Choosing the best kit for wet weather road riding and mountain biking is best done with a bit of trial and error — there’s a lot of poorly executed, badly designed or just plain rubbish gear out there and separating the wheat from the chaff can take a not inconsiderable investment of both time and money.
Luckily, the brave folks on the BikeRadar test team have decades of experience riding in the rain, damp, snow, hail and every other form of precipitous weather under their belts.
In that time, most have settled on a number of go-to items that they won’t leave the house without when the going gets moist.
Here, we also highlight a number of tips and tricks that the team have picked up along the way that help them cope in the rain.
Best tips for wet weather cycling — Jack Luke’s advice for riding in the rain
Having grown up in the Scottish Highlands, I know a thing or two about riding in wet weather — even if the persistent dreich my native country is known for is absent, it’s almost a given that the ground will be wet, forcing me to try every trick in the book.
So, here are a number of tips I’ve picked up over the years.
1. Plastic bags before socks
It may feel and look horrendous, but putting a plastic bag on between socks or against skin is the best way to keep your tootsies toastyJack Luke / Immediate Media
Strange as it may sound, I’ve found that sliding my trotters into a plastic freezer bag before putting my socks on is the best way to make sure they stay warm.
There’s no denying that it feels super gross but the bag acts as a vapour barrier and keeps (inevitably) saturated socks away from your skin, which will suck away any warmth.
I originally stole this tip from a UK Climbing article by Andy Kirkpatrick — which I must have referenced a dozen times on site by now — who knows a thing or two about keeping warm in cold environments, so you can be sure this one works
Trust me with this one and give it a try — throw away the tinfoil and give this a whirl the next time it’s raining, you’ll be pleasantly surprised!
Full cover mudguards are a mustJack Luke / Immediate Media
Ignore the protestations of Warren below — mudguards are not a crime!
A set of high-quality, full-cover mudguards (or fenders, for the American-types among you) are an invaluable addition to your bike through the wet months, and if well-fitted, will provide years of rattle-free service.
I’m of the opinion that, if you choose the right set and fit them well, mudguards can even complement the look of the bike.
If you want to ensure you stay dry on the bike, then don’t be ashamed to fit a set of suitably dorky mudflaps too for their spray-deflecting qualities.
It’s pleasing to see water instantly repel from its waxy-looking surface, and it’s true to say that this jacket has kept me smiling through numerous torrential downpours.
It also has an incredible knack at keeping my body temperature just right for anything between a few degrees above zero (Celsius) right up to about 15 degrees — that’s basically 99 percent of the time for us in the UK. For a clothing item that’s repeatedly sweated in, it sure doesn’t smell bad either.
In truth, the One is a real revelation for me. In the past, I’ve really struggled with finding breathable waterproof garments and that’s despite having tried jackets from most major names at a whole range of price points.
When it’s not being worn, it packs down to a size that easily stows away within a jersey pocket or into my backpack where its weight is entirely negligible. I’m also glad of its reflective accents and a little zipped pocket. If these were cheaper then everyone would have them.
The Revelation is pricy, but it’s well worth itPhil Hall
The Revelation jacket from 7Mesh is brilliant.
It provided amazing protection through a 9-hour ride in the driving rain across Icelandic wastelands with no shelter in sight. Yes, eventually the water did soak up from the cuffs, but it was breathable enough that that was the only way the inside got damp. The hood is also big enough to fit over my helmet with a nice high neckline.
Best of all, it still performs now as well as it did when I first got the jacket — three years of heavy use is not to be sniffed at. It’s a top-notch jacket for anyone who likes their mountain biking to be adventurous.
Yes, it’s pricey, but it comes in at a similar price to high-performance hiking jackets and has to do a lot more work than many of them.
These neoprene gloves are unbeatableBikeRadar / Immediate Media
As someone who suffers from cold hands when riding, I’ve tried a lot of gloves in my time. Surprisingly, the pair that has performed the best overall in the cold and wet are a set of $30/£25 gloves from 100%.
The neoprene material does a great job of keeping fingers warm when it’s wet and manages to keep the heat in even when it’s windy. While I mostly use them for mountain biking, they’ve also been out on the road bike when particularly grim conditions call for them.
100% now has a women’s version too, which means I don’t end up with quite so much empty extra length in the fingers.
While it didn’t always stand up to the heaviest rain, for those mucky, splashy days on the hill the all-in-one onesie from Germany meant I waved goodbye to soggy baselayers and dirt encroaching up my back.
Once in a while a product comes along that just makes our lives so, so much better
With bags of ventilation on offer it was surprisingly un-sweaty too — though it’s worth noting that if you buy pricier versions you’ll get more breathable fabrics.
So, am I be donning my onesie this winter? Absolutely. In fact, I’ll be donning a number, as more and more brands jump on the one-piece bandwagon.
Lobster style gloves are great for cold and wet ridingGiro
These lobster-claw gloves aren’t going to win any awards for dexterity, but when it’s cold — down to around -6°C or so — these come out of the kit drawer.
The split-finger design and the outer waterproof membrane work well and the suede-effect palm made from Clarino synthetic leather is grippy. The Thinsulate insulation and soft fleece lining also do their job well.
These don’t get that much use but I’m very, very glad to have them even though they are now a few years old.
The newest version has Touchscreen Technology for the index/middle-finger so you can use mobile devices, and a zippered pocket for hand warmers.
When is a waterproof cycling jacket not a waterproof cycling jacket? When it’s Swrve’s snazzy English-made waxed cotton cycling jacket, which has more of the hunting-and-fishing look about it.
But don’t be fooled by its looks — waxed cotton worked over a century ago in the North Sea, so there’s no reason it can’t cut it on the bike.
I’ve found this jacket to be very useful for the last five or six years for shorter autumn and winter rides, and it even comes in handy off the bike, walking in wet and wintry conditions.
The wax cotton is wind- and water-repellent, and when the waterproofing wears out you can re-wax it yourself.
The wool lining is both very warm and wicking, and there are zipped armpit vents for further airing. The cut is cycling specific with double-cuffed long arms and a low rear hem, and there are pockets for just about every eventuality.
This is one of my all-time favourite jackets. I’ve had it for years, and while it needs a wash down now and a rewaxing, it’s still got loads of life left.
£265 / $400 (sold out in the UK, limited numbers available in the US)
These overshoes are, in my eyes, unbeatableJack Luke / Immediate Media
These are the best overshoes I have ever owned.
The simplicity of their construction is what sets them apart from every other overshoe I have used. They have no zips or other fussy fastenings, which makes them super hardwearing. Any winter-hardened rider will tell you that this is where overshoes fail first.
To put the overshoes on, you pull them on before your shoes and the tight ankle holds them in place. A thick Velcro strap is then cinched around the arch of the shoe to stop the overshoe from rolling back over your shoe.
The overshoe is made from 4mm thick neoprene and has held up to tonnes of abuse, as has the durable portion around the toe and base of the overshoe.
I adore my Paramo VelezReuben Bakker-Dyos / Immediate Media
I cannot speak highly enough of my Paramo Velez light smock.
I’ve done all manner of stupid rides and adventures in the jacket since I first got it around two years ago. Highlights include the Jeroboam 300k, the first edition of Grinduro Scotland, a tour around South Wales in foul weather, lots of winter riding and even a little bit of winter mountaineering back home in Scotland.
Paramo constructs its jackets out of its Nikwax Analogy waterproof fabric. This is a unique three layer “directional” (i.e. breathable) system which quickly wicks away sweat and condensation to the outer, breathable waterproof shell.
In practice, I’ve found the Analogy system does exactly what it claims. It’s supremely comfortable in most conditions and the soft lining doesn’t get clammy. I’ve even gone as far as wearing just a baselayer beneath the jacket.
If things get really warm, the jacket has two enormous vents down each side. It also has a generous chest zip.
The hood is cavernous enough to accommodate even large enduro lids and has plenty of fit adjustment. The big marsupial-style pouch on the front of the jacket is also perfect for stashing phones and maps.
I’ve found that it is vital that you keep on top of cleaning and reproofing the jacket, but I’m more than happy to live with a bit of extra hassle for the sake of such high performance.
Sportful Fiandre NoRain Pro bib shorts (or any thermal bib shorts!)
A pair of water resistant bib shorts should be in everybody’s wardrobeReuben Bakker-Dyos / Immediate Media
Based near the BikeRadar HQ in Bristol, UK, I’m more than used to rain, cold temperatures and generally not sunny weather.
Most summer bib shorts are designed with breathability and wicking properties in mind, which results in minimal thermal properties that tend to hold moisture.
Sportful’s Fiandre NoRain Pro bib shorts combat this with light water repellency, a soft-fleece, insulating lining, a great seat pad and some wind protection as an added bonus.
These design features combine into a pair of bib shorts that can be worn (in my neighbourhood at least) all through the spring and autumn, and even the winter when paired with bib tights or knee warmer. This setup gets around the restrictiveness sometimes associated with bib tights.
There are plenty of other brands manufacturing thermal bib shorts too, all of which could be a valuable addition to most riders’ wardrobes.
Don’t get ripped off — these £5 work gloves do the job just as well as cycling gloves that cost many times moreIce Ninja
Fed up of spending unnecessarily large amounts of money on gloves only for them to wear out instantly? Yeah, me too.
A pair of branded top of the range winter finger-protectors can set you back in excess of £60, but these Ninja Ice waterproof and exceptionally warm black beauties perform an identical job for a fraction of the cost.
Retailing for around £5, you can ride with a smug aura, confident in the knowledge that your hands will stay warm and dry whatever elements Mother Nature can throw at you, and be happy that you’ve not been ‘done over’ by a greedy corporation selling over-priced gloves.
Although it resembles a classic boil-in-the bag stuffable, the Idro is in a different league. It’s genuinely waterproof but it doesn’t cook you like a sous-vide steak when you up the wattage, because it’s properly breathable.
The cost and relative fragility of these jackets means they’re best kept for road use only, but they perform so well that the price doesn’t seem totally unjustified.
Last winter, and coming into the wetter autumn months, the RW5s are still getting used but they’ve been usurped by FiZik’s R5 Artica boots.
These are a bit more costly (£189 / €225 / $256 / AU$360), but they’re a pretty sorted pair of boots. The outer ‘skin’ is like a stretchy rubber, which seals brilliantly thanks to the Velcro-lined ankle cuff and the full storm zip up the front.
Under this bonded-over waterproof booty is basically an R5 shoe with a carbon reinforced nylon sole (tougher than carbon for when you have to walk). With no vent holes they won’t let water in either.
The upper has a laced cord with a tensioning slider. At first, this is a bit fiddly, but once you get used to it it’s as easy to tension as a standard shoe (though the length of the lace is on the generous side). Size wise they come up bigger than standard Fiziks, but you’ll probably be wearing thicker socks anyway.
I’ve used these in sub-zero temperatures and storm conditions and ridden through deeply flooded lanes, and they’re impressive.
Like any shoe they’re never going to be impervious — water will run down your legs and get past the cuff, it’s pretty much inevitable unless you ride in a wetsuit.
The cool insoles are foil lined for that extra bit of survival chic and they do feel warm and supremely comfortable thanks to their fleece lined tops.
The 433g weight all-in per boot (size 45) isn’t that heavy for the level of protection they give and the sole is amply stiff enough, though not race-shoe rigid, so you can still wiggle your feet around when it gets seriously chilly out.
This clip-on mudguard from Tacx is the best of its typeTacx
Now before the haters start, I’m not a big fan of full-length guards — yes I have them on my Sven cycles custom steel e-bike commuter, but on road bikes, the rattly ill-fitting and tyre rubbing just irritates. To be honest, I’d rather just get wet.
Before anyone starts on about ‘what about riding with others’, remember that most of my riding takes place during the week in office hours and on my own. If I do venture out at weekends with friends then I’ll fit a set of race blades out of politeness.
However, what I do like is a short rear guard to prevent excess spray, leading to what I’d term as ‘trench butt’.
The veritable Ass-saver does this job really well, but Ass-Savers don’t tend to last that long, especially if you’re switching them between test bikes a lot.
Tacx’s imaginatively named ‘mudguard’ is a perfect midway solution. Its neat saddle rail attachment, which is offered with a neat saddle pack to fit along with the guards, gives an Ass-saver-like length, but made from rigid plastic. It’s simple, well made and works well.
It’s well priced at £17.99 and is available in both race (road) and MTB widths.
These boots have survived years of hike-a-bike abuseMatt Orton / Immediate Media
As comfortable off the bike as on, Shimano’s XM9 boots have kept out the worst of the rain and puddles during years of use, and have even stood up to lots of obligatory bikepacking hike-a-bike miles. These are probably the most faithfully waterproof boots I own.
It’s not just you that needs to be equipped for wet weather riding — getting your bike winter-proof is also key to a comfortable riding experience during the rainy months. Swapping your standard tyres for something more suitable for wet conditions is a good starting point.