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Buyer's guide: Best thermal cycling jackets for winter

Emma Cole
3 Dec 2021

Time to get your coat? Here are our favourite thermal winter cycling jackets

If you're thinking about carrying on riding your bike throughout the cold, wet winter months, it pays to invest in clothing to take the bite out of the weather. Chief among your purchases should be a thermal cycling jacket.

As most of us know, layers are the key to keeping warm when it's chilly and while they can be of great benefit on the bike, they can also leave you feeling trussed up like a turkey.

At the same time, keeping warm air next to the skin is key to staying comfy so it’s best to avoid anything too spacious and loose, which means striking a balance.

Thanks to clever fabrics, many of the jackets here can be layered over a jersey or coupled with just a base layer and worn in place of one. Chuck a packable windbreaker over the top to add another layer of protection.

The best thermal cycling jackets for winter

1. The best thermal cycling jacket: Castelli Alpha ROS2  

This jacket from Castelli headlines the Italian brand's winter range for good reason. Recently updated, its two-layer system helps solve the issue of overheating during winter, an ever occurring problem when riding hard uphill. 

Living up to its 'rain or shine' name, it manages this trick by combining an exterior jacket with an internal vest that hugs close to your body and offers insulation down to -5˚C. 

Done up tight, it'll also keep you dry whatever the rainfall. This it archives via an outer made of Gore's new Infinium Windstopper light rain-resistant membrane. Highly breathable and moderately waterproof, crucial seams on the shoulders are further sealed eternally, giving the Alpha ROS jacket a distinctive look. 

The cut is close like usual for Italian garments, however, this isn't a jacket that's designed to be worn over anything too bulky. Cleverly, despite all its insulating properties, the jacket remains both svelte and flexible. Reflective trims, a zipped pocket, and a new cuff design that eliminates any gaps between the jacket and your gloves round off an expensive but high performing jacket. 

2. The best value thermal cycling jacket: Rapha Core Winter 

True to its roots, the Core Winter Jacket delivers the Rapha name without shouting too loudly or trying too hard.

Despite feeling thin to the touch, it's proved more than adequate at lower temperatures while never causing us to overheat when the mercury starts rising on sunnier days.

It manages this thanks to a weather-resistant three-layer laminate front section which helps keep the wind out and a breathable back that lets excess heat escape.

Coming from a brand often criticised for its prices, at £110, the Rapha Core winter jacket is significantly more affordable than jackets of a similar performance from rival brands. It's also around half the price of some of its internal rivals within Rapha's own range. You've got to ask yourself; why spend more?

A beautifully cut garment suited to more athletic riders, its wind-stopping front panels and a stretchy rear combining with the brushed interior to make a riding partner you'll be happy to spend extended time with.

3. Best for racing in the cold: Dhb Aeron Lab All Winter Polartec Jacket

A premium product with a comparatively digestible headline cost. The use of several high-spec Polartec fabrics keep this jacket useable across a wide range of temperatures, down to around freezing.

With the front, shoulders and upper half of the arms made of water and windproof material, the trailing panels are made of more breathable fabric.

Lined with a comfortable and fast-wicking fleece, it's comfy worn over just a base layer, something that helps it retain an extremely fitted look when on the bike. Definitely at the racier end of the spectrum, keep an eye on sizing, and expect to size up if you're anything other than rake thin. 

Shielding all your crucial bits, but more breathable in areas where you're less at risk from rain and wind, it's a lovely place to spend a long ride and happily covers multiple conditions.

Taken all together, the Dhb Aeron Lab All Winter Polartec Jacket has looks and performance to match almost anything else on this list.

4. The most versatile thermal cycling jacket: Gore Phantom Infinium 

This versatile jacket combines wind and water-resistance in a convertible package that lets you choose between long and short sleeves.

Coming with a relaxed cut, it's a garment that will suit commuters, gravel riders, cycle tourists or just anyone less concerned about being aerodynamic than they are about comfort.

Using Gore-Tex Infinium fabric, this is splendidly windproof and pretty near waterproof. Covering the front and sleeves of the jacket, these latter parts can be quickly detached via subtle zips hidden around the shoulders.

Allowing the jersey to cover both warm and cold conditions, its sleeves will easily fit into one of the three rear pockets should the weather turn while you're out and about.

With a secure zip pocket for your valuables, the back is made of a stretchier and more breathable material. At the top, a high and lined collar locks out the chill, while reflective details add some bright colour options add visibility.

All in, a practical, adaptable and reasonably priced addition to anyone's cycling armoury.

5. Best money-no-object thermal cycling jacket: Assos Equipe RS Winter 

Costing the same as an entry-level racing bike, but significantly less than some plain white T-shirts you'll see at Fashion Week, the Assos Equipe RS jacket is aimed squarely at the top of the market. Designed as a jacket to cover all cold-weather scenarios, it does at least work extremely hard to justify its price tag.

Besides a novella's worth of fabric technology and an equally long list of patents, its stand-out feature remains its diffuser air intake system.

Visible as the blue tabs located on the shoulders, these allow the jacket to either suck in or block out passing airflow depending on the rider's position. Sit upright, as is common when riding at lower intensities, and the jacket remains sealed. Switch to a head-down position on the drops and the vents automatically open.

Almost as clever, but requiring a bit more input from the wearer, there’s also dedicated storage space for adding Assos's Clima Capsule shell or Thermobooster insulating layer. However, even without these, the Equipe RS jacket is designed to function just as well in the rain as it does on cold clear days.

Of course, for something likely to get spattered with muck, the high price will likely put many off. Still, if you can afford it, why not? Although it's expensive you're likely to get your money's worth if you ride enough.

6. Best for racing in the rain: Sportful Fiandre Pro

Softshell often used to be shorthand for windproof and water-resistant. By comparison, the Polartec NeoShell fabric used here is properly waterproof, yet remains highly stretchy.

Imparting qualities normally associated with shell-style materials, it's no surprise that this clever jacket comes from the sibling label of Castelli, maker of the famous, and similarly smart, Gabba.

Pretty much watertight, almost all the jacket's main seams are taped. Meaning it'll fend off all but the most prolonged downpours, it does this while being both highly breathable and tight-fitting.

Comfortable to leave on all day, the result is a race-style jersey that's ideal for fast riding in changeable conditions. Whether for intensive training or competition, despite its protective qualities it’s aerodynamic and free-moving enough to cause minimal drag.

Available in a wide range of bright colours, the Sportful Fiandre Pro is an uber-stylish jacket that's virtually waterproof and will keep users happy through three seasons' worth of riding.

7. Best value-to-performance ratio jacket: Endura Pro SL Thermal Windproof II

Another jacket marrying a water and wind-resistant wrap-around front to a series of more breathable back and under-arm panels. Part of the brand's racy Pro SL range, its cut manages to be both comfy and aero.

Ideal for training in, it includes a thick, high collar to lock out the cold, a trick repeated on the sleeves, which are tight to sit in place under your gloves. The effect is a cosy and comfortable garment that's suited to both the bagging of base-miles and racing.

Held in place at the bottom with silicone grippers, its front will keep out short showers, although you'll want to throw a shell over it during longer downpours.

Very comfy, breathable and cosy. If the weather isn't too rainy this is a versatile and racy jersey in which to rack up the miles.

8. Best shoulder-season cycling jacket: Castelli Perfetto RoS Long Sleeve

There's not much to the Perfetto. With little insulation, you can layer it however you choose. But thanks to the stretchy Gore-tex Infinium Windstopper fabric it still feels very much comfier and more substantial than a shell.

In fact, it's both more water-resistant and lighter than the more expensive Castelli Alpha RoS jacket listed above. However, with a design focussed on shoulder-season riding or racing, it's a little less warm than its pricier sibling.

On the plus side, match it to the conditions and you'll get excellent breathability, and with just a touch of fleeciness alongside its inner surfaces, it's happy to be used in wet, dry or alternating conditions.

As with all things Castelli, the pricing is premium; but then so is both the styling and performance.

 9. Best for functionality: Santini Vega Multi

Santini deserves a mention here for this is highly technical yet unassuming winter jacket. 

Made from Polartec fabric, the Santini Vega Multi is claimed to be waterproof up to 5m and has a microporous membrane which makes it breathable and lightweight.

It is also completely thermowelded, which means it isn't made by the traditional sewing method, but instead using bonding machines to form the seams. This protects wearers from the elements and keeps you warm and toasty.  

The jacket is soft to the touch and feels great on the skin, and has a brilliantly bright reflective stripe down the back for visibility. 

It's available in both men's and women's variants, with the men's version costing £10 more than the women's.

10. Best for visibility: Metier Beacon Jacket 

Looking for a warm and highly visible winter jacket? 

The Beacon is the jacket for you. As the pioneer of performance cycling jackets to have integrated LED technology, the Beacon comes with 160-lumen ultra-high intensity white lights in the jacket's chest panel and 22-lumen ultra-high brightness red lights in the jacket's tail – all rechargeable via USB.

On slow flash, the lights have up to 72 hours of charge and can even boast a 120-degree viewing angle for other road users.

A hydrophobic fabric with DWR finish means rain is no match for this jacket either, while its close fit makes it perfect for intense, winter training rides and it comes in both a men's and women's cuts.

For more top tips on winter wear, read our extensive guide on what to wear cycling in winter and check out the dos and don'ts of winter bike maintenance. Head to our winter cycling advice hub for more. 

This guide includes contributions from the wider Cyclist team.

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