Even with mudguards fitted, your legs can get very wet while cycling. As you pedal your legs come close to horizontal from hip to knee, so your thighs get much soggier than they would if you were walking. Rain will also run down your waterproof jacket and onto your upper legs and crotch. It's as clammily unpleasant as it sounds. That's why you need a pair of overtrousers in your commuter bag.
Probably. There's a couple of alternatives. One is to wear Lycra shorts or cycling tights and change when you get to work. The other is to use a cape, which forms a kind of tent from handlebar to saddle, protecting your legs as well as your upper body. Air can circulate underneath to prevent over-heating.
Assuming you do choose overtrousers, here's what to look for.
'Waterproof' isn't a black and white description. Fabrics are rated on the water pressure that they will withstand. This is measured in millimetres and refers to the height of the narrow column of water that the fabric will support before it seeps through. In the real world, around 5,000mm equates to 'withstands light rain', 10,000mm medium rain, and above that, heavy rain. Note that rain can get in at the seams unless they're sealed. Rain can also run down into your shoes; waterproof socks are a good last line of defence.
Most overtrousers are breathable – to an extent. The rating that's sometimes quoted is the amount of water vapour, in grams, that can pass through a square metre of the material in 24 hours. More is better, with 20,000-plus best for higher intensity cycling. Most overtrousers are not as breathable as this, so unless you slow down you will get damp with sweat. You're often best leaving the overtrousers off until it's properly raining.
Ease of fitting/removal
You'll often put overtrousers on or take them off when you're outside. This will mean getting your shoed feet in and out of the legs. To avoid hopping about, it's import that the lower legs zip open to allow easy access. You'll then be more inclined to take them off or put them on en route too, maximising your rain resistance and minimising overheating.
Cut and fit
Overtrousers are always a bit loose as they have to fit on top of normal trousers. Velcro straps are useful on the ankles and lower legs to cinch them in and stop them catching or rubbing on bits of your bike, particularly the chain. A cycling-specific cut will allow easier pedalling and make it less likely you'll catch the overtrousers on the nose of your saddle when you start and stop.
Visibility is poorer when it's raining, particularly at night, so reflectivity is useful. Pockets are handy, as are openings that give access to your normal trouser pockets, because it's otherwise awkward to get at keys or a phone. A small pack-size is good because you'll probably carry overtrousers in your bag more than you wear them; it doesn't rain that often.
Here's a selection of overtrousers from across the price range.
Looking like the overtrouser equivalent of a cowboy's chaps, these are designed to protect only your upper legs from rain. They do this well in light rain, and even in heavier rain they keep the worst off. They buckle around your waist and at the top of each thigh, with velcro straps just above the knees. This open design means you don't overheat, a real bonus. There's some reflectivity too. Sizes: XS-XL.
These lightweight overtrousers pack down small into a supplied bag, the sac of the name. They're cheep and cheerful but are reasonably waterproof and have taped seams. The waist is elasticated and there are velcro tabs at the ankles. Pocket openings give you access to your trouser pockets underneath. They're not cycling-specific but will do the job. Sizes: S-XL.
Polaris Surge Overtrousers
Waterproof zips run high up the legs of these overtrousers, so they're easy to get on and off over shoes without the usual overtrouser dance. There's reflective piping there too, helping them to stand out at night. They're breathable and waterproof, with taped seams. The waist and ankles are elasticated, and the latter have velcro tabs to cinch them tighter. Sizes: XS-XXL.
Outeredge Wind Waterproof Sport Trousers
As well as being waterproof and breathable, the fabric of these overtrousers is anti-rip – a useful feature in waterproofs, where any tear has soggy consequences. Zipped lower legs mean they're not too hard to get on and the zips themselves are water resistant. The waist has a drawstring to fine tune fit, while the legs have velcro tabs and reflective piping. Seams are sealed. Sizes: S-XL.
Altura Night Vision Waterproof Overtrousers
Like the rest of Altura's commuter-focused Night Vision range, these overtrousers are emblazoned with reflective chevrons and piping. The cut is cycling-specific, with multiple panels allowing unrestricted leg movement. The nylon fabric is durable as well as waterproof and breathable, so it'll take much longer to wear out the seat with regular usage. The lower legs have zips for easy entry, plus velcro tabs. Sizes are gender specific: men's S-XXL, women's 8-18.
Endura Venturi II PTFE Protection Overtrouser
This is the top of range in Endura's overtrouser collection; there are cheaper options. The advantage of paying this much is that you can ride harder in worse conditions and still stay dry: these overtrousers have a breathability rating of 28,000g and a waterproofness rating of 12,000mm. The three-layer waterproof fabric is seam-sealed, durable, and cut for more energetic cycling, with a stretch lower back panel. Front and rear pockets have waterproof zips and there's the usual reflectivity and extended ankle zips. Sizes: S-XXL.
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