If last weekend’s clock change – and the fact that it now gets dark at 5pm – has left you wondering if you need to upgrade your bike lights, jacket and winter kit, be assured you are not alone. UK cycle shops traditionally sell the largest number of lights and other hi-vis gear this week as commuters decide it’s time to take stock. While you can spend a fortune on the latest kit, you don’t have to. Here are our tips on how to stay warm and dry – and highly visible – on the road this winter, without having to take out a massive overdraft.
The best commuter cycling jackets feature a combination of hi-vis materials – a bright yellow or orange body that will make you stand out on the morning ride and a good proportion of the night-vision materials that will sparkle in a car’s headlamps on the way home.
There is a host of jackets to choose from, but here are some tried and tested, good-value, waterproof options all for less than £100.
Proviz arguably produces the UK’s most visible night cycling jackets. Its Reflect 360 jacket, which costs £90, lights up better than a Christmas tree at night.
However, it is less good during the day as it is all one colour. Opt instead for the firm’s £100 reversible Switch jacket. It is pricey but it offers hi-vis yellow by day, and once pushed inside out, the light-up technology keeps you visible as you ride home in the dark. If you’d prefer a traditional model, the company also has a conventional £85 Nightrider jacket that is predominantly orange or yellow, with the shoulders and back covered in light-up material.
Note these Proviz jackets are not the most breathable, which won’t be a problem if you pootle along. However, those riding with a bit more verve may find they arrive too hot and sweaty. Proviz offers breathable jackets but they cost more than £100.
Next up is the dhb Flashlight Force Waterproof Jacket, which Wiggle has on sale at £88 this week. These come in hi-vis yellow or red and feature plenty of flashes. They are well made and perfect for riding in winter, although you will probably want something less heavy for spring. If you are less susceptible to the cold, Wiggle also offers a lighter £63 version of the jacket.
The Madison Prime jacket (£60 via sites such as eBay) is also a good quality jacket for the money and comes from a proven manufacturer. It has just enough night-vision material to make sure you are seen, and should be a bit more breathable than some others.
If you are on a budget, or don’t cycle as much as you should, take a look at Mountain Warehouse’s Adrenaline Iso-Viz jacket, which is currently on sale at £40 for the men’s version and £50 for the women’s model. Again, it won’t be the most breathable jacket but it will keep you warm and dry – and visible. It doesn’t have as much night-time visibility as the others, but it’s great value. Make sure you buy a size down, as this company’s sizing is not standard. Ideally, go into a store to try before you buy.
If you only have £30 to spend, try the Hump Strobe waterproof jacket or head to eBay where there are plenty of good-quality used jackets and lots of new Chinese-made models of mixed quality to choose from.
If you have a perfectly good waterproof but it isn’t visible enough, why not add a hi-vis gilet over the top? Cheap ones used on building sites won’t add much in the fashion stakes but will get you seen for very little outlay.
Hi-vis gilets made from similar material to the Proviz jackets start at about £20, while the company itself offers its version for £40 and up.
When it comes to bike lights, there is an absurd number to choose from, some costing in excess of £500. Having lights is a legal necessity and how much you need to spend is largely defined by whether your ride involves leaving the urban area and unlit roads. Most decent lights are USB rechargeable, so you don’t have to keep buying batteries.
If you rarely leave town, we like Lezyne’s LED KTV Drive 200 front light, which is £20 at Halfords. It is robust and reliable, and Tredz has this as part of a set with a back light for a wallet-friendly £35.
If you regularly ride down country lanes, the £27.49 Lezyne Hecto Drive 500XL front light is a real bargain right now on Wiggle. If this light’s 500 lumens are not enough, opt for the £34 Lezyne Micro Drive 600XL. You won’t be disappointed with either.
If you are on a budget, Halfords has a USB-rechargeable set for £15. On eBay there are plenty of front and back light sets from only £9 that will do a perfectly good job. I’ve used Aldi’s bike light sets in the past and they are also excellent value – when available.
For back lights there is no need to spend more than £6. There are USB-rechargeable LED models for sale on eBay – just make sure you mount them in a way that does not get covered by your jacket; I screw mine into the back carrier.
It’s not only clothing that has gone hi-vis in recent years: if you really want to make sure you are seen, get a bright helmet. Halfords will sell you one for £30, although we’d be inclined to spend a bit more (£34) on a Giro Revel helmet. If you already have a helmet, consider a hi-vis cover. These fit most models and start at only £5 on eBay for a waterproof version. They will also keep you a bit warmer.
Having cycled for many years and having tried lots of so-called waterproof gloves, I have found the best ones to use are the cheap Thinsulate 40g fleece gloves that can be bought anywhere for less than £5. They’re warm and will stay dry long enough for most short commutes, even in the pouring rain. At that price you can keep a second dry pair in your pannier.
If you love cycling but really struggle with the cold, consider Sealskinz’s waterproof heated gloves. At £114, they are not cheap but they are rechargeable, waterproof and offer three heat settings – running up to five hours on a charge.
Owners say they are a bit bulky and the sizing is small – so order a size up. Perfect for those who suffer circulation problems or those who regularly ride in subzero temperatures.
• Have you found better cycling equipment that is good value? Join the debate by adding your suggestion in the comments section below.