The challenge that I face in the American Pacific Northwest is that in the winter it’s also wet. I rarely experience days that are cold and dry and I’m hardly alone. Despite this common need, many of the products available focus on relatively warm wet weather or dry and cold. As I worked on updating our best winter cycling jackets buyers guide this year, I considered it part of my responsibility to find the options aimed at filling this gap in the market.
The Bioracer Kaaiman jacket stood out as different as soon as I looked at it. At the time I didn’t quite know why but I knew it wasn’t going to leak and that was enough to start down the path of investigation. Then the fact that it was different came up again as I worked on a deep dive into how PFC bans are set to change the face of all waterproof garments. It turns out the technology is a throwback and it might come up even more in the future.
This jacket is one piece in a new narrative about how to stay dry and warm as the world changes, but is it good? Now that I’ve spent time testing it in a variety of situations, I’m ready to discuss what it does best and why you might choose the Kaaiman instead of something else. Keep reading if you, like me, are always intrigued by a new way to handle the coldest, wettest, winter riding.
Design and aesthetics
As I said, right away I knew the Bioracer Kaaiman jacket was different. Pricing puts it in the same league as a variety of two-layer shell jackets but it’s not the same. Those same jackets tend to have a low-stretch exterior that feels like fabric and a plasticky interior. The Kaaiman is high-stretch and the exterior comes in black, fluo yellow, or fluo orange with no sense of being fabric.
Right away, I wanted to know more about what was going on. Bioracer reported that the brand was using a ‘PU coating’ but I wasn’t clear what that meant until the PFC article. As it turns out, I didn’t get it because I tend to spend the bulk of my time investigating the latest high-tech fabric solutions. PU stands for polyurethane and used like this, it’s far from cutting edge.
PU-coated rain jackets aren’t new and they are rarely associated with high performance. The quest for wonder materials has led most brands down the path of waterproof breathable membranes and that’s not what this design is about. The exterior of the Kaaiman feels like rubberized plastic because that’s what it is. There is no membrane and it doesn’t breathe. It also doesn’t leak or hold water on the outside. There’s no high-tech durable water repellent coating and no need for one. Taped seams and a waterproof zipper make sure that there is no opportunity for ingress in those areas either.
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Coupled with the waterproof non-breathable exterior is a dimpled interior. You can see and feel the dimples on the outside as well but that’s only because the PU coating does nothing to hide them. It’s the interior where they are important. As Bioracer explains it, the “dimples create a spacer effect between the cyclist’s body and the coating, causing it to stick less.” Further explaining, the “dimples also make sure there is room for air to circulate between the body and the coating.”
The last part of the design that makes it all work is the venting. The fabric is completely non-breathable and the interior dimples create space but it’s the venting that Bioracer tasks with getting the heat and moisture out of the jacket. Just below the shoulder blades, there is a slit that crosses the entire rear of the jacket. The upper section overlaps the lower keeping rain from coming in and there’s a stitch in the centre holding the flap closed. The upper and lower are also intentionally not quite the same length. It creates small openings to release air that don’t ever fully close in an effort to aid exhaust flow.
As always, that’s a nice story. Bioracer is using older technology and pairing it with smart design to offer a performance advantage. Does it work though? Also as usual, it’s kind of complicated and depends on what you are looking for.
The things that Bioracer gets right about the Kaaiman are all the pieces that relate to being a cyclist wearing a garment. This is obviously a company that understands riding a bike. The Kaaiman excels at fit and feel starting with excellent tailoring choices. This isn’t a form-fitting jacket but it avoids the boxy ill-fitting look some inexpensive jackets are prone to. You can easily get a fitted mid-layer underneath and at the same time, the shoulders aren’t pointy or wide. The arms are the right length for reaching forward and taper out to a comfy bit of elastic and silicone grip on the inside.
The rear is where the genius tailoring really shows up. The front is quite short but in the rear, it’s almost excessively long. As your back curves forward there’s plenty of length in the jacket to follow. The lower rear is plenty long but it’s also cut almost like a pocket. Go ahead and load up the pockets of your mid-layer, there’s plenty of room for that too. The very end of the tail hugs the upper glutes and the same wide elastic of the arms gathers it in a curve and keeps it from moving.
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The rest of the details come together too. The high-stretch fabric is comfortable no matter how you move. The neckline is tall and there is a full-length backing to the zipper that makes sure it never catches on the neck. The inner fabric feels good against the skin as well.
What I haven’t really mentioned so far is the breathability, and that’s because there’s no magic here. The fabric has no membrane to breathe and you are asking everything to work because of airflow. It really doesn’t and when I tested on a dry day with temps around 3C/37F, the 7mesh Seton mid-layer I had on was wet from sweat after an hour’s ride. It’s easy enough to unzip a bit and if you do that, the rear venting does indeed work very well but you can’t always do that.
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The one absolute that Bioracer needs to fix on the Kaaiman is the lack of a double zipper. There’s no way to access your pockets and I have run into issues with that in the past. Specifically, it’s tough when racing given you can’t stop for a moment and take your time grabbing food. This is a perfect option for muddy gravel racing so if that’s what you have in mind, a top tube bag might be a better food stash location.
Outside of that, things get complicated. I’ve never tested an inexpensive rain shell that was magic; they all end up waterlogged and wet from sweat. It turns out what really happens is that when the outer material holds water, the membrane no longer evacuates sweat and you soak yourself from the inside. There are some very expensive solutions to that, the soon to be disappearing Shakedry jackets or the Assos Johdah come to mind, but if you are looking for something less pricey then the Kaaiman might be the ticket.
You will soak yourself from the inside, that part hasn’t changed and might happen even a bit sooner unless you run the zip down a little to aid the intentional airflow. What’s different is that the PU outer doesn’t hold cold rainwater, so you will find yourself warm but wet, and there are situations where that is the better choice.
The other choice you will want to think about is packability. The Bioracer Kaaiman isn’t very packable. That’s not a negative to me but it might be to you. This is the jacket I would grab for the worst days when I know I won’t need to change. If you suspect variable weather a more packable option will do a better job.
|Design and aesthetics||A smart design makes the most of low-tech fabrics and the tailoring is a high-point.||8/10|
|Thermal management||You will get wet from the inside but water won’t sit on the outside and you find yourself warm and wet.||8/10|
|Storage||No pockets and no strategy for accessing pockets. The only reason for some points is the high-stretch fabric and great tailoring means it’s possible to pull it up.||4/10|
|Comfort and fit||Perfect sizing and incredibly comfortable.||10/10|
|Value||Full price is a tough sell but it’s rarely full price. Discounts are typically around 50% off and that makes it a great bargain with plenty of performance.||10/10|
|Overall||Row 5 – Cell 1||80%|
Tech Specs: Bioracer Kaaiman jacket
- Price: €189,00 and currently marked down to €94,50
- Weight: 509 grams in size medium
- Size availability: XXS, XS, S, M, L, XL, XXL
- Colour Options: black, fluo yellow, or fluo orange
- Materials: PU coated 75% polyamide, 25% elastane