October 17, 2014
Faced online or in-store with a selection of similar-looking - often fluorescent-yellow - cycling jackets, it can be hard to select the one that will best suit your needs through a hard winter of riding. In-store in Eastbourne we will talk you through the pros and cons of each and you can see, feel and try out the differences, but for those shopping online we’ve prepared this blog to help you select the best jacket for your needs.
Where to Start?
The first decision to make is whether you want waterproof, windproof, or warm – or some combination of 2 or 3 of these. Naturally a warm, windproof and waterproof jacket will be more expensive so it may be worth considering whether you can do without one factor. Rarely ride in the rain? Tend to overheat? Already own a good selection of layers? Then you can save money on the waterproofing or the warmth by buying a shell that works with what you already have. Given the nature of cycling - mid-intensity but with a high windchill factor - a jacket’s ability to protect you from the wind is its most useful feature, and you can utilise long sleeve jerseys and baselayers to fine tune your warmth to the conditions.
When browsing jackets on our site you can focus your search on just the feature you want by selecting from ‘Warm Jackets’, ‘Waterproof Jackets’ or ‘Windproof Jackets’ from the ‘Popular Searches’ bar. You can then further refine your search by selecting by brand, price and gender to display just the jackets that match.
Once you’ve decided on your headline characteristics you can begin to compare additional features. Does it need to be packable? In changeable autumn and spring conditions it can be useful to be able to store the jacket easily in a jersey pocket when things brighten up. Does it need to be form-fitting or will you use it to commute in normal clothes as well? Softshell or hardshell? Removable arms? Pockets on the back? High-visibility for night riding? Aerodynamic? Below is a brief mix of spec. and opinion on our complete range of autumn/winter 2014/15 jackets from Castelli, Endura, Specialized, Gore Bike Wear and Pearl Izumi to help you make a decision.
Castelli Squadra £36 (RRP £40)
A repeat best-seller, the Squadra is a bargain shell jacket that’ll keep the worst of a sudden downpour or drop in temperature at bay. Can be stuck in a jersey pocket when not needed or taken out on a ride ‘just in case’. Great for chilly descents. Less breathable than the more expensive Sottile Due.
Endura Laser II £47.99
A fully waterproof jacket for under £50, the Laser II is aimed at commuters and those who ride for transport where staying dry is a priority and intensity (read sweatiness) is kept to a minimum. The price reflects the relative lack of breathability but it’s not an issue on short trips, and the taped seams really do keep you dry. Lots of high-vis for being seen on evening commutes home. Roomy fit and long at the back. Can fold into its own pocket and be Velcro’d to your frame, which is nice (for riding to the pub).
Another lightweight shell jacket - windproof, water repellent, lightweight and folds down into its own pocket. Slightly more refined materials and fit than the Squadra for that extra £14.
Castelli Sottile Due £67.50 (RRP £75)
The Sottile is a bit special - like a fancy, modern race cape of old. Semi-transparent material (either white or yellow) allows your kit or race number to remain visible while protecting you from wind and rain. The fabric is stretchy so can be worn snug without making you feel restricted, and because it’s designed with racing in mind the breathability is about the best of any non-softshell jacket. A zipped opening allows access to your jersey pockets underneath.
Castelli Velo Women’s £67.50 (RRP £75)
The women’s equivalent to the Sottile Due. A great all-round jacket to protect from wind and rain - ‘DWR’ (durable water repellent) protection from rain keeps showers out but won’t resist a downpour, though it’ll keep some heat in and can be layered up underneath for use in most conditions. Super breathable fabric and folds into its own stuff-sack.
This is similar to the Endura Laser II - it will keep you properly dry - but with a more refined, semi-form fitting cut making it better suited to doubling up for commuting and weekend training use. A great option for those long periods of rain where you’ve just got to get out on your bike.
Pearl Izumi PRO Barrier Lite £80.99 (RRP £89.99)
Pearl Izumi tread the boundary between high quality and affordability, regularly producing jackets that make us question whether we’ve labelled them with the right price! In the PRO Barrier Lite they’ve mixed a windproof and water resistant shell fabric with similarly protective softshell panels to give a snug feeling without the restricted feeling of a full shell. Stretchy softshell on the sides and at the elbows allows full movement without that annoying ‘cling’.
Another more relaxed fitting jacket for combined ‘casual’ and ‘sporty’ use, but unlike the RBX and Endura this is a softshell so avoids any ‘boil in the bag’ breathability issues, while still being windproof and water repellent. Nice touches include a cable port in the rear pocket for earphones which are then kept in place on the collar by a specific earphone loop. Soft fleece lining means you can wear it with just a baselayer, and a thermal strip behind the zip eliminates sneaky breezes.
Pearl Izumi Pro Aero WXB £107.99 (RRP £119.99)
This is the first fully waterproof and breathable ‘performance’ jacket in our list - form-fitting for training use with a specific focus on being aero, i.e. not flapping about. The sleeves are contoured for a cycling position, as is the tapered collar. The 2.5 layer polyester/charcoal breathable fabric and taped seams ensure that keeping dry from rain doesn’t lead to being wet from sweat. Subtle reflective touches mean you’ll show up in headlights but still look relatively normal the rest of the time.
Pearl Izumi Elite Softshell £107.99 (RRP £120)
This is all about warmth. Designed to be comfortable down to freezing but still slim and low-profile, can be paired with various layers for use through 3 seasons. The warmth doesn’t come at the expense of windproofing or water resistance though - this’ll still keep the worst out if a crisp, clear winter morning turns wet. Contoured softshell fits more like a jersey than a jacket, meaning it’s seriously snug and comfortable.
Gore Bike Wear Phantom 2.0 Jacket (Men’s & Women’s) £125.99 (RRP £139.99)
It’s the most expensive jacket so far, but here’s why – it’s not just a jacket. The Gore Phantom has been hugely popular season after season because it’s 2 things in 1: with sleeves it’s a warm winter jacket, zip them off and it’s a windproof spring/autumn/summer short-sleeve jersey. True 4-season use means this is one of the most versatile pieces we stock and makes the cost seem far more reasonable. It’s also ideal in changeable conditions where your ride might start cold but warm up, as you can remove and reattach the sleeves as necessary.
This is very similar to the RBX Sport Partial jacket but with a slightly more advanced construction in terms of the materials used and the way they are put together. To improve on the already impressive mix of breathability and protection of the softshell, the SL Elite uses windproof and water resistant triple-layer fabric on the front and the sleeves where you face most of the elements and increases breathability and comfort by using Lombardia fleece on the back where sweat and excess heat are in need of escape. It combines this with a more ‘racy’ fit, while retaining the useful headphone cable features and adding a zipped chest pocket as well as one on the rear. The kind of jacket that’ll make you want to go and ride in the cold!
Now we’re talking! The Gabba is definitely our favourite premium piece of winter kit, and we’re not alone - it’s the now legendary jacket that the pros have been willing to spend their own money on when their team’s own sponsor’s offerings were not up to the job. Ever seen the peloton don black jackets when the weather turns truly bad, as at Milan-San Remo in 2013? That’ll be the (unbranded) Gabba coming to the rescue. So why’s it so good? It fits like a jersey yet protects like a jacket. It’s thin, comfortable, flexible and fully breathable, yet fully windproof and almost totally waterproof (the fabric is highly waterproof but the seams aren’t taped). It’s super long at the back to protect from wheel spray on your un-mudguarded road bike, with silicone gripper to keep it in place and a really aggressive cut for the classic ‘on-the-drops’ position. If you hate feeling bundled up in winter to stay warm this may be the answer. The new Convertible Gabba is for those who can’t decide between the long sleeve and short sleeve Gabbas - it features removable sleeves as on the Gore Phantom meaning you can turn it into a useful year-round piece of kit and adapt to any condition.
Castelli Mortirolo 3 £162 (RRP £180)
The Mortirolo, named after the infamous pass in the Italian Alps, is similar in its construction to the Specialized SL Elite Partial jacket, in that it combines protective windproof and water resistant fabric (Gore Windstopper X-Fast) on the chest and sleeves with a super breathable, warm fabric on the back. This aims to get over the cycle of ‘too hot, unzip, too cold, zip up’ inherent in warmer jackets. It shares the same bike-focused fit as all Castelli’s items so that you’ll feel unrestricted and at just the right temperature as you reach for the drops to sprint for the next road sign...
Castelli Muur Waterproof £180 (RRP £200)
If you saw or heard about the Castelli Pocketliner jacket last year but were put off by the £300 price tag, here’s your answer. The Muur (swapping Italian Alpine imagery for muddy Belgian cobbles) is made from fully waterproof and super breathable eVent fabric and is incredibly lightweight and packable. Castelli have shaved the hefty 1/3 of the cost by dispensing with fancy plisse panels and pit zips present on the Pocket Liner and ensuring this fits and breathes just as well without them. If you regularly ride in the rain - through need or enjoyment - then this jacket will make that experience all the more dry and comfortable. In short the Muur is a slightly more affordable version of a jacket that earned the ‘world’s best’ tag from the pros.
Castelli Espresso 3 £207 (RRP £230)
With this many jackets already covered what other particular niche is there to provide for? Well the Espresso is all about its vents, and is designed with the aim of providing a luxurious riding experience when the British weather is anything but. With one of the best warmth-to-weight ratios - 450g for a comfort rating down to 0 degrees C with just a baselayer - and extra features such as the flip-up Thermoflex collar, phone pocket and ‘floating shoulder’ construction for flexibility, combined with the expected windproof, water resistant and breathable Windstopper X-Fast fabric, it ticks all the right boxes for those who want a no-nonsense winter jacket. Zipped vents on the front of the jacket and up from the wrists ensure you will always be at the Goldilocks temperature, no matter how changeable conditions are.
Castelli Alpha £225 (RRP £250)
Last but not least... The Alpha is something a little bit different. It should be obvious really, but it took Castelli to design it for it to happen. You’re on a long climb in winter and start to build up some heat, maybe a bit more than your jacket’s breathability can deal with, so you unzip it. You get to the top of the climb and you’re exposed, sweaty, and cold for the descent even when you’ve zipped it back up again. The Alpha tackles this with its unique double-layer system. With just a baselayer underneath (the jacket’s rated to 0 degrees C with just a baselayer) the internal thermal layer which is attached-to but separate-from the outer sits on top and wicks the sweat away while keeping your core warm while the jacket is undone. So basically it’s an insulation layer and a windproof layer, but separated from each other so you open one without losing the benefits of the other. Watch the Castelli video embedded on the product page for a more visual description and to see the jacket in action. It’s not cheap, admittedly, but it’s really, really, really nice...!