“Into each life some rain must fall. Some days must be dark and dreary.” So says Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, though he probably wasn’t thinking of motorcyclists when he wrote it. Rain and winter weather will always be a part of motorcycle riding and it is up to us to protect ourselves from those exasperating elements. Fortunately, these days, there are a lot of waterproof options available to help us stay dry during those dark and dreary days in the saddle.
Now, there is more than one way to stay dry. You can make sure your primary riding gear is weather resistant by choosing products that are designed to keep the rain out while still looking like normal riding gear. The other option is to equip yourself with motorcycle rain gear that you will wear over the primary gear when the need arises. We will look at both these styles and much more here. Let’s start from the bottom and work our way up.
Waterproof Motorcycle Boots
Riding boots come in all shapes, sizes and styles, but the waterproof boots get top billing in our Rain Gear Buyers Guide. Let’s look at all the major riding disciplines and make a few recommendations for a selection of waterproof riding boots that combine style and protection with the important feature of being resistant to water. Footwear is a critical piece of the gear equation because if you get out on the road in the rain, you want to have dry, warm feet. Even after the rain has subsided, the pavement is still wet, there’s still standing water on the road and/or you may face water crossings if you are an Adventure rider, so there is still a chance that your riding boots will get soaked. As most of us found out the hard way, not all footwear is weather resistant, so look for that information in the product description before you decide which boot to buy. It never hurts to coat your boots with some type of waterproofing application like Nixwax Aqueous Wax. Just make sure to the read the labels and make sure the product is compatible with the gear. Now let’s look at different style of waterproof motorcycle boots.
Cruiser boots are the most traditional designs on the market these days. Color options are usually focused on black or brown with a few hues in between just for good measure. They often utilize a Goodyear welt-design that mates the old-school waffle-stomper sole to either a leather or man-made upper. Closure systems include buckles, zippers and the standard-issue shoelace. The waterproof qualities will include leather that is coated in some type of water repellant, usually combined with some sort of membrane. Pay close attention to the manufacturer claims because all of these boots are not created equal, even though they might look similar or be the same brand. It is also important to know the limitations of the boot designs. For example, a full length boot that covers your shin will be less likely to allow rain to weasel its way in because it will be covered by your pants compared to an ankle high boot. Cruisers tend to have the feet hung out and exposed to the elements a little more than a sport or touring rider so the coverage a boot provides can make a real difference here.
Waterproof sport bike boots are a little flashier than cruiser boots, but they still come in a variety of designs. The full coverage boots with injection-molded plastic shins and heel cups provide added protection that comes from this particular style along with the waterproof qualities. That is a great combination and a good foundation when you are assembling your foul-weather riding kit. They share construction elements with their full length siblings, but the shorter design might allow water in around the top of your riding pants if you don’t cover them up perfectly.
Perhaps you already have a favorite pair of riding boots and you have found that they aren’t weather resistant, or just do not cover enough of the ankle and lower leg to provide much of a seal against rain or road spray. Adding weather resistant boot covers allows you to keep wearing those comfy old favorites even during a monsoon. Boot covers are usually made of lightweight nylon or polyester-type textile coated with polyurethane, PVC or other waterproof membranes. Some models have a walking sole, half-sole or have an opening that allows the regular boot sole to peek through the bottom in order to prevent slipping. Since they have to fit over your regular boots and generally cover a fair amount of the lower leg, they tend to be a little baggy, so the higher-quality examples provide external adjustment straps to snug things up and prevent snagging on foot pegs, shifters and/or brake pedals. The material is thin, so boot covers are able to fold into a very small bundle for easy storage. The beauty of the boot covers is they are reasonably priced and can work with any style of footwear you prefer.
Riding pants can either be waterproof or water–resistant, and you can also choose to use rain pants over your regular riding pants. If you are looking for waterproof riding pants then your first concern should be to make sure they are water-resistant from the manufacturer and have plenty of adjustability so you can tailor them to fit snug to your body. Other key features to consider include CE approved impact-protectors at the knees and padding or impact-protectors at the hips, along with plenty of waterproof qualities, zippered pockets, and a removable thermal liner to ramp up cold weather performance. You will find that pants that have long leg-zippers make it easy to get them on and off while also allowing you to secure them over your boots as an added level of protection from the elements. Water-proof riding pants are most often made from fabric-based materials, so it is important to make sure they incorporate abrasion-resistant reinforcements like Kevlar at key stress points. Double stitching is a sign of higher quality designs. A connection zipper around the waistband will allow you to easily attach it to a riding jacket and of course a storm flap over the main front zipper is nice too.
If you’d prefer to ride in non-weather resistant riding pants and plan to carry your motorcycle rain gear with you and slip into it when the need arises, then you are in luck. There is plenty of great rain gear designed specifically for motorcycle riders. Generally rain gear is manufactured with lightweight materials that are waterproof, yet “breathable.” How can that be, you may ask? Certain membrane materials or coatings have a porous structure that will allow air or water vapor to pass, but not liquid water. Lightweight materials make it possible for the pants to fold down very small for easy storage in your saddlebags and some even come with a built-in storage bag that appears like a pocket, but is designed to allow the whole garment to be stowed inside itself, so no separate carrying bag is needed. High visibility colors and reflective panels, stripes or piping are also good features to consider.
Rain pants come in a number of styles including tight-fitting outerwear that requires the rider to stop and remove their boots in order to get them on. These are very effective if you know you are going to ride in the rain and can put them on from the comfort of your tent or hotel before venturing out into the storm. They are not as convenient when you get caught in unexpected rainfall. In this scenario you will be better off with a pant that allows you to unzip the legs and stuff your boots through the pant while still wearing your riding gear. This can be accomplished using the traditional-style big and baggy rain gear. This option allows you to easily gear up in a wet-weather emergency, but they tend to flap in the wind a lot and the zippers are a potential access point for the water. Some styles also include suspenders or bibs, which have the advantage of helping the keep the pants in place for the long-haul.
High-end rain pants may have heat-resistant materials in the lower legs to keep them from melting on the hot exhaust pipes. These are great for V-Twin riders with aftermarket pipes since those fancy bends tend to route your headers in such a way that your thin rain pants can come in contact with them. The same concern is shared by off-road and dual sport riders on four-strokes due to the header that wraps conveniently across the side of the bike. If your rain gear does not have this feature, take care to avoid rubbing against the pipe and compromising the water-proof nature of your pants or suit.
Some rain pants are ready-made to coordinate with purpose-built rain jackets. As a result we recommend getting both at the same time. These are often referred to as a Two-Piece Rain Suit which we will go over later on.
Rain jackets are the first line of defense against wet weather, so choose your gear wisely. Whether you want a waterproof jacket or a rain jacket to wear over your riding jacket, there are a lot of things to consider before making your final decision. Waterproof jackets are more common than ever thanks to the growing popularity of man-made materials that are often associated with dual-sport and ADV riding jackets. It’s a good idea to consider high visibility colors such as fluorescent yellow/green or orange, along with reflective materials if you intend to use your primary jacket in the rain. We’ve all be traveling when black clouds roll in, and between the overcast conditions or the pouring rain, visibility can be limited. Getting caught in such conditions can be dangerous, so making sure you are more-visible to other drivers is important. Also, look for big pockets with effective waterproof closures, preferably with large enough tabs or zippers to allow them to be opened and closed with your gloves on. In our experience, cold often follows rain so having to take your gloves off to get at items in your pocket can be a disadvantage.
Other good rain jacket features to look for include: ventilation, a soft collar with the ability to snug up for a good seal against water entry, a hood designed to fit inside the helmet providing a seamless seal, waist and sleeve closures to help seal out the wind and wet, an integrated or detachable waterproof hood, and a textile comfort liner.
Two-piece rain suits have the advantage of allowing you to be prepared for a variety of situations. For example, riding on wet roads when the rain has stopped might be more comfortable with a light mesh riding jacket, but with rain, pants and boot covers are still needed to keep your lower body dry. One key feature to look for in a two-piece suit is whether or not the top and bottom half of the combo can attach or seal off (with elastic or waist-strap adjustment) to prevent leakage of air or moisture between the jacket and pants.
One-Piece Rain Suits
Some riders prefer a one-piece rain suit for maximum top-to-bottom protection. The one-piece rain suit is usually made from a thick, heavy-duty polyurethane-backed nylon or PVC type shell similar to any traditional rain gear you might find at an outdoor store, but these are designed with the rider’s needs in mind. Strategic venting in the armpits, pre-curved arms, handy stowing pouches, reflective piping and other rider-friendly features can often be found in one-piece suits. A one-piece rain suit offers the advantage of preventing any chance of air infiltrating into the jacket and full-weather coverage. Key performance features for one-piece rain suits are pretty much the same as for jacket and pants. Long, strong zippers are of particular importance for getting the suit on and off, adding to long-term durability. Tall collars with a soft backing, as well as a closure system that keeps rain off your neck and either a Velcro or elastic closure on the cuffs should help seal out the rain. Additional features of a high quality rain suit would include reflective piping or high-visibility colored material that helps increase your chances of being seen by other riders or drivers in low light conditions as well as flexible elastic panels in the knees and elbow areas. For ultimate rain resistance the better suits have storm flaps over the exterior zippers, welded or glued seams around all zippers, and mesh lining that helps keep the wet suit from directly contacting the gear beneath it. Some suits also include pockets that allow you to access your gear underneath the rain gear, waterproof map pockets in the sleeves or even the integrated hood that goes over your head and under your helmet for an extra level of protection from the rain. Most one-piece rain suits are designed to be put on over your riding gear, so they are sized large enough to allow for the extra room for layers of gear. Keep in mind these nylon shells will melt quickly, so take care not to lean against your hot exhaust.
Last, but not least are the waterproof gloves. Gloves have the toughest job because the rider’s hands are always in motion, braking, shifting, twisting the throttle, wiping a visor, pushing buttons and so on. The hands are exposed, out in the open, getting pounded by the rain, so this is no place to skimp. Keeping your hands dry and warm is never an easy task, but there are a bunch of great waterproof riding gloves out there, so choose wisely. There are leather, textile and other synthetic materials that gloves are built from, but the textile gloves tend to offer the best resistance to water. This includes gloves that combine leather palms and textile outer shells. Waterproof glove features to include in your consideration include: good fit and durable construction including precurved fingers/palm, integrated visor wiper on the left index finger, knuckle and finger impact protection and reflective surfaces. These will generally be gauntlet-style gloves with some form of insulation that keep your hands warm, but these style of gloves are sometimes too bulky for some riders. Manufacturers are getting better and better at designing these rainproof and cold weather gloves to be slim by using state of the art materials, but it can come with a high price tag in some cases. Then again, you get what you pay for, so ask yourself this: When you do get caught in the rain and your hands are wet and cold, will it be worth the twenty extra bucks to have a quality waterproof pair of gloves? Yeah, we think so too.
So there you have a pretty comprehensive guide to waterproof rain gear and the options available on the market these days. There are always short cuts and MacGyver-type solutions that you can put into action if you get caught unprepared. However, as any good Boy Scout will tell you, the best solution is to always be prepared. Some riders have tried the cheap vinyl rain suits sold at the big-box retail stores, and they probably found out the hard way that most of them are not suitable for use on a motorcycle. The legs and arms get torn to shreds by the wind as you ride, they usually do not have weather-tight closures around the cuffs of the sleeves so they flap around like crazy and they may have cheap plastic snaps to close down the front with no storm flap so they eventually come apart. In short, they may be adequate for walking or standing around in the rain, but if you will be riding a motorcycle in the rain for a few hours, it is worth every penny to have a quality set of rain gear at your disposal.