Choosing a Cycling Jacket to Keep you Warm and Comfortable
A cycling jacket is an important addition to your mountain bike clothing collection, especially if you are planning on mountain biking in cool conditions or if you do a lot of riding in areas where the weather can quickly change, like in the mountains. If you mountain bike in the winter, a waterproof jacket is also a great addition to your collection of winter cycling clothing because it is good to have an outer shell to protect you from the wind and moisture.
When I first started mountain biking, I did not have a waterproof cycling jacket and just wore a rain jacket that I had previously bought for camping. This waterproof jacket was great for camping because it always kept me completely dry, even in heavy rain, so I thought it would be great for mountain biking. Although I was saving money by using this jacket for multiple recreational activities, I quickly realized why there are jackets that are made specifically for cycling.
First of all, my rain jacket was not at all breathable. This was a problem because when I started to sweat, it didn't dry and I was soaked and cold by the end of the ride.
The second problem was the fit of the jacket. Although it fit great for camping activities, when I was mountain biking, it rode up in the back, which caused a draft in an area that was quite unpleasant. Also, it was bulky in other sections so it would either get in the way or flap annoyingly in the wind while riding.
Since then, I have done some research on selecting a mountain biking jacket and want to pass along to you what I have learned in the process.
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Cycling Jacket Materials:
When looking for a cycling jacket, you will most likely wish to have wind and at least some rain protection. It's a good idea to consider the types of weather conditions and climate that you will be riding in. Do you only need a biking jacket that protects you from wind and very light rain or do you need something that is more heavy duty and will protect you from moderate or heavy rain?
There are basically 3 types of fabrics that are designed to provide protection from the rain.
Features to Look for in a Cycling Jacket
A cycling jacket should be close fit so that it does not flap around, but not uncomfortably tight so that it is hard to move or wear other layers underneath it. The back should be longer so that when you are in the cycling position your lower back is protected from the elements. Some have contoured sleeves to fit your arms when they are bent in the cycling position.
When choosing a cycling jacket, it is important to consider the weight of the jacket since you will most likely not be wearing the jacket the whole time you have it with you. How easily can you stow it when you are not wearing it? Some biking jackets convert into a fanny pack. Others are easily stowed into a pocket or hydration pack when not needed.
It can often be darker when riding in cooler conditions because of the cloud cover. Also, during winter mountain bike riding, it gets dark much earlier than in the summer, so it is not uncommon to be still out on the trail at dusk, especially if you have an unexpected incident, like a flat tire. For these reasons, many mountain bike jackets have reflective trim to increase visibility.
Cycling jackets usually have vents that are opened by zippers to provide ventilation. Look for a few vents and make sure that at least one set is near the armpit area.
Adjustable cuffs and waist:
Cuffs and waist should be adjustable to either let in air to vent or keep elements out for warmth and protection.
Removable arms and hood:
Some lightweight mountain biking jackets have arms that can be removed to convert to a cycling vest when conditions become warmer. Some heavier biking jackets have hoods that are either removable or able to be stowed in the collar.
Sealed seams and zippers:
Make sure the zippers are covered to prevent wind and rain from getting in. Often, they will have a flap that covers them. Seams should be sealed to protect from the elements.
Pockets are handy for carrying items that you want to be able to access easily. some cycling jackets have a zipper that opens in the back so that you can get to your back jersey pockets. Some also have a chest pocket with an exit port for your mp3 or ipod.
The collar should zip up so that it provides neck protection when needed. Some collars are fleece-lined to provide more comfort and wick moisture.
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