Rainsuits For Riders - Let It Rain - Buyer's Guide

Rainsuit Buyer's Guide
We've all heard (and sometimes given) that little pep talk about two-wheel passion: "Motorcycles are great because you get to experience nature firsthand, yadda, yadda." That old saw doesn't take into account, however, that the great outdoors can be awfully wet at times. Precipitation makes riding more difficult and dangerous, as traction and visibility decrease, oil-and-water cocktails collect at intersections, and riders become virtually invisible to the other guy. It also means you can get waterlogged pretty fast-unless you have the proper rain gear.

Rainsuits should be an integral part of your riding kit no matter how much you ride, and especially if you travel long distances. The good news is modern rain gear has become more effective, comfortable and compact than ever, so you now have fewer excuses to forsake it.

In this guide, we've included everything from simple PVC and ripstop nylon to hard-core vented gear, but we made sure our choices were considerably more protective and packable than your standard-issue garbage bag. In the course of compiling the guide, we were encouraged to see user-friendly features now appearing on many suits. Items like heat-resistant leg panels, reflective materials and stowable hoods can make what was previously strictly utilitarian garb pretty comfortable and durable, too. Other neat details include venting, non-skid butt patches and two-way zippers. However, since we believe a rainsuit's other function should be to increase rider visibility to other drivers, we were dismayed to notice another trend: Most of the suits we encountered were primarily black or dark colored. We're still scratching our heads over this one, because if there's one accessory that should be light years away from being a fashion statement, it's a rainsuit.

We've decided to include only two-piece suits for their versatility. In our opinion, a one piece isn't always worth the huffing and puffing required to get into it. By the time you've got it on, you're usually soaked.

Missing In Action
Coming Soon: Tour Master Elite, the Sequel
No, we haven't forgotten perennial favorite Tour Master-its Elite rainsuits have been worn by our staffers for years. Some reasons for the Elite's favored status include a sturdy polyurethane-backed nylon outer featuring heat-sealed seams and a comfortable corduroy-lined collar with a hook-and-loop closure. Small vents allowed for cooling and the latest version of the Elite offered heat-resistant Nomex leg panels.

During the course of compiling this guide, however, we were informed by a Tour Master rep that the company is in the process of significantly revamping the Elite Rainsuit line, and that no new preproduction samples were yet available. He told us: "Look for a garment that sets new standards for both wet-weather protection and breathability, two heretofore mutually exclusive features. Delivering the same quality, comfort and dependability as the Elite series, this new wet-weather gear from Tour Master is poised to set the industry on its ear." Sounds compelling, so stay tuned.

In the Mail: Teknic Otisca
Teknic is also going through some reorganization, and a company spokesman regretted to inform us no product was forthcoming as we went to press. We were, however, able to snag specs of the firm's high-end Otisca rainsuit, a nylon/PVC number with a polyurethane-coated outer shell ($90, both pieces). The jacket also features a wide stand-up collar with a fold-back tab, and two front cargo pockets with waterproof closures. The main, front zipper closure likewise incorporates a waterproof flap that's secured by hook-and-loop, and an adjustable waist belt system cinches excessive material. The pants have the same stout PVC/PU composition as well as an elastic waist, adjustable suspenders and leg stirrups for a secure fit. Scotchlite strips on the back light you up in low-visibility conditions and the whole thing packs up into a so-called Aqua pack storage system in the jacket.

Changing on the Fly
If you'd rather not haul a separate rainsuit, there are some new options available that might tickle your fancy. These jackets double as riding gear that's equally at home in brow-beating heat or driving deluges, but they don't skimp on important stuff like armor or conspicuity.

How To Choose a Rainsuit
It's become increasingly difficult to make what used to be a simple choice in riding gear. Once-bare-bone rainsuits now offer riders a dizzying selection of material construction, functional details, comfort liners and colors. It comes down to what you'd rather own-lightweight gear that sheds showers, but isn't very durable, or a heavier wrap that blocks wind and rain, but has a tendency to become sauna-like in warmer temps.

There are a few basic material choices: polyurethane-coated vinyl (PU), polyvinyl chloride (PVC), breathable fabrics like Gore-Tex (which uses a special laminate) and the newer, lighter microdenier fabrics.

The lower-cost PU coating mechanically blocks water penetration, but also hinders the exit of water vapor. So while you might not get wet from precipitation, you'll drench yourself in perspiration. Also, these coatings can wear out at the shoulders, elbows and knees over time. PVC is also windproof, waterproof and nearly impermeable, so you'll really be huffing in the heat while wearing it.

Higher-quality laminated fabrics are more robust, with microscopic pores large enough to release moisture vapor yet too small to let in water molecules. This allows sweat to escape, for comfort in a variety of conditions.

One of the suits in our Buyer's Guide uses polyester microfiber for water repellency; the fabric itself presents a mechanical barrier to water penetration due to a tight weave using small threads. Unlike nylon, polyester is inherently hydrophobic, which further helps keep water out. Microfibers are efficient at allowing water vapor to escape, and they break the wind nicely, too.

Following are some key points to think about before you plunk down the cash:

Remember: Visibility is even more important in bad weather, so reflective inserts and bright colors are crucial assets. Look for bright colors like yellow or orange for maximum attention and Scotchlite or Phoslite panels and inserts.

Suit seams are either tape sealed or heat welded. The plastic tape simply vacuum seals the seam openings from the inside of polyurethane-coated or Gore-Tex suits, while welding melts PVC rubber panels together. In both cases, fewer seams mean better waterproofness.

As for garment construction, look for a main zippered closure with incorporated flaps (sealed with hook-and-loop material) that protect zippers and pockets from rain. We prefer two-piece suits for versatility and ease of entry. Better suits include a two-way front zipper and "pit zips" under the arm. Vents at the chest or back are extra insurance you won't drown in your own sweat, but they're not imperative. When it comes to vents, smaller is better. Heat-resistant panels on the inner lower legs are also a nice touch.
A large leg opening is probably the most important feature of the pants. It needs to be generous or you'll be rolling around on the side of the road trying to get the pants on. Better suits have zippered openings that reach at least as high as the knee, covered by gusseted flaps and secured with hook-and-loop. Stirrups are a bonus, but they wear out quickly and can snag boots.
Rainsuits are usually cut very full to fit over riding gear, but this varies from brand to brand (especially on European or Japanese items). Ask the manufacturer what type of cut they use or try before you buy.
Some higher-end suits incorporate helmet-friendly hoods, but make sure they're made of breathable fabric and attached to the body via a sealed seam-otherwise they're virtually useless.
Neck, wrist and leg/ankle closures should be highly adjustable. The neck should feature a tall stand-up collar and a closure flexible enough to accommodate undergarments.
Mesh lining makes the suit easier to slip on and provides air circulation, but it can also hang up your boots if it goes all the way down the leg.