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The best jacket for cycling in cold weather is one that does two jobs. Firstly, it needs to be insulated in order to keep a layer of warmth next to your skin. Secondly, it needs to have a windproof layer that stops the rushing air that you pedal through to whisk away all this warm layer.
As well as these two features, there are a range of other useful aspects to watch out for when you’re choosing a new cycling jacket. We’re going to take a look through these now so that you’re in a great position to pick the perfect outer layer for your biking. Along the way I’ll also mention a few of my favorite jackets that I’d recommend. All of which are fantastic and will help keep out the chill so that you can focus on the ride.
If you’re on the hunt for great cycling gear to insulate other parts of the body when you’re out for chilly winter cycles, then take a look at my article here. Spoiler alert: it’s all about thin layers so you can stay warm and easily regulate your temperature (hat tip to my old Scout master for the advice!)
How to choose a cycling jacket for cold weather riding
As I’ve already mentioned, there are two critical features of a cold weather cycling jacket – it needs to be thermally insulated (to trap a layer of warm air) and it needs to be windproof (so that the warm air doesn’t get pulled away when you start turning the pedals. There are a number of other features which are also good to watch out for. These can turn a jacket from being a “yeah, it’s pretty good” to one that is “I literally CANNOT leave the house on my bike without having this on!!!” And, whilst ALL CAPS text and multiple exclamation marks can sometimes feel a little over-the-top, having a bike jacket that features these features definitely won’t. Let’s take a look.
Additional features to look out for:
Full-length zipper for easy venting
When you’re choosing a cycling jacket it’s important to look out for one that gives multiple ways to adjust the temperature and air flow. I find that the best way to get the temperature right is to start off cycling with slightly too little clothing on. You’ll feel a but chilly but, as you start pedaling, your muscles will warm up and you’ll reach a comfortable temperature. Keep cycling though and you may find that you start to get too warm. It’s at that point that you’ll be grateful for features like a full-length zipper as this gives a perfect way of easily adjusting the amount of air flow and therefore cooling you down a little. Overdo it? No problem, just zip back up again. The best thing is that, because the zipper is at the front you can easily zip up or down as you pedal. No need to pull over and take a layer off.
Velcro or elastic fastening on cuffs to keep chill out
Non-cycling jackets can often have a loose-fitting cuff. That’s great for example when you’re hiking as you can tuck your hand up into your sleeve – a little like a tortoise pulling it’s head in – and get some extra warmth.
On a bike, that’s not an option as you’re holding onto the handlebars. But, in any case, loose cuffs are a disaster when cycling because the wind will rush straight up the cuffs and along your arms. Cuffs that are held close to your wrists with either hook and loop tape or elastic avoid this altogether.
High cut collar
Cold air rushing up your cuffs and sleeves is unpleasant but even worse is chilly breeze racing down your collar. Again, non-cycling jackets don’t tend to have a high collar, but it’s very important for cycling as you’ll be racing into the wind and often have your head and neck bend down towards the cold air.
High-cut collars can either be held snugly against your neck by tension from the zipper, or elasticated fabric, or Velcro. Whatever method, a collar that sits up high and is snug on your neck can really transform the experience you’ll have on a cold day’s cycle.
Close fitting sleeves to avoid wind flap
It’s not necessarily something that you think about until you’re cycling along at cruising speed, but sleeves that are voluminous (as they can be on standard jackets) are not great for bicycling. Loose sleeves tend to be unnecessary as cycling clothing is normally quite close-fitting and they can be quite irritating as they will flap about in the breeze and can even make a noise. Best avoided.
Lower rear hem with gel grippers
Look closely at cycling jackets and you’ll see that the rear hem is lower than the front hem. Why is this the case? Well, if you think about the standard bike riding position you’ll see that it tends to be hunched over to a degree (particularly so on road bikes with their ‘racing’ body position). When you hold your body like this the rear hem will tend to pull upwards. If this isn’t long enough you’ll soon discover that it gives cold air an opportunity to get under your jacket and give you a slice of freezing back/waist. Cycling jackets are cut so that, even when you hunch over, the hem still sits below your shorts upper hem effectively sealing the warm air in.
Pockets, pockets and more pockets
I sometimes think that cycling is less about pedaling along the pavements and trails, and more about the paraphernalia that you need to take with you. From bike pumps to snacks and everything else in between. Where does it all go? Well, it needs to be stashed in easy-to-reach pockets and you need to make sure that your cycling jacket has plenty of these. Cycling jerseys tend to have rear pockets, and some jackets match this. You’ll also find lots of jackets have a chest pocket (great for phones) and side pockets which are ideal for snacks, snacks, and more snacks.
If you’re cycling in poor visibility then it’s essential that you take a set of front and rear bike lights that let other road users see you and let you see the road or trail in front of you. You can also do more to give yourself the best chance of being seen and one great way to do this is to buy bike clothing that has reflective elements and is in bright colors. Whilst neon yellow might not get you too many compliments on the Milan catwalk, on the road, it will get you the gratitude of car and truck drivers. Many cycling jackets also have elements such as piping or logos that are in print which reflects light and these moving lights are highly noticeable. It’s little details like this that can keep you safe, whilst you’re staying warm.
Here’s a secret – I’m a real fan of cycling in cold weather. Why? Because, when the weather’s cold, everyone else seems to stay huddled up indoors and I then have the roads and trails all to myself. Keep it to yourself though, I don’t want everyone to find out how good it is.
Cycling in cold weather isn’t so much fun though if you haven’t got the right kit and a warm cycling jacket is one of the key elements. Get one that has all the important features and you too will be able to enjoy those wide open roads.
Happy (cold weather) cycling.
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