Sportful R&D Light Jacket - review - Road Cycling UK

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Sportful R&D Light Jacket – review

Cutting-edge fabric, superb breathability and an excellent cut

Cycling clothing has come a long way since the basic polyester jerseys of the 1990s and Sportful have been among the brands at the cutting-edge of fabric technology. That continues here with the Sportful R&D Light Jacket, which has seen the Italian firm team up with fabric specialists Polartec to produce a piece which does an exceptional job at regulating body temperature on cold, dry rides.

Sportful’s R&D range contains the company’s top-of-the-line clothing and the Light jacket is new for autumn/winter 2016, though it’s an evolution of the R&D Long Sleeve Wind Jersey we reviewed two years ago.

At the heart of the jacket is Polartec’s Alpha fabric, which provides lightweight insulation thanks to a core construction of lofted knit fibres, which in turn create pockets of air to trap warmth like goose down, but without the bulk.

Sportful have used Alpha on the front, shoulders and front of the sleeves, and its sandwiched between a polyester, waffle-like lining and a WindWick LT fabric on the outside. That WindWick LT fabric almost feels like a 2016 version of a 1990s shell suit, but it’s designed to offer windproof protection, while ensuring breathability remains high.

Finally, as far as the construction is concerned, the rear of the sleeves and the back are made from a DualFit fabric, which has a dual-layer construction – polyester on the inside, nylon on the outside – to add stretch and further boost breathability on parts of the jacket which don’t face the wind.

The Sportful R&D Light Jacket makes use of three fabric to provide plenty of winter warmth
  • Specification

  • Price: £170
  • Sizes: XS-XXL
  • Size tested: M
  • Colours: Black; black/red
  • Website: Sportful

Those three fabrics work together superbly to achieve a balance of warmth, breathability and low weight. I’ve used the R&D Light Jacket as the weather has gradually become colder over the past few weeks, first wearing it on top of a short-sleeve base layer on an autumn afternoon with the temperature around 12 degrees. I then combined it with a long-sleeve base layer on a chilly ride with the temperature around eight or nine degrees and a chilly mist on the hilltops, before using a mesh undervest and merino base layer on a morning outing into Kent with the season’s first frost on the ground.

On each occasion the jacket did an excellent job at keeping my body temperature at a comfortable level, whether ticking along at a steady pace, or working harder on climbs. The WindWick fabric isn’t as windproof as a Gore Windstopper fabric and lets a little breeze through (but certainly not as much as a long sleeve jersey like Sportful’s BodyFit Pro Thermal Jersey and that helps keep a little air circulating through the jacket. You might feel a bit of a chill on a really cold day on a long descent, or only if you stop for a prolonged period, but as soon as you start pedaling again, the body heat generated works in tandem with the lofty fabric to retain warmth and regulate your temperature.

The R&D Light jacket is best suited to cold, dry rides, but the WindWick offers enough water repellency that you won’t immediately be reaching for a rain jacket if caught out by a passing shower.

Sportful describe the jacket as for mild winter weather and fast training rides. The impressive breathability ensures the jacket is ideal for high-tempo rides, when you’ll likely be generating a lot of heat which needs to escape – and the fabrics allow that. If you’re used to wearing a typical windproof jacket, you’ll notice how good a job the R&D Light Jacket does at letting heat escape, and how dry the inside of the jacket stays as a result.

The jacket has three open rear pockets, as well as a zipped side pocket

As for mild winter weather, that’s relative. Sportful say the R&D Light Jacket is suitable for a temperature range of between five and 15 degrees, which will take care of a lot of riding through winter. Don’t be fooled by the ‘Light’ tag, either – some riders will get away with this jacket closer to freezing with the right base layer(s), though the upper limit, 15 degrees, is pushing it. Sportful also offer the R&D Zero Jacket, which increases the bulk to drop the recommended temperature range to zero to ten degrees.

The fit of the R&D Light Jacket is spot on. The slim cut is close throughout, helped by the low bulk of the jacket, but perfectly cut to suit the riding position on the bike. The arms are also a good length and the cuffs snug and stretchy enough to provide a secure closure over gloves (Sportful have done away with the thumb loops found on the old R&D Wind Jersey, which is no bad thing, as the fabric had a tendency to pull against the skin). The bottom of the jacket is finished with an elasticated waistband which holds everything securely in place.

The close cuffs stop draughts creeping up the sleeves

Our only real gripe with the jacket is with the pockets. Let’s start with the good. The central pocket has a central strip of super-stretchy fabric which increases the carrying potential and we squeezed in a jacket, banana and mini-pump with no problems. The left-hand pocket is a little smaller, but still well-sized for other essentials, however the right-hand pocket is smaller again. It’s about the width of an iPhone 6 and the limited size of the pocket and the stretchy fabric from which it’s made makes it very difficult – and quite frustrating – to get anything out on the move wearing winter gloves, unless said item is long enough to poke out of the top of the pocket. We’d prefer three evenly-sized pockets.

(Update 25/11/2016: Following this review, Sportful advised us the pockets should be evenly-sized and sent us a second jacket from stock. As a result, we can confirm the pockets each measure approximately 10cm across, making it significantly easier to access the right-hand pocket and solving our initial gripe.)

Last year’s R&D Wind Jersey also had an additional, open pocket on either hip, and these were ideal for storing things like energy gels. This season’s R&D Light Jacket has replaced these two extra pockets with a single, zipped pocket on the right hip. It’s certainly handy for storing small valuables like keys or money (but it’s not quite big enough for a smartphone), however, we don’t see why there can’t still be another open pocket on the other side of the jacket, like the old jersey.

Finally, Sportful offer the jacket in two colours, with an all black version alongside our red/black test kit. Both jackets have reflective detailing on the shoulders and either side of the pockets, as well as reflective logos on the front and rear.

Conclusion

The Sportful R&D Light Jacket is an excellent piece for cold, dry conditions. The breathable fabrics do a first-class job at regulating body temperature on winter rides, through a relatively wide temperature range and despite the low bulk. The pockets aren’t perfect but otherwise this is a superb jacket for winter riding.

Pros

  • Innovative fabric technology
  • Superb breathability for high-tempo winter riding
  • Excellent fit; close and comfortable

Cons

  • Missing hip pocket compared to previous version of R&D jersey

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