Wax cotton jacket for everyday cycling?

On my daily commute I’m a firm believer in dressing like a normal human. I used to believe that my motivation for doing this had a political root; that if somehow everyone who cycled to work wore normal gear then it would send a subtle message to non cyclists – that you don’t have to dress up to get into everyday riding, thus removing a barrier to getting involved.

This may be true but I’ve figured lately that my real motives are somewhat more selfish, lazy and vain. My commute is two parts bike and one part train ride and to be honest I just don’t want to look a dick on the train.

Don’t get me wrong, cycling gear has its place. If I’m out for a long ride with my bikey friends I’ll wear cycling stuff, for reasons of practicality and the powerful human need to assimilate. It takes a strong character to stand out from the crowd and I’m sorry, I’m not that guy.

I’m also lazy. I tried wearing cycling gear for the commute and changing at the end but I just could not be bothered with the hassle. Wearing normal clothes and riding slow means I can just turn up at Manchester Velodrome, my current place of toil, hang up the bike and get on with the thorny business of promoting cycling.

Which brings me to jackets. It’s been raining a lot lately in these parts and keeping dry and looking normal has risen to the top of the simmering stew of my obsessions.

I’ve long hankered for a wax jacket that looks good and does the job on the bike. I’ve ogled the Swvre wax jacket but it’s price is prohibitive for a poor church mouse like me. So I found a Superdry Transcontinent jacket that fit the bill. It’s waxed cotton and linen mix, short in the body, long in the arm, unlined and rather stylish.

First ride in the deluge showed that it was pretty water resistant but highly breathable – much more breathable than any membrane type fabric. It let in some water on the arms though – I think that the wax coating applied in the factory was cosmetic only – the fabric wetting out too easily.

However a good spray with Grangers Wax Spray and it beads like a mallard’s back. I can’t wait to get caught in a proper monsoon situation to see if my extra waxing has done the trick.

Has anyone else out there had success with wax jackets for normal, everyday, slow bicycle movement style riding? I’d love to hear from you.

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8 thoughts on “Wax cotton jacket for everyday cycling?

  1. dexey

    As a motorcyclist in the 1960’s I soon discovered that there is no such thing as a waterproof waxed cotton jacket, whether Barbour or Belstaff, but in those days there were no alternatives. Cotton ‘breathes’ but put enough wax on to keep water out and how can it still breathe?
    Look at dual purpose walking/cycling jackets. I find the Keela Odin very good. It doesn’t stand out in a crowd because lots of folk are wearing something similar – unlike waxed cotton. It’s waterproof, reasonably priced and suits for all styles of riding.

    1. theeverydaycyclist

      True enough. If you put more wax on then it will close the pores in the weave and lessen the breathability. Wax jackets can only ever be water resistant without some kind of membrane bonded onto the fabric. However I think the way a good wax beads water away has a profound effect. Even if a fabric is porous, like cotton, it can shrug off pretty heavy showers because of the way it repels water.

      Personally I’d sacrifice total waterproofing for a fabric that lets some air circulate. I’d rather be a little wet around the seams from water than drowned in my own sweat.

      My other current favourite, as mentioned in my reply to Connor, is Softshell. That’s got to be the ultimate fabric for outdoor folk.

      Can’t beat the look of wax cotton though. Who cares if you get a bit wet if you can look even a little bit like Steve McQueen!

      1. dexey

        To be fair it is only your wax jacket that looks a little like Steve McQueen’s wax jacket.
        Any physical similarity between the two of you is illusory given his current state of health!

        Rainlegs for overtrousers and let the bottoms dry out while crutch to knees stays dry.

      2. theeverydaycyclist

        Haha. Yes indeed. However, in life, The Cooler King had the edge!

        I’ve seen those rain legs too. I’ve always fancied riding in chaps, but that’s for another blog…

  2. Conor Brennan

    I have two jackets. One is a bright yellow endura cycling jacket which keeps out the water but also sure keeps in the sweat – practically no breathability and looks daft in non-cycling environment. The other one is a cheap Lidl softshell jacket which I would go for over the Endura everytime unless there is heavy rain and or really cold winds. I don’t think there really is a perfect solution to the look normal / waterproof / breathable issue. To my mind wax is not the answer.

    Whatever about the jackets, what’s to be done about the trousers issue ? I have been experimenting with craghoppers quick drying trekking pants lately with OK results. On one recent trip they were sturated and dried out 4 times. All of the fully waterproof “pull-ups” are a complete disaster as they end up wetter inside than out and for me the heat is unbearable. Not sure if letting trousers continually get wet and dry off on your legs is that great for you long term though ie rheumatism etc.

    I should clarify the above by stating that I live and cycle in Mayo in the west of Ireland which is a place where all wet gear / rainproof should definitely be tested. It is always wet and windy here but rarely very cold which makes for some unique cycling wear challenges.

    1. theeverydaycyclist

      Hi Connor. Sounds like you’re ideally placed to contribute on all weather cycling. I too am a big fan on lightweight trekking pants like the Craghoppers stuff. I’m also intrigued by the soft shell pants that Rapha and Outlier do, though I’m not so sure about their pricing structure! I’m sure that Regatta and other mountain/outdoor suppliers do soft shell trousers.

      Good shout on the Lidl soft shell jacket. I’ve got an Aldi soft shell that I picked up for 20 quid which is intended as a golf jackets but is cut perfectly for urban cycling. I’ve treated it with Nikwax Softshell Proof and the water just rolls off it and leaves it totally dry. Pretty amazing really.

      I agree with you though on the point about there not being a perfect solution to the sweat or get wet problem. My own personal take is that total waterproofing is always at the expense of breathability and that a fabric that keeps most of the rain off by let’s a little air flow through is a good thing, hence the wax cotton and the Softshell. I’ve got a £250 berghaus goretex jacket and it breathes less well than my 50 quid Altura Nevis. My wax coat is better than both however, and looks a lot better.

  3. Stephen

    Water proof jackets are always a compromise, and breathable never matches the rate of sweat production for running and cycling (at pace), and often not for brisk walking. I have used NikWax analogy for years now and been very happy with the breathability and lack of rustle — not as absolutely waterproof as membranes though. Haven’t used for cycling because my analogy jacket is long for walking, so not my favoured bike cut. I have considered some of the shorter jackets, but they are not bright enough for my liking (I don’t multimodal commute and I do want to stick out like a sore thumb on the road).

  4. Not a waxed jacket per se, but I use a Carradice waxed canvas rain cape when the need arises. Typically I like to just wear “regular” clothes in the rainy season (and Portland has quite the rainy season) so it’s nice to have a piece of rain outerwear that only comes on when I really need to. So far it’s done the trick, and I only pull on my “bike clothes” rain jacket (Showers Pass) when It’s really windy or if I’m doing a real long-distance ride.

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