Choosing the correct cycling jackets can make cycling in adverse weather much more tolerable and, dare we say, enjoyable. Cycling jackets can come in a variety of different materials and styles - each one being perfect for different types of riding or weather conditions and giving different characteristics depending on what you want to do.
Contents and Quick Links
- Waterproofing and Breathability Explained
- Types of Cycling Jackets
- Cycling Jackets for Different Seasons
- Cycling Jackets for Different Disciplines
- Our Top Cycling Jackets
We are going to take a look at a lot of different cycling jackets from soft shells to full on waterproof cycling jackets and what features and benefits they have for different types of cycling whether it's a road cycling jacket, commuter jacket or mountain bike jackets. Our advice for buying anything cycling related is that you get what you pay for. Often, when you buy a cheap piece of cycling clothing, you will likely end up buying 3 or 4 of these types of cycling jackets for 1 of a better quality so we believe it pays to invest up front as, aside from making cycling more enjoyable, it will save you money in the long run.
Before diving into the types of cycling jackets, it will be handy to talk briefly about some of the frequently used terms associated with cycling clothing. Two of the main phrases you will hear are 'breathability' and 'waterproof' and while these may seem self explanatory, it is is worth going into a bit of detail before we continue with the blog.
Waterproof cycling jackets
Cycling jackets, or any apparel for that matter, will be deemed waterproof only if they withstand at least 1500mm of water using the hydrostatic head test where the measurement is how high a column of water needs to be above a sample of fabric before it seeps through. The main important issue here is that the larger the number, the more waterproof the jacket with some of the best waterproof cycling jackets reaching 20000mm and up.
Another main factor of the waterproofness is having taped seams as seams are the most likely place water will get through. Have a look to see if your potential cycling jacket has taped seams before buying if you are concerned with your cycling jackets being as waterproof as possible.
Breathability is a bit more of a complicated concept and should really be taken as bigger number=better, but for those who want to know, breathability is tested with what's known as the MVTR test (Moisture Vapour Transmission Rate) and determines how much vapour will permeate through a fabric and is measured in grams per meter per day but as we have said, the bigger the number, the more breathable it is. Some cycling jackets can reach upwards of 30,000.
Breathability is very important in cycling clothing as you do not want to invest in a waterproof cycling jacket to keep the rain off you, just to be soaked in sweat when you reach your destination.
Waterproof and breathability together
It is useful to consider these two factors together when considering which cycling jackets to buy and, understandably, the more waterproof and breathable, the more expensive the jacket. Chances are, if you find a cheaper jacket that is waterproof, it will have a relatively low breathability and the same goes for a cheaper jacket with high breathability - the waterproofing will be quite low.
The cycling discipline you choose will have a bearing on what jacket would be best as breathability will be very important to performance riders in the road, gravel and mountain bike categories as you will generally be expending more effort and therefore sweating more while some commuters and certainly electric bike riders will expend less energy, sweat less and will be able to choose a jacket that does not necessarily need a high level of breathability but there will be personal preference involved in this decision.
The bottom line is - the choice will be made by you looking at your own individual style and type of riding. But to sum up with type and style -
High energy, all weather = High breathability & high waterproofing
High energy, fair weather = High breathability will more likely be the priority
Low energy, all weather = Waterproofing will likely be the priority
Low energy, fair weather = Individual preference with the emphasis probably being on being warm or cool enough.
Types of Cycling jacket
The first thing to pay attention to is the type of jacket you are after as there can be windproof cycling jackets, waterproof jackets and soft-shell or hardshell jackets on the market each offering a slightly different benefit.
Windproof jackets are designed exactly for that - protection against the wind - but what does this actually mean? This will usually mean that the jacket will have strategically placed thermal panelling where you are most likely to get chill from the wind ,a.k.a the front, shoulders and arms of the jacket, while the back of the jersey will be made with a lightweight material with no windproof panelling to make the jacket really breathable to wick away the sweat.
The downside of windproof jackets is that they do not usually have a high degree of waterproofing but will rather have what's referred to as 'Durable Water Repellency' or DWR that beads up light rain and sheds this off but is effective only against very brief showers as any sustained rain will leak straight through.
These jackets will offer waterproof properties but as we mentioned earlier, there is not just one level of waterproofing - this is a sliding scale with a jacket deemed waterproof if it measures at least 1500mm on the hydrostatic head test but can measure 20,000mm and above for the best waterproof cycling jackets.
When adding waterproofing, it used to be the case that you would sacrifice breathability and this will likely still be the case for cheaper cycling jackets but the more you spend, the more both numbers will rise giving you a jacket that keeps you dry for longer but keeps you comfortable by letting sweat out at a high rate.
Softshell jackets will be designed for slightly adverse weather but are more focused on the breathability aspect as they will be treated with Durable Water Repellency DWR (or equivalent) but are not designed to keep you dry for long. The beauty of these jackets is that they allow some moisture through but they keep you warm on longer days. A lot of thermal jackets are softshells to keep you warm but comfortable when cycling in cold and wet weather.
From these descriptions, you can already see there will be different combinations that will be better for different weather and the different seasons. Next, we will have a look at these intended usages and how this may affect your decisions of which to opt for.
What conditions are you looking for protection from?
As we mentioned above, what conditions you are looking to ride in will affect which choice will be best for you and that usually means the seasons. We all know that the British weather can be changeable at best so planning for the worst of the weather or conditions you will face is a good plan but you can know generally what the weather will be like for each month of the year.
So here in UK, we would expect this to mean double figures temperature and chances of rain that will take the temperature down a little. There will be a great deal of personal preference here as to whether you want to wear a very breathable lightweight soft-shell to prepare for any eventuality or do you want to wear your normal cycling gear but carry a super-lightweight packable waterproof jacket that you can put on if the rain comes along.
If we were to make a call here - it would be to wear your normal cycling clothing and have an emergency packable waterproof with you for if and when the rain comes.
As we all know, Spring and Autumn can be a bit chilly on some mornings but actually relatively warm on others. Here, there are two choices -
1) A short sleeved soft-shell with good breathability, warmth and water repellency but couple this up with some water resistant arm warmers to protect yourself against the chill but having the option to remove the arm warmers if you get too warm when the temperature rises later on.
2) Another choice is to use warmer layers underneath such as a soft-shell jersey but carrying a lightweight packable waterproof for the colder temperatures or if the rain surprises you.
The difference with winter is we know that, more often than not, it will be cold so this would usually rule out carrying extra equipment and stopping to change so you would normally opt for a cycling jacket that does a bit of everything - thermal, waterproof but breathable too as it is easy to overheat if you are going hard on your ride. Where the versatility comes in to it is what you wear underneath. If you have a good waterproof jacket, you can layer underneath dependent on just how cold it is so we would usually opt for a good waterproof jacket that you can wear a base layer or jersey underneath. Again, there are a couple of options here:-
1) Opting for a very high quality thermal waterproof cycling jacket that you can wear on it's own for the whole of winter but the downside here is that there will be some rides where you will overheat.
2) Opt for a good waterproof jacket that is lighter on the thermal qualities and keep yourself warmer or cooler with what you decide to layer up with - freezing cold morning? Thermal base layer, jersey and then your waterproof jacket. A bit warmer? mix and match the layers accordingly or get rid of one or more layer completely. The downside of this option is that there are more items to buy outright but you will be more comfortable in more temperatures and conditions.
The last factor to consider when buying a waterproof jacket, aside from all the factors mentioned preciously, is the discipline you are riding as they will all have different considerations whether you are looking for a road cycling jacket, mountain bike jackets, a jacket for commuting or are leisure riding on an electric bike.
One of the main factors of road riding generally is being as efficient as possible and with the clothing, this is no different. What this means is that the jackets are usually designed to be tight fitting to be faster aerodynamically as any extra, flappy material will count against you getting those PB's. When trying on road cycling jackets, bear in mind that they are designed to fit snug while in a road cycling position and not standing up in a dressing room so we always advise simulating the road position when you have the jacket on.
Gravel Cycling jackets
Gravel cycling jackets will be similar to road cycling jackets in terms of being designed to fit snug when in the drop bar position but some will be made a little more robust as a spill on a gravel or cyclocross ride is a little more likely than on a road bike. The skill here is making robust and versatile clothing while still providing all day comfort.
Mountain Bike jackets
Due to the rigours of mountain biking, you will likely find MTB jackets will be made with more robust materials as taking a spill is more likely than on a hybrid bike or road bike. Mountain biking jackets will also come with the option of a hood but we find this is a matter or personal preference. Mountain biking jackets can be worn a little baggier than road jackets as aerodynamics is not as important as rider skill and gravity but also, you don't want to have anything so baggy it will catch on trees.
This is very much a case or rider choice - you want to go tight to be as efficient as possible? go for it! if you do not like the close fitting clothing, wear something a little baggier. The important thing here is being comfortable in the rain or the cold using all the advice above when deciding on the best jacket for you.
Electric Bike jackets
The biggest difference with electric bike cyclist is usually the fact that less energy is being expended but this can also bring up some unique decisions. If you are not using as much energy, you will not be keeping yourself as warm as on a non-electric bike so most, if not all, of the warmth will come from the jacket you choose. The positive side of this is that - since you are not using as much energy, you will not be sweating as much so do not require as breathable jacket as for the other disciplines.
On the other hand, if you are riding an electric bike in winter, you will need to factor in that you may not be using energy that will otherwise keep you warm like on a non-electric bike so you will need to rely more on the jacket being thermal or you can, of course, layer up to fend off the cold weather.
Top cycling jackets
Now we will have a look at some of the top cycling jackets to make your journey, whatever discipline you're in, much more enjoyable. Here, we have some road, mountain, gravel and electric bike jackets.
Is this technically a jacket? Well, it's made the list anyway. The Endura Hummvee Gilet is your ideal versatile top for starting off a chilly day with an extra layer that features windproof panels to keep the wind chill off you and DWR to repel some light rain. The beauty of this top is that, once you have warmed up, you can pack this down and fit it easily in a back pocket.
See all Endura cycling Jackets
A great balance of waterproofing and breathability for the money. 10,000 rated in the waterproof scale and 10,000 in breathability. High viz yellow for enhanced visibility that makes this an ideal jacket for the commuter.
A feature packed jacket for the urban rider, the Strobe jacket is offered in two bright colour choices, with exclamation point detail finishing and reflective trim at the sleeves and waist at a very reasonable price. 5000/5000 waterproof and breathability rated for light showers and relatively low energy cycling.
A highly breathable windproof jacket from Assos with Foil Ultra Windproof material on the front and a DWR coating to shed light showers. An ultralight cycling jacket for road and gravel cyclists looking for a stealth fit. Designed to be easily thrown on or taken off easily to start the day when there is a chill or to put on when the weather changes.
For those who are cycling through the colder, winter months, the Endura Windchill Jacket II is your perfect companion. Stretch, windproof thermal grid-backed fabric throughout for exceptional warmth and comfort from a non-restrictive fit and a durable water repellent coating to shed those light showers. This is your high breathable but relatively low waterproofing however you can easily pair this jacket with one of the lightweight waterproof cycling jackets mentioned here. This jacket is available in a men's fit or a women's fit to cater for different body shapes.
A super stylish rain jacket that is equally at home on the trails or cycling through the city. Measuring 10,000 for waterproofing and 10,000 for breathability, this jacket represents excellent value for money whether you are riding cross country off road or on your daily commute. Not just confined for on the bike, this versatile jacket would equally be at home walking around town or in cafe's for that well earned cake and coffee.
Urban is in the name and urban is what this cycling jacket is designed for. A 10,000 rated waterproof and 10,000 rated breathability jacket that is ideal for commuting and leisure rides in the city. Exceptional visibility with high visibility colouring and well placed reflective details so you are more visible day or night. Excellent for winter cycling also with its fleece lining. One of the best and most versatile urban cycling jackets. The pictures jacket is the women's version but this jacket is also available in a men's fit.
This jacket is about as good as it gets for waterproof and breathable cycling jackets. A very high 20,000 waterproof rating and a massive 40,000 for breathability. Aside from excellent breathability this jacket is super lightweight and packs away in its own front pocket for when the weather clears or you get too warm. Ideal as part of layering in cold conditions or for stowing in your rear jersey pocket just in case of a shower (As we all know, these are never far away in the UK).
Suitable for mountain biking or your daily commute if you ride in all weathers or want one of the most breathable, packable and waterproof cycling jackets. Off the bike, you could easily get away with wearing this walking about town or cafe visits due to the stylish looks and relaxed cut.
The ultralight and easily stored ProShield jacket features Giant-exclusive 10k waterproof rated ProTextura PlusT fabric for a portable and durable barrier between you and the elements. Due to the performance fit of this jersey, it would be better suited to road cyclists or for gravel riding when the weather gets bleak. High viz yellow and strategic reflectives add to your visibility whether in town or the countryside.
This is a women's cycling jacket for less-than-ideal weather. The Liv Cefira Wind Jacket uses lightweight, windproof ProTexturaT fabric that will keep you warm and dry, and because it is easily packable and you can stash it in a rear pocket when conditions improve. A YKK two-way zipper allows for easy access to pockets and reflective accents help keep you safe in low light.
When discussing cycling jackets, you can easily throw in some cycling jerseys as they boast some of the same qualities as jackets but can have better breathability if that's what you are after.
The Giant Illume long sleeved jersey features ThermTexturaT technology for superior heat retention, moisture transfer and quick drying, with fluorescent yellow and 360-degree reflective details to keep you visible day and night, Giant innovative Illume long sleeve jersey provides both excellent visibility as well as superior comfort.
Another one for the road and gravel cyclists due to the race fit that is designed for being on drop handlebar bikes. Not quite the same waterproofing as some jackets but if you are looking for warm and breathable for the chilly days, this jersey could be for you.
Another jersey/jacket that offers similar properties to the jackets above. The Endura Pro Jetstream jersey offers excellent warmth through windproof front and sleeve panels with the highly breathable Roubaix fabric on the sides and rear to aid temperature regulation when you are going hard in the saddle. A durable water repellency is added to shed any light rain on a jacket that is exceptional for those chilly spring and autumn rides.
Drop of rain? Stiff breeze? Unfold this jacket from its integrated pocket, throw it on and keep on riding. The Brompton Barcelona waterproof cycling jacket is the ideal all-rounder, and compact enough to have on hand at all times.
Made from a breathable, windproof and water resistant fabric, it will protect you from all but the very worst that the elements can throw at you. The lightweight fabric can be quickly packed away into the chest pocket and stored under the saddle for meteorological emergencies. Ergonomically positioned reflective panels provide on-bike visibility, whilst the clean lines and simplicity of the design mean this packable jacket in blue won’t look out of place at work, in the café and beyond.