A look out of the window, and the motivation to leave the house tends towards zero. Who wants to romp around outdoors when it rains? But sometimes there is no way around it: the bike ride with friends is firmly planned, attendance is compulsory instead of working from home in many companies, and the child has to go to daycare.
There are many reasons for cyclists to get in the saddle right now, regardless of the weather. Of course, you’re happy when you have the right clothes waiting in the closet. The weatherproof offer ranges from overshoes, helmet covers, and gloves to trousers, jackets, and overalls.
For light rain or just short “obligatory trips”, a rain jacket is often sufficient, which in most cases also keeps your head dry with a hood. Here, too, the selection is huge, as is the price range within which rain jackets are offered.
For our overview, we primarily ordered and examined rather light rain jackets. First things first: We looked at the jackets, touched them, and put them on. We tried each in practice to feel the wearer’s comfort and check the functionality. But we didn’t go to the lab to measure water and wind resistance or breathability.
Compact for emergencies
Light rain jackets—even under this definition, there is a wide spectrum. The test field includes really light models that are ideal for having a jacket on hand in an emergency. Jackets that even fit comfortably in a jersey pocket or a small fanny pack when you set off on a spring or summer bike tour and don’t want to be left without protection just in case.
Or if you put a compact jacket in your jersey for the same reason as a racing cyclist or mountain biker. Maybe just so that after a sweaty climb, you don’t have to go down the descent without wind protection. Examples of this are the models from BBB Cycling and Rose, which even do without a hood.
The light jacket from Schöffel also falls into this category. It is made much more elaborately and has a hood, but Schöffel deliberately only made certain areas waterproof while placing greater emphasis on elasticity and windproofness in other areas. Such models perfectly cover the purposes described but are certainly not the first choice if a bike ride through heavy rain is pending.
Rain jackets for cyclists: relaxed or sporty
Basically, you should ask yourself what purpose the rain jacket should serve. Is it the relaxed ride in everyday life, or do you regularly pedal more dynamically and sportily? In the first case, factors such as ventilation or breathability can be given less weight. And the wallet is less burdened if the jacket is not so elaborately manufactured or if there is no functional membrane.
The more you exert yourself, the hotter and more humid the climate under the jacket becomes, and the better this moisture has to be transported to the outside. A membrane—the test models have 2 or 2.5 layers—only lets moisture through in one direction. Rainwater cannot penetrate, but moisture can escape to the outside. In addition, there is usually a coating on the surface that is also water-repellent.
Some manufacturers do without additional ventilation openings; others combine membrane and ventilation. Most jackets without a membrane “alleviate” the lack of breathability with generous ventilation openings. The following applies to all jackets: Ventilation openings placed in the shoulder area are covered so that no water can get in; they are particularly generous on the Ekoi.
For air supply, more or less long openings are hidden behind a zip under the arms or armpits; with Ziener, they are placed next to the front zip. They are all only opened when necessary, when a lot of heat builds up under the jacket. It’s nice when the zip slides are easy to grab.
2.5 layers without inner lining
A quick look at the membrane: what does 2 or 2.5 layers mean in the material designation? A thin membrane is responsible for transporting moisture in just one direction. In some systems, the fine pores let sweat and steam through but are too small for water droplets.
Others use membranes without pores, where functional groups in the plastic enable water vapor exchange. This membrane is laminated to the inside of the outer fabric. To protect the membrane, an additional lining, usually a loose mesh, is incorporated on the inside. This can be dispensed with with the 2.5-layer laminate, as a thin protective layer is applied directly from the inside.
That saves weight. Two values provide information about the level of waterproofness and breathability. The so-called water column indicates the water pressure a fabric can withstand before it is penetrated. According to DIN EN 343, fabrics are waterproof from a water column of 1300 mm (class 3); high-quality rainwear achieves values of up to 40,000 mm and is therefore permanently waterproof even in heavy rain.
The breathability is indicated by the MVTR or RET value. The first is not standardized; it indicates how many grams of water vapor evaporate through one square meter of membrane surface within 24 hours. The higher the value, the more breathable; from 10,000 g/m2/24 h, a membrane is considered breathable.
The standardized RET value, on the other hand, is lower with increasing breathability; it is determined by measuring the clothing’s resistance to water vapor transmission. Below 6, the breathability is extreme; 6–13 stands for very breathable; from 20 on, a fabric is no longer breathable.
Even the best material is of no help if the rain presents weak points. This can be the seams as well as the zippers. Weaknesses that none of our jackets can afford. The seams are taped or welded, the zips are waterproof and/or lined, and often even a small flap covers the front zip. Any existing pockets must also be closed with a zipper on all copies.
As with the ventilation openings, the same applies here: It’s nice when the handle on the zip slide is easy to grab, even with gloves. It’s also nice that the sled disappears into a so-called “zipper garage” at the top of all jackets. In this way, the manufacturers effectively avoid unpleasant pain when skin or whiskers are pinched.
With many rain jackets, the cut is adapted to the typical posture on the bike; the arms are slightly bent, and the back is pulled further down. This can be seen very clearly with Vaude and Tatonka, for example (it’s not for nothing that we also photographed the jackets from the back). This keeps your buttocks dry and clean, even when you’re sitting on the bike in a slightly more sporty, bent-forward position.
Practical details for rain jackets
Anyone who is out on the road in the rain is happy about the passive safety that reflective fabrics, prints, or other elements offer. Almost all of our jackets have these, and the B’Twin is particularly generous if you open the corresponding flap on the chest—another indication that this model is aimed at commuters and everyday cyclists.
Well-fitting cuffs are pleasant, especially those that can be adjusted with Velcro or a pull. Both also apply to the lower end of the jacket. Most hoods can be pulled over the helmet; in our experience, it is more comfortable to wear than when the hood is directly on the head under the helmet.
With Basil, it can be fixed in two positions on the collar, so that both options remain. The ability to adjust the hood around the face is helpful. Ideally, you can fix it at the back of the head so that, on the one hand, the height can be adjusted in the forehead and, on the other hand, the hood nestles tightly against the helmet.
Sustainability is an issue
Sustainability is an issue for many manufacturers. For example, they use recycled polyester for production and explicitly do not use fluorocarbons (PFC), which have long been used for impregnation. Climate neutrality and fair production conditions also play a role. When making a purchase decision, a look at the respective homepages, etiquette, and labels, which certify the corresponding standards, helps.
Well-known certifications include Bluesign®, Climate Action (a climate-neutral company), Fair Wear, or Grüner Knopf. It is welcome when manufacturers offer a repair service. On the one hand, of course, for cost reasons; on the other hand, above all, from the point of view of sustainability. Specifically, in the case of the jackets presented, these are Gonso, Gore, Löffler, Schöffel, and Vaude.
As is so often the case, when choosing the right rain jacket, you have to know your needs and weigh up your requirements. This applies to the topic of sustainability as well as the trade-off between the price and the complexity of the jacket. There is a large selection, and if you have decided on a model that meets your requirements as ideally as possible, you no longer have to let your mood be spoiled when looking out of the window, even if large raindrops are knocking on the pane.