Unless you live in a particularly warm and dry climate, a cycling jacket is a practical addition to your triathlon kit. Acting as a convenient outer layer, it should provide valuable protection from the elements while being light and thin enough to be stashed in a pocket.
Ideally, it should be a trusty layering piece you can quickly put on during transition or on a training ride, either as a final addition or under a gilet.
How to find the best cycling jacket for you
As there are a great many cycling jackets out there for both men and women, it can be tricky to decide which one to buy.
Firstly, you should think about whether to prioritise windproofing or waterproofing. While water-repellent jackets help stop the rain getting in, they tend to be less breathable than a lightweight windproof option, which should have enough ventilation to let out any sweat. In general, it’s best to look out for cycling jackets with a high collar and insulated chest, but ventilation across the back and underarm areas.
We also like cycling jackets with a ‘dropped tail’, as it covers your lower back while leaning forward. And look out for a high-quality zip with a large pull so you can find it easily when wearing cycling gloves.
Before you make your final decision, don’t overlook the importance of colour. Making sure you’re easily visible to other road users is a vital safety precaution, so we recommend opting for a bright, reflective cycling jacket.
Best men’s cycling jackets
Tri brand Huub delving into the world of cycling continues with the Core2 All Elements. Of the five men’s jackets tested here, it sits in the middle in terms of price, weight (187g) and fit, sitting closer to the skin than Giant and Gore but less tight than Santini and Van Rysel’s packable shells.
Where it shines brightest is in the comfort from the brand’s ‘Arms-neutral’ tech borrowed from their wetsuit designs, and the breathability for endurance riding in autumn and spring conditions.
Four rear pockets (one of which is zipped) add to the all-day appeal, but the draw is dimmed if the heavens open as it’s the least water resistant here, the underarm panels particularly failing to deflect H20 ingress. It also won’t stash into a jersey pocket for climbs or warmer temps, but the Cam Lock zipper is swift to undo.
Verdict: the materials and fit ensure comfort, but not for rainy days, 85%
Nimbus is Latin for ‘dark clouds’ (and a broom in Harry Potter) and it’s on rainy days in around 10°C temperatures where this Santini shines.
Easily packable into a jersey pocket, this 123g jacket’s precipitation prevention comes courtesy of a double layer fabric, the shiny inner of which wouldn’t look out of place in Blade Runner, and not just taped but ‘thermo-welded’ seams. Bonus points are added for the waterproof sleeve cuffs.
The single zipper pocket is easy to access and will hold a phone and fuel, while the fit feels the most aero here for road racing. Along with the Van Rysel, it’s not the warmest, but the noir colour is enlivened in low light by reflective details on the chest and rear.
Its biggest issue, however, is the Van Rysel being £100 less. santinicycling.com
Verdict: a techy contender for fast riders on rainy days, 81%
Gore C5 Active
Similar to the Giant, you largely know what you’re going to get with Gore. Not that this is a bad thing, as the quality is reliably top draw, the Gore-Tex construction and taped seams will long battle winds and rain – and usually win – and we can vouch for the durability. The C5, which was our science block at school, adds to this with techy Gore-Tex breathability.
Unlike the brand’s ShakeDry fabric, you can use backpacks with the C5 to add commuting and touring into the mix, but, while just about packable, the 237g shell won’t fit into a bike jersey pocket like the Van Rysel or Santini.
Unusually for Gore, the internal mesh pocket is clumsily stitched and too near the tail of the jacket to stash our phone and emergency fiver worry-free. An issue we wouldn’t expect for £190.
Verdict: formidable in the wind and rain; questionable storage, 87%
For us, the 220g Proshield largely mirrors our Giant bike-riding experience. It’s solidly crafted and arrives with a favourable price tag, but there are flashier contenders around if you want to throw more excitement into the mix.
The high 10,000mm-rated waterproof shell and taped seams are an instant aqua-thwarting hit, while Velcro tabs on the arms prevent any water or wind sneaking up the sleeves. Breathability comes via a sizeable rear vent. A quartet of reflective strips and a brighter colour aid on-road visibility, although the latter also heightens oily spray and autumnal mud.
Despite this theme of reliability, the jacket is let down by an open rear pocket that we wouldn’t trust a phone in and is too small to stash the jacket in. giant-bicycles.com
Verdict: no frills but a fine pick for riding in the rain 82%
Van Rysel RCR Ultra
Decathlon house brand Van Rysel have fine form on these pages, with their £40 Racer helmet largely holding its own against top-end rivals in the wind tunnel and on the roads.
The £45 RCR continues this low price/top performance trend, with its bike jersey pocket-friendly packability a major draw (it’ll also fit into large tri-suit pockets, making it a duathlon or early/late tri season contender – we needed it at the Outlaw X).
A waterproof rating of 2,000m withstood over an hour in the rain, aided by taped internal seams and a full-length zipper guard.
Breathability is helped by a rear vent, but it’s worth noting this 121g shell is the least windproof and warm of the men’s jackets here. A neat rear pocket and reflective strips are further boons. decathlon.co.uk
Verdict: practical and packable jacket at a welcome price, 88%
Best women’s cycling jackets
The Firestorm is a stylish mid-weight jacket with a longer drop tail than the other women’s jackets on test. With the silicone gripper, it’s very effective at protecting one’s derriere from mud splatters.
Despite rain showers and lower teens temperatures, we stayed warm and dry. The jacket has taped seams, is breathable and ventilation was very effective when on the steep climbs. It’s true to size and packs up small, folding into its own internal pocket – this is also big enough to store a phone while riding.
The fabric has an all-over reflective print (we lit up brighter than a Christmas tree!) and has highly reflective strip at the back of the neck, making it the brightest here. While the fabric isn’t as soft as others, the design is stylish and feels hardwearing.
Verdict: an excellent all-rounder that comes at a good price, 87%
Endura Race Cape II
The Adrenaline Race Cape II is extremely comfortable to ride in – we barely noticed it was there – and, in sustained torrential rain and strong winds, it performed rather well.
With taped seams to prevent water ingress, only our arms were wet, but not through to the base layer and the rest was dry. The silicone hem gripper keeps the jacket in place and, with the soft, snug collar, helps to remain warm throughout the ride.
While it has no pockets, it packs away neatly into its own small bag, and is the lightest on test, easily fitting into a rear jersey pocket. It has highly reflective markings visible from a long distance at the neck, along the hem, cuffs and the front zip.
Overall, it’s a lovely looking jacket in a close but flattering fit.
Verdict: stylish and clever fabric, but with a lack of pockets, 83%
LIV Cefira Superlight
The Cefira is made from lightweight ProTextura fabric, is ultrasoft and boasts two useful rear pockets. It compresses neatly and folds into an internal pocket at the back. The jacket is true to size, has a high protective collar and reflective markings on the back of the neck, rear pockets, front zipper and upper arms, which can be seen at a good distance in low light.
It’s very breathable and ventilation is effective. It was tested in low teens temps in moderate winds and our core stayed warm (that said, it’s not showerproof at all). The jacket is slinky and comes in pewter grey, black or pink.
If weight is a concern, this jacket being almost the lightest on test, would be a good insurance on cooler but dry winter rides scrunched into a jersey pocket.
Verdict: A useful enough jacket for dry days at a good price 76%
Pearl Izumi Pro AmFIB
The AmFIB jacket is made from four-way stretch fabric, with two rear pockets plus a zippered middle security pocket for phone and keys. It states that it’s windproof and water-resistant, and the jacket was truly put to the test and withstood 90mins of torrential rain, 39km/h winds and a temperature of 9°C with us staying warm and almost completely dry.
However, it was the only jacket on test not to pack away into a rear pocket. It’s very stylish and flattering, true to size and, because of that four-way stretch, should suit most body types. It comes in aqua green or black with a reflective strip across the rear.
While on the expensive side, if you only want one jacket this season and you’ve got cash to splash, it’s a worthwhile investment.
Verdict: A fantastic all-rounder makes this a top winter pick, 91%
Images by Steve Sayers