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Choosing a waterproof jacket for commuting

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Article posted: 27/08/2013

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Keeping your upper body warm, dry and clean on the bike has perhaps a greater contribution to rider comfort than any other factor. If you’re warm and cosy, you’ll be able to enjoy your commute and be in a fit state to do a day’s work at the end of your journey. Therefore wearing the right jacket for your needs is really important. With this in mind, let’s sum up the pros and cons of main types of cycling jacket on the market, plus an honest to goodness non-cycling specific choice too. Of course, you can wear your normal jacket but trust us, you will get cold and wet.

 

Your normal, everyday, waterproof outdoor jacket

This can be a very smart choice, especially if you’ve already got an expensive waterproof and breathable outdoor jacket made from Gore Tex or some other proprietary performance fabric. Provided that the fit doesn’t interfere with your movement on the bike, your mountain jacket will keep you warm and dry and won’t look out of place at work when you pop out to the sandwich shop at lunchtime.

Commuter oriented cycling-specific ‘hard shell’ jacket

If you’re serious about your bike riding, want to keep dry and ride briskly or over longer distances, then a cycling specific jacket at the commuter end of the market is a fine choice. Cut for cycling, but with a less extreme cut than a pure roadie jacket, a commuter friendly jacket will have a slightly roomier cut, less pronounced drop tail and a less aggressively cut away front. It may also have front pockets and be in an ‘urban friendly’ colour scheme with reflective detailing. ‘Urban friendly’ however means different things to difference people. Some manufacturers market black or sleath grey jackets as ‘urban’, foregoing visibility over style, while other manufacturers’ urban ranges are in full hi vis yellow or orange to help riders stand out in the urban melee.

'Soft shell' jackets

Soft shells have come onto the outdoor and cycling markets over the last five years and represent a new way of thinking for outerwear. Although not an out-and-out waterproof, soft shell jackets are highly water resistant, quick drying, wind resistant and extremely breathable. They also regulate temperature superbly meaning that you can wear them all day, on and off the bike. They’re available from cycling specific outlets and more general outdoor clothing specialists. They’re the sort of jacket that you’d want to be wearing on or off the bike, 90 percent of the time, especially if you like to hit your commute hard.

‘Tailored’ cycling jackets

With the growth in popularity of cycle commuting among the well heeled, sartorial elite, there are a number of companies now marketing dapper jackets styled on classic single breasted jackets and other iconic jacket styles, but with a twist. These jackets ape classic designs but are constructed from technical materials, incorporating reflectives and other cycling specific features. They tend to be prohibitively expensive however but are very nice if you can afford them – allowing you to look ‘normal’ yet enjoy cycling specific features.

Features - what to look for

‘Non-cycling specific jackets’

  • Long arms – that won’t ride up when in cycling position
  • Jacket length – not too long so it bunches up at the front but not too short that is doesn’t cover your lower back
  • Insulation – able to keep the wind out but not too warm when you’re puffing up a hill with full panniers
  • Waterproofing – great but not at the expense of breathability.

Cycling-Specific Jackets

  • Long arms - with a cinch at the wrist to prevent draughts 
  • A longer back to prevent kidney chills when in ‘on bike’ position
  • High visibility colours and/or reflective piping, graphics etc
  • Small pack size - when you're carrying a your lunch and your commuting gear (perhaps even a laptop) you won't have much room for a big jacket
  • Breathability – so you don’t arrive at work hot and sweaty
  • A more casual cut than a full-on performance cycling jacket for all day wear. 
  • A slightly heavier fabric than a performance jacket for greater insulation (you may be riding more slowly than when out on a sportive or mountain bike ride).

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