Road Tested: Winter Cycling Tops

Riding in the cold can be bone-chilling or fairly comfortable, depending on your gear.

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

Riding in the cold can be bone-chilling or fairly comfortable, depending on your gear. One of the best pieces of advice when dressing for a cold-weather ride is the old adage, “Dry is warm.” This simple concept really can help keep you more comfortable. The best tops will keep a rider warm without feeling bulky, protecting from the cold without constantly reminding him he is wering additional gear. Pockets to protect your nutrition, wallet, and phone from the elements, while still allowing adequate access, are a huge plus. We tested some key winter riding tops in weather from sun to snow to find the best tops for this early season.

2XU Sub Zero Cycle Vest, $180
Best for: cool mornings when a full-sleeve jacket is too much
Key feature: angled pockets for easy access to nutrition with gloved hands

While this vest boasts plenty of innovative features, it was such a compelling piece to testers because of its ability to do a basic yet difficult task: keep a cyclist warm without sweating in moderate conditions. The proprietary 10:10 XSTRETCH material boasts a nearly perfect mix of insulation, water resistance and breathability. The two outer pockets are cleverly cut at an angle, allowing for ample storage and easy access, even while riding with winter gloves. An optional collar adds coziness on chilly days and can easily be folded down when temperatures rise. A zippered front chest pocket provides secure storage of valuables, and a small opening in the right chest, dubbed the eyewear dock, allows athletes an easy place to securely hold their sunglasses. Reflective lettering and piping found in many places on the vest will be welcome on short winter days.

RELATED – Road Tested: Winter Running Headgear

G.S. Panache Wind Vest, $175
Best for: a functional outer layer to protect against the wind
Key feature: elastic fit keeps the vest close to the body while still easily fitting over other layers

At first glance, this vest appears relatively straightforward, similar to many others on the market. Many unique features, however, make it useful in a wide variety of conditions in which other vests fall short. The vest is easily packable. It compresses down to easily fit inside a jersey pocket. The front of the vest is a wind-proof material that, when combined with a long sleeve thermal jersey, protects against even the most biting wind. The mesh back allowed for excellent temperature regulation when temperatures rose. Three rear pockets prevent the annoyance of having to partly remove clothing to reach nutrition, as would be the case with many other wind vests that lack storage. Stretch side-panels and arm cutouts improve the fit, even when worn over layers of other clothing. The robust zipper provides reliability in an area often overlooked in cycling clothing, preventing the insanely annoying zipper jam.

RELATED – Road Tested: Winter Cycling Gloves

Rapha Pro Team Jacket, $290
Best for: shorter, high-intensity workouts on cold days
Key feature: extra-long tail makes the fit perfect on the bike, even in the aero position

Leave it to Rapha to come up with a jacket that is warm, comfortable and still stylish. The Pro Team Jacket has an “aero” fit, perfect for triathletes training in aerobars through the cold months. Aero fit is marketing-speak meaning the front of the jacket is cut higher than most with the tail extending generously down the back. Arms are also cut long, another welcome feature for aerobar jockeys. The jacket does have a very trim fit, and is most functional when worn as the outer layer of a training outfit. The Polartec softshell protects against a wide range of conditions, but still breathes remarkably well, allowing for excellent temperature regulation, keeping the tester both warm and dry. Our only complaint is that the trim fit might prevent some athletes from adding layers that might otherwise help to insulate from the cold, making the Pro Team Jacket better suited for shorter, high-intensity training sessions. The attention to detail is extraordinary, with flat stitching in all of the right places, expertly placed storage pockets and small touches that are uniquely Rapha—like an asymmetric zipper.

RELATED – Cyclo-Cross: A Great Off-Season Option

Zoot Sports Ultra Team Cycle Thermo Jacket, $160
Best for: base layer on cold days, or single layer on temperate ones
Best feature: material weight makes it versatile

This piece from Zoot Sports can do double-duty as an outer piece on cool spring days or as an insulating layer during the harsher months. Three rear pockets provide enough storage for nutrition and spares to last a training ride of any length, while a silicon band below the pockets keeps the jersey firmly in place while riding in an aero position. We found the brushed fleece thermal material to be an excellent insulator that provided enough breathability and moisture wicking to keep a rider comfortable for hours—just don’t count on it as a sleet-busting shell. A flap of material over the top of the zipper protects the neck from rubbing even when fully zipped up.

RELATED – Plow Through: Cold-Weather Workouts

Capo Pursuit Thermal Jacket, $200
Best for: reliable warmth on longer rides
Key feature: unique materials used through the arms and torso make the jacket surprisingly warm and windproof

While the Capo Pursuit Thermal Jacket appears to be little more than a long sleeved thermal jersey, there is so, so much more to this piece. To start, the Pursuit has many of the features that we generally look for in a standard outer layer—three rear pockets, a high neck and a performance cut that allows for a perfect fit while riding. The front of the jacket is a multi-layer Brick windproof membrane, which not only protected from cold temperatures, but also blocked a surprising amount of wind. The rear of the jacket, as one would hope, is a much thinner fleece that allowed for excellent temperature regulation and overall breathability. All these features add up to the holy grail of winter cycling apparel: warmth without bulk. The functionally sporty fit still allows the piece to easily be layered with other clothing, making it a virtual must-have in any triathlete’s winter clothing collection.

RELATED – Triathlife With Jesse Thomas: How I Will Own This Off-Season

Mavic Echappee Long Sleeve Jersey, $130
Best for: outerwear on cool days, or in conjunction with other layers on cold ones
Key feature: high cut neck provides extra warmth on cold days when fully zipped

While Mavic is still best known for its mastery of the bicycle wheel, the French company had earned a reputation for creating excellent and innovative cycling clothing. The Echappee Long Sleeve Jersey is a perfect example. Simple features such as elastic and silicon along the waist help to hold the jersey in place, even in an aggressive aero position. With the inclusion of the three rear pockets, the Echappee Jersey can be used as a single layer on a cooler day, or as a base layer under other clothing on colder winter days. An additional zippered security pocket is a welcome place to put valuables that might otherwise inadvertently fall out. We found the tighter material around the wrists makes the jersey noticeably warmer by preventing cold air from flooding up the sleeve.

Assos climaShutz Jacket $330
Best for: go-to insurance policy when the weather forecast is uncertain
Key feature: waterproof and breathable membrane material

The climaShutz sits somewhere between a pure rain jacket and a wind shell. Every consideration has been made to make sure this jacket is versatile without losing any functionality. Small openings on the back not only help to provide breathability—a rare luxury in a waterproof jacket—but also allow for access to jersey pockets on clothing worn underneath. We found ourselves stuffing the climaShutz, which is extremely packable, into our jersey pocket before rides for insurance in case the weather took a turn for the worse.

Trending on Triathlete