All Year Riding Gear

I’ve had another discussion on Reddit that went on long enough that I thought I ought to put it somewhere more concisely. It began with the question “What should I buy, and how much should I spend, on all-year riding gear?”.


For ‘all year’ or even ‘winter’ riding kit, I’d buy a decent set of lightweight riding gear (I’ve a mesh Dainese jacket, and mesh Rev’It trousers), some decent layers for temperature regulation (base layers, a microfleece for under the jacket and maybe something to go over it) and some cheap-but-functional waterproofs – I use army surplus trousers and an RAF jacket, you can get them for about £50 for the pair off eBay generally, sometimes cheaper at airshows.


All-year motorbike kit is a massive compromise, and “waterproof” motorbike kit often isn’t anyway; there’s a couple of common compromises going on:


Firstly, we expect a lot from multi-season bike kit – it should provide armour, waterproofing, removable thermal insulation and some abrasion resistance. The waterproofing needs to be on the outside, really, and the armour right on the inside, where it won’t move around. The normal solution to this problem, though, is to have a single outer layer with the abrasion resistance, waterproofing and armour in it, and to have the insulation as a removable inner liner. This means that the outer layer must be designed to fit on the outside of the insulation, leaving it relatively baggy and prone to flapping around – including the armour – when the lining is removed. Sometime it can be strapped down, but that creates creases that fill with water in the rain. With the insulation fitted it’s arguably worse, as that fleecy layer acts as a lubricating layer between armour and skin.


Secondly, these waterproof membranes tend to be designed to work (at least in part) by having water bead up and run off the surface, but with the breathable function permitting standing water to seep through. That’s a problem when the fabric is creased up as in the strapping-down of the sleeves/legs above, but it’s a more general problem when a garment to be worn every-day on a motorbike is made waterproof. The usual approach to constructing these garments is to attach a durable outer layer to the waterproof membrane in order to protect it. Normally this is something like cordura which is incredibly durable, but it’s also not waterproof and somewhat absorbent; even if the jacket happens to keep the wearer dry for a day, for example, this cordura outer will have absorbed water, and probably still be wet the next day. Often it will have become trapped between the cordura and the waterproofing, which tends to cause it to seep through the membrane. Depending on the design, water will likely have crept round the cuffs and neck, too.

This is often even worse on jackets where the waterproof layer is a removable internal liner, because there’s even more material on the outside of it, though arguably the outer shell should be easier to dry. Gore Tex’s Laminate product, and Columbia’s Outdry each are designed to be waterproof outer-layers and so obviate this problem, but are very much at the top-end of waterproof membranes and still don’t really solve the armour/insulation problem above.


Outside of the compromises, we like to have pockets in our jackets, and in the summer we like to have vents. Lots of “all weather” riding gear is sold to the adventure bike crowd, so it’s got to look right, too, and that means pockets and vents everywhere. There’s two approaches with a pocket on a waterproof jacket: if the pocket is itself waterproof then anything in the pocket is likely to get drowned in a downpour as the pocket fills with water, but if the pocket is not-waterproof, then any rain that gets into it soaks through to the wearer. Waterproof zips are, obviously, a thing, and so are massive flaps on pockets, but neither’s as reliable as a single sheet of waterproof fabric (especially if, like me, the rider forgets to check they’re properly closed).


Finally, and perhaps most importantly, however nice and breathable it’s billed as, waterproof membranes are always less good than something that’s made no effort at all to be waterproof. Whatever we like to say about it, the weather’s not that bad in the UK – really it’s not-raining the huge majority of the time and it’s difficult to be genuinely surprised by rain on a one-or-two day ride. I think having waterproof riding gear and wearing that all the time is a terrible compromise, and it detracts from my riding when it’s not raining more than it’s a saviour when it is. The inconveniences the result from being completely watertight are fine when it’s actually raining, but annoying the other 340-odd days of the year.


If you really want to spend all the money on bike specific gear, I’d say get the top-end Klim stuff for when it might rain:

and a selection of heated layers, so you don’t need to be able to accommodate much insulation under it. Then get something nice and vented for the summer. I don’t think that would be particularly more functional than having the nice summer gear and £50 (or even £80) of MoD surplus Gore-Tex, though.