Gear Break: Cycling Jackets
Performance cycling jackets have come a long way in recent years, and Capo’s HiVis super reflective jacket, Sugoi’s RSE NeoShell rain jacket, and Sportful’s Hot Pack Ultralight Jacket offer three distinct options for riding when the sun ain’t shining.
CAPO HiVis Jacket – US $350
New to Capo’s very deep line for 2014 is the HiVis jacket – that’s short for ‘high visibility’ and it’s also offered as a vest and bibshorts. Capo says this new material will revolutionize cycling wear and I tend to agree. Staying visible on the bike pretty much equates to staying alive, and with winter’s short dark days descended on so many of us, Mother Nature seems set against motorists seeing us in the low light.
Reflective piping has been around for a while, and super bright blinky lights are standard equipment these days, but until now, super reflective clothing that still looks good and performs to a higher technical level has been hard to find.
Capo’s HiVis jacket is patterned off their Padrone line of form fitting, competition cut cycling kit that moves with you, so you know it’s not gonna be the baggy-pants kind of fit. I first reviewed the Padrone line here, and it’s been a staple of the brand for a few years now. The HiVis has all of Padrone’s features, from sturdy two-way zip, to three deep pockets, jacquard waist and high collar.
But the standout feature here is the fabric, sourced from a Franco-Italian company that started with reflective piping, and then developed an entire fabric with the same very high reflective properties. Made in Italy, they start with a Superblack® high-end four-way stretch lycra fabric, then bond to it crystals that have been crushed into a dust. The fabric looks dark gray in natural light, but once hit by artificial light, (like car headlights), the whole thing flashes superbright.
The fabric weighs more than the uncoated Superblack, but stretches the same. The coating also inhibits breathability, so Capo added venting panels along the sleeves and sides, and perforations in key areas. The upside of this barrier is that wind gets blocked, and cold can’t penetrate, making it well suited to colder weather riding.
I tested this over two long sleeve bases on a day of 6C degrees, and stayed plenty warm (I only cooled down when I stopped for a yip-yap with a neighbor.)
At $350 for the jacket, this ain’t cheap, but dealers are said to be sold out, and more won’t arrive until later in the year. Also available as a vest, light jersey and bibshorts, watch for more cool fluorescent colors, and possibly a lower priced version as well.
This one is so new, you won’t see it on Capo’s website quite yet.
SUGOI RSE NEOSHELL Jacket – US $280.00
Sugoi calls their new RSE NeoShell jacket the “The World’s Most Breathable Waterproof Cycling Jacket”, and after 2 wet months riding it since November, I’m willing to believe it. Sugoi was the first to use Polartec’s new NeoShell fabric to create what they say is a 100% waterproof and 99.9% windproof jacket – that still breathes better than anything I’ve tested in this category.
Based in the same hometown as PEZ HQ, Sugoi may know more about rain gear than most in cycling, so a garment like this was a natural addition to the line, and also something the staff at Sugoi wanted since riding to work at their industrial park-located offices is a not a short trip.
Polartec’s NeoShell fabric covers a lot of bases – weather protection, fit, comfort and a decent weight. This fabric does seem revolutionary in that it keeps out the elements but allows air to escape, so the body can breathe significantly. The fit comes from Sugoi’s 25 years of designing technical cycling apparel, and in recent years using feedback from the Cannondale pro team to ensure fits are sleek, but still move without constraints. The material is soft & light enough that, and the cut is sleek enough that there’s no question this is a pure cycling garment.
Here’s Sugoi’s promo video that briefly explains how NeoShell works:
I was keen to get out in the wet and test their claims, so on a rainy day back in November, I saddled up and headed for the hills – what better way to work up the sweat? I’m lucky to live on the slope of Vancouver’s North Shore mountains, which means going uphill is an immediate result of turning a pedal, and there are more gainable meters nearby than anyone needs at the end of a season.
Riding a moderate pace but climbing on hills that required my bottom 39×26 gear, I was soon heating up and cracking a sweat under the NeoShell jacket, short sleeve jersey and long sleeved base layer. While completely unscientific, my empirical findings were impressive – I didn’t heat up as quickly, nor sweat as much as I’d expected too, and felt very comfortable through the whole ride. Other jackets would be dripping with moisture inside the sleeves and body at the end of a ride like his, but not this time.
Fit on the jacket is very good. The material doesn’t stretch or give to any considerable degree, so cut and design are key, and Sugoi know their fitting well. I tried the size small, which fit me well (I prefer ‘em snug) but opted for the medium to allow room for layering and a wider range of use. The back is long enough to cover your butt, and the cuffs adjust with Velcro .
The collar is high – high enough for full neck coverage but not uncomfortable, and the front zipper is sealed to keep water and wind out, and offset to further prevent wind from sneaking in down the center of your front. Reflective piping adds some bling and hi-vis – essential on dark days.
Storage is well thought out too – two large pockets in back with zippers that can be reached and zipped with gloved hands, and a very handy chest pocket that’s ideal for keys, cards, or a small phone (it could be a tad larger to fit my iphone though).
Best use for this one is your go-to rain jacket. It’s a full sized garment designed to keep you dry, and as such doesn’t fold down to anything near micro-sized, and it’s not super light weight. But the performance of the fabric and smart deign features make it a very good item from a brand that’s certainly deserves consideration for your next purchase.
Available in Matador or Black color options, sizes S – XXL and retails for $280.00 US
• Get more info at Sugoi.com
Sportful Hot Pack Ultralight Jacket – €134,90
Italian clothing company Sportful market their Hot Pack Ultralight jacket as, ‘The lightest shell jacket on the market without compromising on performance.’ With their long association with numerous Pro Teams like SaxoBank, I figured it was going to be a pretty cool bit of kit so I quickly agreed to a test.
Shortly after, a standard business A4 styled envelope arrived in my letterbox and I thought that something had been lost in translation and that they’d simply sent me a Press pack and not a jacket. Here at PEZ we actually test the products we write about – often for months at a time and don’t reprint Press releases so I was a bit disappointed with the envelope. That soon changed when I opened it and found my Large sized Hot Pack stuffed inside, it’s compact alright – and super light.
Sportful claim a weight of just 50 grams for their jacket and although my Large actually came in at 56 grams this is the lightest jacket that I have ever had my hands on – and the most compact too. Despite its compact nature and ultra lightweight, it still manages quite a few handy features.
Firstly there’s a zipper and not just a basic 2 cent zipper, this is one that actually runs smooth and is easily operated when riding. I’ve previously had some ultralight jackets that have used velcro for their closure but nothing beats a zipper for effective closure.
Secondly there’s a small rear pocket, big enough for a phone & keys, surrounded by a reflective surface for extra visibility on those dark winter days.
The same reflective material is used along the top of a rear ventilation flap which is placed in between the shoulders. I never got hot here when using the jacket but whether this was due to the ventilation flap or not is debatable as I don’t normally get hot and sticky here – it’s under the arms where the sweat gathers.
The Hot Pack Ultralight has tried to counter this all too common problem of underarm overheating with some well thought out, laser cut vents for extra breathability and they do a pretty good job.
The jacket also has some nice elastic wristbands which cut down significantly on the annoying ‘flapping’ factor that you can often get riding at decent speeds. I’ve got pretty small climber’s wrists and they fit me well but I was concerned about the fit for how shall we say, more robust riders. Step in my team’s sprinter who gladly took the jacket off me for a week and he reported back of having no problems with the wristbands on his significantly larger arms. The elastic actually does provide quite a bit of stretch for larger diameter arms without cutting off the blood supply.
This jacket is in no way designed to be your go-to jacket for serious rainy and stormy riding but as a wind protection jacket and for water repellent on showery days it’s a good option. I was lucky enough to not actually have to use the Hot Pack in my first 5 weeks of testing as it never rained and yet I carried it everywhere I went as insurance. It’s that kind of jacket, stick it in your pocket, forget about it and then pull it out when you really need it – in my case I first used it when I was freezing on top of a local climb waiting for my buddies to arrive at the summit before plunging down the icy descent on the other side.
There was no rain, just a cold blustery early winter’s day and this admittedly flimsy feeling jacket did an excellent job of keeping me warm on the descent. I’ve since ridden it in rain on a few occasions and it’s performed quite well. Certainly not as impressive as a ‘true’ rainjacket but at just 56 grams and foldable – or in my case ‘scrunchable’ to very small sizes the Hot Pack UltraLight is a very neat bit of kit. More info at sportful.it