A waterproof cycling jacket isn’t impermeable and won’t keep you dry indefinitely. Even when it’s brand new, its level of protection can be overwhelmed. Good ones have a hydrostatic head rating, such as 5,000mm, showing how waterproof they are.
That isn’t the amount of rain; 5,000mm would be beyond Biblical! It’s the height of a column of water, in a tube, that the fabric can support before it leaks through. A bigger number is better. If it’s less than 1,500 it’s not waterproof but showerproof, while at 10,000 or more it should cope with heavy rain.
Jackets also get wet from the inside out. However breathable they are, it’s possible to sweat faster than they can breathe. Over time, a build up of sweat and dirt will make a jacket’s fabric less breathable. So it’s important to wash it to keep it working properly (and to stop it ponging).
Don’t just chuck it in the machine. Read the label. Some aren’t meant to be tumble dried. Others can only be washed at 30 or 40 degrees. And no breathable jacket should ever be washed with fabric conditioner. Your conditioner-coated jacket will feel softer, but it won’t breathe properly and it will feel clammier against the skin as it won’t wick away sweat as well.
The older it gets, the less waterproof your jacket will become. Polyester fabrics slowly degrade in the sun and become less waterproof. The coating on top of the fabric that makes water bead on the surface and roll off rather than ‘wetting out’ and soaking the outer layer will wear off. The coating is Durable Waterproof Repellency (DWR), not permanent water repellency. You can refresh it by washing or spraying the jacket with water-repellent treatments from Nikwax, Grangers, and the like. The wash-in stuff is easiest to use – it just goes in the machine with the jacket – but sprays work better for non-machine washable items and those with wicking liners.
Wear and tear will limit a jacket’s effectiveness too. While some jackets are bonded together at the seams, most are stitched, with the seams taped to prevent water ingress. As and when the taping peels off, rain will start get in. You can re-cover the bare stitching with a seam sealer such as McNett Seam Grip.
Any rip or hole in a waterproof jacket will make it disproportionately leaky, as the water that gets in will spread through capillary action. Tear an elbow and your hole arm will get wet in heavy rain. Some manufacturers (e.g. Endura) offer a repair service. Or you can try it yourself. You’ll need seam seal tape or a patch kit.
Check out our Cyclescheme Partner Stores for a wide range of waterproof jackets and other equipment
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