If you are going to get serious about cycling – and ENJOY it! – great waterproof cycling pants are a must-have. However, cycling pants are very much like bikes – you get what you pay for. Don’t expect to get a great pair of waterproof cycling pants cheap. If you only cycle four times a year, then by all means, get a $30 pair of cycling pants. But if you cycle regularly, in fair weather or foul, you won’t regret investing in a great pair of waterproof cycling pants. They will keep you dry for years of cycling if you take care of them. See also our post that showcases 7 of the best waterproof cycling pants.
Because cycling pants are not cheap and you will have them for a long time, it is essential to do your research first and make sure you get the best cycling pants for your own specific needs. This post will guide you through every aspect that you should consider when buying cycling pants.
How to Choose the Best Waterproof Cycling Pants
What Kind of Fabric is the Best for Waterproof Cycling Pants?
The fabric is the most important aspect to think about when it comes to waterproof garments. Bear in mind that it is easy to make a waterproof fabric – for example, a cheap trash bag is totally waterproof. However, you would not want to wear a trash bag! Quite apart from the fact that it would not look good and would not have sleeves – it also does not BREATHE. So what you need is a clever combination of waterproofness and breathability, plus comfort and mobility in wearing the pants. See also this post that showcases 7 of the best waterproof cycling pants.
Good Cycling Pants should be Breathable AND Waterproof
Waterproof cycling pants are usually worn over top of other pants, such as tights or even regular pants. This means that there is a high potential for your legs to get really sweaty. In fact, if the fabric in your cycling pants does not breathe at all, your legs are guaranteed to get extremely sweaty. The clever trick that great waterproof cycling pants get right is this: they stop the rain from coming IN, while letting the water vapor produced by your sweat OUT. So they are breathable AND waterproof. This is pretty sophisticated, if you think about it, because rain and sweat are almost the same thing – variations of water (H2O). Manufacturers achieve this apparent contradiction by putting tiny pores in the fabric. Water vapor can pass out of them, because water vapor molecules are not bound together, so individual tiny molecules can pass through the tiny pores. However, water molecules are bound together and therefore bigger, and cannot get in through the fabric.
Gore-Tex Technology for Waterproof Cycling Pants
The W. L. Gore Corporation pioneered this breathable AND waterproof technology for outdoor clothing way back in 1978, with their popular laminate technology. They called their new fabric Gore-Tex. Since then, a lot of other name brands have arrived on the market, such as eVent, Polartec and many generics. But Gore-Tex is like Hoover – they are so associated with the brand that many people refer to the entire breathable AND waterproof category as Gore-Tex. Gore-Tex still make great products (and are my personal favorites), but Gore-Tex certainly are NOT the only company that makes great breathable AND waterproof clothing.
Fun fact: Gore-Tex fabrics have over 1.4 billion micro-pores per square centimeter!
Types of Waterproof Fabrics
There is a range of waterproof fabrics, with a range of levels of waterproofness. Most of them have two or three layers, with some having 2.5 layers.
Outer layer: This layer is called the “face fabric” – and is usually nylon or polyester. This outer layer is not waterproof, but it is usually treated with a durable water repellant (DWR) to bead water. This is a great thing to see on your pants as you are riding – rain falls on you, but then it beads together into big lumps, which do not penetrate the fabric. You can even brush the lumps off. Note that over time DWR layers start to wear off, but can be rejuvenated by simply running them through your washing machine. If it wears off completely, you can even spray on a fresh layer of DWR. For example, Nikwax TX Direct Waterproofing.
Middle layer: A coated or laminated membrane – which is usually Teflon or Polyurethane. This is where the magic happens: this membrane can breathe, but at the same time is waterproof, thanks to microscopic holes. So it keeps the rain in and lets your sweat out!
Inner layer: Some fabrics also have a tri-coat mesh bonded to the inner surface. This mesh helps to remove the moisture, so that the jacket is much less likely to cling to your arms.
These are the layers.
Most good cycling pants use a variety of combinations of the above layers. From all this, you can start to appreciate why good waterproof cycling pants are not cheap!
Degrees of Waterproofness in Waterproof Cycling Pants
Read the product description carefully when buying waterproof cycling pants. The manufacturer should tell you how waterproof they are. Basically, there are three levels:
Waterproof: made from a waterproof fabric and has taped seams
Water resistant: suitable only for light, short showers, as it is not made from a waterproof fabric and does not have taped seams
Water repellent: has been given a hydrophobic treatment to reduce the amount of water the fabric will absorb
Note: All of our top-rated best waterproof cycling pants in this post are waterproof (and windproof).
Extra Ventilation for Waterproof Cycling Pants
There is one thing that is certain on a bike – you will be warmer 10 minutes after you start cycling than when you start! So you might start off feeling very comfortable, and then feel unbearably hot once you have been riding for a while. Some pants offer additional ventilation options to let more heat escape. Most common are zippered vents that you can open.
Related Content: How to Dress for Winter Cycling
Sizing and Fit of Cycling Pants
Because you are likely to have at least one and possibly two layers underneath your waterproof cycling pants, it is a good idea to go for a more relaxed fit. Of course, most cycling clothes tend to be quite form fitting, but cycling pants often come with a more relaxed fit, as they are designed to to be worn over top of other pants. The product description usually gives a good idea of what to expect.
Cycling Pants Should be Seam Sealed
When clothing is sewn, the needles create tiny holes. Seam sealing (aka seam taping) is a process in which these tiny holes are covered with a heat application of thin, waterproof tape. Cycling pants may be fully taped or critically taped. With fully taped pants, every seam is taped. With a critically taped item, the tape is only applied high exposure areas, such as the front of the thighs. Ideally cycling pants should be fully seam taped, as the rain and wind can come at you from many directions, and with a lot of force. For example, water will come at you from the ground when you cycle through puddles.
Getting Your Cycling Pants On and Off
This can be an issue, but well designed cycling pants will be easy to get on and off, even if you are wearing shoes. This could happen if, for example, you are out riding and it starts raining, so you need to stop to pull your cycling pants over your tights or trousers. Also, I know a lot of people leave their wet cycling pants draped over their bikes in a bike cage during the day, to dry off while they are at work. For them, being able to just pull the pants on over their cycling shoes is important. On the other hand, the pants cannot be too wide, otherwise you could have an issue with your chain. For this reason, the best cycling pants have zips in the lower half of the leg, often combined with a Velcro cinch system to get the bottom half as narrow as possible.
Cycling with Cycling Pants
Of course, you want your cycling pants to be comfy to cycle in. Again, the best cycling pants will be designed for this. They should be roomy enough, yet have Velcro at the ankles to cinch them up so they don’t get caught in your chain. The best manufacturers include features such as articulated knees so that they are easier to cycle in.
Pockets in Cycling Pants
Remember, this is your outer layer. You don’t want to get home and be stuck outside in the rain, digging under your cycling pants to try to get to your keys in your regular pockets! So, pockets are really handy. Almost all of the cycling pants in this post have pockets – with the exception of the Pearl Izumi cycling pants. Of course, if your cycling jacket has good pockets, you can do without pockets in your pants.
Color and Reflective Elements in Waterproof Cycling Pants
These pants will always be your outermost layer, so it is a good safety feature if they are a bright color, and even better when they have some reflective elements. However, most cycling pants come in dark colors (black or grey!), so the most you can hope for are some decent reflective elements.
There you have it – everything you need to know about how to buy really great waterproof cycling pants. Make your choice based on your cycling needs. All of these pants will keep you dry, not make you too sweaty, last for years, and help you to enjoy your cycling!
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