The year-round unpredictability of the UK weather can make dressing for cycling tricky, so whether your typical riding consists of commuting to the office or 100-mile sportives, you need a high quality waterproof jacket in case you get caught in the rain.
The fabric is the most important point to consider when you buy a jacket. Our advice is not to skimp if you want a decent high-quality jacket that is going to provide years of outstanding service. You really do get what you pay for.
Making a waterproof fabric is relatively easy; a bin bag is waterproof. Making a fabric waterproof and breathable, so it lets sweat out, now that is a lot more challenging, but it’s not impossible. With a hard-working cyclist inside a jacket producing a lot of sweat, the fabric needs to let water vapour escape outwards, while stopping the rainwater getting in. Fortunately, water vapour can pass through pores in the fabric that are too small to let water get through as a liquid.
There are all manner of fabrics on the market. Some have a waterproof treatment applied to the actual weave of the fabric (the lightest and most breathable option), some have a Durable Water Repellent (DWR) layer that causes water to bead up and roll off, and some have a membrane sandwiched between several layers. Many fabrics use more than one approach. Membrane waterproofs have a DWR coating that provides the first line of defence against the wet.
It’s also worth considering that many jackets will need to be reproofed regularly to replneishteh DWR. If water isn’t beading off your jacket, and it was when it was new, then it needs reproofing. There's plenty of choice of reproofing products. It's typically a matter of just putting your jacket through the washing machine with this special proofing product added.
Pay close attention to manufacturers' descriptions when buying a jacket. They can claim to be waterproof, water resistant or water repellant. To be considered waterproof, a jacket must be made from a waterproof fabric and have taped seams. Anything else is water resistant, which will hold up to some rain but eventually water will find a way in. Water repellant fabrics use a hydrophobic treatment that reduces the amount of water the fabric absorbs. A water resistant jacket might be okay for short showers, but if you're likely to be out in prolonged heavy rain you want a waterproof jacket.
Fully waterproof jackets will have taped seams to stop water getting in, while some might just have taped seams in key places. Fewer seams provide less opportunity for water to get in, but more panels, and therefore more seams, often lead to improved fit, and better fit leads to greater comfort on the bike. Some manufacturers are now combining different fabrics, some with stretchy panels, to improve fit.
Dropped tails and adjustability
Waterproof jackets regularly have dropped tails, to keep your lower back and bum covered up when you're crouched low over the bike. Some jackets even have a stowable drop tail.
For the same reason, the arms are usually given some extra length so they don’t ride up when you're stretched out on the bike, leaving your wrists exposed. The collar and cuffs are places for rain to get inside so look for a design that is close fitting with elasticated and/or adjustable openings. Drawcords at the hem and neck and Velcro cuffs let you adjust the fit.
Even the best fabrics are not breathable enough to cope with the amount of sweat put out by a cyclist working hard, for example while climbing a hill. A full-length zip obviously provides good ventilation, but if it’s raining heavily you don’t want to be opening it up and letting the water in.
Some jackets therefore have various ventilation options — zips on the sleeves or in the arm pits, for example — to let some of the moist air escape. Extra zips and features like pockets cost more money though and will push the price up, plus they add weight.
The reason you get sweaty inside a jacket is because your sweat rate exceeds the capability of the jacket to pass the moisture out. For this reason some jackets have a mesh lining that helps remove the moisture and makes it a lot more comfortable and less clingy on bare arms, but all that mesh adds weight and bulk.
Twelve jackets from £20 to £250
Waterproof jackets range from heavy duty, fully featured designs to ultra minimalist emergency jackets. There’s a huge choice, so you can choose the right hacket for your riding situation, whether it's a jacket for commuting, touring, racing, training or sportives. We've picked 13 of the best that represent the variety of choice and what you can expect to pay. Many of these jackets are offered in both a men and women's cut and different colours too.
The B'Twin 500 High Visibility Waterproof Cycling Jacket provides excellent rain protection with a coated membrane material and taped seams plus plenty of reflective details to help you been seen on the commute to work. There are vents and breathability is very good. We reviewed it at £19.99 and were impressed; for its current £12 it's an amazing bargain.
Altura's Microlite Showerproof jacket is designed to be packed down and carried for emergency use. It is a simple, single skin waterproof jacket more suited to light showers than prolonged downpours.
The Proviz Reflect 360's unique feature is that it's entirely made from reflective material. If you spend a lot of time on the roads in the dark it'll certainly get you noticed. The cut of the jacket is more commuter style than race so it's safe to assume that a streetlit urban environment is where the designers expect it to be used most.
The Reflect 360 is water resistant rather than Proviz claiming any waterproofing ratings but the material keeps out moderate rain for a decent amount of time backed up by taped seams and a storm zip. The rear drops slightly to which also adds protection if you aren't using mudguards.
Available in gender specific cuts and neutral colours, the DHB Cosmo waterproof jacket is a nifty little shell, compact enough to fit in a jersey pocket. Boasting waterproof and breathability ratings of 20,000mm and 30,000 m2/24, it's a specially crafted polyamide (nylon) fabric with taped seams conceived to resist moderate to heavy downpours.
The Showers Pass Pro Tech ST is a light weight, clear race cape, so that when the heavens open you can stay dry and your club or team kit can still shine through on race day or just on a training ride.
The Vermarc Extreme SPL Rain Jacket is a very light, very thin jacket that manages to pack in a load of technical features at a reasonable price while fitting into a jersey pocket. And it keeps you dry too.
At 209g for a medium size the SPL seems almost too light. The fact that it can scrunch up and be put into a jersey pocket without much fuss might lead you to think that this is not a serious contender for keeping you dry come a UK winter. You'd be wrong.
The Road Race Apex Jacket from Madison is a solidly waterproof jacket that completely prevents water penetration, all while managing to be impressively breathable. The fit and attention to detail is good, and the price reasonable for the level of performance it offers. The black colour won't to be everyone's taste though, but there are lots of reflective details.
The Santini Reef is a windproof and water-repellent short sleeve jersey for keeping you dry in drizzly conditions without the need to resort to a full-on waterproof jacket.
Sportful's Fiandre Norain Jacket uses a proprietary fabric with a water repellent technology. The jacket isn't a 100% waterproof top like some of the other jackets here, but keeps a huge amount of the rain off, with a lot more breathability than most out-and-out waterproof jackets, which makes it well suited to a lot of weather conditions.
The quality of workmanship really shows in Vulpine's kit, which oozes attention to detail in both design and manufacture. The Harrington Jacket is no different; think of it as a high performing all weather guardian in the guise of high quality classic British tailoring. The men's version is just as good.
Gore's Oxygen jacket has been completely overhauled, with the same excellent Active Shell waterproof fabric with a 3D cut, dropped tail, long arms with large reflective cuffs and lots of reflective prints and two big zips at the back for getting at your jersey pockets underneath.
Parentini Mossa jersey — £175.00
The Parentini Mossa is a race-fit waterproof and windproof jersey that copes well with the rapidly changing and impossible-to-predict British winter conditions.
The Mossa is actually fully waterproof, not just water resistant. This is achieved with the Windtex Membrane fabric, which comprises two layers sandwiching a membrane, plus a hydrophobic treatment providing water repellency. Water simply beads off the fabric and even on a ride of 2-3 hours in steady rain, the Mossa copes admirably.
POC's Essential Rain Jacket is pretty much the pinnacle of hi-viz cycling kit thanks to its fit and performance but at £250 is it also the most expensive. The POC is a three-layer waterproof. The outer layer of fabric has been treated with a DWR (durable water repellent) coating to give an added layer of water resistance. Next up is a membrane that keeps water out but has holes small enough to allow sweat out as vapour. Finally you get an internal layer for comfort.
David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.