Cold *and* Wet

Cold *and* Wet

I’ve seen a lot of things in bike shops. I’ve seen a TV on a cart in front of an easy chair. I’ve seen ashtrays with burning cigarettes. I’ve seen a field of trainers set up for winter survival. I’ve seen bikes so rare that I couldn’t imagine what they were doing in that backwater bottle and tube dispensary.

You know what I’ve never seen in a bike shop? A set of thermal bibs. Never.

At a certain point you have to either shut up about your secret weapon, or you have to go into distribution. RKP was never about exclusion, so I’m going to hit this note again mere weeks after my last review of thermal bibs.

El Niño is hammering Northern California with rain. I rode by a house a week ago that has a collapsing retaining wall due to all the rainfall. Add to that rain the fact that the warmest it gets is into the mid-50s. Compared to the Twin Cities, we’ve got it good, I admit, but riding in snow is different than riding in rain. Cold water goes through you, to quote George Patton, “like flack through a goose.”

The thermal bib is the only sane solution. My go-to is still a pair of thermal bibs combined with a medium embro from Mad Alchemy. Whether you have fenders or not, it’s hard to stay dry on a wet day and nothing does more to keep me comfortable than having thermal bibs on.



The Rapha Classic Thermal Bib Shorts go for $215, a bit less than the offerings from some of their competitors and given the easy availability of their gear thanks to their online store, you don’t have to call every retailer in four counties to see if someone has them or is willing to order them. Availability is its own selling point.

The Superroubaix material is a bit heavier than some roubaix fabrics I’ve encountered, and is used throughout the short and even in the front of the bibs half way up the chest to offer that extra bit of warmth. There’s a small key pocket in back; while I’ve not elected to put anything in it, the pocket is also cut from Superroubaix, so it adds a small second layer of insulation at the small of your back. No downsides.

The back of the bibs feature two reflective tags to increase visibility. Silicone leg grippers encircle the entire cuff. It’s handy when you’re running leg or knee warmers, but for the wet days, when I prefer embro, the grippers aren’t so effective on that creamy shininess. Not their fault; nothing works on that.

Compared to other Rapha bibs I have, the pad in these features a slightly less dense foam; it’s a bit squishier, to use a technical term. The upshot is that I’ve noticed that these seem to have a touch more stretch and give, making them a bit more comfortable than the other Rapha bibs I wear. Considering the thermal bib landscape, these are the best overall value out there.

Riding three or more hours in cold rain is a variety of commitment that is difficult to explain. The endeavor seems less crazy, foolhardy, if you neutralize the elements. Doesn’t make the explanation any easier, though; trust me.

Final thought: Body-hugging thermostat.

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  1. Skip

    Has nobody in California ever heard of merino wool, nature’s miracle material? (I don’t get the whole “bib” thing either, but that’s not a seasonal thing…)

    1. Author

      I wear a lot of Merino, and love it. That said, Merino bibs virtually don’t exist. Hell, Merino shorts are no more common. As to the bib thing, women with hips and a tiny waist don’t need them, but for men, I don’t see how anyone can ride without them. They keep the pad exactly where it’s supposed to be. And I couldn’t tell you the last time I was on a ride with a man who wasn’t wearing bibs.

  2. Paul Thober

    Ride in the rain? Rain cancels. Rain shortens. Riding three or more hours in cold rain will lead to a variety of commitment that includes a certain institution in Napa. I’ve gone on only three “rides” in the last month because of this wonderful weather we’ve been having and that’s fine with me. The sun WILL shine again, all in due time. I rode 7000+ miles last year without once going out in the rain. Works for me.

    Enjoy your rainy rides crazy boy. ????

    And support your local bike shop, please.

    1. Author

      In SoCal, where it rained every 14th Saturday following a blue moon, I didn’t need to ride in the rain; also, it was dangerous due to the amount of oil on the road. I’d say that 2016 is going to be significantly different than 2015, rain-wise, so I’m making my peace with it. Also, when I’ve got all the right stuff, rolling for three hours in the rain isn’t unpleasant. As to supporting local bike shops, I do as much as possible, but honestly, my point about never seeing thermal bibs in one is how, frequently, they don’t do enough to support us.

  3. daveeckstrom

    In northern WI, rain is the least of our worries. If it’s warm enough to rain, we’re pretty happy. There is an old Norwegian saying we live by up here, “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing.”

  4. Grego

    Why would you wear shorts when going out in the wind and rain? Your knees will thank you for covering them up. Mmmm, THERMAL TIGHTS! I’m in Norcal too, and I anticipate buying an extra pair or two before this El Niño-driven season-long deluge is over.

    1. Author

      I go for embrocation when it is both cold and wet. What I learned years ago racing in New England was that in sufficiently wet conditions, Roubaix just ends up soaking up water, which makes the item heavier; also a cold, wet piece of fabric can do a fine job of chafing. You can’t not wear some sort of shorts, so I go with thermal for the warmth, but I use embro on my legs to keep the water running off.

    2. Mike E.

      What padraig said…I can’t wear anything over my knees (maybe rain pants) in the cold & wet because it ends up feeling like I have a bag of ice wrapped around my knee once the knee warmers are wet and hitting wind.. Embro is awesome for the wet.

  5. winky

    Here in the rainy and semi-cold Vancouver winter, the warmest I really ever go for is a set of PI AmFIB bib-tights (no pad) with set of summer bib-shorts. Thermal LS base layer, a summer jersey and a gilet. Good gloves and a thin skull cap under the helmet if it is below freezing. Thick neoprene booties if it is really cold. Wool socks. I’m commuting, so only out for a hour at a time. I don’t care about being wet, but wear enough to be warm.

    1. Author

      That probably deserves a post of its own. The short answer is that I’ve been trying a lot of stuff—some really great, like Buckler—but my go-to remains Mad Alchemy.

  6. Miles Archer

    I’ll wave to you from my car on the way to the swimming pool. If you’re going to be wet, you might as well be swimming. It will be spring in a month and then I’ll get back at the riding.

  7. GeorgeL

    Appreciate the review, but given that they just came out and are as yet unproven, I think the Rapha Pro Team Shadow bibs would have made a more interesting test subject. Granted, the price is higher by about a third, but given the fact that I live in Oregon (if you think NorCal is getting slammed by El Niño, I invite you to venture to your northern neighbor), the Shadow bibs might be the only ones I need until July.

    1. Author

      I’m not sure what you mean by “unproven.” The point to a review is to put a product through its paces and find out if it’s worth the coin. Sure, this isn’t a super-long-term review, but I’ve ridden them several times a week for a month. If they were crap, I’d have figured that out by now. I may yet get to the Shadow bibs, though. As to riding in Oregon, thanks for the invite, but if it’s all the same, I’d like to wait. I don’t need more rain than this. People in Portland who call themselves cyclists have a love for two-wheels that I can’t justify.

    2. Clark

      I believe GeorgeL was referring to the Shadow bibs as being unproven, not the ones in this review. I too would definitely be interested in a review of them for that reason.

      As for other life-changing tips for riding in wet weather often, three words: heated shoe dryer!

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