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After another ride in the rain that left me drenched and freezing despite wearing a rain cape (which was also annoying to wear, kept getting rearranged by the wind, rustling loudly etc.), I'm starting to wonder if cycling in an actual neoprene wetsuit wouldn't be more enjoyable in this kind of cold, rainy weather.

I don't think I've ever seen anyone do so and even triathletes only put on wetsuits before the swimming segment so presumably there is some huge drawback?

Possible drawbacks I've found mentioned on other sites:

  • This guy says you'd get sweaty. I can't really picture how that would make a difference, as I've read elsewhere that wetsuits don't completely isolate you from the water, they just trap a thin layer of water between your skin and the suit. Add sweat to that, now what?
  • This guy points out chafing. I'm not sure what to make of that: Don't you move around a lot when you wear a wetsuit for surfing or swimming as well? So why doesn't that cause chafing but cycling does?
  • This guy (talking about motorcycling, not bicycling) mentions that it's stiff and will get cold when exposed to air. Not sure how applicable the latter point is because it's probably much worse at the relative airspeed typical for motorcycling than bicycling.
  • On another site (lost the link) someone mentioned that it would get destroyed in a matter of hours if you actually sat down on your bicycle seat in it, due to constant friction which it isn't designed for. Again this was a single opinion and I don't know what to make of it.

Has anyone tried this or knows why it wouldn't work / can confirm any of the points above? Are there any other options with similar properties that would be better?

I only cycle recreationally and for the enjoyment of it, so it's not like I require top performance. If it's a bit more difficult to move that's fine, for instance, so long as it doesn't completely ruin the experience (like a rain cape does).

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    You just have to accept that you’ll get wet if you cycle in rain for any length of time. The main priority is that you don’t freeze, for which a windstopper layer worn over some (synthetic), insulating base layer is best.
    – Michael
    Feb 18, 2023 at 19:41
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    "cycle recreationally" and freezing rain... you may want to reconsider if you really dislike that :). Can you update the question with speed/effort of your rides? The concerns would be very different for slow (15-20kmh) and faster rides (like 26+kmh Criggie mentioned). Feb 19, 2023 at 1:35
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    "So why doesn't that cause chafing but cycling does?" Just my opinion, but I don't think swimming or surfing has the same kind of repetitive motions at the same kind of frequency that cycling does.
    – DKNguyen
    Feb 19, 2023 at 2:31
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    @DKNguyen They don't breathe at all either. You need to realize one thing - when you ride long enough in rain, you will get soaked through-and-through to the point where water is squirting out of your shoes/boots with every pedal stroke. And "long enough" is probably only 30 minutes or so. With really good gear, and a good set of fenders with an actual effective mud flap to keep the worst of the spray off you, you might make it to an hour or so. Don't try to stay dry, make sure you stay warm enough. Feb 19, 2023 at 2:38
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    And if it's cold, when you're done, immediately get out of the rain, the wet gear off, get dry and warm. Or you will get hypothermia, and FAST. Let's say you're riding along at about 150W or so in 40F/5C steady rain. When you're putting out 150W of mechanical power, your body has to dump about 600W worth of heat, as it's about 21% efficient in turning chemical energy into mechanical energy, the rest becomes heat. When you stop riding that 600W that was keeping your barely warm disappears, but your body is still losing lots of heat to the 40F/5C rain. Fail and you'll only do it once Feb 19, 2023 at 2:47

6 Answers 6

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I have cycled in a (kayaking) wetsuit, to swim in a river on a cold dry day (just above freezing). It made a sort of sense then, but I wouldn't recommend it in general. I have also done a lot of standing around on riverbanks in the rain in wetsuits, before getting on the water, and they're not as warm as you might expect it that case.

Taking your points in order:

  • It was horribly sweaty. Really unpleasant, not like being in water at all. The sweat also cooled surprisingly quickly when I stopped.

  • Chafing when cycling is at the contact points. Mine is designed for sitting in a kayak so some though has been given to the construction in the seat area. It still doesn't work well for the very different posture of a bike saddle. Compared to a kayak seat your weight is on a much smaller area, and the extra padding on the inner thighs means contact where there wouldn't normally be contact, on soft skin. It was OK for the 15km I did, but I wouldn't want to do a long ride. In ill-fitting clothes chafing can also occur if fabric bunches up around joints. Starting with thick neoprene it's effectively bunched up already, like at the back of the knees, where mine was uncomfortable even on a short ride.

  • Even a sleeveless wetsuit felt restrictive. I suspect that's what "stiff" referred to rather than stiffening from the cold. They're not really meant for a cycling position. Mine at least is fairly windproof.

There may be some benefit to leg warmers with neoprene on the top/front, but water-repellent thermal leg warmers exist, as do rainlegs (basically waterproof chaps). I have some of the former, and have considered the latter.

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There's a difference between a wetsuit and a drysuit. A wetsuit is designed to admit water and allow your body to warm that trapped water; a drysuit is impermeable and seals around the openings (neck, wrists). Both are primarily designed to keep you from dying of exposure in cold water. So a wetsuit won't keep you dry, and I suspect a drysuit would make you very sweaty.

I don't think rain capes are great either, but there is foul-weather cycling gear (jackets, rain pants, water-resistant tights, etc) that makes riding in the wet a lot more tolerable. It's expensive. The challenge with foul-weather cycling gear is that it needs to keep out moisture (rain) but also transmit moisture (sweat). Similar with cold-weather gear. It needs to trap some body heat, but not so much that you overheat.

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    I suspect a drysuit would make you very sweaty I have a really nice rain jacket for cycling - IIRC it's a Giordana, pretty expensive. I've worn it once because it's too waterproof - even in 40F pouring rain it's like riding inside a sauna. I'd expect a drysuit to be unbearably worse. Feb 19, 2023 at 2:33
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    @AndrewHenle I noticed that some clothing, when they go overboard with the waterproofing, becomes basically airtight and it doesn't breathe.
    – Nelson
    Feb 19, 2023 at 14:32
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    It's complicated to tick both boxes: letting sweat out and not letting moisture/rain in. I had to try many garnements to find one that fits the bill pretty well (from Rapha, not sponsored). Beyong the fabric(s) used, the cuts and having some of them left opened seems very important. Feb 21, 2023 at 15:01
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"This guy says you'd get sweaty. I can't really picture how that would make a difference, as I've read elsewhere that wetsuits don't completely isolate you from the water, they just trap a thin layer of water between your skin and the suit. Add sweat to that, now what?"

You would not just sweat, you would completely boil. Seriously. A neoprene wetsuit is completely different from sport clothes. It does not lead the sweat away from your body to evaporate. The sweat remains on your body and you get completely hot. And that completely I mean really seriously. You would also stink really terribly.

Even in the caves where the temperature is constant -2°C, and where you can very quickly get wet when a rain comes outside, we do not wear wetsuit. We wear that only in active streamways and similar and then we quickly jump into water because only then the wetsuit on our body becomes somewhat more pleasant. We would get boiled as well. You need some warm clothes from some material that keeps you warm even if slightly wet. When you get soaked, you need to get changed to reserve dry clothes. A material that I can recommend as very warm, soft, elastic and breathable is Polartec Powerstretch. More expensive than normal lycra, but really worth it in somewhat damp and cold environment when doing sporty activity.

And indeed, a wetsuit is stiff, to stiff for cycling in my opinion, and just quite unpleasant. The chaffing in crotch is very likely.

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You have the right thought, but a wetsuit is not the right tool. The best winter cycling clothes I have are not designed to keep me really dry, they are designed to wick away water fast and provide a wind protection. Look for something like that, tight-fitting like a wet suit, with a membrane for protection against wind, but not water tight.

Because I do water sports and use a bicycle for transportation I have cycled in wet suits a fair amount. If you are going for a winter swim in 5C water and have a 5km ride to get there and back, it makes perfect sense to wear the wet suit on the bike and it will protect you from the cold both inside and outside the water. In my exerience the wet suit is warmer once it's drenched in cold water, because it's very much permeable to wind and the water makes it a little less permeable to wind. You definitely need something like a softshell jacket for when the wetsuit is dry. A high quality surfing or swimming wet suit shouldn't chafe too much, should not break too fast from contact with the saddle and is flexible enough to pedal. If the wetsuit includes a hood, it becomes harder to turn your head and it limits your vision and hearing. Even if it doesn't include a hood, wetsuits often have sticky rubber around the neck so it sticks to your neck and prevents water flowing in - this also makes it harder to turn your head even without an included hood.

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Riding in a wetsuit in the rain would be functionally similar to riding ion bib tights and a compression shirt. The thicker neoprene layer would provide more cushioning against hail and harder-rain and could hold more moisture.

From https://www.cyclingweekly.com/reviews/tights-trousers/castelli-lw-2-bib-tightsnote, not me

Add some arm warmers or a long-sleeved riding jersey. I would add a neck gaiter/biff which can also shield my chin and cheeks.

It really helps to have a shower at your destination too, and time to use it before work starts.

Downsides:

  • Most bib tights are black - not great for visibility. Some have high-vis piping or tabs.
  • Not generally considered suitable work-wear, so you have to have a change of clothes waiting at the far end or carry clothes with you.
  • Gentlemen can be somewhat pronounced, especially when walking around off the bike.

Upsides

  • Most bib tights are black - so as they wear and fade they don't become transparent.
  • The added tension of fabric over one's muscles help with fatigue.
  • Closer clothing is more aero and helps you get there faster, reducing total exposure time.

You can get summer versions that end just above the knee, and there are several thicknesses/grades for when the temperature drops.

Chaffing is eliminated by a good tight fit - chaffing comes from repeated rubbing on your skin, so if the fabric is a good firm fit it won't move on the skin.


You should put this idea to the test by picking up a cheap used wetsuit and trying it out. They're occasionally found at garage sales for a few dollars which is a good amount to gamble. Finding a suitable size could be a challenge.

If you do, please come back to this question and add your own answer with the results.


I have a commute of 26 km or an hour. On really wet days I am dry for the first five minutes, but I sweat up quickly. The jacket holds moisture inside too, so I stew/parboil.

The jacket stays rainproof for most of the trip, until water trickles in the collar or through a zip. It has a hood but that obscures my hearing and limits the ability to look behind easily.

I also have rain-pants which are not waterproof, just resistant. They need periodic respray with silicon water repellent spray, and that wears off quickly at the knee and groin because they flex when pedalling.

My gloves are normally so wet by the end of the ride that I must wring them out by making a fist. Same goes for socks.

I've tried neoprene overshoes and they help more with the cold than the water. I intend riding with gumboots/wellingtons/galoshes tucked inside the trouser's leg cuffs next time.

My dedicated "wet day bike" has full mudguards/fenders to limit road water thrown at me. It also has toe straps not cleated/clipless pedals.

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    For riding-in-the-rain bib tights, I prefer zipper cuffs at the ankle openings over stirrup straps. With stirrup straps you have to have the bottom of the tights inside your shoes/shoe covers/boots/booties. And that means water running down your legs will run into your shoes. With zippered cuffs, you can put the bottom of your tights over the top of your shoes/shoe covers/boots/booties and the bulk of the water running down your legs will go outside of your shoes. With a good mud flap, I've been able to keep my feet from reaching "squirt water" stage for well over an hour in hard rain Feb 19, 2023 at 17:47
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A long shot, but have you thought of a "karting wet suit"?

I can't post links but searching for the phrase will render a few links.


enter image description here
from https://corsaapparel.com.au/product/kart-rain-suit/

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    Welcome to Bicycles Exchange. Can you provide a couple additional sentences to describe what a "karting wet suit" is? Some of us (myself included) cannot fathom what you are talking about. Adding a description of what you are talking about will do a lot for improving the quality of your answer. It sounds promising, but needs the detail here to meet the standards of the exchange. I suggest taking the short tour of how the site works: bicycles.stackexchange.com/tour
    – Ted Hohl
    Feb 21, 2023 at 15:40
  • This is exactly what was posted as an answer 2 days ago and is now the accepted answer. This doesn't add anything to the conversation. Please check out the tour to see how things work a little differently here at StackExchange sites than they do at general discussion forums.
    – FreeMan
    Feb 21, 2023 at 16:55
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    I do not understand how this is supposed to be exactly the accepted answer. It speaks about something different. But I would also like to see an explanation what the karting wet suit is. Feb 21, 2023 at 17:11
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    Welcome to the site - thank you for your answer. I've tried the search suggested and it looks different to the kayak suit, so this does contain new info. I've edited a random image into your answer as a visual aid. If you wear one like this, how does it work in a sweaty environment, where the wearer is exercising? Also, they all seem translucent perhaps to show off one's leathers or team/sponsor colours inside. How do you find this works in practice?
    – Criggie
    Feb 21, 2023 at 18:03
  • Yes, I mean a wet suit for karting. This is a sport where one sits in a kart with an an engine to go as fast as one can. (my record is 101mph). The picture is very accurate. However, my own suit (from +20 yo) is not transparent.
    – Devany
    Feb 22, 2023 at 20:24

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