The caped crusader - A long term review of the Carradice Duxback cape and spats

I've always liked the rain, ever since I was a child I had a certain delight in waking up in the morning to grey skies and the patter of rain on the roof.  I also strangely like riding my bike the in the rain, but I don't like getting a wet bum.  My discovery of mudguards not that long ago solved that problem.  I also had a rain jacket for a long time, but this was only good for light rain and I ended up getting wet anyway because it acted like a sweatbox - this is supposed to be a jacket with that fancy kind of material that breathes but still keeps water out.  This jacket has armpit and back vents too but these were not enough to keep me sweat free unless it was cold.

Soon I discovered the cape, I had never tried one nor seen one.  I was however quite curious and a lot of what I read about them made a hell of a lot of sense.  The other alternative was to get rainlegs which I would combine with my jacket and some waterproof booties that I use in cold weather as well on club rides during the winter.

However it was the depth of winter and consequently also my birthday, so for this birthday wish as any bike dork does, I got my partner to get me a Carradice Duxback cape and spats.  Everything I had read had said that the cape is the ultimate in rain wear for a cyclist.   It arrived and I couldn't wait till the first miserable rainy day came.  Within a week I got to put it to the full test, I had to get to work and it was pissing down like cats and dogs.   On went the spats and the cape, and off I rode to work.  The cape itself has a particular smell, not bad but just distinct much like their bags which are made of the same waxed cotton material.  It's quite a heavy material but it feels durable instead of flimsy like modern synthetic materials.  I got to work and took off the cape and spats and went upstairs to my desk, and that was it.   Fantastic.   No wet feet, no wet shirt or thighs and no need to get changed.  This is exactly what I wanted.  Only my face got wet and my hair because I had a helmet on with big vent holes.

The caped crusader!

There are many capes on the market if you look, I had to order mine directly from the UK as no one really sells anything like a cape here.  In Australia it's all about rain jackets which are fitted (and meant more for racing bikes).   Many cycling critics cite rainy weather as why cycling will never work as transport, sure less people cycle when it rains but less people also walk, this doesn't mean walking is a failure does it?  Part of me also suspects this attitude is prevalent in countries like Australia where maybe 5% of bikes have mudguards and most bikes have exposed derailleur drivetrains.  Compare this to mainland europe where most bikes have mudguards and fully enclosed chaincases, rain capes are a common site there too.   All these little things make riding in the rain not so bad, rather it's quite doable. 



The cape works best on a more upright bike as it is less cumbersome, I've ridden with it on a drop bar bike and it is fine but it just feels a bit weird with the hunched over position.  The Duxback cape has many little features that aren't on cheaper capes, a large reflective stripe on the back as well as a waist strap to stop it flying up in a gust and wrist loops at the front so the cape stays attached to your arms.  I have ridden it in some moderate 30-40km/h winds and it isn't too bad but if you are intending to ride in very windy conditions it might not be a great idea.   The cape forms a bit of a parachute which forms from your wrists to your shoulders, this part tends to catch the wind the most moving forward.  It's also where rain tends to deposit and you have to flick it off every now and then.  

There is a collar at the top as well as a hood with a drawstring

Oh dear, I forgot to wear clothes under my cape again.  Just don't tell anyone!  You can see the waist strap here as well as the wrist loops on the underside of the cape

A lot of Australian cyclists get obsessed with commuting speeds, every commute turns into a training ride.  One day it was raining moderately and I was wearing my cape riding my twenty, at the lights a guy on a roadie in lycra with no mudguards (I secretly was pitying his wet patch on his bum) pulls up and says to me "that must be a bit of effort to push"  I just replied "no it wouldn't be as fast as my roadie" in an attempt to unpidgeonhole myself as a retrogrouch tragic that also happens to like racing bikes.  Still it made me think, what is faster?  Racing from traffic light to traffic light on an uber lightweight bike with no mudguards, maybe getting home about 2 minutes earlier only to spend 15 minutes having a shower because you got soaked and cleaning your dirty clothes and your bike because your bike and it's drivetrain has no mudguards or chaincase.
Or you can just go a bit slower wearing a daggy cape and get there 5 minutes later to take off your cape and continue what you would normally do when you get home without having to dry off or change.

Compared to the rain jacket the ventilation is a lot better, you can lift up the cape to get a bit of a breeze going, however since it's waxed cotton and it sits flat on your back, I find that you do get a little bit of back sweat.  

The spats also have a 3M reflective strip on the sides

Onto the spats, they use an elastic loop that goes around the front of your foot with a zipper along the back of your calf with velcro loops that secure it.  They reach up above your knee, so in concert with the cape it almost gives you a strange feeling of invulnerability when the weather turns for the worse.  The only downside is that the spats are fiddly to put on, if you don't have something to sit on you have to balance on one foot and try to zip it up which isn't easy.  Sometimes I don't put them on because they take too long.    However this brings me on to another point on why I love my cape, it is very fast to put on or take off.  You can put it on straight over whatever you're wearing and it'll keep you dry.  This is something that is unmatched by a rain jacket and rain pants.  Heck, I even took it bushwalking once when the weather looked a bit suspect, and man was it useful. The waxed green cotton has an army surplus kind of look to it and the lining they use for the hood means it passes as an ordinary piece of clothing.  Carradice also makes a cape in bright hi-viz yellow which looks a bit ridiculous in my opinion.

No it's not a splayed out skunk, it's one of the spats splayed out.
 In summary, I love my cape and spats.  They seem to have fell out of fashion in Anglophonic countries, however they are still very popular in Asia and Europe particularly in populations where people have to rely on the bicycle as transport.  It gives you a sort of freedom, in combination with mudguards it means that even in the most horrid rain you can stay reasonably dry and not sweat too much.  It's very fast to put on, which in Sydney where a torrent can suddenly appear from nowhere and equally disappear as fast, is important characteristic.  I've had this cape and spats now for about 8 months and I definitely don't know how I did without it, cycling when it's raining heavily isn't so bad anymore.  If you want to set records or cycle in high wind, look elsewhere, but when it's pissing down there is nothing better.

Update December 2012
I've written about reproofing the wax on the cape at The caped Crusader Part II

10 comments:

  1. Interesting read and worth considering for sure. Thanks for writing this.

    Andrew

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  2. I love riding the rain... its only water... often thought about a cape... but could not be bothered... but I can see it would be a very useful piece of gear if you need to stay dry.

    The Grouch
    http://needlessranting.plynnmiller.com/

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  3. I find my spats inch their way down my legs until they are lumped around my ankles. So I never use them. The self-tent, I enjoy quite a bit.

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  4. Yeah I find the carradice spats do ride down a little bit sometimes, but usually just the bit over the kneecap. The strap behind the knee keeps it held above your calf.

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  5. Thanks for the honest review of the Carradice 'Duxback'....very useful insight.

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  6. I bought this cape and spats based on your review and haven't regretted it - thank you! I do feel slightly dorky wearing them in trendy Melbourne with her stylish hipster cyclists, but they do the job!

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  7. 1'm 183cms. Do I get XL or L? Thanks JD.

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  8. I'd go for the smaller size as the XL is massive

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  9. I'm 181cm and have an XL. I find it fits well and enjoy the length as it offers great rain protection. Absolutely love rainy days now. I call it my Elven Cloak. Now, where did I put that Lamlas bread?

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  10. Hi, thanks for this very nice and interesting post. I like your writing style, it’s quite unique.

    Rain Poncho

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