PEZ Reviews: CASTELLI Winter Gear for 2013

A look through Castelli’s current winter catalogue reveals a huge collection of cold weather technical riding gear. I’ve had a bunch if it on test, so here’s a closer look at the Gabba WS Longsleeve & Trasparente Due Wind Jerseys, an update on the Polare bib tight, short sleeve Iride Base T Short sleeve, Diluvio16 shoe covers, and the Estremo long finger gloves.

Gabba WS Longsleeve Jersey – size: medium $170.00
Castelli calls it a jersey, but to me it felt more like a lightweight jacket, and for those of you playing along at home, it’s also been listed by Castelli as their Aero Rain Light jersey/ jacket. It came into being when Castelli answered the calls for pros who wanted a race weight jersey to keep their core warm in wet & chilly conditions. Staying dry isn’t usually a major concern at the competitive level, (stop sniveling – you’re in a race!), and body temps remain pretty high, but there’s no denying that wet conditions cool things off considerably – so this was designed to repel water, but retain body heat. It was first offered in a short sleeved version, but people liked it so much they wanted a long sleeve version as well… an excellent call.

There’s nothing like a cold wet day to get the winter gear test underway.

Tomato… tomahto, oysters… ursters, lightweight jacket… long sleeve jersey – call this what you want because it fits more than one category. I went with the medium and the fit was spot on for my 38 chest and 140lbs. It was snug, but not restrictive – thanks to the 4 way stretch fabric making it feel a lot like a long sleeve jersey. The body though, is a longer jacket-length – not hanging down to cover my butt (there’s a little drop down flap to cover that), but long enough to sit midway below my hips, which is perfect to provide me enough warmth without getting bunched up or in the way when on the bike. The sleeves are slightly long for me, which works well since I never worried about those annoying gaps you sometimes get at the wrists when sleeves are too short.

Design & Construction
It’s made almost entirely of the Windstopper X-Lite Plus fabric, which is a really fantastic stuff – I’ll go so far as to say it’s a technological marvel. While technically it’s not “rain proof”, it is designed to keep rain sized molecules out, while allowing sweatsized molecules to escape – thus enabling both the water (and wind) repellency, and the heat management properties that make this such a good piece. But it’s not a “breathable” fabric in the sense that you can feel wind passing through it (it’s called ‘WindStopper’ for a reason) and that blocking of the outside wind (and rain) plays a big part in keeping your body heat inside where it’s needed on those cool & wet rides.

The back is cut long with an extra ‘flap’ that hangs nice a low to cover your butt and keep it dry too. It also tucks up under the waistband – outta the way if you don’t need it.

The only part of the main jersey body not made from the WindStopper are two breathable venting panels at the back of the arms, which are made from Castelli’s also impressive Nanoflex fabric (the stuff that stretches, breathes, AND keeps water out with serious gusto). This is another of Castelli’s wunder-fabrics that feels like light fleece on the inside, stretches and bends through a wide range of body flex, and really does repel water – check out my video demo here:

One thing to note that seams are NOT taped or glued, but some smart pattern making has reduced unneeded seams, which lets the fabric do it’s job so glues and stitches don’t have to.

But let’s get back to the Gabba – like everything I’ve seen from Castelli, it’s got some nice details…

The zipper is full length by YKK, with a nice big grabber that works with even big gloves on, and the nice high collar – a detail I always appreciate on Castelli gear – is lined with a light soft fleece inside. The three pockets are nice and deep, with lots of room for longer gloves, caps, skullies, bars, etc.

Castelli likes to add these small zippered vents to some of their jackets, which is a cool idea, but in reality I’ve not been able to tell how well they actually vent. I suspect I’d notice more of a difference with fewer base layers where the vented air might more directly contact my skin – but I’d also like to see these vents made a few cms longer to increase their functionality.

The jacket does a good job of staying in place, a combination of a well designed pattern, and the silicon gripper that runs around the waist.

On The Road
My ‘watershed’ ride in the Gabba came on a day of near perfect conditions – a low cloud blocked most of the daylight, and emitted constant drizzle that turned to rain through the course of this 90 minute ride. The temps hovered between 10-14C degrees and the ride included a climb to 400 meters above sea level, and a 2km descent at speeds around 55-60 kph – so lots of opportunity to test heat management, wind chill, and everything in between.

I prefer to be on the warm side on my rides, so I’d layered up with the Iride Base t-shirt, covered by a Castelli breathable lightly fleeced longsleeve jersey, with the Gabba longsleeve on top. Down below I wore the Polare bibtights, and the Diluvio16 neoprene shoe covers on my feet.

I was on a mission to test the gear, and as it was late season, the climb to 400m was unexpected – luckily the legs still had lots of summer miles memory, and the climb was done at a reasonable pace.

We took this shot after about 45 minutes riding in drizzle, increasing to full rain by the time we snapped this one, and the rain was still beading up.

On the way up, as the temps dropped with every few meters gained, I was keen to locate a cold spot anywhere on my person, signaling rain water sneaking through the jacket – but I never did.

The overall results were impressive – my core stayed warm the whole ride in spite of the lightweight of the jersey (mine weighed 351 grams). Even on the descent which was a sustained blast of cold wet air, taken after we’d stopped to shoot some photos and the rain came began to fall in earnest, the Gabba did a great job of repelling the wet, and retaining my body warmth.

There’s a small amount of light reflecting piping on the jacket, that does a pretty good job of lighting up when light hits it.

I’m told the pros love this one – and that Castelli’s received requests from a long list of non-sponsored pro riders asking for one of their own. I’m not surprised – it is a nice item, and I’ll say a must have for anyone living in wetter climates. I wouldn’t really call it a “winter” piece, but that really depends on where you live and how you like to bundle yourself against the December-February chills.

Polare Bibtights – Update
I first review these in early 2012, (read it here) and they’ve remained my go-to tight for full winter rides – in sun OR rain. The Windstopper® X-Fast fabric does a super job blocking wind, while the warm fleece lining that runs down the front of both legs and a large section of the upper back really does keep the warmth in.

That’s real evidence of repelled water on the Polare bibtight – after a good 45 mins riding in the rain.

But the real kicker is how well the fabric repels rain. It’s not billed as waterproof, but you can see how well the water beads up in the photo above. I took this pic on the same ride as the Gabba Long Sleeve jersey above, after we’d been in the wet for about 45 minutes. Just before I snapped the pic, the rain really started to come down, so we turned around for a cold 2-3km descent to get us off the climb – the windchill was not a problem at all with these tights. The rain kept up all the way home, and after 90 minutes in the stuff, I only felt a small amount of water seeping in around one knee area – which is subject to the most rigorous stretching during the pedal stroke.

Trasparente Due Wind Jersey FZ – USq$149.99

I like to mention fit because while each of us will interpret ‘fit’ a different way, there are some differences across brands, and even within brands that are worth noting. For example, I fit Castelli’s medium jerseys quite well, but prefer the sizing of their small sized jackets. As you can see in the photo here though – this medium sized Trasparente Due jersey hits the mark on my 140lbs. The shoulders and body are cut to fit me just right, and the waist falls midway down my hips, so there’s no bunching when on the bike. The back is a tad longer than lighter weight, summer, or pure race cut long sleeve jerseys, but that’s a good thing since I’m wearing this on cooler days (Spring, Fall, early summer mornings etc), or even as a layer under a jacket in winter. Sleeves too are the right length – long enough so exposed skin at my wrists is not an issue.

The unique part on this piece is the choice and placement of materials – the front and upper sleeves are mainly Windstopper® X-Lite PLUS stretch fabric which does a great job of blocking wind, holding in the warmth, and still allowing some moisture and out. The back is a fully breathable light fleece-type fabric called ‘Warmer’, that I’ve see before and like – it holds in a nice amount of warmth while still allowing lots of ventilation when you’re working.

This ‘Warmer’ fabric is also used on the sleeves below the elbows and on the upper sleeve backs.

A look inside the jersey easily shows where the different fabrics meet, and make sense.

This piece has a lot of versatility – mixing it up with long- or short-sleeved base layers, a light or heavy vest, or even under a jacket – this should be in the rotation from late Fall through Spring, and maybe longer if you’re riding in high mountains or anywhere it’ll be cooler. The Windstopper, as I’ve already said is a great fabric that not only locks out the chill, but fits really well thanks to the 4-way stretch. I’m wearing this through the winter under a jacket, and the Windstopper makes a notable difference in keeping my chest and core warm. Ocaassionally I might get too warm, nothing a lowered zipper can’t fix.

The sleak fit helps performance too – for one the garment never gets in the way, but I firmly believe that looking fast makes you fast.

I know – I always show Castelli’s high collar – but it’s something they do better than most, and a key feature for me.

Another cool feature is the handy front zippered pocket – ideal for keys, money or credit cards, and just plain easier to reach than pockets in the back.

Iride Base T Short sleeve – $US79.99
This ‘seamless’ base layer comes in long- and short-sleeve versions, and uses a fabric made from the industry standard polypropelene, blended with nylon and lycra. Right there is pretty much all you need to cover your base layer heat management issues.

The kicker here is the ‘Seamless” part – it’s a raglan cut t-shirt with seams for the sleeves, but none on the body sides. Yup – the body is basically one giant tube of material, that’s been woven to fit various sized bodies. The ribbed weave on the sides is designed to allow for a tad more airflow to aid on heat transfer.

My tester was a dual small/ medium size – which usually means a perfect fit. This one did fit well – but was very snug on me, and was short enough that I’d likely choose a longer cut base for colder days – but that’s me. And while this one felt quite snug when I first pulled on, it was not an issue, as I soon forgot I was wearing it at all – a testament to its comfort.

DiLuvio Shoecover 16 – $US64.99
I’ve got a long running search for the ‘perfect’ winter shoe cover – and I actually look forward to fall in eager anticipation of what new developments may have surfaced at Interbike that will help keep my toes toasty in the cold, wet months ahead. When you live in the rainbelt, you look for any help possible to make it through winter – and warm (and dry) toes are an essential for me.

These are an evolution of Castelli’s DiLuvio shoecover that I tested last year, being modified with a taller ankle, zippered back, and a bit more rugged finish at the cleat and heel openings. The “16” in the name here denotes the taller cuff length, designed to offer a bit more coverage. They’re basically two pieces of 3mm neoprene glued and sewn together down the center with a flatlock stitch.

Last year I tested a pair of the regular height DiLuvio booties and quite happily rode ‘em through the Winter and Spring. I even took ‘em to the Cobbled Classics as my staple foot cover, and they kept me happy in the constantly cold 10C degree days we had.

Into January now, and the wettest winter I can remember, and I’m liking these taller version booties a lot. For one – they keep my ankles warmer –which in turn keeps the rest of me warmer, so I enjoy my rides more. If you haven’t tried a neoprene booty – you could do a lot worse than to start with these. The inherent stretch of the material peels on snugly over the shoes, and stays snug for a cool aero look (versus those cheap and ill-fitting mukluk-style wrap jobs so many ‘commuters’ seem to choose).

While they’re not waterproof, (they will soak through after enough exposure to rain) they do block the wind and hold in the warmth – even when wet. Why else do you think scuba suits are made of the stuff? But they do work great at blocking light rain and other moisture, and the stuff is light and durable.

The heel area has been beefed up with a chunk of nylon fabric sewn on to anchor the zipper (also new) which has a very nice sealed closure to block out water, and also features a thinner piece of neoprene that runs full length up the zipper’s inside to further repel water. This inner flap also extends out of the top and folds over to act as a cover that anchors the YYK zipper from rattling – although I doubt its self-locking mechanism would allow for any movement anyway.

The graphics are reflective and actually stick to the neoprene quite well – my year old testers have shown no signs of the graphics cracking or peeling. In fact the only wear on my older pair shows in the tips of the toes, wear they pulled tight against my shoes and likely rubbed against a few things along the way.

Here’s the best way to wear your booties – tucked under your tights so the water runs past the top of the booty, and can’t trickle in at the ankle top. Might not look as cool, but you’ll be much dryer – especially paired with a water repellent tight like Castelli’s NanoFlex bibtight.

Estremo Glove – US$89.99
The ‘handy’ version of my search for the ultimate winter shoe cover has been much the same – lots of looking, and discovering that for my climate, there’s really not one glove that will cover all my winter riding needs.

These are maybe the warmest cycling glove I’ve ever worn – and are very well suited to keeping hands warm on cold, dry days. While they’re not a waterproof glove, but do a decent job of repelling wet from road spray to light rain, thanks to the Windstopper X-Fast fabric (obviously a favorite of Castellis), which works just as well at keeping out the cold on gloves as it does on their jackets, jerseys, and bibtights.

The inside is lined with deep pile fleece running full length through the fingers. These were so warm that I did experience some sweatiness inside, which meant the fleece finger lining stuck to a couple of my fingers on the way out – which then made pulling ‘em back on a tad more work. This is to be expected though with super warm gloves, and is a small price to pay for anyone who ranges from those of us who like warm hands, to those of us who hate cold hands.

Almost the whole palm is covered with a patterned silicon gripper to ensure a tacky attraction to the handlebars, and I liked it for extra security when grabbing brake levers.

The larger bulk of a glove made for extreme temps does make them slightly less flexible than a thinner glove, but this only really shows itself when pulling them on or off – which requires a slightly more amount of effort than what you might be used to. Naturally this much insulation will restrict movement a bit – but in use they proved just fine when reaching for brakes, shifting gears, or riding in any position on the bars.

The cuffs nice and long, and fit snugly underneath jacket sleeves, and feature a wide velcro closure.

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