When I saw Susan, of Cleverhood, again this year at the 5 Boro Bike Expo, she told me that she was working on a smaller version of her rain cape for those of us who are shrimpier than her typical customer. (“Shrimpier” is not the term Susan used!) When she suggested that I take one of the early models home to review, I jumped at the chance.
Cleverhood capes are beloved of urban riders, and why not? This cape is no one-trick pony; designed for cycling, it works equally well for walking, catching a bus, or racing to the subway in a deluge.
Above all, this cape is a really attractive garment, melding the traditional and the quirky beautifully in one very utilitarian package — and it’s practical apparel anyone of any gender can appreciate.
Cleverhood’s secret is that it illuminates brilliantly (literally!) at night. The fabric is so light and flows so beautifully that daytime use does not even hint at this super power. This is huge for cyclists, but also a boon for dog-walkers, travellers, and anyone who walks at night near traffic.
This version, appropriately named “Electric Gingham“, is a classic gingham check, made so “mini” that it’s become something quite sophisticated; the contrast (waterproof) zippers (available in lime, as on mine, yellow, red and black) add a bit of fun. I love that the illumination reveals a completely different look: a counterpane plaid.
Impressive, no? (By the way, that super-bright “pop” at the lower center back is the normally discreet Cleverhood logo, which becomes something else when lit!)
The Cleverhood is very comfortable when worn; it’s so light that it’s easy to forget it’s there. You’d expect a cape to billow when worn with cycling, and this one does, but it is so open, and the fabric so lightweight, that there is minimal wind-sail effect. I did not find that it impeded my riding at all on short runs, and I’d expect the same on longer recreational runs, where the pleasure of the ride is the point, rather than setting a land-speed record.
Unconstrained, the hood is neither large enough to go over a helmet, nor small enough to fit sleekly beneath one. The latter is less problematic than I thought it would be: I wondered if it would feel bulky under my snugly-fitted helmet, but, in fact, the fabric is so light that it is no more noticeable than a helmet liner. A tiny, neatly-done toggle allows the hood to be adjusted to fit, and it makes all the difference, allowing it to fit neatly however worn.
In the image above, you can see how beautifully the sides of the hood are cut. (I turned the brim back to make it more obvious.) That’s really clever: peripheral vision is not inhibited, and the brim is designed so well that it works exactly as it should, deflecting rain quite effectively. (You’ll need to turn it back down to get that benefit!) The lower edge of the hood opening, too, allows complete freedom of movement: coverage, but not restriction.
In spite of its size, the hood did not tend to fly off in wind; another indication that the cut has been thoughtfully done. I don’t think I’ve ever worn a hooded rain garment that was anywhere nearly this well designed for function.
When I first tried on the Cleverhood at the Bike Expo, I thought it was way too broad in the shoulders. Susan said no, it was meant to be cut that way to allow for carrying a messenger bag or a pack beneath it. That made sense, and, in wearing the cape, it feels right, and the slight additional room in the shoulders, compared to everyday clothing, allows greater freedom of movement.
Beautifully finished openings for arms mean that a Cleverhood is maximally versatile; you can reach from under the cape, or, quite simply, directly through it. Best of all, the openings have hidden magnets, so they close automatically once you withdraw your arms, and won’t fly open unexpectedly. Rain and wind will not make their way into the cape through the openings, even though it’s quite easy to pop your arms in and out.
Tabs at each side allow cinching of the cape to make the profile more wind-resistant; I found that they were easy to use and worked well.
Internal thumb loops allow the cape to be held over the handlebars. This they do effectively, but I ended up feeling that they compromised my safety on my bicycle considerably, by restricting my movement a bit too much in tight situations. I would probably not use the loops while cycling unless on a very predictable trail. They are an asset when wearing the cape in all other situations, though, and keep the cape from twisting or shifting when moving rapidly by foot.
Water will pool in the apron of the cape when the thumb loops are used in rain, but beads nicely and is easily tossed off. The water-shedding capacity of the Cleverhood is impressive, and I found that it kept me dry very effectively, and shed rain beautifully.
My other concern when cycling in the Cleverhood has to do with signalling. While riding in traffic, I did not feel that I was able to signal effectively enough that I could feel confident that motorists understood my intentions. That’s a serious issue in my book, and one not easily surmounted when wearing a cape-like garment. That’s a potential difficulty with all riding capes, of course, not an issue strictly confined to Cleverhood.
Urbanites who don’t signal anyway — and they are legion! — are not likely to be bothered by this; in my part of the world, the Cleverhood is just what I want while riding cycle trails in rain. Hand signals are not an issue in those circumstances.
There is a loop at the center back neck where a light can be attached: I love this loop, which is placed perfectly so that a light can be seen whenever the hood is up. But the loop also means that the cape can be hung up without trying to get it to balance from the hood — a much easier proposition that also leads to quick drying.
The Electric Gingham Cleverhood strikes me as an excellent all-season rain cape for anyone; cycling is by no means the only use for this nifty cape. If I were an urban walker, for instance, a Cleverhood would be my all-season go-to garment — quick and simple to don, airy and light enough for steamy summer nights, and easy to wear over heavier winter gear.
I can’t imagine a better bit of travel gear, either; it’s stylish, light, extremely functional, and highly stow-able. Each comes with a pack, and is easily slipped into or removed as conditions require, but this version, the Electric Gingham, also fits nicely into a small Eagle Creek packing cube, with a bit of room to spare.
Different weights of Cleverhood may not tuck in quite as well as the Electric Gingham, but might work best under other circumstances: There’s a beautiful brown corduroy version, too, for example!
Cleverhoods are pricey, but, in my estimation, well worth the cost. Value for money comes from buying lasting goods that do the job — whatever it is — well. Amortized over a useful lifetime, a high initial expenditure often turns out to be the most economical choice. (Think Brompton bicycles!) There’s another wonderful reason to buy Cleverhood, too: Cleverhood is a USA firm, and, as noted on the website, Cleverhoods are “designed, crafted and manufactured in the US”. Sweet — that’s buying power a consumer can feel good about!
The Cleverhood originallly featured in this review was a sample supplied to me for feedback on the new, smaller, size. It has since been returned to Cleverhood, but I was so taken with the cape that I bought my own, which was supplied at a discount. Judge my words accordingly!