Cycling jackets are specifically engineered for comfort when riding: extended sleeves and a dropped-tail - sometimes stowable - are designed to cover your wrists and lower-back when crouched low in the saddle; elasticated cuffs, rear neck and hem offer maximum mobility, whilst a rear pouch puts essential items, such as energy gels and sunglasses, within easy reach.
A hood, although useful in poor conditions, can get in the way and affect your field of vision, especially when checking either side of you for traffic. For this reason, many cycling jackets feature a removable hood, which can be quickly detached and stored away.
A hard-working cyclist generates heat, and lots of it, so many cycling jackets feature conveniently placed vents – usually on the upper sleeve or in the armpit - that help to radiate extra body heat generated during steep ascents or when sprinting. Upper sleeve vents can sometimes be opened and closed with a zip, though this tends to push the price of the jacket up.
In order to be classed ‘waterproof’, a jacket must have three key features: a DWR (durable water repellent) finish, a waterproof membrane and taped seams; with the two former, but without the latter, it is simply water-resistant or ‘showerproof’.
A waterproof jacket’s first line of defence, DWR is a water repellent coating added to the outer layer, beading water on the fabric’s surface and preventing it from becoming saturated in light rain. It’s a finish that wears off with time, and so needs reapplying. But this is easy enough to do, simply wash your jacket with a treatment such as Granger’s 30 Degrees Cleaner Performance Wash.
Laminated to the inside of the face fabric, a waterproof membrane is engineered with thousands of microscopic perforations large enough to allow water vapour to escape, but small enough to stop water droplets getting in, ensuring you stay dry inside and out.
Some high-end jackets feature a 3-layer fabric construction, with an inner lining preventing the membrane from directly contacting your skin, alleviating that clingy, clammy feeling you get wearing cheaper waterproofs and helping to wick sweat from the body more effectively.
GORE-TEX is generally considered the market leader when it comes to breathable waterproof membranes, but the likes of IsoDry and eVent are also popular with manufacturers.
Softshell jackets are designed to bridge the gap between fleece and waterproof jackets, offering warmth and comfort while providing protection from light to moderate rain. Made from a stretchy, woven material, they offer superior manoeuvrability and breathability to hardshell jackets, though they tend to be heavier and won’t pack down quite as small.
In severe weather conditions, softshell jackets are best utilised as a mid-layer, worn with a hardshell waterproof outer for added warmth.
There are two types of softshell jacket: stretch-woven and membrane. Stretch-woven jackets rely solely on a DWR coating to protect against precipitation; membrane jackets offer increased water resistance, but at the expense of breathability. Before choosing a softshell jacket, take a moment to consider the kind of conditions you’ll be riding; if you want it for winter, and you don’t want to wear it as part of a layering system, you’re probably better off going for one with a membrane.