Grabbing a bike instead of taking the train is an energizing way to swap sweaty subway commutes for outdoor exercise in warm weather. It has also become a very popular way to get around during the pandemic — more fresh air, fewer strangers sneezing. But fall and winter bike commuting, whether you’re riding to an actual office or meeting clients for lunch, isn’t for the faint of heart. Chilly winds and unexpected rain showers have a way of ruining your work clothes and can leave the rest of you looking soggy and crumpled.
What you need for wet- and cold-weather biking is a proper jacket. If you have been commuting via bike for years, you may already have a standby to shield you from the wind and rain, but if not, we asked experienced bike commuters (many of whom are still biking to in-person jobs) to give us their top recommendations for water-resistant, breathable, reflective jackets that make biking every day safe, easy, and even quite stylish.
Veterinary surgeon and a lifelong biker Dr. Amy Kantor rides from Park Slope, Brooklyn, to the Upper West and Upper East Sides of Manhattan on a regular basis — cutting through Central Park as often as possible to take in a bit of nature. Depending on the weather, she’ll wear either this shell or this puffer (or both) from Arc’teryx. “The Zeta jacket is very lightweight and made with Gore-Tex so it is completely waterproof and warm even in rough wind. Plus, it has a generous hood, which fits over my helmet,” she says. As it gets colder out, she layers on her Arc’teryx down coat. “I get cold very easily, but this is the one jacket that keeps my core warm in below-freezing temperatures. It falls below my waist, and the cuffed sleeves seal in your body’s heat and keep the wind out.”
Instead of buying two coats for different weather conditions, Jess Davidson, a cyclist and an ultra-marathon runner, recommends investing in one coat that can transform depending on your needs. “The first thing I look for in any jacket is functionality: Can I wear it for multiple things (not just my bike commute)? The women’s three-in-one Snowbelle jacket from Patagonia is multifunctional and really good for cold winters,” she says. For her, the jacket is worth the hefty price tag since she can also wear it as a ski jacket or break it down into a puffer jacket and a wind- and waterproof shell with armpit vents that make it breathable. “I’ve worn it as a raincoat in the fall or spring, as just the puffer on a nice but chilly day, and all zipped up and over a sweater when it’s below freezing,” she says.
This North Face jacket comes recommended by Dr. Philippa Pavia, director of medical excellence at Bond Vet, who says it can be worn as two separate layers or zipped up together. The outer shell is breathable, waterproof, and windproof with Velcro cuffs and sealed seams. The fleece liner is lightweight but warm (though not as warm as the Patagonia down liner, above), with elastic cuffs to keep out water and wind. “I don’t like to have anything in my closet that has just one function, so my jackets have to be multipurpose,” says Pavia, who loves this combo jacket because of its light weight and versatility.
Proviz jackets are a favorite among cyclists due to their highly reflective exterior. Laura Donnelly, a cyclist, runner, and PE teacher, loves the way this reversible Proviz jacket lights up in the dark when it’s hit with streetlights or car headlights. “I wear a cycling gilet in the summer and a long-sleeved jacket in winter — both are from Proviz — because visibility is key for cycling,” she says. Professional cyclist Robert Evans also recommended a Proviz jacket when we spoke to him about the best biking jackets for men.
Davidson agrees that being visible on the road is paramount when commuting by bike. “Either the jacket itself needs to be reflective, or I need to be able to wear something like a Noxgear vest over the top,” she says.
Her pick for a highly visible and lightweight jacket is the Brooks Carbonite. It’s technically a running jacket, but she likes biking in it, too, because it’s comfortable, super-reflective, and pretty good at keeping off light rain and wind. It also packs up super-small, which is important because she doesn’t have a locker or personal desk at work where she can store things.
When choosing her jacket, Mary McGowan, a bike commuter and the Adventure Cycling ambassador @rebelwithoutacar, doesn’t just consider the weather; she also thinks about the distance she’ll be riding. “My commute is only four miles or 15 minutes, so on a cold day, I bundle up more than I would for a longer ride where I might end up getting too hot after the first ten-to-15 minutes,” she says. Her favorite warm biking jacket is this one from Showers Pass, which is printed with a reflective map pattern. It’s wind- and waterproof, breathable, stretchy, and lined with fleece to keep you toasty while you ride.
If it’s raining and warm out, which is true a lot of the year where McGowan lives in Greenville, South Carolina, she’ll throw on this stylish, waterproof rain cape from Cleverhood. “It’s hard to find a jacket that is both waterproof (especially at the seams!) and breathable. I keep this poncho in the bottom of my pannier for surprise showers. It packs down small, has no shoulder seams that might leak, and doesn’t trap in heat like a full-on jacket,” she says.
When Pavia is off duty and knows it’s not going to rain, she bikes in her favorite leather jacket from Reformation x Veda. “It’s unique because it has stretch-fabric panels. So it looks like a normal leather jacket, but it moves like a sweatshirt,” she says.