Unless you’re lucky enough to live in an area with year-round sunshine, you’re going to need clothes to keep you warm and dry when riding your bike. Clothing is of course not just about keeping warm – if you’re actually going somewhere on your bike, you’ll want to wear something that you aren’t embarrassed about wearing once you get to your destination.
In terms of clothing to wear when cycling, your jacket is one of the most important items. It serves to keep you warm and dry, and may also include reflective markings, which are an important safety measure as they make you more easily visible, especially in bad weather conditions or at night, to other road users. On the whole, if you can, it’s best to get a jacket that is specifically designed to cycling – you won’t regret it.
If you choose a jacket that has been specifically designed for cycling, you’ll notice some unusual things about it as compared to “normal” jackets. One of the main features of cycling jackets is they are generally longer at the back so that they cover your kidneys from the wind, and your bottom from road spray – the latter being something that you’ll sure appreciate if you ride a road bike without mudguards. You’ll also notice that cycling jackets are generally shorter at the front (to facilitate movement of your legs), but have long sleeves (so that your wrists are covered when reaching forward to the handlebars).
Cycle jackets are generally designed to be draught-proof, and most feature toggles so that you can adjust the balance between ventilation and warmth depending on the weather and your personal preferences. Of course, draught-proofing is very important, as whenever you cycle you’re moving through air, and so can get cold very quickly.
Another thing to think about is the features of the jacket and how they tie into your convenience. For example, it’s great to have pockets, but pockets at the front weigh you down, and can even create a big draughty inside your jacket when riding – for this reason pockets at the back may be preferable. Likewise little extras like extra zips and optional hoods may seem like a good idea, but they also made your jacket a lot more bulky and a lot more awkward to deal with on those days when you’re not too sure what the weather will be like.
Fabric should also play a part in your choice of fabric. Ideally you want something breathable so that you never get too hot and sweaty. Additionally, you will need to choose between a water-proof fabric (such as Gore-Tex which can keep you dry for a full day) or water-resistant (which will keep you dry for about 20 minutes in heavy rain or 40 minutes in a shower). If all other things are equally between two jackets, you’d probably simply choose water-proof, but given that they’re not, and that a water-resistant jacket may be cheaper, less bulky, better styled, etc., the choice is more difficult. One thing to bear in mind is that most commutes are 20 minutes or less, so water-resistant may in fact be perfectly adequate.
The final (but by no means least important) matter to consider is safety. As already mentioned, anything that makes you more visible to other road users, especially car drivers, is a big advantage – especially if cycling on dark days or after sunset. Additionally, it’s better not to get a jacket with a hood, but wear a cycling helmet instead – a helmet will protect your head, and also not restrict your vision in the way that hoods can.