Even in the wettest areas of the UK, it rains on only one day in two. The odds of that rain falling heavily while you’re commuting are low. You’ll usually just encounter wet roads and showers. Because of this, the most important equipment for keeping dry isn’t clothing but mudguards. Full-length mudguards stop the water that’s lying on the road spraying all over you.
Of course, every year-round commuter needs a rain jacket as well. How rainproof it needs to be depends on how you commute and what you’ll be wearing underneath. If you zoom to work in cycling gear and change, a showerproof jacket that will keep the worst off is probably sufficient. When you’re riding quickly you generate a lot of heat, and a more weatherproof jacket may make you soggier with sweat than a bit of rain would do seeping in at the shoulders.
If you’re riding in clothes that you don’t want to get damp, you need a jacket made from genuinely waterproof fabric, with taped seams to stop rain getting in there. Breathable fabrics such as Gore-Tex have micro-pores to let sweat vapour escape while keeping raindrops out.
On a bike, however, jackets can’t always breathe quickly enough. To prevent overheating: slow down; don’t wear too many layers under the jacket; and don’t use a backpack. Some jackets have vents under the arms or across the back to keep you cooler.
Waterproof jackets can get whiffy. While most are machine washable, you should not use fabric softener. This can clog the micro-pores in the fabric.
To keep rain out of your eyes – or off your specs if you wear glasses – invest in a traditional cotton cycling cap. It won’t blow off your head like a baseball cap can, and you can wear a cycling cap underneath a helmet if you use one.
Budget rain jackets can be a bit boil-in-the-bag, but the Aqualite is made from a fabric called Hydrovent X that's breathable as well as waterproof. It's a lightweight jacket that packs small enough to fit into its own back pocket. The high collar is adjustable, so it won't scoop wind or rain while you're riding, and the hem and cuffs are elasticated. It's available for men and children as well as this women's version.
Altura Night Vision
This is the UK's most popular cycle commuting jacket. It's waterproof and breathable, as you'd expect, and there are underarm and rear vents to prevent overheating. The adjustable collar is fleece lined, which feels snug when it's cold, and the mesh liner means you can wear it over a short-sleeved jersey without it feeling uncomfortable. There are two pockets, chest and rear, and the overall cut is cycling-specific. It gets its name from the abundant hi-viz trim, which makes it really stand out in car headlights.
It's breathable and fully waterproof, with ultrasonically welded seams, but what makes the Stealth stand out is that it?s a soft-shell jacket that?s nearly as comfortable and as close cut as a winter cycling jersey. If you're an athletic cyclist looking for weatherproofing on your road or mountain bike at the weekend as well as on your weekday commute, this is an excellent option. There are side and underarm vents, waterproof zips, two pockets, and - despite the Stealth name - lots of reflective trim.
Madison Protec waterproof trousers
It's tricky knowing when to break out the overtrousers. If it's only spitting, you'll get hotter and damper with them on; yet if the rain sets in, your work trousers will get soaked. Fortunately, these waterproof trousers are fairly breathable, and there are long zips on the lower legs so you can get them on and off over your shoes - so you can change your mind en route. Velcro straps on the calf and ankle stop them flapping, and there are reflective details for night time visibility.
An unusual alternative to overtrousers, these are a bit like a cowboy's chaps except made from waterproof nylon. They look odd but the design is genius. Since they're open at the back you never overheat, yet the rain falling on your thighs just runs off. Unless it's absolutely tipping down, you stay dry. You can wear them rolled up inconspicuously around your waist, letting them down if it starts to rain. Elasticated straps clip under each thigh and Velcro around each knee.
There's nothing worse than squelching around in wet socks all day. While you can get waterproof cycling shoes or overshoes, these Sealskinz socks work with any footwear and are a great last line of defence. Although they're lined with Merino wool, they have a waterproof and breathable mid layer: you can literally stand in a bowl of water and your feet will stay dry! Water can get in by running down your legs in a downpour, but you'll generally stay warm and dry. The Thin Ankle Length sock is the most versatile.
Cheap doesn’t have to mean nasty. Choose wisely and you can buy a decent new commuter bike for £250 or less.
When your bike folds to the size of a suitcase, your cycle-to-work strategies will be different. Here are some tips.
White lines provide straightforward instructions – which are sometimes misunderstood or ignored. Here’s how to adjust your riding accordingly.