What’s the best motorcycle gear for riding in the rain?

I have always made a habit of buying the best gear I can possibly afford. The old Summit shirt byline “No-one ever regretted buying quality” is a maxim I try to live by, but quality is expensive. In the case of wet weather motorcycle gear, it’s worth every penny. I soon discovered how much it was worth on the recent North Island 1600.

To recap – the North Island 1600 is a 1,000-mile ride to be completed in less than 24 hours. The 2017 NI1600 was run in, without a doubt, the worst weather ever to strike that ride. Out of the 33 entrants, a third abandoned the ride before completion. My journey had two hours of dry roads at the beginning, and then, 20 hours of persistent rain. Would my wet weather gear – in fact any of my gear – withstand the test?

Here’s what I wore:

Jacket:

REV’IT! GORE-TEX Legacy GTX – purchased from Wellington Motorcycles (when they were in Kent Terrace) – NZ$699 

This is one of the best purchase decisions I have ever made, and once my jacket finally wears out or falls apart I’ll be buying another one, like a shot!

It has a removable inner of quilted polyester. It has vents in the forearms, chest area, and on the back. There are good cinches at the wrist, on the bicep, and around the waist. These jackets are a snug fit so there’s no danger of ballooning when you’re hurtling down the motorway.

There’s a collar hook so you can fasten the collar out of the way for added ventilation. While the vents in the jacket look like they would cool you down, in reality, they only expose the outer layer to the GORE-TEX membrane. So, in my opinion, they are more decorative than functional.

Revit Legacy GTX Jacket
Rev’it Legacy GTX jacket – this is the Hi-Vis version

There are two waterproof stashable pockets on the front of the jacket with handwarmer pockets behind these (never use them). There’s a deeper ‘document’ pocket on the detachable inner. I’ve used this for important paperwork that I want to keep dry. Bear in mind that when you remove the liner you are also removing the pocket. I have rarely removed the liner.

The GORE-TEX membrane will keep you dry, as GORE-TEX does but I have to confess that I haven’t fully tested this as I know that when a Polyester/Cordura jacket gets wet it soaks up moisture and gets very heavy, reducing your body temperature. You won’t get wet, but you’ll probably get very cold.

Under dry conditions, this jacket is warm. In our temperate New Zealand climate most times I can get away with wearing only a few thin layers of merino under this jacket. In fact, if it’s a warm day you’ll want to put this jacket on right at the last moment – if you put it on any earlier you’ll be a sweaty pile of nothing by the time you’re ready to start riding.

While these are expensive jackets, compared to a DriRider, or an RJay, they are worth every penny.

Pants:

REV’IT! Legacy GTX (Long)
Purchased from RevZilla, and delivered to NZ via YouShopUS$349

I have unnaturally long legs, in comparison to the rest of my body. New Zealand retailers don’t tend to stock different length motorcycle pants, so, if I tried on a ‘normal’ pair and then hopped on my bike they’d be riding half mast. This isn’t good for warmth or for waterproof-ness.

RevZilla had a huge range of pants. It made sense that I bought a pair that went with my jacket. In fact, the jacket and pants can zip together at the back of the waist although I have never done this.

Same build quality as the jacket and same GORE-TEX membrane to keep the water out.

One thing to note about Rev’it gear is that it’s sized smaller than what I would consider normal. I usually take a LARGE in everything, but in Rev’it I need at least an XL.

Rain-suit:

REV’IT! ‘Pacific’ Rain Suit
– purchased from MotomailNZ$160

To me, this is both another barrier against rain as well as being an effective wind-break. I used to have a silver REV’IT Titan rain-suit (also purchased from Motomail) but it wasn’t breathable and so if it was raining, and warm, you’d end up wetter on the inside (from condensation) than you would be on the outside. The ‘Pacific’ is breathable and so the water stays out.

The REV’IT Pacific rain suit

What can I say about the ‘Pacific’? It does its job with minimal fuss. The outer is PVC-free polyester. It has a front zip which is protected by a double fold of fabric held fast with velcro fasteners.

There’s a stash pocket on the left thigh. I don’t totally trust the weather tightness of this pocket but I have used it for my wallet with no real ill-effects.

There are adjustment tabs at the collar (which also has a softer lining for neck comfort), upper arm, cuffs and ankles, along with adjustment straps at the waist.

This type of suit traditionally fails weathertightness in the crotch area. As yet I haven’t experienced any leakage in that area. This could be because my windscreen on my BMW R1200GS offers some protection from the worst of the elements, or that the suit is doing the job it’s meant to. I prefer to believe the latter.

There are several minor drawbacks for this unit, but none that affect the weather tightness:

  • If you want to go to the toilet you need to take the suit off, almost completely, especially if you want to ‘do a number’ sitting down! If you are doing a standing toilet stop then you’ll need to shimmy your shoulders out and pull the suit down below your waist. The reason for this is a waterproof gusset that is inside the suit and extends from the bottom of the zip to quite a long way up your waist. If you are incredibly well endowed in the manliness department you may be able to stretch the ‘old fella’ beyond the gusset. I’m not that man.
  • The zip sometimes gets jammed by the folds of fabric that provides an extra barrier to water. This will always happen at the worst possible moment. Through experience, I’ve learned that the best way to zip the suit up is to pull the zip cord at right angles to your body while you are pulling upwards. The same applies when you are taking the suit off.
  • They are always difficult to put on and take off. You will have seen bikers doing the ‘rain suit dance’ – it really comes into its own here. Having said that I have, with time and plenty of practice, arrived at a place where I can put this suit on in 5 minutes, or less.

For some, the one-piece unit is too much of a time-wasting hassle and a lot of those people (judging by the riders on the NI1600) have reverted to a two-piece combo. I don’t think the two-piece has the same level of waterproofing. There’s too much of an opportunity for rain to blow up the jacket and then dribble down the pants.

Boots: 

Sidi Canyon GORE-TEX boots
– available from all good motorcycle stores – NZ$529 – $600

There is nothing worse than getting wet feet. Wet feet, after a few hours, become cold. Cold feet is not pleasant, and it’s not safe.

Here’s the solution to that – the Sidi Canyon GORE-TEX boot.

SIDI Canyon GORE-TEX boot

I bought mine maybe four or five years ago and even though they are battered, bruised and scuffed they are still 100% waterproof. Like, totally waterproof.

They are double stitched in all the right places with good protection around the ankles, shins, and toes. The ratchet mechanism ensures your feet are held in place securely. They even look ok under a pair of jeans!!

Having worn ‘engineer’ boots previously, where I have been forced to stop halfway through a ride to buy plastic bags for my feet, these SIDI boots are a godsend. As well as being waterproof they are extremely warm even when you’re riding across the Desert Road in the middle of the night. A normal pair of woollen socks, or ski socks, is all that’s required. Again, worth every penny!

Helmet: 

Shoei GT-Air Decade – purchased from Motomart, Lower Hutt – NZ$899

For many years I had flip-up helmets – first, a BMW one that I used for around ten years (too long), then a Shoei Neotec. Flip-up helmets are great for getting access to water bottles, and for providing extra ventilation when you’re riding slowly through towns. They are also great for those of us who wear glasses as there’s no need to remove your specs to put your helmet on.

I realised though that, even with all this functionality and convenience, they just aren’t as safe as a full face integrated helmet. It’s not rocket science. The failure points on a flip-up helmet will be at the hinges and the flip part isn’t as robustly built as a normal full face. If you have an off the first thing to break away will be the ‘flip’.

I decided that I’d make every effort to buy the gear that would keep me safe. I’m keen to protect my most valuable asset and it makes no sense to me to compromise on this protection in order to save some pennies. Despite the hassle of having to remove my glasses each time I wanted to put my helmet on, or take my helmet off, I made the decision to go with an integrated full face helmet, and I don’t regret it.

One of the first big trips I did with this helmet was down the West Coast of the South Island. It poured with rain (what a surprise) and the helmet fogged up so badly I was forced to ride with the visor open. I was pretty pissed off as the helmet has a pin-lock system on the visor which is meant to solve that problem. Amazingly that fogging never happened again. It was as if that first big outing ‘conditioned’ the helmet. The next time I used it on a long, wet West Coast motorbike trip it performed faultlessly. No fogging, or lack of visibility, even with the visor completely closed, while my fellow riders were forced to ride with visors up.

On the NI1600, more of the same. No leaks around the visor, and no fogging, and this was through all sorts of weather – rain, drizzle, torrential rain, cold, then hot and humid. Faultless to a ‘t’.

The final thing I love about this helmet – and every helmet manufacturer seems to be doing the same thing – is the internal sun visor which is lowered via a glove-friendly lever on the left side of the helmet. This is fantastic for spectacled riders.

Gloves: 

Alpinestars WR-V Gore-Tex Waterproof Gloves 2016 – purchased from FCMoto.de£87 delivered to NZ

Alpinestars WR V GORE-TEX-Glove

 I purchased these recently. The price seemed really good compared to the price of Alpinestars in New Zealand. The fact that they were GORE-TEX was the main decision to buy, and not because I had any premonition of the weather that would chase us around the NI1600.

To tell you the truth I have been underwhelmed by the build quality of these gloves.

Good points:

  • They did appear to be waterproof, but only up to a point. I swapped them for my other gloves sometime early in the morning as they were damp on the inside. It’s hard to determine if the moisture worked its way in from the outside, or, if it was just that in the process of taking the gloves off and on in the rain that moisture was inevitably transferred to the inside of the glove.
  • They are touch-screen sensitive. This isn’t of any benefit for my GPS, which works no matter what you poke at it, but it is really handy if you want to operate a phone. I have my Samsung S7 Edge on a handlebar RAM mount. It’s powered via a USB on the bike. Being able to operate that without having to remove gloves was a real bonus.
  • They are a good mid-weight so perfect for riding in temperate conditions, but probably not good for really cold conditions.

Bad points:

  • As I’ve said, the build quality wasn’t that great. Quite flimsy. And they certainly weren’t the most comfortable gloves I have ever worn. In fact, for the first time ever, I developed a small blister on my left palm at the bottom of the middle finger. This was from an unnatural fold of fabric that aggravated this particular area of my hand, and as my hand became wetter friction increased leading to the blister. It was this, more than a lack of waterproofing, that made me change gloves.
  • I bought size XL and found the fingers not quite long enough. This probably contributed to my blister.
  • While they say the length is a normal cuff, I found them shorter than my REV’IT! which meant there was more wind (and rain) being blown up the sleeves of my jacket.

REV’IT! ‘Kelvin’ H2O Gloves – purchased from Motomail – NZ$199

This glove is billed as the perfect winter glove for the all-season rider. I have, during summer days, wished that these gloves were a lighter weight. Riding in cold temperatures I’m very happy with their warmth.

REV’IT! Kelvin H2O gloves

The outer layer is a combination of cow leather, goatskin, and suede leather. These gloves use the Schoeller® PCM® insulator technique which will keep the hands at a constant temperature. If you leave the gloves on a heater, for instance, then use them on your ride, they will retain that heat for the duration of your ride, but not of course for the length of a 24-hour endurance ride!

The biggest plus for me was the waterproof and breathable hydratex® Z-liner. Keeping your hands dry and warm is just as important as maintaining comfort in your feet.

I swapped to using these gloves at the Karapiro checkpoint. My hands at this checkpoint, using the Alpinestars, were wet. It was getting late and I was getting colder. The damper I got the harder it was to put my gloves back on with moist hands so I decided to swap to a ‘clean and dry’ pair, and one that I thought would provide more warmth through the early hours of the morning.

Invariably these REV’IT! gloves also got damp – I’m not going to say wet – from being taken on and off over the remaining eight or nine hours of the ride. My solution to that was a thin pair of silk/wool under gloves. They are super easy to slip on and make putting damp leather gloves a doddle.

Neck warmers:

One really obvious place where you’ll be compromised by wet weather is around your neck. It’s difficult to stop water blasting up underneath the front of your helmet, or stopping water running off your helmet and down your neck. Once water starts getting in it seems that the floodgates open.

I used a very lightweight neck warmer similar to those used by skiers. It seemed to do the trick nicely, offering a surprising level of warmth, despite its thinness.

Later in the ride, I swtiched to an Icebreaker merino neckwarmer, which I also pulled up over my chin to take advantage of the extra warmth and protection.

Later still, when the rain was even more persistent, I added a REV’IT! balaclava that has an extended front panel for added wind and waterproofing around the chest area. I couldn’t find the exact model of the one I have as I’ve had it for years, but do a search for REV’IT! Balaclava and you’ll find various versions at a range of prices.

What do I wear underneath all of this outer layer?

Merino, merino, merino, wool.

Absolutely no cotton, at all.

The trick is to layer. I even go so far as to wear merino underpants, as there’s nothing worse (I discovered this myself) in getting sweaty around the crotch and butt with cotton undies. They just never dry out on a long ride and you’ll end up very uncomfortable in the saddle.

More recently I’ve started wearing an Icebreaker onesie, similar to the one-piece underwear that the grandfather from The Waltons might have worn, but much more colourful. I’ll wear my merino undies, then the onesie, then a long sleeve merino top over that.

Icebreaker Merino onesie

As the ride progresses I’ll add extra layers of merino or a thicker wool jersey. I might also, in the middle of the night, add a Katmandu puffer vest (sleeveless) over the top of the merino to maintain body temperature. The good thing about using a sleeveless vest is that your arms don’t feel restricted from bulkiness.

Conclusion

The question I ask myself is “What price are you prepared to pay for comfort on a long distance ride?” I’m aware that if we add up all the items on my list it’d come to an eye-watering amount of money. But I didn’t go out and buy all of this gear in one go.

  • I’ve ridden rides and not been happy with my boots so have gone looking for a better pair.
  • The next year I may have been caught in the rain and realised that my rainsuit generated more moisture on the inside than it protected me on the outside – I then look for an alternative.

There’s nothing macho about riding while you are wet and cold. In fact, it’s downright dangerous. I’ve ridden with friends in the South Island and have been completely dry and warm whereas when they stop they are wringing litres of water out of their jackets and gloves. They hate the fact that I boast about how dry and warm I am. I’ve stopped boasting.

Because it can be expensive start with the extremities. These are often the hardest areas to keep warm and dry. Get a good pair of boots, a good pair of gloves, and a breathable waterproof oversuit (or two-piece if you prefer). That might set you back around $800-$900 but, if you buy quality, they will last you many many years.

The other areas you might want to concentrate on are around the neck, the chest (if you haven’t protected your neck from the intrusion of water), and your crotch (which often seems to be a failure point, possibly because water sometimes pools there).

On the NI1600 I experienced mild moisture around the neck and very slight dampness in the upper chest area. My hands did get wet but they remained warm and with little or no discomfort.

Had I not made the decision to start investing in this quality gear then I may have withdrawn from the NI1600 along with the other 11 riders. As it was, when I stripped off my gear post the ride, I was as dry as could be expected having ridden in continuous rain for 20+ hours.


Also published on Medium.

2 thoughts on “What’s the best motorcycle gear for riding in the rain?”

  1. Rain-Off overgloves are completely waterproof. And NZ made. Despite that, on this year’s 1,600, dampness still found its way into my Fives. This made putting them back on most difficult indeed.

    A onesie wet suit is the most stupid thing I’ve ever acquired. I bought one (a Revit) a few years ago in anticipation of a wet Grand Challenge. While the wet weather didn’t disappoint, the suit did. Toilet stops require mind numbing agility because moisture between the onesie and riding gear beneath pays homage to Araldite (the Greek goddess of adhesion). I sold it on Trade Me immediately returning home.

    I wear two-piece wet outers. Mine are made by Macpac. Outdoor recreation clothing manufacturers better understand what wet weather NB entails than do their counterparts who distribute motorcycle apparel and at affordable prices.

    Helmets? As the owner of a 3XL head, I am somewhat contemptuous of pinheads who have a fabulous range of choices available.

  2. I still have a pair of Rain-Off gloves – they are worn between the thumb and forefinger. Stupidly I forgot that I had them so they stayed in a box in my garage. Next time I’ll remember.

    It was you I was thinking about Brett, in relation to the stupidity of the one-piece rain suit. I always laugh (at your expense, sorry) about your experiences (which you have recounted to me) in donning and removing these. I’m assuming that MacPac lived up to all expectations.

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