Some of the cycling products I get most excited about are where manufacturers try new things, new ideas and new materials. I respect brands that are trying to move things forwards. So when I spotted Sportful’s R&D range, it piqued my interest as this is the range where Sportful try new materials and ideas after a lengthy product testing process. I got in touch with the company to find out more and they’ve been kind enough to send me a matching R&D jacket and set of bib tights to review.
On the Sportful website, the R&D jacket is rated by them as 4 out of 4 for windproofing and insulation and 3 out of 4 for waterproofing and breathability, which sounds impressive. What qualifies this jacket as an R&D product is, in this case, the material used – Polartec Alpha. According to the Polartec website, this is a fabric that was developed for military use as an insulating material in combat uniforms. It’s designed to regulate heat whether you’re active or static, with a level of breathability that’s supposed to stop you from having to peel off or put on layers depending on how active you are. That’s what the Polartec site says. The Sportful site says this is a perfect material for cycling.
A few of the other interesting claims for the Polartec fabric are that it has warmth without weight, that it’s packable, fast drying and easy care, which in fairness does sound good for cycling.
This is a jacket for cold weather riding. For me, cold weather means less than 5 degrees Celsius. With my benchmark winter jacket, the Castelli Espresso Due, I found that if the temperature rose much above 7 degrees I overheated but I could happily ride in it a few degrees below zero. I’m curious to see how the R&D jacket performs.
The cut and general construction is relatively traditional it’s a slimmish fitting jacket with a higher collar, the normal 3 rear pockets and a small pocket on the front. There is tasteful and reflective branding on the front (chest) and rear with a R&D logo on the left arm to remind you what you’re wearing. There are a few other things that strike you about this jacket when you pick it up – it’s light and the fabric feels very thin. The outer windshell fabric has an unusual feel about it, it’s a little shiny and feels like it might catch and rip easily. I think it looks good though (if a little disco jacket) and I really like the blue colour. Inside the jacket is a bright yellow mesh lining also labelled Polartec Alpha and that’s the hi-tech part of the garment – the mesh inner – it’s the part that provides the warmth and temperature regulation.
The sleeves also have a stretchy black mesh fabric running from under the armpit to the cuffs – which don’t have a cuff but the sleeves seems to turn in on itself. The sleeves are generous in length. There’s a nice wide soft collar at the top and a thick elastic band at the bottom. It’s most definitely lighter and considerably less bulky than my Castelli reference point.
It certainly doesn’t feel like a “normal” jacket and I’ve been waiting for some proper cold winter weather to try it out. That arrived last weekend and I put the R&D jacket on for a kids club off-road ride on the Trek Crockett with my 10 year old son. It was about 0 degrees when we started and riding with kids made it a low speed, low intensity ride. After half an hour the temperature had dropped to -1.5 but I felt warm and comfortable. I’d put the jacket on inside the house before I left and felt comfortably warm quickly. Stepping outside I seemed to stay nearly as warm but with a substantial temperature change. Again on the bike, I felt comfortably warm and also when I kept the jacket on for the café stop. It’s intriguing but the temperature regulation seemed to work very well but this impression only based on a first ride.
I feel the cold, I’m thin and don’t have a lot of body fat, so the R&D jacket looks like a good choice so far. If you don’t feel the cold as much there is also an R&D jersey, which looks like it’s similar except for a more breathable back, that lets out a bit more of your body heat, more like a Castelli Trasparente, Rapha Pro Team jacket or Bontrager RXL 180. When it gets really cold, these jackets aren’t warm enough for me but on first impression the Sportful R&D jacket seems to be very good indeed as a cold weather winter jacket. I’ll keep riding and report back.
The Sportful R&D jacket retails for £185 and the bib tights £120 but you may find better pricing if you shop around.
The R&D bib tights don’t feature any Polartec fabric but do have a triple serving of ThermoDrytex. The main use of this is a double layer fleece with hollow core polyester inside for warmth, Thermodrytex PL+ on the thighs and knees for wicking, then Thermodrytex Plus on the back for stretch and fit. This is then combined with the Total Comfort Pad and straps, flatlock stitching and YKK ankle zips.
On Sportful’s rating system the R&D tights score 4 out of 4 for breathability, 3 out of 4 for windproofing and insulation and 1 out of 4 for waterproofing. I wear a size medium and these are a good comfortable slim fit. Just about perfect for my 180cm and 68kg frame.
These tights didn’t make the Cyclocross ride last weekend as I didn’t want to trash them on the first ride. They’re being lined up for a cold weather ride this week – with the matching jacket and I’ll report back in due course.
The full R&D tights review is now posted here: http://girodilento.com/sportful-rd-bib-tights-review/