Cycling Jackets: A Complete Buyer's Guide
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 and 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 feature: a DWR (durable water repellent) finish, a waterproof membrane and taped seams - with the two former, but without the latter, it is simple water resistant or ‘showerproof’.
Softshell jackets are designed to bridge the gap between fleece and waterproof jacket, 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 expensive of breathability. So 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.
Usually hardshell, windproof jackets provide good protection in moderate weather conditions and help to stop the windchill effect caused by rapidly cooling sweat. Although most are water resistant, they lack the features of a truly waterproof jacket and will become saturated in heavy rain - so they’re best suited to dry days or, if softshell, as use as part of a layering system.
Windproof jackets are the lightest and most compact type of cycling jacket. So if riding light is your thing, and you aren’t too bothered by getting wet, this is the right type of jacket for you.
Cycle Surgery Merchandiser Florence Hale picks some of our top performing men's and women's cycling jackets…