The right jacket can turn winter riding from masochistic misery into a warm, enjoyable experience. The first thing to work out is what you want to use your jacket for as this affects fit, style and features.
Will it be a multipurpose Sunday ride stalwart? Does it need to look good for the post-ride pub, or will you only ever pull it on for rides well away from the fashion police?
All kinds of fits are available, from super-snug race jackets to looser, freeride-style coats. Closer fitting tops will flap less and breathe more effectively, but a more relaxed fit gives freedom of movement and more scope for layering. Between the two extremes is a good place to be.
For max ride performance you need a long back and lengthy sleeves to keep fully covered, and a skinny cut that won't flap in high winds. Fewer features mean lighter weight and smaller pack size, while pit zips and reflectivity are more important performance considerations than hand warmer pockets and style.
Don't get sucked in by fabric hype. Whatever it says on the label about high WVT/waterproofing ratings, breathability, wicking or sweat shifting, if you ride your bike hard you'll sweat more than any current fabric will cope with.
Top rated fabrics like eVENT, Gore-Tex, etc, will keep you dry inside and out when cruising, but hammer it and you'll be building up steam from the start... What you wear underneath is important too: never wear cotton as this holds on to sweat, rendering the most expensive coat useless.
To maximise fabric performance look for sleeves you can pull up and pit zips: bloodflow around the wrists and armpits is close to the surface so these are great areas for cooling your core temperature. Check the coat's features work with any straps of bags you normally use too. Also, make sure it fits well enough that it doesn't let water in at the neck.
Finally, make sure the jacket suits your life. Is it easy to wash? Does it stain permanently if you get it near the chain? Is it durable enough to cope with crashes and bramble bushes? Does it pack up small enough to stow? Think of all your needs before spending your moolah.
High collars are great for keeping out draughts and a bit of fleece works wonders for boosting heat and comfort. Hoods add storm protection but make sure they don't flap about when you're not using them.
Need to be long to cover your wrists and ideally some of your hand even when you stretch to the bars; adjustable cuffs let you pull the sleeves up your arm to cool down.
Full front zips make jackets easy to put on without having to take your helmet off. Being right at the front, they’re an obvious chink in the anti-weather armour, so look for internal or external storm flaps. Zip garages will stop the zip irritating your neck when closed.
Underarm zips: the longer they are the more 'air con' you'll get when open. Check the gap stays fully open when you're riding along, and that bag straps don't stop them working.
A dropped tail covers your backside and stops draughts and wheel spray getting up your back, but it can give a slightly 'penguin' look. Drawcords also help to stop draughts and keep the jacket in place.
Front pockets are useful for odds and sods, but back pockets get in the way less on the bike.
A lot of cycling jackets don’t have hoods, mainly because a lot of people never use them – designing a hood that works well with a bike helmet isn’t that easy, and the helmet itself keeps the worst of the rain off. They’re potentially useful when you’re static, though, and if they’re detachable then you’ve got the best of both worlds.
- Breathability: A fabric's ability to shift perspiration out.
- Chin guard: Folded tab at the top of a zip to stop your skin getting caught and prevent scratching.
- Durable Water Repellency (DWR): A waterproof treatment for the outside of the fabric; can wash/wear eventually but jacket can be reproofed.
- Membrane: A waterproof layer within a sandwich of different fabrics.
- One-handed cord: Drawstring with an anchored lock that can be pulled tight with just one hand.
- Pit-zips: Zips under the armpits that can be opened up for venting.
- Pores: Small holes in membrane fabric that let sweat vapour out but keep bigger water droplets (rain) out.
- Seam sealing: Tapes on the inside of seams that stop rainwater getting through the stitching holes.
- Storm flaps: Extra flaps over zips/pockets for added protection.
- Waterproof rating: The amount of rain the fabric can shrug off in 24 hours before it soaks through; how well the jacket seals around your neck and cuffs is generally more important though.
- Water Vapour Transmission Rate: The breathability of the fabric (in mm per 24hrs) but again vents, cut and so on often make more difference.
- Weatherproof zips: Not totally waterproof but more weather resistant than normal.
- Wetting out: The point at which a jacket saturates and starts to leak.
- Wicking: The ability of a fabric to transfer sweat away from your under layers or skin to the outside face of the jacket.
- Yoke vent: A simple flap just below the shoulders that sucks air out when the jacket billows up as you ride along.
- Zip garage: Folded tab at the top of a zip to stop your skin getting caught and prevent scratching.