Choosing the Right Winter Cycling Jacket
Investing in quality cycling gear will ensure you a more comfortable ride this winter. Specific men's and women's cycling jackets are designed to offer protection in all different types of weather conditions; keeping you cool while you're pushing hard up a hill and providing warmth while on a long descent. When it comes to winter cycling, thermal cycling jackets are a great option. Made with a combination of panels and vents, including wind-resistant fabric and a breathable, more flexible thermal soft shell, these jackets provide maximal warmth in dryer conditions while still providing protection from light rain or snow. Additionally, mesh-lined vents wick away moisture from sweat and increase air flow. Specific technical fabrics cause water droplets to roll off the jacket and simultaneously allow moisture from sweat to escape.
Although the design will vary from jacket to jacket, winter cycling jackets generally are very adaptable. All jackets have a combination of features that contribute to the garment's functionality. Consider the following features when looking for a quality winter cycling jacket:
A full-length front zipper with an internal draft flap will help keep the neck warm or conversely, help remove excess heat. Look for a large zipper pull; this will be helpful when unzipping while wearing heavy gloves. A flap that covers the actual zipper (called a "zipper garage") seals in warmth and prevents the zipper from bouncing and rubbing against the skin. Two-way zippers allow increased air flow when the body heats up, and zippers underneath the arms help with ventilation.
A contoured sleeve hem adds warmth and discourages bunching when leaning forward on the bike. Adjustable velcro on the wrists allows for a more tailored fit, and also prevents cold air or water from seeping in under the sleeves. A hook and loop adjustment makes it easy to tighten or loosen the sleeve while on the bike. Some jackets also have removable sleeves that can be zipped off and stored mid-ride if you're overheating. (These jackets are more suitable for use year-round.)
Detachable hood/high collar
Thermal jackets will often be made with a wide collar that rises higher on the back of the neck to block cold air. Some jackets also have a detachable hood with a rain gutter. Although hoods fully protect the head and back of the neck, they can sometimes feel restricting. Many cyclists choose to wear a cap or ear-warmers while on the bike, and use the hood before or after cycling; for example, if your bike commute also includes a significant amount of walking.
Winter cycling jackets have a longer tail that drops below the hips. This prevents bunching in the front and ensures full coverage while riding in an aerodynamic position. Some thermal jackets also offer a longer, retractable drop tail for wet conditions.
An elastic cord around the waist allows you to adjust the tightness of the jacket with one hand. Again, a tighter, more tailored fit enhances warmth and helps keep you dry.
Side, back, and inner pockets are always helpful for storing nutrition or other gear. Some jackets even have pockets with inside dividers to help separate different items. Outer pockets provide easy access to gear mid-ride. Pockets with zippers add more security for these personal items.
Jackets with reflective properties help increase visibility to motorists in low light conditions and are recommended as a safety precaution. Bright-colored fabric is also recommended for riding on the roads.
If you're riding in the rain, keep in mind that traditional seams may still allow water to saturate the fabric. For a jacket to be fully waterproof, the seams must be sealed or "taped". Lighter wind-resistant/water-repellant jackets can be worn over the top of a thermal jacket if it's a windy/rainy day. (These jackets are very thin and offer little ventilation and air flow compared to most cycling jackets.) A fully waterproof jacket is only needed if the forecast shows heavy rain for the majority of your ride. Base layers can always be added underneath the jacket if needed.