It might not be the most glamorous part of the cycling season, but riding during the winter is a fact of life for most cyclists.
Whether you’re racing, training or just commuting to work, the specific demands of cycling in the harsh conditions aren’t easily met, and if you want to stay comfortable out on the road, getting your clothing choices right is vital.
Jackets, in particular, are a key piece of your armoury, as while your legs will generate some heat through use, protecting your core and arms from the elements is paramount to keeping you warm and in control of your bike.
The choice used to be limited to fleeced long sleeve jerseys or plastic rain capes. But development and innovation in fabrics and fit means that clothing for cold and wet conditions has come on in leaps and bounds over the last few years.
What to look for in a winter cycling jacket
1. Windproof fabrics
While the wind helps keep you cool and dry in the summer, it’s one of your worst enemies in the winter. Windproof fabrics do just as they say and block the wind from passing through the fabric and cooling you down.
It used to be that windproof fabrics lacked breathability and you would, therefore, end up cold and wet simply from your own sweat. But modern fabrics have vastly improved in this regard.
Many brands also strategically use panels of different materials across their jackets – with heavier, less breathable fabrics on the front, and lighter, more breathable fabrics on the rear, for example.
Alternatively, some jackets, especially those which use heavier fabrics, incorporate zippered vents that can be opened and closed to further regulate ventilation.
2. Water repellency
Along with lower temperatures, winter also brings rain. In constant rain, you’ll likely be better off with a fully waterproof jacket. But on more changeable days, a softshell jacket with water repellent fabrics or Durable Water Repellent (DWR) treatment is best.
These jackets can shrug off road spray or a short shower, but usually offer better fit, comfort and breathability than a dedicated waterproof jacket.
There can be a downside though – these treatments and membranes can often reduce breathability, although the penalty with high-end modern fabrics is small. The perfect jacket for a slightly warmer, wet day might not be best for a cold, dry day, where you really don’t want your own sweat to make you cold.
As with all cycling clothing, winter jackets come in a range of fits. Some will be designed to be form-fitting and aerodynamic, often with racers in mind. Others will have looser fits, with consideration for fit off the bike, and the ability to layer up underneath for added versatility or protection.
There are some jackets that try to do it all, but most specialise and target a specific type of rider and usage.
The jackets chosen here have been selected with road use in mind, and therefore largely prioritise a close, aerodynamic fit, to varying degrees. While any of these will work just fine for off-road or MTB use, we’d still suggest looking for mountain bike jackets that have been specifically designed for those disciplines if you’re intending to dedicate a lot of your riding time to them.
4. Reflective detailing or high-visibility colours
It goes without saying that if you’re riding in the dark, you need lights for your bike. Don’t overlook reflective detailing and/or high-visibility colours for your clothing, however.
If the clouds close in, or if you end up staying out slightly longer than planned, light levels can drop, and bright colouring or added reflective elements will help other road users spot you out on the road.
Furthermore, high-visibility doesn’t have to mean you look like you’re wearing safety equipment anymore, with many brands now offering a range of colours beyond fluorescent yellow.