Karen Voyer-Caravona is an admitted bicycle dilettante in Flagstaff, Arizona, who blogs about her adventures on two wheels, vÃ©lo envy, her husband’s cooking, and cross country skiing at www.sheridesabike.com. Visit her Website for her endless opinions on the most stylish shoes for pedaling, critiques of bike parking, and the best bike date dining destinations.
According to the Cleverhood Website their product is a "smart looking, high-performance rain cape … built for the demanding requirements of the urban lifestyle." The description seems pretty on target to me and I'll outline just why very shortly.
Regular Commute by Bike readers might recall the post of New Year's Bike Commuting Resolutions posted in early January. I resolved to do a better job of biking through inclement weather. It's been slow progress. Finances and a lack of adequate snowfall dampened my enthusiasm for purchasing studded tires. And try as I might I never seemed to run across rain gear that suited my tastes. Cleverhood's rain cape, which, despite being a non-bike specific garment, possessed some very bicyclist-friendly features.
Living in Flagstaff, Arizona means that when rain comes, people stand around in confusion, unsure of what they are seeing and what to do. Due to the on-going drought conditions, when my husband and I relocated here in late 2006, we probably did not see rain for about five months. When it finally arrived, I ran outside and stood in it. The crops are saved! Or at least our drinking water. We've seen much more rain in subsequent years but it's still a fair rare occurrence and most of the time I just don't consider rain gear until it's too late.
I've been caught in very few rain showers on my bike trips around town. The first time, my husband and I were caught in the rain was after a sushi dinner. We nursed an additional drink waiting for the monsoon storm to pass but we worried the wait would prove longer than our dogs' bladders could reasonable manage, so we decided to accept the inevitable and arrived home soaked to the skin.
My next experience in the rain was last summer on my way to a dental appointment. I had only my Eddie Bauer Christine rain trench to keep me dry for the five mile ride. The sunny yellow fabric does a great job making me visible on the road but waterproof it was not! The rain leeched through enough to leave me damp and chilled, while my pant legs were drenched from thigh to ankle. The canvas bucket hat I wore provided no meaningful protection either, so all I could do was slick my wet hair off my face with my fingers and feel self-conscious about my appearance. I arrived at the dental office so wet that the staff found a blanket to cover me during my procedure. I took it all in good humor but definitely didn't enjoy the ride.
Yesterday was first day since I've had the Cleverhood that I was actually been able to test in it the rain — although I'd taken it with me on my bike several times when I thought rain might be on its way. The hood is a one-size-fits-all, 10K-rated waterproof cape with a fitted hood designed so that it doesn't obstruct peripheral vision. It has front arm holes with magnetic snaps and finger loops inside the cape that keep hands covered when the commuter is traveling by bike.
The fabric is a breathable membrane, with protective seam-sealing, and 3M Scotchliteâ„¢ reflective material on the trim and on the back tag. Side cinches with an elastic cord and secure Cordlocsâ„¢ are located inside the cape for increased breathability and fit. A six inch Uretekâ„¢ water resistant zippered chest pocket provides a protected location for cell phones and garage door openers. The Cleverhood Website promises a variety of fabric choices as shown on video and in still shots, but at the time of this writing only two choices were available. I tested the green Glen plaid version.
As mentioned previously, the Cleverhood is designed for the urban lifestyle. It seems ideally marketable to the urban cyclist who bikes a short distance (five miles or less) to destinations, possibly combining his or her trip with walking, the bus or rail. I base my opinion not only on testing but also on a little non-scientific research on the waterproof fabric rating system.
The military considers fabric waterproof at 25 pounds per square inch (psi), the amount of manageable water force a fabric can withstand before it starts to leak, the equivalent of 10K (or 10,000 millimeters, the volume of water a fabric can withstand in 24 hours before it stops being waterproof). The "˜hood's 10K rating should keep you dry in sustained but light to moderate rainfall, the type of rainfall one might typically experience in the Pacific Northwest or the Midwest. Heavy, drenching rainfall, the type we typically experience in Flagstaff during the summer and fall would require 20 "“ 30K fabric. So while the product is not ideal for monsoon conditions it will at least keep me dry until I can get to shelter — preferably a good coffee shop with WiFi.
So here's what I experienced with the Cleverhood. I first tested in on a windy day with not a rain cloud in sight. The wind seemed relevant to my test since it usually accompanies rain around here. My main question was whether or not the fitted hood would remain on my head or blow off, as is what usually happens with my hooded coats and jackets. Much to my surprise it remained in place without being tight.
My next serious question was how well the product would protect my arms and legs from a soaking rain. The interior finger-loops solved this problem perfectly. Slipping the loop through my middle fingers, I held on to my handlebar. The cape fell over the bicycle frame, the handlebar and my hands, and my thighs, enclosing them as if in a tent. I was concerned that the bottom of the cape would fly up in the wind but that wasn't much of an issue; while it blew around in the wind it never flew up and exposed my thighs, arms or hands.
Of course the real test would be in during rainy conditions. So I waited. And waited. And waited.
And it finally rained! A good, sustained, light to moderate shower that soaked the ground. Enough wind to meaningfully test the hood as a protective rain garment while on my bicycle. I pedaled the neighborhood several times so that I'd have the weather coming at me from front and behind. Unfortunately, my husband and usual photographer was at work when the rain arrived so the included photos are from the shower water test!
I don't care for biking in the rain any more than I did last year when I drowned under the drenching weight of my Eddie Bauer trench but, I remembered this quote from the Cleverhood Website:
There are too many experiences you miss if you're only "weather-permitting."
The "˜hood makes it much less likely that I will have to miss worthwhile experiences (such as biking to work) because of less than ideal weather.
I don't imagine that any form of rain gear will keep one perfectly dry — short of pedaling around in a plastic bubble — but I'm not looking for perfection. I just want something that will keep me reasonable dry, enough that it doesn't require much primping once I arrive at my destination. The hood remained in place. When I pedaled into the blowing rain, my face got wet, as did hair that slipped out from under the hood.
The next question was "waterproofness." (Is that even a word?) Throughout the ride I felt the chill of the wind and worried that my pant legs were getting wet. Still, the fabric wasn't flying up so I was reasonably sure I wouldn't be soaked when my ride was done. Looking down at my chest and outstretched arms, I saw that the rainwater beaded and pooled but didn't appear to soak through. I couldn't feel any water leaking through the zippers either.
The results? Only the hair over my brow got damp but a quick blast from a travel hairdryer (I always keep one in my desk) was all that I needed to return my hair to a presentable condition. My face was pretty wet, so for women who wear makeup, I recommend deferring application until arriving at the work.
I'm pleased to report my clothes underneath the "˜hood were quite dry. Arms and hands were perfectly dry, and I could only find a little bit dampness at the bottom of my pant legs. Had I actually taken my usual route downtown, I'm pretty sure that between dips and potholes that accumulate rain, my calves would have been a lot wetter but the problem is not without a pretty simple remedy: rain boots. Definitely appealing to style conscious urbanites, the marketing shot on the Cleverhood Website depicts their product models wearing fashionable, tall Wellies.
I admit that the Cleverhood is the first piece of rain gear that I've tried other than a standard raincoat, on which it is a definite an improvement.
So far, I find it satisfying. It kept me adequately dry in the level of rainfall that I would be willing to travel in on my bike for one to five miles or on my way to catch public transport.
My philosophy of bike commuting is that in order to commit to the experience — and more importantly enjoy it — I have to be prepared. Since I want to further decrease my car dependence rather than be a "weather permitting" rider, I have to prepare for my ride at the beginning as well as upon arrival at my destination. Expectations have to be reasonable so my preparation need to include a repair kit at work that includes a travel hair dry, brush and comb and whatever makeup I'd require to look professional. Naturally, I work repair time into the equation. In some instances, I think I might also have a change of clothes at work or packed on my bike for just in case. Overall though, when combined with a pair of tall rain boots, I'd say the Cleverhood is a great tool for getting to where you need to go mostly warm and dry!
The Cleverhood is made in Providence, RI, USA, and sells for $199 US.