Practical Advice for Transportation Cycling

Sometimes, all that matters is getting from Point A to Point B as cheaply, safely and efficiently as possible. You don't need a fast bike, you don't need a pretty bike, and most of all you don't need an expensive bike, you just need one that works.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Inexpensive Rain Gear: Driducks by Frog Toggs

Now that spring is here, and frequent rain (and occasional snow) with it, I've been experimenting a bit with relatively low-budget rain gear. I recently started using an inexpensive rain cape from Campmor on local rides with some success, but wanted to look at some other options as well. The rain cape works well on a bicycle with full fenders, and provides decent airflow to keep you cool on warm, wet days. However, it's pretty useless on a bike with no fenders (spray will come right up underneath) and because of its cut is less than idea off the bike (still better than nothing!). 

My daughter and I had an overnight trip along the Delaware River planned for this past weekend, and the forecast called for rain and snow on the day of our return trip. My daughter's bike doesn't have fenders, and because the weather was supposed to get chilly, a full rainsuit seemed like a better option than just a poncho. 

I've tried inexpensive rain gear before, and found that the usual thin PVC stuff traps a volume of sweat about equal to the volume of rain it keeps out. In addition, it's very fragile and tends to tear with little provocation. There are cheap nylon rainsuits available at a lot of department stores as well, but they tend to come in very limited size options, which meant finding gear that would fit both my 5'1" daughter and my 6'3" self was tricky. 

Our local sporting goods store carries a pretty good range of wet-weather gear, from cheap plastic ponchos up to full waterproof-breathable stuff costing hundreds of dollars. When told what we were looking for, the salesguy (who is an occasional bike commuter) recommended the  Driducks UltraLite rain suit by Frog Toggs. 

Shown here on our model, who also had a cold face due to her inability to grow a beard like dad's.
The Driducks suit material is not a woven cloth, but rather a two-layer synthetic fused together rather than stitched. It's got kind of a rubbery outer surface with a "fuzzy" interior. It has no pockets and the waistband is a simple elastic, it's a pretty no-frills suit.
They worked well overall, and after a day of use in sleet and snow I can say four good things and three bad things about them.

The Good 
  • Price: At around $20 a set, they cost less than the cheap rain suits at Target
  • Breathability: They did a good job of moving moisture from sweat away from our bodies while we were moving at a comfortable "touring" pace. I did manage to soak my shirt while going at a hard level of exertion, but I was going all-out for a bit (when the weather got really bad, I left the kid in a cafe and rode the last 17 miles to pick up our car by myself), and I was wearing an insulating mid-layer, which trapped some moisture. I still didn't feel as clammy as when using a PVC layer though. 
  • Packability: These things are superlight and take up less room in your bag than your lunch. They'd fit in a large seat pack or just about any messenger bag or pannier ever made. 
  • Options: They come in a good range of sizes (and are cut fairly baggy) and a few color choices
The Bad 
  • All of the color choices are pretty dull and muted. While this is great for hunting and fishing, for cycling, you want to be more visible to drivers. We compensated by putting inexpensive road-safety vests on over top, as seen in the picture (I don't wear one when normally cycling, but in rainy conditions, when visibility is impaired, I usually grab a hi-viz vest or sash)
  • The material is light and inexpensive, and is therefore not all that durable. While it holds up much better than those thin PVC suits and "emergency ponchos," it is nothing like a real cloth rain suit. I'm guessing that, barring crashes or thorn bushes, you can make these things last a year of commuting, but I wouldn't count on more (you may wear through the seat of the pants more quickly than that if you use them a lot). 
  • The baggy cut of the legs and lack of any sort of closure at the cuff means it's easy to catch the bottom of the pants in your chain. You'll need to tuck the right leg into something or tie it down with a strap of some sort. 
Overall, the good outweighs the bad, and if you're looking for decent rainwear for occasional use, I haven't seen better for the price. 

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