wet wet wet

The last week has demonstrated a myriad of weather conditions; We’ve sweated in the muggy suffocation, we’ve indulged in summer sunshine, and we’ve dashed between awnings as the clouds finally break. On afternoons like we had yesterday, we need to ask ourselves how not to end up like this:

drenchedI managed to get indoors before the real downpour started, but this served me as a reminder that being prepared for the elements is no laughing matter.When it comes to staying dry, there really is nothing better than a good cape. Not one of these fashionable cropped capes that sit ineffectually over your shoulders, no, a proper cape with buttons or clasps to keep it pulled to over your knees.
Last winter I did a write up on Cycling in… a cape, and for a few more pointers on choosing your perfect cape – or even where to start looking for one – there’s plenty more in the tags.

And shhh! ASOS has slashed the price on their cotton hooded cape in this year’s sale.

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Cycling in….

…..a cape?

As the weather turns cooler – and wetter! – I can’t help but begin to consider just how efficient my outerwear really is. So as I ponder on whether my layers are really doing the job that I’m wearing them for, the observations are here for your perusal, and how best to begin but with my beloved cycle garment: the cape.

cape2 cape1
ASOS Premium Belted Cape in blue (2009/10 range) with belt replaced with Hi-Vis sash.
ASOS
Hooded Military Cape in khaki. Colour now only available in petite.

Given that both of these capes were purchased from the same store and to fulfill the same purpose, their wear-ability couldn’t differ more; as such, although they are essentially the same garment and should be considered as such, they have individual pros and cons.

The first thing that you need to know about a cape is something that you may already have learned if you’ve seen Disney Pixar’s The Incredibles: they are not the more aerodynamic of garments, and although you won’t necessarily get sucked into the engines of a plane like Syndrome/Incrediboy, it certainly won’t help you gain speed when cycling into a strong headwind.
Capes are, however, great for keeping warm without having to seal yourself in: if you invest in wool you’ll get the benefit of its warmth whilst retaining the circulation of air that the loose design lends to it. The great thing about the free falling design is that you can layer up underneath and not have to worry about not being able to fit into your coat because of all the knitwear!
It may seem obvious, but it’s worth pointing out: although your knees will stay dry, your forearms probably won’t. But then, it’s in the nature of the cape to expose your arms, isn’t it?

I bought the blue belted cape last winter after a long search for the perfect cycle-cape (and the tragedy of the sold out navy duffel cape), and of the two styles this one is definitely more suited to a ride in the rain. This is mostly due to the fact that it has concealed popper buttons from collar to hem, meaning that it remains shut and keeps your knees dry even when pedalling furiously into a torrent. The belted aspect is also a plus given that the awkward shape of a cape doesn’t lend itself to the wearing of Hi-Vis (or to the carrying of handbags, but that’s another matter altogether), but it was easy to adapt a reflective sash into a belt and replace the original black elastic one for one that would suit my cycle needs.
The only down side of this particular design links directly to the belt. The belt is visible at the back thanks to two slots through which is is threaded, then encircles the waist beneath the fabric, and exits through the arm holes to be fastened. This means that the arm holes are wider than on other designs and more cold air can flow through these.

The khaki cape was purchased with the memory of that same navy duffel cape still a fresh sting in my mind, a reminder to buy now before it sold out and would join the list of lost things that would forever haunt me. Much as I hate trends, it certainly ticks more ‘style’ boxes and as such is infinitely more wearable, not only due to the military style, but because khaki is simply easier to carry off on a day to day basis.
Unlike the first cape, this one has a hood, which is brilliant once you get off your bike and are walking about in the rain, but needs some preparation if you plan to cycle with your hood up. More on that in How to Stay as dry as Possible.
Also unlike the first cape the buttons only cover the top half of the cape so knee-coverage is a lot less, but on the pro side, it is much warmer.

CAPE

Warmth: 3/5

Long gloves or wrist warmers recommended.
Dryness: 4.5/5
Dealt with rain very well, plus dry knees. Wrists soaked through though!
Practicality: 4/5
Not the best on windy days but good for wearing layers on cold days.
And if you work out how to carry a shoulder bag in a cape, please let me know.

Capes

You may be aware of my obsession with the cape: it’s a fixation that began last winter, my first winter as a cyclist, and resulted from the desperate need to a) keep warm and b) keep dry. If you follow the tags you’ll witness my journey to find the perfect cape, along with the fashion explosion that occurred earlier this year when the cape stormed all the LFW catwalks.
Here is a collection of the current high-street offerings for you to peruse as the temperature drops and Autumn settles into frosts and showers.

Capes

Capes by thecatknows featuring a cotton coat

how to…

….stay as dry as possible.

Is anyone still cycling in this weather? The elements tend to have a huge effect on the volume of cyclists struggling to get to work at rush hour, and while I refuse to be branded a “fair-weather cyclist”, there are times when you just long to arrive at your destination without needing to then towel yourself down.

If you’re not inclined to wearing yellow HI-vis ponchos and rubber shoe socks, keeping dry in style can become a bit more challenging. But here are a few tips to consider.

  • If your bicycle doesn’t have mud-guards (fenders), investing in a set will save you from endless woes stemming from a wet bum and back! Etsy is a good place to look for quirky alternatives to the usual range, so pay a visit to Hanson Bike Works, Off Cut Studio and Red Tail Fenders, or look to these for some inspiration: Clank Plank, and custom wooden fenders.
  • Once your mudguards are on securely, your lap and your back are the most likely places for giant wet patches to appear, so invest in a cape that will cover your knees as you pedal. Luckily for us, capes are key items in the new season, so we’re spoilt for choice. When buying a cape take the following things into account: can it be fastened all the way down to the hem? A cape with only a few buttons near the neck is unlikely to offer much protection to your sodden knees! What is it made of? Woollen capes will see you right through the autumn and through the snows as they will retain heat better and shouldn’t absorb much rain. Depending on the cut, a cape will also allow you to layer up once the temperature drops whilst retaining the movement in your arms! Rain ponchos and capes made of plastic materials will be light-weight and water-resistant but these fabrics retain heat and don’t offer good circulation, so they can get pretty sticky.
  • If your coat or cape has a hood, you’ll need to get some extra long hair grips to pin the hood to your hair. This will both stop the hood from falling off in the wind, and also keep it clear of your face so that you don’t lose any visibility and will be able to free turn your head to see left and right. Alternatively, a helmet or a brimmed hat should fit snugly under your hood and both keep the rain out of your eyes (essential for glasses wearers like me) and keep your hood from blowing off so easily.
  • Keep your ankles dry by investing in boots, but keep these pointers in mind when making your purchase: Tight boots or hard materials will restrict your ankle movement when pedalling, and Ugg boots or suedes are unlikely to survive a ride in the torrents without significant damage or discolouration.
  • If an outfit calls for pumps, a pair of reflective spats will keep the water from seeping into your shoes and make you more visible at night as well. Two N Fro have some dashing tweed spats, which you can buy on the CycleChic website for £35.
  • Carry a teatowel with you so that you can dry off your saddle before starting a journey, or your face once it’s taken a good whipping from the rain. Cath Kidston‘s selection are dainty enough to look like accessories and aren’t made of a towelling material, so shouldn’t become water-logged.
  • Remember this: think water-resistant! The PVC box bags at Cath Kidston are have zips, so are fully waterproof and tuck into baskets perfectly (standard square/rectangular, not D-shaped). They start at just £20 and are worth every penny. Browse the full range here, and check out the mini oilcloth rucksacks while you’re there.
  • A pair of cycle gloves will keep the biting wind off your knuckles. Knog offer a fun twist on the standard design, and some of their products can be found on ebay, so you can save on those US shipping fees.
  • Visibility is reduced in winter – it’s darker and you’ll be harder to spot through the sheets of rain, so a good set of lights, particularly rear lights, is important. The Knog Skink has six settings (I love the disco style “party on my bike” sixth setting) and comes in 6 different colours. Plus you can get a matching front light in the same colour from any one of their range.
  • Saddle covers! These nifty little accessories are slipped over the saddle when you park up so that when you return you can take it off again and set off with the reassurance that your bum will remain comfortably dry! If you can’t get hold of a saddle cover, a shower cap will do the trick just as well!

wetTip: If you’re a glasses wearer, exhale downwards to avoid steaming up!

Caped Crusader

There can be no doubt that once the showers set in, the best way to keep dry on a bicycle is with a cape. If your bike is fitted with mudguards (or fenders, depending where you’re from), you’re unlikely to get much splash from the wheels, and it is your lap and your shoulders that will take most of the rain. Luckily for us, capes are very now in A/W 2010, and even Vogue has tipped their hat to the trend: see Elle September 2010, August 2010’s Vogue US spread entitled “Caped Crusader“, Vogue Australia’s online lookbook from May 2010, and Vogue UK’s Catwalk Overview August supplement dedicating a double page to them.

You may remember my cape-finding mission from last Winter, and the resulting purchase of a blue belted cape from ASOS, but this year the mission lives on, and I have been combing the net for affordable, practical and chic capes to add to my cycle wardrobe. A simply search for the word “cape” on ASOS came up with a good selection, and after adding my favourite to my Wishlist and remembering my woe when last year’s duffel cape sold out, I have already invested in the khaki “Hooded Military Cape”, and despite its price tag, have no regrets so far.

More to follow.