Are you considering buying a jacket and/or pants for rain protection? Before you do make sure you check the waterproof rating on the garment.
Firstly, decision time:
- Separate rain gear
- Layered riding gear (removable liner setup)
Choice one is relatively simple.
Because you are only wearing the gear when it rains, buy the most unbreathable, PVC material you can source. Workwear shops have the best raincoats and pants. Grab one with a strong zipper, plus Velcro front-over closure and good wrist and ankle seals.
Also, look for quality seam sealing, a process preventing water from sneaking through the stitching holes. Waterproof tape is rolled along the inside seams of the garment, covering the holes, preventing water from seeping in… yep, especially important in the crutch area.
NOTE: I’ve had this fail on my mid-range priced pants and in a heavy downpour ended up with an uncomfortably wet and cold crutch area, as water pooled on my seat and seeped through. Ick!
Spend the best you can afford on the jacket; the pants won’t last as long if used regularly, as they take a beating from the road grime and engine/exhaust heat… whether they are designed for riding or not.
Motorcycle designed rain gear is priced from about $50 upwards into the high $100s. Pants are usually cheaper than the jackets.
There’s usually heat-protective material stitched to the lower legs, but that’s about all the difference to the workwear… oh except workwear will also be in bright reflective colours, with extra reflective strips, which may not suit those fashion-conscious peeps.
But when it’s raining… two important things you want is:
- To be seen amongst the grey wetness
- To stay dry
These jackets and pants generally fold up small and tie on the bike or fit in a bag. They’re worn over your existing garments. When it starts to rain, pull over to a safe area of roadside, take ya boots off, wiggle into the pants, possibly add in some expletives… as it’s not the easiest thing to do on the side of the road, flouncing around on one leg, trying to hurry up before the rain becomes heavy… deep breath… throw over the jacket and off you go.
This type of gear is ok to wear, in the short term.
Great to have stashed on your bike somewhere incase you get caught out. Not great for those who spend all day riding as you would be wet from sweat, as there’s no breathability.
You’ve decided to invest in choice two…
This is armoured gear with removable liners, that will help keep you protected in an off as well as comfortable to ride in three to four seasons.
There are three main material types used:
Your jacket becomes part of your personality and if like me, you’ll acquire a few to decide on… jackets that is, not personalities.
For any given day and any given road trip, you’ll have a favourite. They come in an array of colours, materials and feminine trends.
While there are pros and cons to each, as well as individual fashion and riding styles, for this article, we focus on textile material, as that’s where most of the gobbledegook comes from. For high quality, be prepared to spend around the $2K mark for a suit, mid-range, about half that… and sort of half of both if you’re only after the one piece.
Water-resistant, weatherproof, water-repellent… say what? What happened to just plain ole waterproof?
So much bafflegab! Waterproofability, water ratings, Gore-Tex, Dry-tech, eVent, seam sealing, breathability, IP rating, rah, rah, rah…
Instead of overwhelming you with all the tech-talk… coz there is so much to wade through… there are pages on Gore-Tex alone… I’ll cut out all the waffle and keep it uncomplicated, adding some handy links throughout, which explain the specifications of individual design functionalities, if you’d like to read further.
Water ratings originate from laboratory testing. The higher the rating, the more waterproof and breathable the garment will be.
Check the waterproof label/tag on the garment for the rating numbers.
For the best chance of staying dry a 20,000 mm plus rating is the duck’s nuts; the 16,000-20,000 mm will be sweet in most heavy rain scenarios and 11,000-15,000 claims to protect up to moderate rain, except didn’t on my trip. Anything less, don’t even bother with.
What does that even mean?
Breathability is the quantity of water vapour released through fabric. Your body produces water vapour from your sweat.
Quality, breathable material is important to keep your body comfortable overall… to minimise sweating.
Breathability ratings are justified here. If you see the rating on a garment’s tag, the lower the number, the more breathable the fabric.
Ventilation is also handy for breathability, so if the garment has discreet vents that allow airflow, yet repel flooding, then double bonus.
As with outer shells, the inner liners are made of various materials; two high-end choices are Gore-Tex®, breathability rated around 3 – 4, and eVent® rated at 2.7 – 4
Gore-Tex® is a windproof, waterproof and breathable membrane.
Marketed as Guaranteed to Keep You Dry, the microscopic pores of the membrane are approximately 20,000 times smaller than a water droplet, yet 700 times larger than vapour molecules.
How does this help you?
Rain can’t pass through fabrics, bonded with this membrane although perspiration can still escape from within.
Pretty neat ay!
eVent has become a most comparable membrane to Gore-Tex and is hot on the trail of becoming the No.1.
It’s similar, but different by using Direct Venting™ technology. This is a dry system supporting fabrics, bonded with eVent, to be fully waterproof and fully breathable, therefore fully comfortable in a diverse range of conditions.
Surges in product development compete directly with Gore-Tex®, such as eVent®, H2No® and HyVent®, to name just a few, so keep an eye out for amazing new technology, because I can’t stress enough the importance of reliable gear, especially when far from home.
High-end gear manufacturers, Alpinestars, REV’IT! and Dainese use their own waterproof and breathable layers along the Gore-Tex principles.
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Not in the same class as the Gore-Tex and eVent type membranes, dry-tech is a material that is designed to stay dry and breathable. I was introduced to dry-tech glove liners, by my friend who not only rides but also snow skis.
My winter gloves had failed badly on my road trip and I was on the return section, yet to go through a lot of wet and cold conditions, with just my pair of perforated, leather summer gloves. She pulled out the liners of her ski gloves for me, bless her! That thoughtful and kind action meant I rode home without losing a finger or three to frostbite.
I was totally blown away by this thin liner I placed under my gloves. It was pelting down with rain as I left the Sunshine Coast. That cleared, but I was soon putting slowly over the Great Dividing Range towards Toowoomba, through thick fog. I was freezing cold and damp in my upper body, due to the waterproof liner failing in my jacket, yet my hands felt dry.
Not toasty warm, but not turning blue either. I’d never come across anything like it.
Sometimes among all the labels and tags, that warn you to follow the directions to the letter, or you may drown, fall off your bike or worse if you’ve not done your zip up… you may come across an IP rating.
This stands for Ingress Protection and consists of two numbers that measure protection from foreign bodies and water, denoting three key metrics…
- Ingress, accidental or otherwise
- Ingress, from foreign bodies, (dust, dirt etc.)
- Moisture ingress.
So, there ya go, a very summarised lesson about waterproofing and breathability. And hey, just because we ride motorcycles, doesn’t mean we need to stick to motorcycle gear to keep ourselves dry and warm.
Think outside the helmet and definitely consider snow gear for base layers as they have terrific windproof and waterproof ratings with excellent breathability. A lot of physical exertion happens on the ski slopes, so the gear is up there with the technology and the layers are thin and light. A decent ski jacket could fit in under your normal leather, oilskin, waxed canvas, or other textile jacket.
Also, consider gear from workwear stores and similar.
While researching this, I’ve come across a lot of waterproof testing done by hosing someone down in their get-up. Yeah, NAH! That doesn’t work.
To truly test the gear, forces need to be applied like they would if you’re riding at various speeds. Standing in the front yard, with a hose, is nothing remotely similar.
Pressure is an important factor in real life riding and water pools between your legs in your seating position. It would be lovely to be aware of where that water will end up, before you head out in your trusty rain-gear.
Researched and written by Katarina Dálaigh