Cycle Clothing Guide
In the depths of winter, thin layers and Lycra just don’t provide enough insulation to make bike riding comfortable and enjoyable, so whether you are a hardy all-weather commuter or a committed bikepacker, a cosy, warm cycling jacket can be very useful.
Whilst both windproof jackets and waterproof jackets add warmth almost as a by-product of their primary function, there are outer garments that also include an element of insulation as well. These work by trapping air which is warmed up by body heat, protecting the rider from the colder air on the outside. Generally speaking, the amount of air trapped dictates the material’s warmth. As bike riding is normally a high-exertion activity, these insulated pieces are best reserved for the coldest days or rides which might not be so arduous in terms of effort, as their breathability cannot match that of a good layering system.
Is all insulation created equal?
For warm cycling jackets, there are two main styles; those which use a fleecy or brushed inner usually attached to a windproof outer fabric for insulation, and those which have a separate, airy layer of insulation trapped between two other layers of material.
Fleece Lined Jackets
There are plenty of options offering the former design, which often look and feel like heavier, pocketed riding jerseys. The weight of the fleece and the jacket’s construction dictate its exact insulative. Designs can range from just a windproof front panel with a slightly brushed inner to a full windproof membrane with deep pile liner.
Some jackets separate the fleece insulation and the outer layer at the front, giving greater flexibility of temperature regulation, as the inner and outer can be unzipped to different degrees for a more nuanced approach to ventilation. Often there will be stretch fabric panels on the back or under the arms with less insulation in order to aid breathability and fit without compromising the warmth. This option isn’t usually at all packable, so would normally be worn for the entire ride in place of a jersey.
Synthetic Insulation Jackets
The ultimate in warm cycling clothing, jackets with insulation in them look and feel a bit like down jackets, with the layer of candyfloss-like, synthetic microfibre trapping a huge amount of air to act as the insulation. Both the outer and inner fabrics need to be quite light in order to allow the insulation to ‘loft’ and trap the air, so these jackets are normally windproof but not waterproof. A big benefit of the microfibre insulation is that it works almost as well when damp as it does when dry, which can’t be said of natural down. The downside of this style of jacket is that the very nature of the insulation itself means breathability isn’t great, although again, manufacturers usually utilise a panel or two of non-insulated material for fit and breathability purposes.
These synthetic insulation jackets are a great option for extended trips when a wide variety of weather conditions might be experienced, and are particularly handy to have around an evening camp on overnight bikepacking rides. Whilst the insulation still works after being crushed into a bag or pannier, only the very lightest of them can realistically be carried in a jersey pocket.