Nearly every outdoor apparel company sells a 60-gram insulated jacket, and the PhD Propulsion 60 Hoody Sport Jacket (available for both women and men) is SmartWool’s comparable offering. However, the company has veered from the standard of a synthetic fill by using Merino wool for a bulk of the jacket’s insulation and body fabric. The exterior is DWR coated and, like polyester fill, a wool insulator stays warm when wet, to some extent. The result is a toasty outer layer for riding in cold temps, or a great insulating layer for low-exertion activities.
The jacket’s chest and back lining, as well as the stretch panels located on the sides and at the neck, all incorporate a Merino and synthetic fabric blend. These panels offer generous freedom of movement and breathability that wouldn’t be present in a 100-percent poly shell. With a stretch panel extending up into the hood, it’s surprisingly comfortable to wear during activity. I wore the hood up while riding (it fits nicely under both a city and mountain helmet), jogging and skiing without feeling restricted.
Other useful touches are snug cuffs with thumb holes, an adjustable waist and an interior phone pocket. The phone pocket has an opening to route your headphones out of the interior pocket and into the small chest pocket, where they can be safely stored from the elements when not in use.
It took a few tries to determine what combination of temperature and exertion level this jacket was right for. When coupled with the Mid 250 Crew, the jacket was much too warm on a mountain bike night ride in the 20s, but it was just perfect cross country skiing at 15 degrees. Of course, it’s all contingent on exertion level. With a single wool base layer, the jacket would likely be comfortable to wear into the single digits during high-exertion activities and into the low 40s as a casual piece.
The Propulsion Hoody is definitely warmer than the 60-gram insulated Stio jacket we reviewed, which offers a broader range of warmth for varying winter temps and activity level. This difference in warmth may be due to the wool insulation or simply the addition of a hood, zipper closure, cinched hemline and elastic cuffs on the SmartWool jacket.
At $260, the Propulsion Jacket is very expensive, eclipsing even some of the priciest options in this category. However, it’s at a price point I’d expect from Merino wool apparel. As a long-term investment, the yellow color will likely be the downfall of this jacket. While I like it, light colors show dirt that wouldn’t be visible on black.
Available for women in sizes small through extra-large in black, sunglow (tested) and desert purple. Check out the Propulsion Hoody for men.
For ultimate wool warmth, pair this with a SmartWool shirt and bra, featured in our big base layer review.
Were in the thick of it now. Winter. This round of Button Up & Bike is focused on a small group of go-to items that make a big difference in cold conditions. The prevailing characteristics? Warm, water repellent, and wind resistant. Some are an investment, but their functionality outweighs the cost. Many we’ve worn happily for years, biking and otherwise, and they don’t show signs of giving out on us anytime soon.
Walz Plaid Wool Ear Flap, $33: This 100% wool cycling cap from the Walz Winter Collection is my favorite for the cold months because it keeps the wind out of my ears and looks cute. The flap is generous over the ears and provides more than enough room to tuck away unruly hair. Walz caps are all U.S.A. made and feature many styles and patterns, in addition to personalization options. -Emily
Neck gaiter: A neck gaiter can really help hide from the elements. I really like this gaiter because it’s not squeezing my face, fogging up my glasses while I attempt to breath. This is an old Buff Windstopper that doesn’t appear to be available anymore, but you can pick up a slightly different version with the Bicycle Times logo in our online store. Surly makes a wool, moisture wicking neck gaiter and Marmot has a GORE-TEX gaiter. Both look like they have a similar fit and would get the job done. -Trina
Ryders Eyewear Via Photochromic glasses: The Via Photochromic glasses automatically adjust to the amount of sunlight you’re currently dealing with. Wearing sunglasses does not always work in the darker winter months so a transition or tinted pair of glasses is great for protecting eyes from cold and snow. The Via’s have wrap-around coverage and fit under my helmet with issues. Retail price: $100. There is a less expensive version of the VIA with a non-transition lens tint, designed for medium to bright light for $50. -Trina
Wool jersey: This is a must for my cycling closet. The Bicycle Times wool jersey has three back pockets and is made of merino wool. Merino wool is soft, comfortable and warm. I’ve had my wool jersey for three years and have put it through the wringer. A few minor sewing repairs have been in order, mostly due to battles with a thorn bush. Price is $125, but on sale right now for $90. -Trina
SmartWool NTS Mid 250 Baselayers, $100: Merino wool is the queen of all baselayers. Who can argue with apparel that’s warm, moisture wicking, and odor resistant? SmartWool baselayers come in mid, light, and micro weight. I’ve found the mid-weight Zip T and Bottom the ideal candidate for cold weather, but because merino is ace at temperature regulation I can wear it comfortably all day. I like the high quarter-zip collar to vent or block the wind and unlike some long underwear tops, this one is presentable when worn solo. -Emily
Bar Mitts, size small, $75: How I pedaled through winters past without these things, I’ll never know. What a difference! Wind and moisture be gone, these neoprene sleeves are the answer to cold cycling hands. Most days I wore only a pair of mid-weight gloves and my hands were toasty; at times too warm! I didn’t have any issues shifting or braking, but I’d recommend sizing up to a medium for a little extra space and ease of getting your hands in and out while riding. There are also versions for drop bars or flat handlebars. I’m confident that these neoprene sleeves will keep my hands happy for years to come, making them well worth $75. Or, scoop up a pair on closeout for $45! – Emily
Outdoor Research Aspect Jacket: Any softshell is great for cycling, but I’m partial to the Outdoor Research Aspect Jacket due to its large chest to waist vents. I begin my ride with them closed and unzip as my core temperature rises. The body is roomy compared to your average softshell making it great for layering; I often wear two wool shirts and a fleece vest underneath. The collar and waist have an elastic drawstring to trap heat in and the bright color is good for daytime visibility. Outdoor Research no longer makes this jacket but the Showers Pass Portland Jacket has similar characteristics at a price of $175. -Emily
Novara Stratos Gloves: I have trouble keeping my extremities warm in the winter, especially on a windy day, but these waterproof Novara gloves do just the trick. The elastic cuff allows me to cinch down over my jacket keeping the heat in and the elements out. I’m a one finger on the brakes kind of person so I prefer to have my middle and index finger separate. Unfortunately, the Stratos are no longer available in women’s, but the men’s are still out there for $38, and they’re tech compatible. -Emily
Hiking boots and wool socks: Hiking boots are generally what I wear in winter or rainy weather. These LOWA boots have GORE-TEX lining, are lightweight, waterproof and breathable. A pair of good boots with wool socks (sometimes 2 socks), result in happier feet. The LOWA Bora GTX I’ve had for 2.5 years and they’re still in great condition. A good pair of long-lasting hiking boots will cost you about $120-$250+. -Trina
Craft Women’s PXC Storm Tight, $125: These Craft tights are breathable and warm, making them great for both city riding and mountain biking. They’re 100 percent poly, with a super soft lining and a wind resistant front. The stretch fabric and ankle zip allows me to easily pull them on over long underwear or jeans. They also have an opening by the knee that provides a little more movement while pedaling. -Emily
Vittoria Arctica MTB, $245: I had trouble finding women’s SPD cycling shoes that were winter friendly in a size 6.5, so I was thrilled to stumble across the Vittoria Arctica MTB. You’ll usually find me in my hiking boots on city commutes, but I wear these for longer rides as well as for mountain biking. The waterproof membrane and neoprene top keeps the moisture out and the knobby sole keeps you from slipping around at the store or in the woods. Vittoria offers narrow and wide widths as well as low volume upon request. -Emily
Want to ride all winter but on a tight budget? Check out our post Winter Riding on a Budget!
Now go ride!
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