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.
But first of all, here’s what to look for in a winter cycling jacket.
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.
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.
Reflective detailing or high-visibility colours
It goes without saying that if you’re riding in the dark, you need both front and rear bike lights. 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.
WorldTour-proven jacket for training and racing in foul conditions
Designed for training and racing in cold and wet conditions, the Fiandre Pro Jacket was developed in collaboration with WorldTour riders such as Daniel Oss of Bora-Hansgrohe.
It’s made from the super stretchy, wind and waterproof Polartec NeoShell fabric – which Polartec claims is the world’s most breathable waterproof fabric technology – and features fully taped seams, plus a waterproof zipper for even greater protection from the elements.
As the ‘Pro’ moniker suggests, the cut is designed for the lithe bodies of professional cyclists, and it fits best when riding in a racy position. It’s definitely one you want to consider sizing up if you’re simply a normal person or just want to be able to layer up underneath.
Castelli’s famous Gabba jersey with the versatility of a full jacket
Castelli’s much loved Gabba jersey/jacket (which had its breakout moment in the snow at the 2013-Milan San Remo) with removable half sleeves.
The addition of taped seams and updated fabrics bring new levels of waterproofness and comfort, without increasing the jacket’s bulk – so it’s still cut for racing. If you want to layer up underneath it, consider sizing up.
Castelli recommends a wide temperature range of 4 to 16°C, so while this jacket won’t be suitable for the coldest winter days, it might be the most versatile jacket on this list.
Lots of features you'd expect for a higher price
The Arsuxedo Winter Warm Up jacket takes a lot of the technologies you’d expect to find in high-end winter jackets and wraps them up into a neat and budget-friendly package.
Its three-layer construction consists of an outer windbreaker surface that beads moisture and prevents stains from forming. Below this is a waterproof membrane that is also breathable to prevent that ‘boil in the bag’ feeling that no one enjoys while cycling, and then finally the innermost lining is a soft-to-the-touch fleece to keep you warm.
Available in 7 colors, four of which are particularly eye-catching, plus reflective detailing on the back, this jacket’s sure to keep you visible as well as warm. The stretch inserts and long cuffs provide a cycling-specific fit that keeps you covered against the elements, while the two rear pockets (one zippered) can stash your essentials.
Casual jacket that blends in while off the bike
This fleece jacket from Inbike is much more casual, making it a great option if you find yourself regularly parking up your bike and going on foot for a while. It’s especially good if you don’t like wearing clothes that scream ‘cyclist’ at everyone around you. The style, the fit, and the detachable hood all contribute to helping you blend in.
The jacket’s constructed from five different fabrics which work together to help you stay warm in cold weather. These include an outer windproof composite fabric to keep the chill at bay, and an inner fleece lining for comfort and warmth. The look of the jacket has been carefully considered, but its practicality hasn’t been compromised. Concealed windproof cuffs and an elasticated hem help to keep your body sealed up away from the cold, while concealed YKK zippers keep the jacket looking casual while also providing ample storage. You can also open the zippers to create more airflow, if you overheat. Finally a reflective strip at the back helps you stay visible at night.
Best for when the temperature plummets below 40 F
The Przewalski Winter Thermal jacket’s ability to warm is clear from the sheer number of customer reviews confirming it. If the temperature drops below 40 degrees, this will do the job of warming you back up again. Its windproof and water resistant outer shell helps keep the chill away, the internal draft flap seals in the warmth, and the high-cut collar keeps your neck fully covered.
Breathable fabric under the arms and on the back allows your skin to breathe, and the jacket features a full length zipper for easy ventilation. There’s plenty of storage, with a chest pocket and two large side pockets. Reflective details help you to stay seen as the days get shorter and the evenings become darker. The fit is close, which is perfect for cycling, however if you prefer to wear a thick layer beneath, then the manufacturer recommends sizing up.
There’s no question that you’ll be seen in low light
This high-visibility cycling jacket from DFTD will make sure that no matter how late it gets, drivers will be able to see you on the road. For daytime use, the fluorescent yellow material will help you to stand out, while at night, the huge panels of reflective material will make you literally glow in the dark as soon as a car’s headlights shine on you.
The jacket comes with four pockets - two external side pockets, one mini chest pocket, and an internal mesh pocket - so you have plenty of room to store your essentials. The inner mesh lining helps to wick away sweat and stops the plastic-feeling outer material from sticking to you, which is important when you’re working up a sweat!
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