Buying a winter cycling jacket is a tricky business.
If you’re not careful it can turn the essentially pleasurable act of shopping for cycling kit into a high-pressure situation filled with stress and anxiety, because it’s one of these key items you just HAVE to get right.
Rather like a helmet, or new cycling shoes, it’s one of those things that many of us only splash out on once every few years, and a decent jacket is not cheap. Get it wrong, and you may have to live with the consequences for some time.
I recently tested the Specialized SL Elite Partial Winter Jacket, which is not only quite a mouthful for an item of clothing, but is also my first experience of cycling kit made by this most ubiquitous of American cycling brands.
My local Specialized supplier is Leisure Lakes Bikes, who offer a decent online range; they sell this particular jacket at £84, which is seriously well priced for what you get. Leisure Lakes also do a good line in Castelli, Gore, and POC, among others, and are always worth a look.
With the SL Elite I was expecting to find a well-designed and high performing piece of kit, which made the most of the big budget and clever designers at Specialized’s disposal.
I was generally impressed.
First off, let’s get the size question out of the way.
This jacket is described as ‘form-fit’, so I was prepared for a snug and racy cut. In all but the most Italian of brands I am very much a standard ‘Mens Large’. I’m not a racing snake, but neither am I carrying too much in the way of extra weight, and I could barely pull the zip shut when I tried my usual size in this jacket.
If you think you’re anything like me, build-wise, my advice would be to consider sizing up one.
Once I got the right fit this jacket proved the perfect example of clothing cut for the riding position. Standing up in front of the mirror it feels slightly misshapen and not quite right, but on the bike I find it as comfortable as a jacket can get, to the point where you barely notice you are wearing it.
Not only does is it cut well, but you can feel the stretchy panels around the back doing their bit to keep it snug, the sleeves are lovely and long and never in danger of riding up to expose the wrists, and the details around the pockets and zips are clearly top-notch quality.
The collar rises slightly at the back and does a reasonable job of sealing out the elements, but does feel like it rucks up a bit. This minor gripe is certainly not enough to detract from the overall comfort: this Jacket is very comfortable.
So I love the cut of it, but looks-wise I find it a little disappointing.
The three options are all variations on black, and the coloured panelling (red in my case) is a little bit bland and unimaginative. The chequered pattern around the collar is a nice touch though, and I do like the subtle chest pocket.
In terms of performance, I found it to do a great job within the bounds of what it’s designed for.
Above about 10 degrees or so I found it too warm, even with only a short-sleeved base-layer underneath, although it proved to be very breathable so I didn’t retain too much of the sweat I was producing.
It clearly does a great job of keeping the wind out, and is water repellent enough to keep out showers of rain, and with the right layers underneath it seems to work well down to about 3 or 4 degrees Celsius. Considering the jacket looks and feels so light, I was impressed with just how warm it is.
Having said that, although I haven’t yet tested my theory, I suspect that if you wore it in genuine freezing temperatures you would feel a touch light on protection and looking for a winter jacket with a bit more substance and heft.
But all in all, as a water resistant wind-proof to wear in all but the coldest temperatures, this jacket is extremely comfortable and does the job brilliantly.
At £84 – to my mind very reasonable for a jacket of this type and of this quality – it would make a good addition to the winter wardrobe, particularly if you tend to give the bike a miss on the very cold days.