A good winter jersey is one of the staples of your cycling wardrobe. It needs to keep you warm in a variety of conditions while also being breathable enough to keep you sweat-free when you hit a tough hills. That’s not an easy combination to get right, but thankfully there are plenty of impressive options to choose from these days. Here’s what to look for when making your choice.
Before we start, it’s worth pointing out that there’s a fine line between a winter jersey and a winter jacket. In fact, what one brand describes as a jersey would be a jacket in another brand’s range, so it’s also worth checking out our Buyer's Guide to Winter Cycling Jackets for more advice on what to buy.
We're covering pretty much all types of long sleeve jersey here, from lightweight ones for autumn/spring and occasional winter use through to windproof jerseys suitable for when the temperature is well down in single figures centigrade.
Long sleeve jerseys are available in many different fabrics, most of them synthetic.
At one end of the spectrum, you get jerseys that are made from similar fabrics to summer jerseys, just with long sleeves. These are usually lightweight polyester and they don’t offer masses of insulation, so they’re suitable for autumn and spring conditions.
Roubaix brush-backed polyesters come in a variety of different thicknesses to provide more warmth. These fabrics breathe well – they let plenty of sweat escape outwards to stop you getting wet and uncomfortable when you work hard – but they’re not windproof.
Many manufacturers use different fabrics for different panels to provide you with more weather protection in the most exposed areas at the front.
Many people love Merino wool as a jersey fabric because it provides warmth, wicks sweat outwards from your base layer, and it is antibacterial so doesn’t easily start to smell as you exercise. Fans also love the feel of this natural fibre.
Most manufacturers that use Merino in their jerseys blend it with synthetic fabrics to tailor the performance, maintain shape, and improve toughness and durability.
Rapha, for example, use a lot of Sportwool in their range, a mix of Merino wool and polyester.
A downside to Merino is that it can get heavy when wet from sweat or rain.
Windproof fabrics are designed to stop the cold air from getting in and that’s particularly important when the temperature is very low and when you’re moving fast on the bike, increasing the level of apparent wind.
When you climb up a long hill you’re likely to ride fairly slowly and get sweaty. Then, when you go over the top of the climb and start to descend, you’ll speed up. The combination of the dampness you’ve built up on the climb and the faster speed means you can get cold very quickly.
Windproof fabrics reduce the effect of the airflow so you’re not robbed of your body heat, allowing you to stay warmer for longer.
Some windproof fabrics are more breathable than others but none is as breathable as most ordinary, non-windproof fabrics. This means that moisture can build up inside if you’re not careful, and that can lead to you getting cold and uncomfortable over time.
Many manufacturers make jerseys with windproof panels at the front – the area that’s most exposed to the wind as you ride – with more breathable fabrics around the back. This is a tried and tested formula in cycling. You effectively get a jersey with a gilet built in.
Manufacturers will often make the top/front panels of the arms windproof too, with the underside of the arms made from more breathable materials. Some people prefer this kind of design, especially for colder conditions.
Windproof fabrics typically add enough water resistance to stop road spray and fog soaking through, although you’ll need the protection of a waterproof jacket if it starts to rain.
You’ll occasionally see tops made completely from windproof fabrics described as jerseys, but we’d say that these are usually better thought of as jackets.
Whatever type of riding you do, you want a winter jersey that sits reasonably close to your body so that it doesn’t flap as you ride. Apart from being inefficient and annoying, a loose fit can lead to your body heat getting wafted out rather than staying inside and keeping you comfortable.
Stretchy fabrics are useful because they give you the option of fitting an extra layer underneath as well as your normal base layer on colder days, although very stretchy fabrics around the back can be bad news if they allow the pockets to sag when fully loaded.
Whereas some summer jerseys have quite a low collar, you want a tall, close-fitting collar on a winter jersey to stop the cold air getting in around your neck. You can always drop the zip down a bit if you feel too warm.
Look for a body that’s long enough to keep your lower back fully covered while you’re stretched out on the bike, or a dropped tail to do a similar job.
Sleeves need to be long enough to fit over or inside the cuffs of your gloves to avoid cold wrists. Occasionally you'll get thumb loops to avoid the possibility of any leaks.
Nearly every winter cycle jersey comes with a full-length front zip. As well as allowing you to get the jersey on and off easily, this allows you to regulate the airflow and temperature inside. This is particularly important if you have windproof panels at the front of your jersey. Look for a large zip pull that’s easy to grab with gloved fingers when you’re on the fly.
A baffle behind the zip stops cold air getting through.
Known as a zip garage in clothing desogner jargon, a chin guard is usually a simple fold of fabric over the top of the zip to stop it scratching your neck. Some jerseys have a similar arrangement at the bottom of the zip to prevent damage to your bib tights/shorts.
Although zipped vents are more commonly found on jackets, you’ll occasionally find them on jerseys to add airflow to windproof front panels. You unzip them when you’re riding hard and sweating, zip them up again when you need more warmth.
Most winter jerseys have some form of elasticated waist in order to get a close fit, and there’s often a silicone rubber gripper inside to prevent it from riding up as you pedal. You’ll occasionally find a drawcord instead, or nothing at all, in which case you’ll need to make sure that the fit is close enough to avoid draughts.
Reflectives are useful if you’re riding in dark or dull conditions and other road users are using lights. Some reflectives look subtle grey in daylight but shine out brightly as soon as they’re caught by headlights.
Most winter jerseys come with three pockets in the lower back although an increasing number now have a zipped compartment back there for securing your valuables: keys, smartphone and cash. You might want to carry quite a bit with you on winter rides, including a waterproof jacket, so make sure the pockets are big enough for your needs and that they’re built strongly.
10 of the best winter jerseys
Holding the FWE LTR Long Sleeve in your hands, you'd think it was from some small boutique brand. The colours, cut and especially the logo mean it certainly has that look about it, but no, the LTR is one of the new pieces of apparel from high street chain Evans Cycles.
The LTR is aimed at riders who may be new to the sport, so the fit is a little more on the relaxed side – something a little less fitted than a full-on race jersey. It's manufactured from a mixture of polyester and recycled polypropylene which creates a very thin but warm jersey, though the main areas most likely to see the wind have been bolstered with a mesh lining.
If you want to feel warm and comfortable on your bike this winter without compromising on appearance, then look no further than the Madison Keirin thermal jersey. Its medium to heavyweight fabric has a super-soft fleecy lining that feels lovely against the skin and does a pretty good job of wicking sweat, unless you're really pushing it (in which case most fabrics will struggle).
The fit is very flattering thanks to its stylish cut and the stretchy Lycra material, and I found the sizing spot on (that's not me in the photos, it's a tighter fit on our model). I particularly like the fact that it's not too short at the front. It comes in two colours: this bright pink 'Very Berry', and black.
Altura's Peloton Long Sleeve Jersey is a brilliant piece of kit that adds a well-fitting layer to any winter ensemble. The Thermosuede fabric is super-soft, breathable and keeps you warm. At this price, it's a real winner.
As well as being warm, the material is nicely stretchy for a perfect riding fit. The aesthetics are understated and should match any your other kit. I found it excellent in multiple conditions, and easy to pair with other garments.
Wiggle own brand dhb has an extensive line of strikingly-styled jerseys, including this Blok women's jersey in fleece-backed Roubaix fabric. Our Steph really liked the now-discontinued Superstar print when she reviewed it. It's warm, well-cut and looks good. There's a men's version too.
Not every UK winter day is a trial of endurance against wind, snow, slush or rain. Often as not, conditions are just right – cool, still, maybe even a glimpse of sunshine. On days like this, the Pearl Izumi Elite Thermal Long Sleeve Jersey is one of the best things you could be pulling on.
One of the benefits of a non-windproof top is its versatility. Using different weights of baselayer, a gilet or a windproof jacket, you can make it into whatever you need, even within one ride. When it wasn't cold enough to wear the Pearl Izumi Elite Pursuit Softshell I've also been reviewing, this is what I pulled on. It's great.
A long-sleeved Merino-based top with windproof properties, the Popsicle is designed as a spring and autumn jersey, keeping out the worst of the wind, while still having the breathability and temperature management properties of Merino wool. It’s essentially two tops in one, with ultra breathable Merino based sleeves, sides and full back, but a windproof fleecy panel across the front, where the wind does its worst. There’s a deep chest zip to help with ventilation. Ground Effect's Baked Alaska is the men's equivalent.
This stylish and comfortable Merino wool jersey is ideal for autumn/spring temperatures, paired with a gilet when a cold wind is blowing, or worn under a jacket in the winter. It's a figure hugging design that’s cut a little longer at the back, there's gripper tape to keep the waist from shifting about, and the sleeves are just about the right length; if anything, they're a smidgen long. Wide cuffs and a decent height collar with a flap to conceal the puller of the full-length zip add to the details.
Gore Bike Wear offers a somewhat bewildering choice of jerseys and jackets, but if you're after a lightweight, slim fitting top that offers wind and rain protection with excellent breathability for three-season use, the Power Gore Windstopper Long Sleeve Jersey is a top pick.
Made from Gore's iconic Windstopper fabric, the Power jersey is ideal at dealing with the constantly changing weather conditions of spring, summer and autumn. Wear it over a lightweight baselayer and it can cope with a really wide band of temperatures, from nudging zero up to high teens. That versatility makes it easy to dress for virtually any ride, so you can spend less time making tricky clothing decision and more time pressing the pedals.
Cross the streams of jacket and jersey, the Sportful R&D Strato is in effect a long-sleeve jersey with a built in gilet to keep the chill off. Out on the road it provides superb comfort, warmth and breathability. Aside from wet weather, it's possibly the only top you'll need this autumn and winter.
This is the long-sleeved version of the mighty Castelli Gabba, the ground-breaking short-sleeved Windstopper jersey that ushered in a wet-weather clothing revolution a few years back. The idea of the Gabba and Perfetto is that they provide adequate protection against the cold and wet if you're working hard, but aren't as bulky as a waterproof jacket. They're also more breathable, so you get less of the boil-in-the-bag feel.
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.
[This article was last updated on October 2, 2017]
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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.