Josh King lives in Seattle, where he commutes by bike every day, rain or shine. He switched to full-time single speed commuting in 2010. You can read his thoughts on going gearless at www.singlespeedseattle.com
Given Seattle’s reputation for rain, it’s surprising how infrequently you really need a real, honest-to-goodness cycling rain jacket when commuting in-town. We don’t get many torrential downpours; it’s more a perpetual drizzle, the sky the color of an old sweat sock for nine months out of the year.
But on those days when the skies do open, and you arrive at work looking like a swamp rat, your shirt sodden everywhere. water seeped through the seams on your water-resistant jacket, you think, “why the hell do I keep doing this?"
If you’re like me, it’s because you’ve given yourself a choice between breathability and waterproofing — I'm either going to wear a good multi-purpose jacket or my cheap cycling rainwear. And I don't want to wear the cheap rainwear. It feels sometimes like I'm capturing more moisture inside than I'm shedding outside. Ick.
And really, it's not going to rain that hard today, right?
So I tried out the Nokomis jacket by O2, which promises to be both waterproof and breathable. Could it charm its way into being an option I'd want to reach for every day? A way of avoiding the gamble between a steam bath on wheels and arriving at my destination soaked?
Minneapolis-based O2 makes the Nokomis out of something it calls "3Flow" fabric, which promises waterproof breathability. And I'd say it delivers. I tried it through a number of Seattle rainstorms, including one of our rare torrential ones, and nary a drop leaked through. The taped seams and zippers all held up admirably. The collar fits well and provides lots of neck coverage. And it didn’t give me the sweat lodge treatment.
It’s also a pretty decent looking coat, with a long tail to cover the backside when you’ve left the fendered bike at home. And the “hi-vis” treatment is indeed that; drivers aren't going to miss someone wearing this on the road.
Gripes? Well, like a lot of lighter-weight rainwear, the zippers on this jacket aren’t a strong suit. They have a tendency to grab the adjacent (thin) fabric. It’s a shame more jacket manufacturers don’t take a cue from the sleeping bag guys, who long ago implemented dams at the end of zippers to prevent the fabric from getting snagged.
But that would add precious grams to a garment designed to appeal to the lightweight-is-everything cyclist. And that brings me to issue #2, a common complaint I have with most cycling wear: the tight fit.
The jacket I tested (a large) claimed to be for those with chests measuring 44″ "“ 46.5″, but it felt tight even on my 42″ chest. That's probably fine if you like wearing your rain jacket as a second skin (and in fairness, the jacket is labeled as "form fitting"). But like most bike commuters I prefer something looser that can fit over a sweater. There’s a reason so many bike garments come in sizes up to 2XL; make sure to size up if you’ll be wearing this coat over street clothes.
Bonus – if you brave the zippers, you can convert the jacket to a vest. I don’t have much need for a waterproof vest in our Northwest climate, but it’s actually a pretty good solution to add visibility when riding at night — even an oh-so-rare warm, cloudless night in Seattle.
All-in, at $190 retail, the O2 Nokomis is a worthy contender if you're looking to step up to some quality rainwear. You may even find yourself reaching for it when the day promises nothing but briskness and sunshine.