A good commuting jacket makes miserable winter weather tolerable. It doesn't need to be insulated like a jacket for walking as you'll generate more body heat by pedalling. It does need to be waterproof. Rainfall is more frequent in winter and wind-chill can be cutting if your outer layer gets wet through. A jacket that's waterproof will also be windproof, although the reverse isn't true.
'Showerproof' and 'rain resistant' are euphemisms for 'okay for 10 or 15 minutes, then leaks like a sieve'. For commuting, get a jacket that's described as waterproof. That means the fabric won't allow water through it (at a given pressure, for 24 hours) and that the seams will be sealed to stop rain seeping through the stitching. Most jackets also have a durable, water-repellent (DWR) coating, to make water bead and roll off.
Hold a modern cycling jacket above a boiling kettle and you'll see steam coming through it. Fabrics such as Gore-Tex, which incorporates a microporous synthetic membrane, allow water vapour to pass through while keeping water droplets out. The bad news is that you can sweat faster than any jacket can 'breathe' it out, so if you're an energetic commuter, look for vents across the back or under the arms to help you keep cool. Or consider a 'softshell' jacket, which won't get clammy as it trades some weather resistance for jersey-like breathability.
Comfort & fit
Cycling jackets need to be longer in the arms and back, to keep you fully covered in a leaning-forward cycling position, and closer cut, so that they don't flap about and slow you down when riding. A high neck keeps the cold off your throat and won't scoop air onto your chest, while adjustment or elastic at the cuffs and hem will keep the other edges snug.
Pockets & zips
A full-length front zip that you can operate in gloved hands allows easy temperature regulation on the go. A zipped pocket in the chest or the lower back is handy for get-at-in-a-hurry items. Check that the pocket zip is waterproof too if you plan to put a phone there.
Bright yellows, oranges, lime greens and reds stand out best in daylight, while more muted colours let you blend in better after you've parked your bike. Whichever colour palette you prefer, reflective patches and piping greatly improve visibility at night.
You can machine wash most waterproof jackets on a 30 or 40 degree cycle, but do check the label. Don't use conditioner: it blocks the pores in breathable fabrics. You can, however, reproof jackets in the washing machine to restore the water repellent coating, using Nikwax TX Direct, Granger's 2-in-1, or similar products.
Here's a selection of good jackets from across the price range.
Good value for a waterproof jacket that's breathable, the Rush has a mesh liner to improve moisture transfer and stop it feeling clammy. Zipped vents under the arms allow extra ventilation, and drawstrings at the hem and collar keep out draughts. There are pockets at the rear and the chest, the latter with a waterproof zip. The logos are reflective. Sizes: S-XXL, yellow, green/black, blue/black, brown/black.
It's named for the red Luminite LED light strip on the back, which flashes for 50 hours. Even without this it's very visible, thanks to the abundant reflective flashes. It's waterproof and breathable of course, and there are zipped underarm vents. Like the Rush, it has pockets in the rear and chest; the chest one is waterproof. Hem, cuffs and collar are adjustable, and the soft collar lining is a nice touch. Sizes: men's S-XXL, women's S-XL, in yellow, olive green (men's only), or black.
Altura Night Vision Evo
A popular high-visibility commuting jacket, the Night Vision Evo is covered with reflectives and – similar to the Luminite - comes with a Lightstick that attaches to the back. There are vents across the back and under the arms and four pockets (two waist, one chest, one rear). As well as being waterproof and breathable, the material is durable, with a soft feel that's more 'fabric' than crinkly cagoule. Sizes: men's S-XXXL, women's 8-18, in yellow, black, red (men's only) or pink (women's only).
Agu Secco Pro
This rain jacket is based on the 'race capes' used by pro cyclists. It's close fitting, lightweight, and designed to be easy to get on an off: closure is by velcro rather than a zip. While it is very waterproof and reasonably breathable, and even has reflective stripes, it's a minimalist outer shell that best suits harder-riding, road-bike commuters. There's a transparent window in the left wrist so you can look at a watch or heart rate monitor. Sizes: XXS-XXXL, in yellow or black.
Gore Bike Wear Path Gore-Tex
The higher price of this jacket is down to the Gore-Tex material. Gore-Tex's microporous membrane led the way in combining breathability with rain and wind protection, and it's still a benchmark today. The Path's cuffs, hem and collar can be snugged tight against bad weather, and there's reflective piping on the back and sleeves. There are pockets in the chest and back. It's much more weatherproof than its low bulk would suggest. Sizes: S-XXL, in red, yellow, light blue, dark blue, cyan, or black.
Union 34 Capital Waterproof Coat
More pea coat than bike jacket, the Capital combines high street style with cycling performance. The material is a membrane fabric, Schoeller c_change, which is waterproof and breathable in a way that fashion items are not. The seams are taped too and the zips are waterproof. It's available only in black but there are reflective touches to make it stand out at night. The men's version has the same features but a different cut. Women's sizes 8-14, men's S-XL.
Cheap doesn’t have to mean nasty. Choose wisely and you can buy a decent new commuter bike for £250 or less.
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