Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Keeping Dry: My New Rain Poncho

It's been a rainy June in Portland, to say the least. We received an average June's worth of rainfall within the first four days, normally stalwart Portlanders resorted to (gasp!) umbrellas and only the threat of a wet Pedalpalooza convinced the weather to break. And break it did, giving up a weekend of beautiful sun for the opening of Pedalpalooza.

By the following Tuesday, it was raining again. And I was pretty happy about that.

"What!?!" you say. "That's borderline sacrilege!" It may be - unless, of course, you've got a new piece of rain gear you want to test. Which I did.

I'd seen rain capes on bikes around town, but it was only on a recent tour of the North Portland Greenway that I was able to see one up close. Jack pulled his cape out to handle the light sprinkling we got as we left Swan Island and merged into the rail right-of-way. It seemed the perfect solution - enough to keep dry, but still ventilated enough to be comfortable. I searched high and low, and found only 2 items: 1) a waxed canvas version from Carradice in the UK, and a much cheaper version from Campmor. It being an untested concept, I went with the cheaper alternative. And then the rain started in earnest. So I bided my time for the right conditions.

The rain cape is suited for the start of a light rain, as it obviously offers no protection from street splash. It's as easy to don as pulling it over your head and slipping your fingers through the elastic loops; the version I have includes a hood, which I haven't had to use. It rolls up quite small, and in hi-visibility yellow, makes it very easy to see a rider.

Over the course of a ride, water does tend to pool in the front, so occasionally you have to dump it. The internal loops are a bit narrow for my cruiser-style handlebars, and since your hands are linked together, signalling for turns takes some getting used to, but quickly becomes intuitive. In short, it's another great alternative to staying dry while riding.


Easy to put on.
Small packed size.
Bright yellow.

If it rains a lot, you're probably going to get wet.
Turn signals take some getting used to.
Thumb loops are a bit narrow for cruiser handlebars.

While looking for links for this post, I came across this pattern for those who may be craftily-inclined. Also, the Center for Appropriate Transport in Eugene, OR, offers a similar model.

@GDorn on Twitter responds that he's used a poncho as well, though water repellance wears off, its not very aerodynamic, and "it makes me look like a duck."


  1. Remeber the superhero uniform designer from The Incredible? "No Capes!"

    Seriously... be careful of cycling while wearing any garmet where the primary point is your neck. If it gets caught on a tree branch while you are zipping by the results can be deadly.

    The eBikes Store

  2. It looks like all that material would flap about in the wind a lot. Does it?

  3. Dan - its attached at the hands and behind the back, so it doesn't flap too much. I've yet to try it with a messenger bag underneath, but so far it's proven a good reason to get the bag "off the back onto the bike."

    Thanks Wake, its good to be aware of that risk.

  4. Hey Sam,

    I missed the part about it being attached behind the back. Do you think its attachment points are strong enough to keep it from being a neck hazard?

  5. I don't really see it being a big neck hazard. And it's keeping me drier than I expected; it works well with small bags on carried on your back as well.

  6. wish it was cuter. the cape in the second picture looks more like what i'd buy, though the way it stretches around the frame gives me pause...

  7. Gretchin - it's certainly not an orthodoxly "cute" garment. But it is effective! I think the pic is a little misleading - it doesn't actually touch the frame of the bike at all, and (mine at least) isn't stretchy at all - its a woven material - but the wind does make it look stretched.

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