Somewhere in a notebook I keep a list of rules, a more pretentious person might call them maxims, which I once wrote down to help keep life on an even keel. One is: ‘Don’t make excuses not to ride your bike’.
You may well have once vowed something similar. However, when the sky is threatening and the Met Office urges caution, it can be hard to hold to this noble intention. Humans may be waterproof, but their moods and morale are more readily affected by rain, wind, and low temperatures.
Besides toughening up, a good winter cycling jacket is the best insurance you can buy against ducking out of a ride due to the conditions. Inevitably a big-ticket item, the best will see you through several weather systems in one day.
From high-intensity efforts on clear winter mornings to slogging through the rain somewhere high and exposed on an autumn evening, many condense as much material technology as the average bike. Many, for instance, take advantage of the water-resistance PTFE membranes like GoreTex – which keep you warm and dry while still offering ventilation and breathability. The likes of GoreTex ShakeDry have compressed that technology into a jacket you can squeeze into the back pocket.
One result of this has been a collapse in categories. Thanks to better, thinner, and more flexible materials, jackets are now more jersey-like than ever before. Killing off the throw-over rain cape, they’re breathable enough to leave on all day, with the resulting reduction in faffing being another reason it’s worth investing in something decent.
Here are several of the finest winter cycling jackets for days most people would rather spend under the duvet than on the bike.Related – The Best Merino wool cycling jerseys
Castelli Perfetto RoS Long Sleeve Jersey
The first item of cycle clothing to produce the kind of column inches and desirous chattering formerly reserved for only the most super of superbikes, Castelli’s Gabba jacket has enjoyed over a decade of adoration. To discover why, we need to scroll back to what racing in the rain was like before it arrived. Back then, if it rained you put on your rain cape. It flapped about and you got sweaty. Then the weather changed so you took it off. It got cold again, so you put it back on, except this time the zip stuck and you swerved around swearing for several minutes. Then, out of the peloton came the Gabba.
The result of drastically improved fabric technology, it was basically a waterproof jacket that looked and felt like a jersey. The latest Perfetto is essentially a slimmed-down, long sleeve version. Doing away with a world of faffing while keeping riders warm and happy across a spectacularly wide range of conditions it’s many racers' go-to option.
Assos Equipe RS Winter Jacket
£575, Shop now
And what is the world's most desirable cycling jacket called? The Assos Equipe RS, or JohDah to its mates. And what does the Assos Equipe RS cost? £575. Do with that info what you will. Swiss firm Assos’ pursuit of technological solutions to cycling's most basic problems, like being too cold, too hot, too sweaty, or too soggy, is well known.
Continuing the brand's tradition of producing exceptional products and dreadfully florid product copy, its latest jacket builds on decades of in-house fabric development. Very much aimed at athletic riders, its mix of different materials provides water and wind resistance where it’s needed alongside greater flexibility and breathability where these qualities are more crucial.
Highlighted by the jacket’s blue epaulettes, its cleverest feature is a pair of valves on the shoulders that open as you reach forward. Allowing more air into the jacket during high-intensity efforts, these seal themselves up as you return to a more upright position. Smart looking, smart performing, and smartingly expensive, it’s as good as it gets.
ashmei Merino Cycle Soft Shell jacket
£238, Shop now
There used to be a pretty binary choice – stay warm while riding and occasionally endure boil in the bag overheating from lack of breathability, or stay cool during efforts and occasionally freeze. Thankfully, that’s no longer the cold reality, so to speak.
Ashmei’s Merino Cycle Soft Shell jacket uses a membrane on the front of the jacket and the shoulders that l boasts 10,000mm of waterproofing against 10,000g/m² of breathability – protecting from rain and wind while coping well during heavy efforts.
The rear panel doesn’t need the same wind and water resistance, and so is far more breathable – acting as a type of thermal regulator for the jacket.
The detail of the soft shell is where it really shines, though. It includes a water-resistant aquaguard zip, a waterproof pocket featuring an internal pump loop and a magnetic flap at the rear to offer more rear cover against road-spray. Given the short daylight hours of the winter months, the reflective detailing is also a subtle but important feature.
Rapha Pro Team Gore-Tex Jacket
Gore-Tex Shakedry is properly magic. Given the company behind it has made material used in spacesuits, maybe this isn’t surprising. Still, we defy anyone to remain unimpressed at the way water not just rolls off its surface, but flees in terror. And that’s only the half of it...
Unlike fabrics made up of multiple layers, Shakedry’s waterproof element makes up the body of the fabric, meaning not only is there nothing to wet out, but its waterproof properties won’t ever wear out. Thinner and more breathable than anything else we’ve seen, this allows Rapha’s deep-winter jacket to cram down into a pocket-friendly package. Combined with storm sealing, elasticated apertures, and reflective details, the result is an impregnable top that’s suited to the worst conditions yet still incredibly light and comfortable.
Isadore Merino Membrane Softshell Jacket 2.0
One for cold, clear days, this softshell jacket provides a degree of water-resistance, but is best suited to drier conditions. That said if you get caught out, the 10,000mm waterproof rated membrane and DWR coating across its front section means it won’t exactly rollover. Designed to be worn all day, its breathability is backed up by breezier and more permeable side panels. Aiming to keep a comfortable ambient temperature around the rider, inside a merino wool backing uses natural fibres to keep you snuggly. Created in collaboration with posh lightbulb maker Osram, this electrified version sees flexible light-emitting strips included on the rear seams. Adding visibility high above the level of traffic, it’s a neat solution to riding through the gloomier months.
Le Col Hors Catégorie Jacket
£300, Shop now
Is there still money left to build a good jacket after having purchased every available ad on Eurosport? It seems so. Le Col’s top-tier foul weather jacket mixes a waterproof Windtex outer and Schoeller-Dynamic interior. A high collar and long tail then make the most out of their properties, resulting in all-over protection that nevertheless fits and feels like a jersey. Designed in the UK and stitched together in a factory below Monte Grappa, the Le Col brand is owned by Yanto Baker. Having knocked around the racing circuit, he’s clearly aware cycling isn’t a sport entirely without risk. So as insurance on your £300 investment the Hors Catégorie jacket sports abrasion-resistant Kevlar patches on its elbows, a feature that’ll provide some modicum of solace if you find yourself sliding across the road.
Sportful Aqua Pro Jacket
£300, Shop now
You can be as clever as you like about design, sometimes you just want to keep the weather outside. Totally impervious and with taped seams throughout, Sportful’s pro-tested waterproof jacket makes sure you stay on the right side of the divide. Passed out of the BORA-Hansgrohe team cars when things get drastic, besides looking suitably moody, your spend above something more basic also gets you the best in breathability and fit. Using the latest stretchy Gore-Tex fabrics, these promise to keep your inner climate protected and well-regulated while remaining as aero as can be. Providing absolute insurance on days that otherwise might make your resolve go all gooey, as a single layer jacket you’ll need to supply your own insulation.