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%
Best bike jackets 2014
We continue our guide to 2014’s best bike jackets with a 220 favourite…
Rapha Classic Softshell
Price: £260 from www.rapha.cc
The Classic Softshell is a staple of the Rapha range – it’s been around since 2004 in various different guises – and it is an undoubtedly top-quality product. The water-resistant material keeps off all but the heaviest rain and the stowable storm flap at the back adds another welcome level of protection against the elements. It’s also windproof and provides an excellent top layer on even the coldest of days, while the zipped underarm vents give you the opportunity to regulate body temperature.
Three pockets at the back – one with an extra zipped compartment – provide excellent storage, plus there’s a small zipper pocket on the side that’s the perfect size for your keys. The cuffs on the wrists are a welcome feature for really cold days and, while the all-black design isn’t great in visibility terms, it’s the one less-than-superb point about a jacket that is versatile enough to be used in a wide variety of different conditions.
Verdict: Great in the wet, dry and cold, this jacket can do a bit of everything… and it does it all extremely well, 90%
Sugoi RS 180
Price: £109 from www.cyclingsportsgroup.co.uk
The RS 180 is a midweight winter jacket that’ll do the job nicely when it’s chilly, but will need some extra layering when it’s really cold. The fabric is stretchy, which makes it very comfortable to ride in, and it offers a decent amount of wind protection, coupled with water-resistance to ward off light showers. The high-cut collar and cuffs on the sleeves also play an important part when it comes to keeping the heat in. The cut is very nice: snug but not at all restrictive.
Sugoi describe it as ‘pro fit’, which clues you into the fact that it’s made for those with an athletic build and sits very close to the body. The three rear pockets offer a reasonable amount of storage, but the openings at the top are perhaps a tad looser than we’d ideally like, although it doesn’t matter so much if you fill them to capacity. If space and weight are a concern, the Sugoi is notably light and would work well if you want something to keep the cold out but don’t want to add a lot of bulk.
Verdict: Midweight jacket with comfortable stretchy fabric that you could ride in all day, 80%
Pearl Izumi Pro Softshell 180
Price: £139 from www.madison.co.uk
Crammed full of tech, Pearl Izumi’s Pro Softshell jacket is certainly one of the most impressive offerings on paper. And in practice it performs great, sealing in heat well and keeping you extremely warm. In fact, given that the temperature rating for the jacket is +/-5°, it’s definitely one for the depths of winter and can actually be too warm even when the temperature is only around 10-12°C. Again, this is another jacket that has gone for the zippered option on the pockets at the back – one large one in this case – but we’re just not convinced.
They’re too fiddly to operate on the go but aren’t much better to access once they are unzipped. A small annoyance,
but an annoyance nonetheless. The fit is ergonomic and comes up nice and close, so it’s just as well that you won’t need to layer much underneath it. One other thing to note is that it won’t provide much protection from the rain, so it’s one for cold, dry rides.
Verdict: Excellent jacket for keeping warm, but fiddly zips and limited to really cold/dry conditions, 80%
Endura Windchill Jacket II
Price: £75 from www.endura.co.uk
Endura’s Windchill II combines thermal Roubaix fabric under the arms, on the side and on the back and waterproof panelling on the front and sleeves. Together that results in a pretty versatile jacket, and it’s one of the best on test when it comes to stopping both wind and rain. Zipped under-arm vents also allow for a bit of temperature regulation. Storage is handled by three rear pockets and one small zipped pocket, plus there’s a concealed compartment on the front complete with glasses wipe, which can come in pretty handy.
There’s a laser-cut inner storm flap at the back – always a nice touch when the rain comes down – which is effective at keeping your shorts chamois dry and comfy. Fit-wise, the Endura came up larger for a medium than any of the other jackets on test here, so we recommend trying one on before you buy if possible. But overall it’s a very proficient, warm winter jacket coupled with decent rain protection at an excellent price.
Verdict: Versatile performer that’ll keep you warm and dry, but check the sizing before you buy, 79%
No jacket tested absolutely bombed, but a couple are a cut above the rest.
Modern fabric technology means that almost every brand these days can offer a jacket that’s warm, breathable, ergonomically fitted and comfortable. It also means that the differences between jackets are smaller than ever before, so choosing is more difficult.
The Endura is the epitome of this, offering excellent quality and plenty of technical features at a price point that continues to astound. It might not have scored as highly as others on test here, but coming in at £30 cheaper than the next least expensive jacket, it’s a great choice for anyone on a budget.
At the other end of the scale, if you want something stylish and rather specific, Poc has made a jacket that’ll catch the eye and is full of nice little extras. As a brand, Poc has grown massively over the last few years, and its almost Rapha-esque commitment to function and style has made it one of the en-vogue choices of the wealthy cyclist.
But there are two jackets on test that stand head and shoulders above the rest. The first is Storck’s Winter Jacket. The understated design is attractive, and that, coupled with the superb fit, excellent warmth and plenty of storage, makes it one of our go-to bits of winter kit. The price might be high, but it really is a premium jacket.
The winner, however is the Rapha. It’s a softshell jacket with incredibly impressive waterproofing properties. For this alone it stands out. But everything about the jacket exudes quality, from the construction to the design, from the storm flap with reflective logo to the subtle pink drawstrings at the bottom. It might be an extortionate price, but you’ll own one of those rare bits of kit that you’ll want to, and will be able to, keep for years and years. Plus, their excellent crash repair policy means that if you come off, you can have it fixed for free. Genius!
… 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.
What’s your favourite bike jacket for winter? Let us know in the comments below!