To follow is a list of some of the bike jacket technical terms you may come across when looking at bike jackets.  Knowing what these terms mean will help you to decide whether your bike jacket or jackets need to be waterproof or breathable… or both!  Hope this helps and if you want anything else explained, please get in touch….  CONTACT goRide

OUTER LAYER TERMS – Wind proof, water proof, water resistant, seam sealed, breathable, thermal, reflective, bright

Includes rain jackets, thermal jackets, waterproof trousers

An outer shell or hard shell jacket designed for riding doesn’t do much to actually keep you warm except for keeping out wind. Its primary function is to protect the inside layers of clothing from getting wet.  Most cycling jackets are made up of an outer shell and maybe an inner membrane.  Very few have insulating layers as they are designed for active use not to help keep you warm.


Technically, being waterproof means that it is impermeable to water, no matter how much time it spends in 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 5,000 mm and 10,000 mm 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 10,000 mm are excellent.


This 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.  A waterproof jacket that has no breathability will trap all this 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 can also be aided with vents, zips, mesh lined pockets.

What is your activity level?  How important is a breathable jacket?

Bike jacket or vest. Be seen
Control Moisture

Why do you need to control moisture? Once your clothing is wet, in warm conditions, it will lead to chaffing.  In cold conditions, it will lead to hypothermia. The combination of wet clothing & wind is dangerous and riding creates a draft without any help from the actual weather conditions.


Most waterproof breathable fabrics are layered. This is what distinguishes them from the rest of the jacket options.  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
Town Poncho information chart. goRide

Layered fabrics are common in waterproof & breathable jackets

Related Technical Terms:

Seam Sealed – Taping is used to seal the seams in a waterproof jacket on the inside. It does add bulk and reduce a jacket’s breathability.

Water Resistant – This type of 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.

Wicking – Allows moisture to move through the fabric weave, pulling it off your skin onto the surface of the fabric to evaporate which is cooling. These types of fabrics have a direction of pull so don’t wear them inside out!

Thermal – A thermal jacket works extremely well as a light jacket for the transitional seasons, but it is also perfect as an insulating middle layer when it is really cold or wet. Thermal jackets can be breathable, windproof and water-repellent, making them practical and suitable for all kinds of weather. See Thermal Jacket

Reflective – Also called Hi-Vis, Protective or Safety Clothing.  It 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.  Or it will be considered ‘Reflective’ because it will be reflecting back toward its source any light that plays on it.   This last property works well in strips or bands. See Visibility Jacket / Vest

Thermal Jacket - reflective banding. goRide

A fitted thermal bike jacket for wind or chill protection

Visibility bike jacket - commute or traffic riding

Water resistant, packable & hi-vis bike jacket

Depending on the conditions, activity and personal preference the right jacket will vary for each rider.  See more at The Best Bike Jackets for Cycling in…

Many people only need a water resistant jacket as a windproof outer layer.  This jacket will protect you if you are caught out by rain on your ride.  It will provide an adequate level of protection to get you home or back to the car somewhat dry.

If you need a good all-season jacket for protection from wind & chills while riding then a soft shell thermal jacket will work well. This type of jackets bridges the gap between fleeces and waterproof jackets (or hard shells).  This is a jacket for people who do not intend to ride in the rain.

Waterproof Options:

Commute or urban riders using bikes for transport will generally be looking for jackets with high waterproof ratings where breathability may not be so necessary.  These bike journeys will be short (<1hr) with coverage and protection from the jacket being important.  See Waterproof Poncho for Town Riding 

If you are doing a high level of aerobic activity in the rain then you will want something more lightweight, breathable & waterproof.  Look for higher breathability ratings but lighter weights.  These jackets are for dedicated riders who continue to cycle even in ‘bad weather’.  For example road riding, anyone training for an event.

If you are going to be outside in more extreme conditions, for instance, longer and more exposed riding, then a hardshell with excellent waterproof capabilities is your best bet.  Think more isolated, back country riding where you have a responsibility to keep yourself safe.

Jacket Fit & Care

Construction plays a big role in how well your jacket will perform.  Water can also get in through poorly sealed seams or zips, or via the collar or sleeves if they don’t fit correctly.

DWR treatments wear off over time, accelerated by abrasions (e.g. rubbing from a back pack) and some detergents.  This makes it really important to read all care & wash labels when you first get your jacket.  It may also need to be re-treated to maintain its water proof properties. If the treatment does wear off, the outer fabric no longer causes water to bead and will become saturated and heavy.  Absorbing water from both the external rain water and your internal sweat.

For more information see How to Wash a Bike Jacket

get Safe and goRide – Waterproof or Breathable – Bike Jackets Explained
get Safe and goRide – Waterproof or Breathable – Bike Jackets Explained

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