What features do you want/need in a bike jacket? It will depend on the job you need your jacket to perform. Is it protection from wind, to give you warmth, keep you dry from rain and/or increase your visibility in poor weather. It could be a combination of these things. It can be hard for a jacket to perform multiple jobs and therefore you may need more than one jacket. Let’s understand the features of a bike jacket so you can understand what you might need.
WATERPROOF vs WATER RESISTANT
A Waterproof Jacket is designed to keep you dry. Being waterproof means that it is impermeable to water, no matter how much time it spends exposed to water. No water in or out. A waterproof jacket will have a coating on the outer fabric called a DWR (Durable Water Repellant). This will help the garment shed water and prevent saturation.
A garments level of waterproofness is measured in millimetres. The range between 5,000mm and 10,000mm is great for spending long days outdoors through cold and wet weather conditions. It can withstand rains and winds, making it ideal for most outdoor activities including cycling. Waterproof ratings beyond 10,000mm are excellent.
Seam Sealed – is a term you may come across in the description of a jacket. It describes when taping is used on seams to seal a waterproof jacket on the inside. It does add bulk and reduce a jacket’s breathability.
A Water Resistant Jacket will be able to resist the penetration of water to a certain degree but not entirely so is considered water resistant or water repellant or showerproof. It will often bead up rainwater, forming drops on the surface because the surface of the fabric will be treated/coated. A large range of jackets fall into this category and are generally more budget friendly – cheaper.
Breathability is a measure of how quickly moisture vapour, generated from your body when you are exercising, is able to pass through a fabric from the inside to the outside environment. So the importance of breathability increases when you are working hard on your bike. A waterproof jacket that has no breathability will trap vapour which will then condense and make you feel damp and sweaty, and potentially cold on a bike. A jackets breathability will vary depending on the use it was designed for. As a guide breathability can be measured in g/m2 so depending on the level of activity you want to perform on a regular basis you can buy a jacket that matches. Most jacket companies will have their own guidelines but to give you a general idea…
- 5,000 – 10,000g/m²: This level of breathability is fine for light activities, but will get a bit clammy during high-intensity riding or hill climbing.
- 10,000 – 15,000g/m²: Jackets in this range are suited to more adventurous, moderate to high levels of exercise.
- 15,000 – 20,000g/m² & above: An extended back country trip, protection in warm climates or otherwise working hard and perspiring heavily will require a jacket this breathable.
Breathability or vapour flow can also be aided with vents, zips and mesh lined pockets. These features will also help with air flow, keeping you cooler so you are less likely to sweat.
Wicking – Is a term you may come across that is used when describing riding clothing including jackets. It applies to fabrics that allow moisture to move through the fabric weave, pulling it off your skin onto the surface of the fabric to evaporate which has a cooling effect. These types of fabrics have a direction of pull so don’t wear them inside out!
Can a Jacket be BREATHABLE and WATER PROOF?
This combination of features is challenging as they are essentially opposites. The ability to create this in a garment comes from a technical layering process and this is what distinguishes them from other jacket options. It is also what makes waterproof breathable jackets more expensive.
Waterproof breathable fabrics have 3 layers. The layers will be made from laminate materials, which usually consist of
- an inner fabric optimised for wicking moisture
- a waterproof membrane
- an outer face fabric with a DWR treatment
Soft Shell vs Hard Shell Jackets
The term soft shell is describing the type of fabric used to make the jacket. For it to be soft shell it will be pliable and stretch and is usually a brushed synthetic fabric like Nylon or Polyester. A thermal soft shell jacket, as the name suggests, is designed to provide warmth and limit cool air flow. It works extremely well as an outer layer for the transitional seasons, but it is also perfect as an insulating middle layer when it is really cold or wet. Soft shell jackets should be breathable, windproof and water-repellent, making them practical and suitable for all kinds of weather. See Thermal Jacket
A waterproof or water resistant jacket will more than likely have a hard shell. Easily identified by a stiff or non stretch fabric that can be noisy/crinkly when you move. A hard shell jacket will protect you from cool and cold air or winds by simply blocking them. These jackets also prevent you from getting wet and therefore cold. The fabrics used for hard shell bike jackets should be durable, practical, rip resistant and will be water resistant or water proof depending on how they have been treated.
As fabric technologies advance so do the offerings in the bike jacket market. An ideal jacket would have elements of both soft and hard outer shells allowing movement, comfort and great temperature control on the bike. These features do come at a cost and will be expensive. See Waterproof Performance Jacket
Visibility – A jacket that has good visibility will have one or both of the following properties
- The fabric of the jacket will be made entirely from, or have elements of, high luminescent colour that is easily discernible from any background known as Hi-Vis or more simply, be a bright colour that stands out
- Be ‘Reflective’ because it will reflect back toward the source any light that plays on it. This last property works well in strips or bands and is essential for night time riding, riding in poor weather or conditions of poor visibility
Length – There can be a balancing act to get the right length in a bike jacket. You want to have your lower back/bottom area covered when riding but it is important that the jacket doesn’t get caught on the bike seat when you move forward to stop. The design of a bike specific jacket takes this into account and will usually have a dropped rear hem but not interfere with the seat. If using a jacket that is not bike specific then we suggest that you have the ability to adjust the tension/circumference of the bottom of the jacket so you can still have coverage but keep the jacket close to your body at a height that will not get caught on the seat. A jacket with a cord on the bottom that allows you to tighten or loosen the hem or a two way zip will achieve this.
Hoods & Built Up Front Chin Guards – When you ride you will be wearing a helmet so your helmet will provide you with some protection from the rain. To be safe on your bike you need to have good vision. This includes having nothing blocking the vision from the side of your eyes. Wearing your hood up when you ride can block your vision especially to the side or peripherally. It is really important when you are on the road/in traffic to be able to see everything. Most hoods will sit at the back of your neck behind your helmet and not interfere with your ability to see anything. A lot of the water proof jacket options will have a high front zip closing protecting the front of your neck right up to your chin. This is a great feature to have for rain and cold weather.
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