Cycling Jackets: A Learning Experience

It’s only taken me about 3.5 years, but I think I’m learning.

When I really got into cycling (for fun, for commuting, for health), I didn’t have a lot of money to spend. Several years later I still don’t. Now, it’s been obvious to me that despite the amount of money I had to spend to get a couple of good bikes and outfit them, I’m saving money in the long run on gas / wear & tear. I don’t skimp on the equipment I buy to outfit the bikes, because I know that if I buy the best gear now, they’ll last longer and perform better.

So why in the name of all things velo do I attempt to skimp on clothing??

Truth is, “cycling clothing” has always struck me as ridiculous, both in pricing as well as design. I didn’t take up cycling so I could attempt to pack my 45 year old, 230lb frame into skin tight lyrca team kits and spend more on them than on either of my bikes! I wanted to be able to climb on the bike and go, not worry about whether I needed to look like Lance Armstrong to go shopping or to work.

But the realization also hit me that I needed something other than just a hoodie, my jacket of choice for many years. So the hunt for a cheap cycling jacket that could be used in all situations (even off the bike) began.

The Jackets

Four cycling jackets in three and a half years.

 

#1 – Izod XFG Packable Jacket

Almost 4 years ago, this jacket was seen at the local Izod outlet store with a normal pricetag of almost $50. It was on sale for $25, plus a promo was running, knocking it down to $15. “Waterproof” and windproof, it seemed like the perfect answer to my needs as a cyclist here in Pensacola. I sweet talked the salesperson and she sold me a second one (bright orange) so that together I spent $25. How could I go wrong with this, right?

The Problem: While this jacket is mostly waterproof and windproof, it also doesn’t breath even a little bit. It’s like wearing a thick plastic trash bag. On top of that, the back hikes up, exposing your shorts and the end of your shirt. In the end, I may as well have not been wearing a jacket at all, as I wound up as wet from sweat and the encroaching rain. I still wear this jacket occasionally as just a windbreaker, but it generally just takes up space in the closet now.

#2 New Balance 360 Degree Jacket

Waterproof. Windproof. Lined sleeves. Vents in the front and large vent on the back. Reflective strips. Packable. Front-pocket MP3 player slot. 2 zip pockets. It seemed perfect. On top of that, it was $20 down the street, marked down from $90. A dream come true! All my questions answered! It was perfect! We danced and sang together, rode together in the rain, braved the brisk air and everything was great

Until… The Problem: It’s a very loose fit, which I was initially ok with, but that got to be a bit irritating, having everything flapping about willy-nilly. But then, the real problem: As with any piece of clothing, it eventually needs to be washed. Whether it was the washing machine or the jacket, that sucker came unthreaded at the seams, shredding at 2 large spots. This was a month after getting the jacket. And of course, this was bought on the cheap as it was the previous years’ style. There would be no returning the jacket. I did go back to where I bought it and found an XXL (my normal size is an XL) marked further down to $15. Bought it, but this thing wears like a tent (which means it doesn’t get worn at all).

#3 Alpinestars Night Mission Jacket

For almost a year, I’d been without a specific cycling jacket. Always on the lookout, always shocked at the prices, I’ve settled for old hoodies that do a barely decent job as long as it’s not raining. Then, in my quest for cheap, I saw this jacket on The Clymb. Now, I should know better than to try and order clothing online, but the deal was so good ($30, down from $110)… So I did some research on it, looked for information outside of The Clymb’s site, and from what I could tell, it was going to be a winner! Waterproof, windproof, and a hood that could be removed, and apparently 2 vents (under each arm). The only size they had left was XXL, so after some agonizing, I pulled the trigger.

The Problem: Where to start? Hah. Well, to begin, this thing weighs several pounds. It’s crazy heavy. It’s also hot as hell. No reflective strips. There are also no vents in the jacket (apparently only the current version of this jacket has vents, the one I was buying was the previous years’ style). I figured I’d just do the best I could with it, but having gotten it in September when the temps are still in the 80-90 degree range, I couldn’t really test the thing out. Then it got chilly. That’s when I realized this: IMG_2393

I must’ve not only gotten last years’ style, I also got last years’ “slightly irregular” cast-offs. That zipper doesn’t close all the way because the other end has been sewn in wrong and can’t be undone. Furthermore, the top of this jacket is crazy stiff – the zipper top jams into my neck causing extreme discomfort and irritation. And, of course, two months later there are no returns on this jacket. Looking at Alpinestars’ website convinced me not to even bother contacting them. Yet another useless jacket taking up space in the closet.

#4 Louis Garneau Kamloops Jacket

Waterproof. Windproof. Breathable. 2.5 ply nylon ripstop. Large back pocket. High fitting collar. Rear vent flap. Mini-light tab. Reflective tape front and back. Pro-fit. Nevermind that I didn’t understand what several of these things meant, it looked slick. At $47, it was almost $100 less than the MSRP, got good reviews, and I felt that given all the research I did on it before I took the plunge, I thought I’d be ok getting an XXL from Competitive Cyclist’s website, and even if it was just a little too big, that’d be alright.

The Problem: Oh, goodness. Well, this beautiful jacket arrived in the mail and as I pulled it out of the box, I thought, “Damn, son, that’s the noisiest jacket I’ve ever heard… is there cellophane inside this thing?” Alas, there was not. It was then that I understood what Max 2.5 Nylon Ripstop meant. No problem, I thought. It just needs to be broken in, right? So I put the thing on and suddenly understood what pro-fit means: Dudes with broad shoulders and long torsos should probably not buy an XXL, as it will be too small. Yep. The fabric jams right into my armpits, and extends just barely an inch below my stomach. And the noise it makes while it’s on? I mean, I’m deaf and it’s loud enough to be annoying to me. None of this is the company’s fault, however: it’s my own.

What I’ve Learned: 

Having now spent almost $200 on these four jackets, I’ve come to the following conclusions:

  • I’ve always had difficulty buying shirts due to a very long torso – at 6′ tall, I have a 29-30″ inseam – most of my size is up top. This will also cause problems with cycling clothing as well.
  • Ordering online from closeout / clearance websites or from clearance bins on normal websites is probably not a good idea, as the ability to return this stuff is near non-existent.
  • A corollary to the previous two points is that I cannot try these items on, and now know from experience that it’s difficult to measure for dimensions when different styles have different fits (even within the same company).
  • I didn’t / don’t understand some of the terms that come with these jackets, and even after researching them, I really needed to have seen it rather than just read about it. Cycling obviously has many categories, from recreational to professional to commuting to sport. Some of the “fits” are not going to apply to me, either because of my “category” or because of the long torso / less-than-muscular physique.
  • Cycling jackets are insanely expensive. Deal with it. I need to buy a jacket I can actually try on first, and have the expectation that I’m going to be spending an insane amount of money (for me) but with a jacket that will actually fit and do what I want it to do.
  • For $200, I could have gotten a good, appropriate jacket (or two) by now. (This, of course, also has to be tempered with the understanding that I don’t have $200 lying around and we use credit cards for emergencies only, not so we can keep up with the neighbors).

Now: I still need a jacket! The hunt continues…

One thought on “Cycling Jackets: A Learning Experience

  1. Asher

    It’s nice to see a thoughtful, honest write-up on the vagaries of attempting to buy cycling kit without spending a fortune. I’ve had similar experiences with things like gloves, but haven’t kept track of my errors as well.

    FWIW, I think the lack of any sort of standardization of fit and terminology can make the process of buying kit baffling, at times. Like, I know that race cut is always trimmer than club cut, but what that means from manufacturer to manufacturer can be very different — and then some manufacturers throw in terms like “pro fit” or “European race fit (which, as far as I can tell, means ‘will only fit if you are a pro racer and your race is Asian :D'” and further complicate the matter.

    It’s interesting that, in a field as technically-obsessed as cycling, there doesn’t seem to be much industry-wide agreement about how to label clothing. Then again, this seems to be a problem with clothing in general (I am terrified of ordering non-cycling pants online because it’s hard to tell whether or not they’ll look ridiculous on me), if a bit magnified in the cycling world.

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