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Rain Ponchos

Deficient Rain Jackets
    We both selected Burley Rock Point rain jackets for our 2005 cycling season. They had waterproof zippers for the front but not for the pit-zips and as we had feared, water did come through the sleeve zippers. Twice I applied SeamGrip type waterproofing glues to the fabric of the zipper and along the unsealed sleeve seams hoping to improve the water resistance of the sleeves. But neither the Burley design nor my after market modifications were enough to keep my garment sleeves dry. It didn't take much of a storm to soak down my clothing, which was unacceptably chilling on cold days.

A single-use rain poncho over Barb's rain jacket on Furka Pass.

First Experiment with Single-Use Ponchos
    We supplemented our Burley jackets with rain ponchos. The first effort was with single-use, plastic film ponchos purchased at a food market in a Swiss village during a downpour. The saggy arm opening of the poncho provided some rain shedding for our vulnerable sleeve zippers and was a big help in a pinch. The plastic ponchos were challenging to ride in however. Their long length meant occasionally sitting on them and then not having enough slack for full arm movement. The light material easily caught in the venting zippers of our other rain gear and the close fit resulted in trapping a lot of perspiration. 
    Expecting to wear this poncho again before replacing it with a more permanent product, I used wide shipping tape and scissors to tailor my filmy poncho. I whacked length off the bottom and taped it to the arm holes to construct sleeves long enough to cover the jacket pit zips, thus solving the 2 main problems with the poncho.

A Better Product: Vaude Ponchos
    Not long after experimenting with single-use ponchos, we found cycling-specific Vaude brand ponchos in Bolzano, Italy. The heavier fabric wasn't so clingy which permitted better venting and it didn't catch in our zippers. The ponchos had side slits to allow the arms to poke through and a flap and snap closure for when the arms were tucked under the poncho. There were also 2 simple strips of a wide ribbon attached to the underside to anchor the poncho to the arms while riding with the hands out in a more forward position. The length of the ponchos was right for cycling in that they came below our waists when seated but didn't tuck far under our rear ends. And for packing ease, the ponchos came with a self-storage front pocket.

Auditioning for a children's play? No, a 'cut & pasted' poncho.

Bill's Vaude cycling poncho from Bolzano.

Design Modifications
    The only problem with the Vaude ponchos was that the back fabric would creep up with the wind and eventually with the forward arm movement of our riding position, allowing rain to hit our low backs. This wasn't a problem when wearing rain jackets under the ponchos as originally planned but we were discovering that ponchos alone were a nice option for light rain. We fashioned crotch straps to remedy this.

Vaude's hand slit and strap plus our crotch strap on the right.

    In our stash of "just in case" supplies we had enough 1/4" wide black elastic and 2 tiny plastic clasps to fashion one strap for each of us. We hand stitched 1 end of the elastic to the center bottom edge of the poncho. To the other end of the elastic, we stitched a plastic clip closure and the other half of the closure was stitched to the seam allowance of the front pocket. Our stitching didn't compromise the waterproofness of the fabric and should it tear out, there will be no loss of integrity of the ponchos. Before doing the stitching, we road tested our best guess of the right length of elastic by using safety pins to secure the elastic and clips. In the course of a day's ride it was easy to settle on the correct length for each of our now custom-sized ponchos.
    The only problem with the crotch straps is the risk of them becoming tangled with the bike. We remind ourselves of the risk each time we wear them as occasionally they catch on the saddle when dismounting. It's not disastrous, but its best to be mindful of the tethering if we feel any tugging when getting off.
    The safety hazard is having the unclipped strap get tangled in the pedals or wheels. That isn't likely to happen but we always design our gear to minimize the risk of that happening. Our best remedy is to never leave the strap dangling and always have it clasped in place. So, when we take off our ponchos, we immediately click the straps in place.

New Possibilities
    We enjoyed the ventilation of the ponchos so much that we are now considering abandoning future searches for the perfect cycling rain jacket and using a lighter duty jacket with a poncho instead. In addition to our heavy duty waterproof cycling jackets, we each carry a light weight "city" jacket for sightseeing. Bill's new REI city jacket happened to also be waterproof and it seems likely to be a good poncho companion. The ponchos aren't warm enough alone for riding in cold, wet weather but our cycling jackets tend to be too warm for rain accompanied by moderate temperatures or when climbing (hence the need for pit zips). So, for 2006 we may abandon the dedicated cycling rain jackets and replace them with these new ponchos and lighter duty and less-heavily engineered waterproof city jackets.
    The new plan would be wearing the waterproof city jacket as originally intended for city wear and sightseeing. The poncho alone would be worn for cycling in light to moderate rain in warm weather or when climbing in the rain at any temperature. And the waterproof city jacket and poncho would be combined for riding in cold, wet weather.

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