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If you want to stand a chance at biking year-round in the Pacific Northwest, at some point you’ll have to face up to the fact that you need some quality rain gear. This was something I put off for years as I mistook light windbreakers for sufficient rain gear to get through Oregon’s rainy winters. I had simply come to terms with the fact that anything more than a few drops of rain would render my jacket completely useless.
So imagine my surprise when I found out that some people actually stay dry through winter! With the help of Portland-based rain gear company Showers Pass, I got to see what that experience is like.
When I first heard about Showers Pass (whom it turns out we first profiled way back in 2006) I didn’t really understand why it might be important to wear gear specifically tailored for biking. It seemed to me that any old raincoat and waterproof pants would do the trick. I expressed this skepticism to the staff when I visited their headquarters on SE 6th Ave, and they kindly explained why I was wrong.
While I’m a proponent of the idea that you can bike wearing whatever you want (you will not find a single piece of lycra in my wardrobe), I have to admit, clothing meant for cycling offers clear benefits when the weather’s miserable.
First, there’s the matter of safety. The Showers Pass jackets are designed to prioritize visibility, with a bright color selection and reflective features. The reflective accents on all of their clothing are specifically placed to make you more visible to people driving. And then there’s the hoods, which are roomy enough to fit a helmet underneath and are fashioned not to extend past your face so you can maintain peripheral vision, which is very important while biking. Plus, the hoods are removable with velcro, so you can choose to abandon them entirely if you want.
Second is comfort. Biking can requires some physical exertion that can quickly heat you up. This makes it hard to regulate your temperature, especially when it’s both frigid and rainy. You might start out a ride shivering and shaking and then feel yourself starting to sweat and overheat after just a couple miles of pedaling. Showers Pass gear is designed to mitigate that discomfort with ventilation and breathable, light fabrics. Many of the jackets are also designed with a subtle “tail” that will keep your whole back covered when you’re in a seated position instead of riding up.
So how does their stuff work in the real world?
Let’s start with the EcoLyte Elite Jacket ($299), which I got in the color “Glacier,” a bright teal. (It also comes in a goldenrod called “Harvest.”) I am naturally inclined toward all-black outfits, but I will say I like sporting such a bright color — it makes me feel safer and more visible to drivers during the day. (However, the Showers Pass staff told me that the reflective accents are more important for visibility than the color, and they stock darker colors in other styles.)
Along with the nice ventilation and hood design I already mentioned, I’m a big fan of the pockets on this jacket. There’s one on the left side positioned near the chest that keeps your stuff nice and snug without drooping down uncomfortably. I found that you can’t really even feel the weight of what’s in the pocket while you’re riding, which made me nervous at first, but eventually I grew to trust it. There’s also a roomier back pocket (kind of like a reverse kangaroo pouch) — which actually doubles as a little stuff sack for the jacket if you turn it inside out.
The jacket (both the face fabric and lining) is made of 100% recycled polyester. It’s sturdy enough to keep you dry during a downpour but isn’t bulky. The downside of this, though, is that it’s not an extremely warm jacket. If you get cold easily like I do, I’d recommend sizing up enough so you can fit a heavier sweater underneath.
Next up are the Timberline pants ($175), which I have in black. These are surprisingly easy to get on and off over your other pants, with a zipper at the base of the legs so you can get them off over your shoes. The legs are tapered enough that they won’t get caught in your chain. These pants consist of a 3-layer waterproof Artex fabric with nylon face fabric, and I found that even when it’s not raining, they’re really helpful to wear over your pants to keep you warm on a cold and windy day.
The employees at Showers Pass suited me in the men’s sizes for both the jacket and pants because I’m tall (5’10”). Other than the sizing, I don’t think there is a difference in the styles between the men’s and women’s jackets and pants — but I can at least vouch that in the men’s sizes, the arms of the jacket and legs of the pants were both long enough for my lanky limbs.
Base layer, Gloves, Socks
I also tried out the Apex Merino Tech long-sleeve shirt — a nice, breathable base layer. At $89, this t-shirt is definitely a splurge, but merino wool is a very high-quality material that will last you a long time and provides a lot of benefits as a base layer in rainy and cold weather.
Last — but certainly not least — for the hands and feet: potentially the most important parts of your body to keep warm during the winter. I think gloves are possibly the most important item of clothing for biking in the winter, and I have tried out a lot of different kinds over the years. My Showers Pass gloves are the the Crosspoint waterproof knit wool gloves ($47), which are slim and stylish and allow you to get a good grip on your handlebars. They function well in drizzle and dry off quickly, but these gloves will definitely get wet during a torrential downpour. They’re not necessarily warm enough for the really frigid temperatures we’ve been experiencing lately, but that’s a difficult feat to accomplish — when it gets below freezing, I usually have to opt for my bulky ski mittens.
I also tried the Crosspoint waterproof socks ($29), which would serve you nicely if you had to bike during an atmospheric river, especially if you weren’t wearing the most durable boots. These socks feel a little stiff to wear at first, but that feeling goes away after a while once you’re wearing them.
Overall, I really like my Showers Pass rain uniform. And while some of their products are on the higher end of the price range than what some budgets may allow, they actually offer a pretty large price range. You can find their jackets from $139-$325 and their pants range from $95-$245. These are high-quality items that are designed and sold by a Portland-based company, which I think is pretty cool. And since having the right apparel makes such a difference for biking through the winter, I definitely recommend doing your research and giving Showers Pass a look.
And thank to Showers Pass for helping me achieve my Pacific Northwest winter style goals! If I can do it, I’m confident that even the most winter-averse riders can embrace the rain with gear like this.