Cycling Jackets - The Soggy Road Rider's Guide
In the beginning, there was the jersey, and it was good, but then it started raining and you had to be posted a towel through the letter box before you were allowed back in the house. Cycling jackets were created to put an end to this dreadful scenario.
The cycling jacket remains though, a tricky beast to get right. It's a big investment and, if you're new to it, the lexicon of venting, beading and seam taping is one that requires time to grasp. As luck would have it, though, we're here to put the world and the weather Gods to rights, and have compiled this brief guide to getting the right road cycling jacket.
Cycling Jackets - Par for the course
Certain things you should simply expect from your road cycling jacket. Rotated, set in and longer sleeves for better coverage while riding in the hoods are pretty much standard. Most rain jackets also benefit from a rear drop hem, allowing for better coverage and reducing the impact of your wet weather contrail on your posterior. A little bit of reflective detailing also goes down a treat, considering that these jackets are worn in often poor light conditions.
The Wet Weather Workhorse
So, lets start at the deep end of the market - also known as the Somerset Specials. Waterproof cycling jackets offer the best level of protection from the rain, and, are largely considered 'completely waterproof'. These jackets are tech heavy but light weight, and feature seam taping alongside waterproof materials, preventing any water threading it's way through to that shoulder/sleeve intersection. Recommended for solid blocks of wet weather riding, the holy grail of these jackets is to remain breathable whilst keeping you dry; a fearsome challenge considering the diametric opposition of these two things. It is however, entirely possible. North American brands like Showers Pass and 7mesh are making fantastic feature filled road cycling jackets that double-down on all of the above.
The Drizzle Defending Wind Breaker
For riders who don't wholeheartedly ride off into the eye of a storm and play wheel of fortune with the weather, an ultra-light, super packable rain jacket that they can pop in their rear pockets and pull out when needs must is essential. There is, however, a trade off. In being infinitely lighter and more packable, these cycling jackets tend only to boast water resistance, being more the sort of thing you'd use to get through that chill crisp winter ride, when the sun struggles to do duel with the downhill. They're perfect for seeing off that unexpected shower and for giving a bit of coverage in windy weather, but when the heavens well and truly open, you'll be coveting your neighbours tape seamed and droplet-beading waterproof jacket. If the lightweight is your thing, Ornot, Pedla, Cafe du Cycliste and Pas Normal Studios all make lightweight wind jackets which are water repellent.
Thermal Fleeced Jackets
Sometimes though, cycling jackets aren't about seeing off the rain - It's about keeping that core warm and the wind at bay. In this instance, the thermal jacket is what you're after. The thermal cycling jacket is rarely ever packable - thermal materials tend by their very nature to conspire against the road cyclist's natural inclination for svelte lycra. They do however come in a variety of shapes and sizes (or perhaps more accurately thicknesses and materials), so it's worth considering which design will best suit the conditions you're planning to ride in - some thermal jackets are more akin to a beefed-up long sleeved jersey whereas others have been given the full Alpine explorer treatment. And whether the jacket uses Primaloft padding, fleece or another combination of thermal fabrics, it should have been designed to offer both effective wind protection and breathability for good on-the-bike comfort in cooler riding conditions.
So, it's plain to see that there are clearly defined roles that cycling jackets are designed to fill. Knowing what you want from your jacket is perhaps the most important factor in successfully navigating the vast amount of choice on offer. Get it right and you'll be rolling into that rainstorm reassured that you won't be caught pooling on the coffee shop floor - all the more reason to check out what there is on offer, surely?