Best bike jackets of 2014
The bike jacket is one of those essential bits of kit. With temperatures frequently resting south of 10°C in the winter, attempting to ride without one will only result in a very short ride, or a serious case of pneumonia.
But, like most things in the bike world, there are so many different types of jackets on the market it can be hard to know where to start, especially as very few actually offer everything you need in one package.
That means you need to think about exactly what conditions you’ll be wearing your jacket in. There are jackets for pretty much every type of riding you can think of: heavy rain, light rain, deep winter, spring, autumn and so on, so you really need to know what you’re going to be doing before you make a choice. Some will be far more versatile than others, but don’t buy a lightweight rain jacket expecting it to keep you warm in winter too!
Practically, though, the single most important factor when buying a jacket is fit. If the fit is off you’ll have excess material flapping in the wind, cold air and water will seep in through openings where the jacket doesn’t sit close enough to your skin and it’ll generally be an uncomfortable experience. If you don’t know your size in the brand you want, we strongly recommend that you try a few on before you buy.
The final key aspect of a bike jacket is how it looks. Yes, it’s the least important in terms of actually riding, but if having a good-looking jacket makes you more likely to shift out of the door for an extra session when it’s icy cold outside, then it’s worth its weight in gold.
How we tested
First up, we removed the jackets from their packaging and gave them a thorough going over to both ascertain what conditions they were meant for and check out the quality of construction. After that, we tried each one on over our typical winter riding gear to see how they fitted, and to assess how the sizing was across the selection.
Then we undertook several early morning and late evening rides when the temperature was down in gloves-and-leg-warmers territory for the most important part of the test: the riding.
Don't forget to check out our other 2014 round-ups: best aerobars, best tri bikes, best tri bike shoes, best wetsuits, best lightweight run shoes, best trail shoes, best energy bars, best bike helmets, best TT helmets, best recovery drinks and best tri-suits.
Altura Raceline Windproof jacket
Price: £119 from www.zyro.co.uk
We used to associate Altura with functional but not necessarily fashionable bikewear. With the advent of its Raceline range, however, all that has changed, and this windproof jacket proves that it now has the looks to match. The fit is excellent, although definitely close-cut, so you won’t fit too much more than a jersey underneath. Having said that, it’s warm enough that you wouldn’t need too many layers anyway, with the fleecy Roubaix-style lining both comfortable against the skin and great at keeping the heat in.
Cuffs on the sleeves are another insulating plus and allow ease of entry for slotting gloves under. Three main pockets on the back are also easy to access (although a little looser than we’d have liked so larger items might drop out), while a zipped pocket provides a safe haven for any valuables that you’re carrying with you. The water-repellent fabric will keep you dry in a light shower, but it’s by no means equipped to handle a proper downpour.
Verdict: Warm, comfortable and stylish. Back pockets are a little too loose, however, 78%
Poc Essential Spring Jacket
Price: £215 from www.2pure.co.uk
Poc’s profile has exploded over the last couple of years and it’s now widely regarded as one of the most stylish brands in cycling. But that new-found status is reflected in the pricing; its Essential Spring Jacket being the second dearest on test here. Construction is superb, the orange cuffs and reflective logos on the sleeves are a nice touch and the main part of the jacket is made from four-way stretch fabric that makes for a snug and comfortable fit (we had to size up to L in this one because the fit is so close; it’s also available in XL and XXL).
There are three rear pockets, all of a decent size and one which has both a zipped compartment and a special ‘My Info’ compartment for your phone. Being designed for spring rather than winter it’s not as insulated as many here, but works very well even on colder days as a top layer with a jersey and warmers underneath. The fabric is also water-repellent, which means light showers won’t be a problem.
Verdict: Great-looking and well constructed, but that eye-watering price tag keeps the score down, 81%
Storck Winter Jacket
Price: £199 from www.storck-bicycle.cc
With a classic, understated black look highlighted with reflective details, the Storck jacket is one of the best-looking on test. And those good looks are backed up by the fit, which is snug and comfortable. The interior is Roubaix-style fabric which is soft on the skin, and the multi-panelled back gives plenty of stretch, making it easy to move about in. It’s 100% windproof and certainly does a great job of keeping out the cold.
The water-repellent panels will come in handy if you’re caught in a shower, while the reflective panels on the sleeves and pockets increase visibility to counteract its all-blackness. Three pockets on the back provide adequate storage, but with two of them zipped, they’re just that bit more difficult to access on the go. Even when unzipped they’re harder to slide your hands into, especially if you’re wearing winter gloves. The price is high, but it’s a genuinely top-line jacket and a worthy investment.
Verdict: Does everything well, keeps you warm and comfy on long winter rides. Zipped pockets are the only niggle, 87%
Mavic Cosmic Wind Jacket
Price: £170 from www.mavic.com
With its offset zip and three-colour design, Mavic’s Cosmic jacket cuts a pretty striking dash. Designed with a high collar that effectively keeps out the wind, and cuffs that do the same job on the arms, the Cosmic does a solid job of stopping wind chill while maintaining a decent level of breathability. Insulation is very good and this one will serve you well when the temperatures start to bottom out mid-winter. The fit was exceptional, sculpting well to the lines of the body – although it’s designed for an athletic physique.
It’s worth noting that this one is a proper softshell in that it won’t offer much protection from rain at all. You’ll be fine in a light shower, but anything heavier will soak through fairly rapidly. On the back there’s one large zipped pocket separated into two compartments, but the fact that it’s zipped and that there’s a flap over said zip makes it a little more difficult to manoeuvre your hands in, which is a slight annoyance.
Verdict: Comfortable, decent wind-stopper, but the pockets are irritating and it’s not cheap, 76%
Continue reading our guide to 2014's best bike jackets (2/2)