A raincoat review, on The Verge? I know, I can hardly believe it myself. But that was before I received an early sample of the Cyclist Raincoat from a small Dutch company called Senscommon. No, it doesn’t contain any electronics — but it’s still high-tech because it applies scientific knowledge for a practical purpose. No, nobody put a chip in it — but it’s still smart because it’s thoughtfully designed. And yeah, it’s wearable just like most rain gear meant to keep you dry on your biking commute — only the Cyclist Raincoat does it with unrivaled style and convenience.
I spent a week with a prototype of the raincoat here in Amsterdam, the bicycle capital of the world. Outside of some color variations on the internal taping along the seams and the lack of reflective material on the back of the sleeves, my test raincoat is functionally the same as those that will ship to Kickstarter backers in early 2017 now that the campaign has been funded (with two days to go).
A Kung-fu-wielding prophet
The Cyclist Raincoat uses an incredibly lightweight and breathable fabric to create a minimalist silhouette that’s neither too masculine nor too feminine. When I first donned the raincoat here in Amsterdam, I imagined myself as a waterproofed version of Neo when he first returned to the Matrix as a Kung-fu-wielding prophet. It’s hard to look stylish in rain gear but this is as close as I’ve ever come, judging by the reaction of friends and family. My wife, too, who’s six inches shorter than I am, looked positively sylphlike in the exact same unisex raincoat.
Designer Laura Silinska sent me a swatch of the reflective fabric she’s considering for the elbows to keep riders safe and to make your hand signals more visible at night. There’s nothing special about it under normal lighting. But when the lights go out and the headlights from passing cars go on, you get an idea of the common-sense approach she’s taking to her Senscommon Cyclist Raincoat:
Testing a Dutch raincoat designed for bicycle commuting that’s experimenting with this crazy reflective fabric https://t.co/ZTEwKjGinV pic.twitter.com/LcxGVTFQwG— Thomas Ricker (@Trixxy) September 30, 2016
No raincoat is worth all these words if it doesn’t keep you dry. The Cyclist Raincoat does that, of course — better than almost any off-the-rack raincoat. One special feature is the ability to fasten the raincoat around your legs using snaps. That way, when you’re pedaling, the length of the raincoat stays closed and keeps the tops of your thighs dry. The length also helps keep your butt dry because it’s long enough to sit on while riding. Anyone that regularly commutes and locks their bike up outside will know the special kind of embarrassment created by a wet bike seat. If you want dry shoes and calves upon arrival you'll need to find additional protection elsewhere.
Some other notables:
- The hood doesn’t obstruct side vision so you can safely look right and left at an intersection without having to tug the hood as you would with lesser raincoats.
- The hood has a drawstring in the back to create a snug fit when the raincoat is zipped up. It stayed put when I wore it but it tended to blow back a bit, thus rendering the small visor ineffective for my wife. I suspect this would be solved had the raincoat been her size, instead of mine.
- The raincoat dries quickly and folds up into a tiny waterproof pouch when not needed. It’s so small and lightweight (400 grams / 14 ounces) that you can just leave it in your backpack or purse so that you have it when you need it.
- You can still lift your leg over the saddle even when the raincoat is snapped around your calf.
- The double zipper makes it easy to unzip the raincoat from the bottom when you need to fish keys or your phone out of a pocket while still leaving the raincoat in place. I was able to do this while riding a bike when I needed to get my phone out of my front pocket to check Google Map directions.
Things you should know:
- It’s not cheap. The €130 early-bird price on Kickstarter is gone, but it can still be had in limited quantities for €160. It’ll retail for €190, that’s less expensive than designer raincoats, but much more expensive than the typical (ugly and sweaty) €15 rain ponchos many cyclists use.
- At this price, I’m slightly worried about the tradeoff between durability and the thin / light fabric. This is, after all, a garment worn on and around a vehicle with plenty of sharp edges. The fabric isn’t rip-proof, but Senscommon’s Silinska tells me it’s "quite sturdy, especially for this weight category of textiles." I didn’t experience any rips or tears in my own testing that consisted of four rides ranging from five to 30 minutes.
- The Cyclist Raincoat won’t prevent your lower leg or feet from getting wet — it only extends about six inches below the knee when seated. A future Kickstarter might address footwear.
- The cuffs are wide, which is good for putting it on over your clothes and accessing a watch while riding, but bad for blowing rain. There should be a way to lock them down when you want to be watertight. This design change is under consideration.
- The size-adjusting elastic cords at the waist and hood don’t easily loosen on my prototype. Silinska tells me that a much easier, one-handed elastic stopper will be used in the final product shipping to Kickstarter backers.
Senscommon jokes that raincoats are the Tupperware of the modern wardrobe. But the Cyclist Raincoat is no ordinary raincoat. If you can afford it, if you value convenience, and if cycling in style through the rain is just as important as arriving (mostly) dry, then it certainly won’t disappoint when it begins shipping to Kickstarter backers in February.