Don’t let the wet and cold of winter send you running to your turbo! Invest in a decent winter jacket and you can take on the worst that Mother Nature can throw at you.
Deep winter is when weaknesses in your cycling wardrobe will be quickly and ruthlessly exposed by the elements. We've run regular features on the best kit for winter riding, including bib shorts, bib tights, packable waterproofs and gloves, but ensuring you have an effective winter jacket is essential if you are going to endure a winter training regime.
There is now a myriad of jackets to choose from that accommodate all tastes, shapes and wallets. As jackets tend to occupy the more expensive end of the price spectrum it's important you opt for one that suits the weather conditions you are most likely to ride in. So if cycling through a deluge is your idea of winter fun, then you'll need to invest in a top layer that is going to provide the necessary protection.
We are fortunate that fabrics have developed considerably over the last decade and the jackets of today provide a level of protection and performance that cyclists from bygone eras never had the fortune to experience. There are several distinct choices of jacket for the road cyclist, all engineered for different climatic conditions and tempos, though as fabric technology develops year on year, the distinction between these variants is diminishing. Take Rapha’s Classic Winter Jacket for example, which is new for AW16 (and reviewed below), which is essentially an amalgamation of their bestselling hardshell and softshell jackets. Fabric technology has made these two perennial workhorses almost obsolete!
A windproof worn over a baselayer a windproof jacket, as the name suggests, will keep you protected from cold wind and temperatures, but only limited protection against light rain. They do, however, provide excellent breathability and ventilation, so are a good choice if you are riding at a sustained higher tempo. A windproof gilet, at the very least, is a great investment, especially one that can be stashed away in a rear pocket and will provide that extra level of protection when most needed.
Softshell: windproof and water resistant with good breathability, softshells are perfect for riding in inclement, changing conditions where rain is expected, but unlikely to be heavy or continual. Softshells can be worn over a baselayer and as many incorporate thermal linings, you can happily ride out in temperatures when the mercury is around freezing. A versatile and great all-rounder - if you are going to own one winter jacket, make it a softshell and stow away a packable waterproof for when the rain really buckets down or alternatively opt for a softshell that has been treated with a Durable Water Repellency (DWR) coating, like the example from Sportful below.
Waterproof and Hardshell jackets incorporate a membrane comprised of microscopic pores that allow body moisture to be released, but are small enough to stop water droplets getting from the outside getting in. As well as the membrane, waterproof jackets will often have a DWR coating too.
The effectiveness of a waterproof fabric is measured by its waterproof rating, which is measured in millimetres using a hydrostatic head waterproof test. To be classed as ‘waterproof’ a fabric must have a rating of 1500mm. 10,000 or above is seen as highly waterproof and should be able to contend with substantial downpours. Unfortunately, a certain level of breathability is always going to be compromised with a waterproof, but fabric technology is improving the aeration afforded by waterproof garments year on year.
Any decent hardshell will have taped seams and a tight neckline and cuffs to ensure water ingress is kept to a minimum. Hardshells have traditionally been used as part of a layering system, but contemporary fabrics allow for them to be paired with just a base layer and/or a winter jersey. Hardshells are not ideal if riding at a higher tempo as the membrane will not be able to efficiently expel the moisture from your body as your temperature rises, so it’s advisable to fork out for premium fabrics like Gore-tex or Vent-X-Air as they will allow your sweat, in the form of water molecules, to escape more effectively, keeping your body dry.
Winter jacket design and features
Keep a keen eye on the cut and the features of the jacket you are considering buying. A slimmer, less forgiving cut will minimise the risk of excess material flapping around or chaffing, especially if wet. Ensure the jacket has a high collar for added warmth and accessible and robust fastenings and secure hems and cuffs.
To protect your backside from road spray, a lower cut to the rear of the jacket is important or alternatively a rain flap, which can be quickly flipped down. Ensure that you have adequate arm length so that the sleeves do not ride up, exposing your skin to the elements. These are all basic necessities and even jackets in the lower price bracket should include these features.
You can take a lot of extra gear on a winter ride - a packable waterproof or gilet, an extra inner tube perhaps and accessories like hats and shades may need to be stashed away, so ensuring you have enough pockets for storage is important, especially if you don't use a saddlebag.
Other features to look out for are 'pit zips' under the arms, which really help ventilation, whilst others may incorporate venting on the rear to aid airflow around the body. Given the seasons you are likely to be wearing a jacket of this type, reflective detailing is important, so ensure the jacket you go for has enough to keep you reassured that car headlights will illuminate you in murkier conditions. Alternatively, opt for a hi-viz fabric or brighter colours.
Check out the quality of the zips and fastenings. Are they sturdy and good quality? Do they have adequate ring pulls so that they can be easily operated when wearing thicker gloves? Do they have storm flaps to stop drafts slipping through? They may be small details, but can make a massive difference of how effectively a jacket performs. .
Winter clothing and accessories are a constant topic of conversation between cyclists, so clock what other cyclists are wearing in specific conditions. Ask them if they rate it and be sure to check if they have actually worn it in severe conditions? What are the strengths and weaknesses of the design? Some of the best cycling gear you will ever buy will come from a recommendations from fellow cyclists, but below are five jackets that have impressed us in the cold and wet of recent weeks.
Specialized Element SL Pro Jacket
The Element SL Pro is body hugging jacket that will appeal to those who prefer a more race orientated winter jacket and ride in an aggressive position. Short, interval based riding in the cold and damp weeks leading up to Christmas provided the perfect testing ground and though Specialized is not a brand I have worn before, several outings in this jacket suggests that their cycle clothing is worthy of further exploration.
The secret to the success of this jacket is the stretchy Event 310 fabric, which not only provides that form hugging elasticity, but also water repellence, protection from chill winds and thermal warmth. It’s a three layer system that will keep both the cold winds and the wet at bay. Additional design features, like the zip storm flap and perfectly judged neckline ensure that any ingress of water or chill are negated.
Despite the bulky feel of the Event 310 the jacket breathes remarkably well and I’ve worn this jacket in temperatures around zero, paired with a long sleeve synthetic base layer and I have never once felt the cold, even though the chill air has left my cheeks numb!
But it is not just about the fabric – too often a good jacket is let down by poor detailing, but not in this case. In fact, the additional features is the reason the design of this jacket excels. Take the cuffs, for example (pictured below): they have an inner elasticated flap that tucks inside your gloves, but the outer flap (made from a thin neoprene like material) can then be folded back over the outside of your gloves. It’s a very neat, possibly unique, feature and provides a double barrier against water ingress and suggests that the design team at Specialized really appreciate and understand the demands of winter cycling.
Other design features worthy of note is the venting under the arms. Not all softshells on the market provide the necessary breathability when riding at a higher tempo or if the temperature rises, but zips below the armpit allow for better temperature regulation and the strip of thinner, more breathable material that runs down the inner edge of the arm also helps to alleviate any heat build-up.
The zip and the zip pull are both robust and easily operated, even with thick winter gloves. The silicon gripper on the storm flap will keep the spray off your backside and there is plenty of reflective detailing on the jacket, which does not interfere with the overall design – the hi-viz strips on the wrist are well placed for improving visibility to traffic when signalling.
All in all a great jacket, though the rear pockets may not appeal to all. The reason for this is down to the black, waterproof plastic material, which is obviously utilised to keep the contents dry, but it has to be said, there is a touch of the gimp about them! OK, the material does keep the road spray from seeping through to the pocket, but the material has little stretch and though the two pockets are a decent size, they don’t feel as roomy as more conventional fabric pockets.
Access is tricky too, especially if tightly packed and I can live with a damp banana rather than spend a frustrating (and dangerous) minute grappling with the contents of my rear pocket whilst on the move. For short rides one can probably live with the lack of room, but if you are heading out for long base rides and need to take plenty of fuel, then I would recommend taking spare inner tubes, CO2 canisters and multi-tool in a saddle bag.
This is a personal view and not everyone will be overly bothered by the pocket design and many, myself included, will like the combination of just two large pockets and one single, zipped and waterproof pocket for valuables. My issues with the pockets should not detract from the fact that the Element SL Pro is a jacket very worthy of consideration for riding in atrocious winter conditions.
Specialized Element SL Pro Jacket retails at £180 and is available to buy online or via Specialized stockists.
Sportful Fiandre NoRain Jacket
It’s usually a combination of the cut, construction and the fabrics, but sometimes you pull on a new cycling garment and before you have even stepped outside, you just know from the fit and feel that it is going to do the job for which it is intended! The Fiandre NoRain Jacket from the Italian manufacturer, Sportful, is one such garment. It just oozes quality and offers all the necessary protection from the vagaries of winter weather.
As the name suggests, it will provide protection from rain showers, but it also delivers a level of warmth and paired with a long sleeve base layer, the jacket has provided reassuring warmth in the recent cold weather when the wind chill has reduced the air temperature to below zero on a couple of rides. It is not a waterproof jacket, but the silicon enhanced fabric will provide a level of water repellence that can deal with spray and sustained light rain.
The Fiandre utilises Gore’s Windstopper 4 Way material, which has a substantial feel that rightly suggests the jacket will provide thermal protection. Select the right size (the Medium on this tester’s 39” chest was perfect) and the jacket has a body hugging cut, with little sagging or creasing.
One could easily pay twice the amount for a jacket of similar quality, but despite the attractive price tag, there are no compromises. The sturdy YKK zip has a large ring pull, easily negotiated with thick gloves; the three rear pockets are expansive. The cuffs are elasticated and tight and the high neckline, with a short section of fabric that wraps higher around the back of the neck, is a wonderful feature.
Tick, tick, tick . . . and if the fluro yellow doesn’t float your boat, then you’ll appreciate the discreet, but well placed reflective accents on the hem that appear on all colour options. Sportful have also placed some reflective detailing on the cuffs, though I would have wanted to see the strips higher on the wrist, as winter gloves cover them, but apart from that minor point, it is really impossible to fault this jacket.
As softshell jackets go, there are few that could beat this offering from Sportful for quality and coming in over £50 less that some higher end manufacturers (including Sportful's sister company, Castelli) it’s a bit of a steal!
POC Raceday Thermal Jacket
Every year the distinction between what constitutes a cycling jacket, as opposed to a cycling jersey, grows ever more indistinct. Swedish manufacturer and outdoor winter sports specialist, POC, appear to have muddied the water even more with their Raceday Thermal Jacket. Whilst it offers all of the protective features of the toughest softshell, it has the feel and look of a jersey and weighs in lighter than a few thermal jerseys on the market.
The flipside, of course, is that such innovative fabrics are going to hit your wallet hard and the whopping price tag of the Raceday Thermal Jacket will leave many spluttering. At £270 it is one of the most expensive softshells on the market and whether POC will successfully exploit a small nicce in the market – namely the racers out there with a large, exposable income, remains to be seen!
The jacket may, however, appeal to those who prefer a more minimalist and paired down design. The construction is of a very high quality and the cut is stunning and the jacket hugs the body tightly, but that’s about as cosy as this jacket it going to get. No luxurious fleece lining or comforting neckline that snuggles behind the ears. Just a slimline jacket, cut short at the waist, but long in the arm and rear to offer just the right amount of protection.
Everything about this jacket is about maintaining speed and tempo in the worst winter conditions. It’s ideal for short interval training in poor conditions or for only the highest tempo longer rides. Despite its lightweight feel I have worn this with a long sleeve base layer in temperatures around the 5 °C mark and the fabric is dense enough to hold off of the cold air, though it was reassuring to have a storm flap down the zip line, which effectively shuts out any drafts whilst enhancing the overall sleek look of the jacket.
The jacket also provides very impressive breathability, aided by the tiny aeration holes (pictured below) that are positioned on the back of the jacket across the top. The underside of the arms are also cut from a lighter weight fabric, again to improve temperature regulation.
One cannot review this jacket without alluding to similar jackets and jerseys of this type – namely rain jerseys and, of course, the Castelli Gabba. From the front the resemblance to the latter does suggest the POC designers have had a sideways look at that perennial bestseller. It would be unfair, however, to accuse POC of simply ‘doing a Gabba’ as many brands have been guilty of.
This jacket is a little different. POC have dispensed with the usual three pockets and instead opted for one central pocket, covered by a very neat strop flap that ensures to rain can enter. It’s a nice design touch and the two zip pockets to either side provide further safe storage.
Finally, one has to mention the emphatic reflective detailing on the storm flap and left forearm. Now I know some people don’t like overt branding, and POC is one of the most guilty when it comes to plastering their name across their products. For this jacket, however, especially given the conditions for which it is conceived, the large POC logo on the rear is welcome and likewise the reflective logo on the left wrist – it’s just a shame it is not repeated on the right.
The POC Raceday Thermal Jacket retails at £270 and is available to buy online and via POC stockists. More information can be found on the POC Sports website.
Rapha Classic Winter Jacket
Rapha’s new Classic Winter Jacket combines all the superlative features of their bestselling winter jackets, the Classic Softshell and Classic Hardshell. Such is the advances in fabric technology in recent years, the London based brand now feels that it can happily dispense with those two perennial favourites, so now we have two rolled into one.
The Classic Winter Jacket provides the inherent suppleness and comfort of the softshell jacket, but with the hardcore protection the hardshell provided. How? Well, Rapha have utilised the Power Shield Pro fabric made by US fabric specialist, Polartec. And if you are in any doubt as to how robust this fabric is, then you'll be reassured to hear that the US Coastguard use it too! If it can fend off the worst Alaskan storms, then it should do a pretty fine job of keeping the wet and cold at bay on your winter rides.
To the eye, the Classic Winter Jacket looks just like the old Hardshell – the main difference being the addition of zip flaps under the arms, for additional aeration when required. The discreet reflective piping first seen on the hardhshell is also retained, as much a design feature as a safety one, but now stops just below the neckline. The addition of the hi-viz pink storm flap (with reflective Rapha logo), housed in a neat zipped pouch just inside the rear hemline, is an excellent feature and a nod to the storm flap of the old softshell jacket. Gone is the faux-leather shoulder pad of the latter, which some might lament.
It’s difficult to fault this jacket, which is even more impressive given the simplicity of the design. It’s not overtly flashy or branded, but the features you would expect and hope to find on a winter jacket are all perfectly present and correct.
Rapha have taken an innovative, highly technical fabric and combined it with quality construction to create a form-fitting jacket that performs over a wide temperature range. Paired with a long sleeve baselayer, I have worn this in temperatures just above freezing, but with significant wind chill, and forgotten about the cold. If you can fit a long sleeve jersey underneath (I struggle to with the Medium size over my 40” chest) then I suspect you could happily ride out in sub-zero temperatures.
I’ve also worn in on milder rides and in rain and misty damp and my core has felt warm throughout. The taped seams, elasticated cuffs and well cut neckline ensured protection from any unwanted intrusion of rain. Above 8°C and I did find that the jacket is just too warm when riding at a higher tempo or on sustained climbs, but pair it with a sleeveless baselayer and the lightweight feel would make it comfortable in milder conditions. Despite the fact it weighs in at 30 grams more that the old hardshell (410g to 380g) the Classic Winter Jacket feels far less substantial in the hand, softer on the body and more akin to wearing a robust jersey than a jacket.
It may not be the most competitively priced jacket on the market, but the quality of the construction and the timeless design should make this a jacket one is likely to use for several harsh winters.
The Rapha Classic Winter Jacket retails at £260 and comes in a good range of colours, including the hi-viz Chartreuse. It is available to purchase exclusively on the Rapha website.
dhb Women’s Classic Rain Shell Jacket
Available in both a Women’s and Men’s version, the dhb Classic Rain Shell has impressive waterproof rating of 10,000mm, which must make it one of the most competitively priced highly waterproof jackets on the market.
I’m 5’5 and weigh 59 kilos and the size 12 tested was a good fit – long in the arm, not too tight around the chest and cut high on the waist, but longer on the rear to offer some extra protection from road spray.
It boasts all the features you would want in a rain jacket – tight elasticated cuffs, a neckline cosily lined in fleece and the storm flap beneath the zip line helps to keep the cold air from chilling your core.
The single ‘stuffit’ pocket (see picture below) doubles as a bag to contain the jacket, making it easy and quick to stow away in a rear pocket. What I like about this jacket, especially given the price, is the overall quality and features – nothing has been compromised to make the jacket more affordable – everything smacks of quality.
The Women’s Classic Rain Shell comes in a good selection of colours – I particularly like the minimalist design of the navy/blue tested as it is contemporary in feel, but the band across the chest is a subtle retro detail.
Breathability is more than adequate, but for higher tempo riding I would opt for a garment that utilises a more technical fabric, but if you need a good quality waterproof to wear if you are riding with the likelihood of hitting some rain showers or even want to ward off the early morning chill before you warm up, then this is certainly an option worth considering. It’s also lightweight and easily stowed away.
Both the Women’s and the Men’s version retails at £60, though you would be unfortunate to have to pay that amount, given Wiggle’s constant discounts. The jacket is also available to buy, albeit at the full price and in fewer options, via Chain Reaction Cycles where you will also find the Men’s version too.
For another extensive review of the Men’s version of this jacket, please check out the review posted by Wheelsuckers member, Mark Howard.
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