the downdraught created by the tall buildings that give the impression it is a wet place.

    A regards the use of hoods, I agree with all the others. I would go as far as to say that hoods are a safety menace – to the cyclist. In rain, when I am walking, I have to hold the hood of my jacket to look to the side and never mind backwards!

    So purchase a cape without a hood. I like the idea of a sou’wester – that brings back memories when I first had a bike.

  5. Alan Moore 07/07/2013 at 12:12 pm #

    That’s why I said put the hood inside your helmet, people. It does two things: it stops rain from running down your neck; AND keeps the hood from blocking your vision. Only works with lightweight, cheap capes though I suppose.

  6. Orla 15/07/2013 at 3:53 pm #

    I like this idea. It will give me more coverage than my current raincoat. And Alan, I always put my helmet over my hood and stay very dry!

  7. Vincent 21/07/2013 at 1:01 am #

    Some company should come up with
    – a cape, for the extra ventilation which is a must in summer rains or riding up-hill
    – with sleeves to make it possible to signal, grab stuff or when falling off the bike
    – long enough to cover the legs
    – possibly attached to the handlebar with some velcro or magnets light enough to detach in case of a fall

    I, for one, would certainly be interested in such a product.

    • Tony 15/11/2013 at 2:32 pm #

      Not much magnetic on my bike. So magnets won’t be any good unless they attract each other somehow.
      I used to use a cape 35 years ago, They are much cooler than a pile of water proofs. Not good in the wind. Didn’t where a helmet 35 years ago and my cape had no hood. I think I’ll get a new cape and give it a try.
      One issue is that my front lamp is on my handle bars (35 years ago it was on my front forks). Got to make sure the cape doesn’t block the light.

      • Alehouse Rock 17/11/2013 at 3:30 am #

        [[[[ Tony—–I think you’ll have to strap the light onto those front forks again and angle it up? Enjoyed your comments…..very succinct.
        A.R.

    • The gourmet wanderer 04/01/2014 at 11:54 am #

      Me too. It just has to be of good enough quality to last longer than a week and be hi vis. I really don’t trust those drivers out there.

  8. Phil Russell 30/07/2013 at 9:53 pm #

    ALAN ” sou’wester SOUTHERN—-was that back in the Roaring Forties?
    P.R.

  9. The gourmet wanderer 04/01/2014 at 11:51 am #

    Thank you Andreas for your article. Very useful information.

    I have a cheap poncho that has served it purpose but it is now time to replace it with something a little better. I hope to get one I can wear whilst riding a recumbent in dark country lanes. I like inside hand grips, hood and a good length. Any suggestions?

  10. David 09/11/2014 at 8:20 am #

    I live in the far west of wales were we get lots of wet and windy weather, so I am interested in your opinions about waterproof clothing.I have used a large cycle cape for many years, it has a tape inside which goes around the waist and two small loops which fit around the brake levers, all this helps to stop the cape blowing up. I agree signaling can be awkward in town, but if the cape is large it will help to get an arm out..Perhaps we should have indicators like on a motor cycle. I read the opinions that you London cyclists have about traffic and am full of admiration of the way you take your life into their hands. My problem about cycling on country lanes, is car drivers do not expect to see a cyclist there, especially young girls driving small fast cars.
    Keep cycling safely.

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