Here's all you need to know about winter cycling jackets to keep you out on your bike this winter
Want to stay out on the road and off the dreaded turbo trainer this winter? Then you’re going to need a good winter cycling jacket. The difficulty is that you’re never quite sure what the British winter is going to throw at you. It can be mild and dry one day, and blizzard conditions, so how should you dress to cope with these conditons?
Different types of winter cycling jacket
Let’s make one thing clear from the off, it’s pretty hard to find a single winter cycling jacket that will get you through all the weather Britain will throw at you during the coldest three months of the year.
Instead, you’re probably going to have to prioritise either staying warm or staying dry, or shell out a hell of a lot of money for a winter cycling jacket that will keep you warm and dry through all conditions, while still retaining breathability.
If you’re just going to choose one winter cycling jacket to buy this winter, then your priority is probably going to be to stay warm. This means that you’re going to be looking for a jacket that is windproof to keep the cold out, and well-insulated to keep your warmth in.
Many jackets designed to keep you warm will be made from Gore Windstopper fabric (or equivalent). This means that the jacket will have three layers: an inner lining, a middle Windstopper membrane that is completely windproof, and an outer layer.
This design will keep the wind at bay, while retaining breathability, and the outer layer will also often be given a water-resistant treatment, meaning that this sort of winter cycling jacket will also keep you dry through light rain and showers.
For really cold conditions, insulation begins to play more of a role. Of course you could create insulation by wearing multiple layers underneath a basic windproof jacket, but this can prove bulky and uncomfortable, so a winter cycling jacket with more insulation might be a better option.
An increasing number of winter cycling jackets are beginning to draw on technology from cross country skiing, which means using pockets of padded insulation in order to keep warmth in. This sort of jacket might look a bit odd, but offers some serious warmth.
However if you live somewhere which is rarely seriously cold, but often very wet during winter (Cornwall, for example), then a good waterproof cycling jacket is going to be a bigger priority.
If you want a full guide to waterproof jackets, then we’ve got that covered, but the basics are that this type of jacket is designed to keep you dry rather than warm.
The outer layer should be completely waterproof and windproof, but there’s little in the way of insulation, so if you want to stay warm at the same time, then you’re going to have to layer up underneath.
Of course there are winter cycling jackets on the market that will keep you warm and dry through even the most apocalyptic conditions, but you can expect to pay dearly for such garments.
This sort of winter cycling jacket has a similar construction to the jackets that are designed to keep you warm, but instead of a middle layer that is just windproof, they will use a layer of fabric that is both windproof and waterproof, such as Gore-Tex or Polartec Neoshell. What this design means is that you are kept as warm as you are with a softshell jacket, but with the added waterproofing of a waterproof jacket, all the time maintaining breathability.
Although this basic construction will largely decide the level of protection that a winter cycling jacket can offer, there are a number of other features that you want to look for in order to make sure you’re buying the best jacket for you.
The most important features to look for are a high neck and long, well-fitted cuffs, both of which will only help to add to the warmth of your new winter cycling jacket. The high neck can be combined with a buff for even more warmth, while the cuffs should also be elasticated and reasonably tight fitting to allow you to secure winter gloves over the top.
You should also be on the look out for a winter cycling jacket with a good quality zip. This is not only important if you want to wear the jacket for multiple winters, but can also be windproofed or even waterproofed for added protection. If you’re wearing bulky winter gloves, it can also be good to have a decent sized tag to hold onto if you need to loosen the zip mid-ride.
Pockets are just as important in winter jackets as they are in summer jerseys, as you’re going to need a decent amount of storage for provisions as you eat up those winter miles. Of course, you could always wear a jersey underneath and keep your food and valuables in there, but in milder conditions you might just want to wear a winter baselayer underneath.
Finally, for riding in the rain or over wet roads, then it can be good to look for a jacket with a dropped tail, helping to keep your bum nice and dry from water thrown up by your back wheel.
Our pick of the best winter cycling jackets
How much should I pay?
If you’re after a single winter jacket to wear every day between November and March then there’s no avoiding the fact that it’s going to cost you up to and even over £200.
However if you’re not going to be out in blizzard conditions or when it’s raining with the temperature teetering above zero, then there’s no need to splash out quite as much. There are plenty of options around for under £100, which can match the warmth of more expensive jackets if you layer up underneath.
How we score
10 – Superb, best in its class and we couldn’t fault it
9 – Excellent, a slight change and it would be perfect
8 – Brilliant, we’d happily buy it
7 – Solid, but there’s better out there
6 – Pretty good, but not quite hitting the mark
5 – OK. Not much wrong with it, but nothing special
4 – A few niggles let this down
3 – Disappointing
2 – Poor, approach with caution
1 – Terrible, do not buy this product