What’s Up With Rain Capes?

There’s a relatively new kid on the rainy season block, the cycling rain cape. And no, these aren’t the dorky rain ponchos you buy in a clear pack for $12 when is starts raining at the baseball game, these are rain barriers specifically designed for riding a bike.

And they work.

Sure, rain capes may look a little funny at first, but these light weight pieces are surprisingly effective and comfortable.

Why Use a Rain Cape

The key difference between cycling rain cape and a traditional rain poncho is that the body of a rain cape extends over your handlebars to create a solid tent to keep you dry.

The vast majority of rain cape users agree that rain pants are a drag. They’re awkward to put on (you probably need to take off your shoes) and even more awkward to remove. They are bulky and unattractive. Depending on what’s worn under them, rain pants can be rather uncomfortable.

With rain capes, it doesn’t matter what you’re wearing underneath, or what your body type is. Fit becomes less of an issue.

With one piece of clothing, you can get coverage for your head, top and bottom.

Rain capes allow for better air flow, so on days when it’s wet but not cold, they’re a great way to go.

Rain capes provide a tent of coverage from above to protect your legs, and fenders do the job from below.

Rain capes are easy to take on and off and they dry off fairly quickly.

Cape Options

How dapper you look depends on how much you want to spend, in most cases. There are a few independent fabricators making cute rain capes for under $100 that are marketed as being designed for cycling and hiking, but we can’t verify the quality of these items. Most capes range from $175-250.

Standard yellow-rain-jacket-type capes exist and are a smart choice for safety reasons, what with their bright colors and all, and they’re often the least expensive, like these from J&G Cyclewear. But better-looking options are certainly out there.

Brooks, well known for their style, offers a rain cape with leather detailing. Unless you opt for the upgraded Oxford Rollup (vs the Cambridge stowable) we don’t think it’s worth the cost because aside from the leather detailing, the cape is nothing special.

The Center for Appropriate Transport in Eugene, a hub of clever cycling, fabricates their own waxed canvas cape. It’s a nice alternative to synthetic fabrics, but it’s also much heavier. They offer optional hoods, bump outs for messenger bags, and fleece lined collars.

Iva Jean, a Seattle-based designer who makes functional and fashionable women’s bike clothes, has a very nice cape that features elegant arm holes (seriously, that is a thing) and a series of pull cords that allow you to reshape the garment to your liking.

Cleverhood has really set the bar high, with nicely tailored capes in interesting fabrics. Billed as a “US-made rain cape for livable cities,” these capes are known for their excellent quality.

Take Into Consideration

A cape without a rear cinch will fly up in the wind. You may or may not care about this. If you do, opt for a cape that has features to prevent this.

Depending on the cape design, often it will obscure your lights, particularly on the handlebars. You’ll need to make adjustments for this, such as mounting your light to your helmet instead.

The cost isn’t all aesthetics. Many expensive caps offer handy features you’ll wish you had and reflectivity built into the classy-looking fabric. Do your research before you decide what you want to spend.

Photo Gallery

Do You Cape?

Are you a cape wearer? What do you love about it? Share your comments below.

How do you stay warm and dry on your bike all winter long? We’re running an extensive series of articles with everyday cycling tips to help you #KeepRiding no matter what the elements throw our way. You can read the entire series here and follow us on Twitter and Instagram for even more cool ideas. Hash tag your posts #KeepRiding and inspire more people to ride their bikes this winter.

13 thoughts on “What’s Up With Rain Capes?”

  1. Do any of you use a rain cape? Can you tell me more what it is like? I’m a guy, too, so there’s that factor to take into consideration. TY!

    1. I bought a rain cape a couple months ago. I’ve used it about ten times. It’s great for temps in the 50s and 60s. Rain pants cause sweaty legs at these temps, but rain capes let air flow underneath, so your legs don’t sweat. Most rain capes come with thumb loops inside the rain cape. Mine are elastic. The problem with thumb loops is that they make it impossible to use your arms to signal a right or left turn. I end up wrapping the thumb loops around my handlebars to free up my arms for signaling.

      -Breath well
      -Keep your thighs completely dry
      -Quick to take off
      -Possible to wear over a backpack

      -Not great for windy days; acts like a sail. You end up focusing too much attention on the flapping of the cape.
      -The bottom half of your shins may get wet, especially with strong head winds or side winds.
      -Awkward to walk into a store and try to shop. Basic capes don’t have holes for your arms, but fancy ones like Cleverhoods have arm holes.
      -They look awkward

      I like to carry a rain cape on days when rain is questionable. If it starts to rain mid-ride, I pull off to the side of the road and put the rain cape on.

  2. I have always liked my cape on days when I don’t have to ride more than 5 miles. I don’t stay 100% dry so longer rides are where I start to have some seepage on my legs. But those short rides to work (For me 2 miles) a cape is perfect. As for guys, I say go for it capes have no gender. Just look at the Cleverhood website – I have a Cleverhood – they have guys all over their site.

  3. My husband and I both love our Cleverhoods and use them frequently. Because they are not hi viz yellow, we can wear them running errands and not feel like total dorks, or walk into the office with some style. I can’t compare them to every bike-specific rain cape out there, but the additional reflectivity gets my vote!

  4. I wore a standard poncho in the rain on a couple of 2000+ mile US tours in the 70s and 80s. Now that I commute in the rain 10 or so days a year, the ponchos still work fine even though they seem to have gotten smaller (or I’ve gotten bigger.) Try to find a “backpacker” poncho that’s designed to be worn over a pack. As others have pointed out, ponchos work like sails in a headwind, but you will not sweat and they can go on over a bag. Your lower legs will still get wet, though.

  5. I’ve been commuting for work, and it requires about 20 to 40 km a day. I’m working with professionals in their offices, and I prefer not to be wet. I’ve considered high end rain pants, however I think that would be a pain for me. After researching capes, I decided to start designing my own. Last night I grabbed a piece of canvas that’s about .6 meters by 1.6 meters, and made a hoodless poncho with thumb attachments. It’s a dark blue colour, and pretty heavy. I also use a piece of reflective paracord to tie the back to my waste. I made this in a hurry last night as a start to something hopefully functional. Today it’s been raining fairly heavily, and it seems to work well. The water beads up and most importantly, keeps my legs dry. With a hood, and a few other attachments, I think this will work great. For about 10 euros and some sewing skills, I will have a good rain cape that can function as a ground cloth, blanket, or under quilt for a hammock. The weight from the canvas is better for me in the wind, and the versatility is also worth the weight.


    1. Hey Brandon, after considering the prices of bike poncho and all, I have decided to embark on my own project. Is it possible to give me pointers? It will be highly appreciated. And how is your poncho after a year’s use?

      1. I have used a lightweight cape for at least ten or 15 years. I generally agree with the pros above. Only now, as my cape is old and the waterproof coating is getting sticky (still works though) and I am researching a replacement, have I discovered “thumb” loops… I had always assumed they were brake/handlebar loops. Used that way, the cape stays over the front of the bike and any handlebar bag, and your arms are free for signaling or whatever else without disrupting the protection from rain. My old cape has a small carrybag which is very convenient. and takes up very little room, much less than a jacket and pants. I do have pants but only used them once or twice as they are a pain and hot, as others reported. Design: my cape has a hood with a small visor. I wear it under my helmet; the visor keeps my face and glasses pretty dry and of course my neck and head are also protected. I would never buy a cape without an attached hood. Finally, I have a bright yellow cape and have occasionally used it in clear weather for safety, on curvy mountain roads to allow cars to see me far in advance as sightlines open on distant curves and also narrow roads at dusk. A backup (and more prominent) safety vest.

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