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Sportful R&D Ultralight jersey – review

Sportful have sponsored the Tinkoff-Saxo team in its various guises since 2010 – a stellar year for the squad, with Fabian Cancellara doing the Flanders-Roubaix double, and Andy Schleck (retrospectively) winning the Tour de France – and the R&D Ultralight jersey was developed specifically for the WorldTour team. It is, as the name suggests a super-light (or, rather, ultra-light) jersey designed for the very hottest weather and it's a superb piece for when the temperature – and the road – rises.

The R&D Ultralight jersey is new to the Sportful range for summer 2015 but it’s been development for some time and was first worn by the Tinkoff-Saxo team during the 2014 Tour de France. You may have seen it on the back of Rafal Majka, who won two mountain stages and the King of the Mountains competition in last year’s race before adding another stage to his name this time out.

The first thing you’ll notice about the Ultralight jersey when you pick it up is that it weighs very, very little. Claimed weight is 99g, conveniently dipping under 100g, but Sportful don’t state for which size that figure is for, and our medium sample weighs 110g. Still, it’s hardly troubling the scales and comes is a little lighter than Rapha Pro Team Climber’s jersey (118g, also for a medium).

With a jersey like this, it’s a case of less is more, but there’s more to it than weight alone. The Ultralight is mostly made from a fabric dubbed ‘Diablo Mesh’ by Sportful. It’s essentially a semi-open mesh with a dual function: to allow cooling air to pass through the fabric and, thanks to the low lycra content of material, maximise evaporative cooling.

While the UK summer has been, well, hit and miss, I’ve been lucky enough to ride in France and Spain over the past month or so, and in temperatures nudging well past 30 degrees (up to 38 degrees in the valley below Alpe d’Huez). It’s in these conditions that the R&D Ultralight jersey really comes into its own. The jersey is noticeably ‘cooler’ than a regular polyester summer jersey and the mesh structure of the fabric allows air to pass through freely. There will always be a limit as to how effective a jersey can be in keeping your overall body temperature down – when you’re climbing in 38 degree heat you’re going to get very hot, very quickly no matter what – but, on the whole, it helps keep things comfortable. The full-length zip also means you can regulate temperature a little more or go full pro by unzipping the jersey entirely and letting it flail at your sides while climbing.

The constant airflow means that the fabric picks up very little moisture but, if it does, then it’s also extremely quick to dry. That may not sound like a massive concern when it’s hot out but it’s important for two reasons: firstly, a dry jersey is more comfortable than a damp jersey, and two, if you reach the top of a climb and start descending, a damp jersey can become surprisingly chilly.

Sportful say the R&D Ultralight is best worn without a base layer. I tend to always wear a base layer but tried the jersey with and without, and it remained effective, so take your pick. One final word on the mesh: if you’re concerned about sunburn, then Sportful say the fabric has a UPF10 rating, which is said to filter out 90 per cent of the sun’s rays and I didn’t suffer any unexpected Chris Froome-esque sunburn when wearing it.

The weight of the jersey also means it has an almost ‘not there’ feeling while you’re wearing it and that’s helped by the cut. Like much of Sportful’s range, and certainly those pieces at the racier end of the spectrum, it’s an aggressive cut which may not work for everyone, and you’ll want to make sure you choose the right size, but my regular size, medium, provided an aero but unrestrictive fit. It’s close throughout, leaving little or no excess fabric, just how a race-inspired jersey should be, and the Diablo Mesh is combined with a stretchier ‘AirMesh’ to provide a little more give across the shoulders. Close but comfortable just about sums it up.

Besides the fabric, there are a couple of other features designed to help keep things cool, with the low collar removing any unnecessary fabric from the neck. The sleeves also have a raw-cut finish and the fabric sits flush against the skin. It’s very comfortable as there’s no silicone gripper to tug on your skin and the fabric has enough stretch to provide a close fit on my cyclists’ (or, rather, skinny) arms. The hem may look fairly fragile but I’ve had no problems despite the jersey going through a number of wash cycles.

Otherwise, the R&D Ultralight jersey is relatively low on features, but that, in essence, is its calling card. Out back there’s the usual arrangement of three rear pockets and they’re well-sized to handle everything you’d need for a day in the mountains. The pockets and waist also have a lycra trim to provide a little more support and I had no trouble with the pockets sagging.

A final word on the colour. The jersey is available in black (with red trim) as well as the ‘electric blue/white’ we’ve tested, which we think looks great and has attracted a number of admiring comments from fellow riders. Looks aren’t everything but it’s a great-looking jersey.

Conclusion

There’s always a caveat as a UK rider when reviewing a piece of clothing like the Ultralight jersey in that ultimately it’s designed for conditions we don’t experience with any great consistency on these shores. That’s not to say it won’t get much use – I’ve happily worn the Ultralight on fairly typical UK summer days when the temperature’s in the low to mid twenties (Sportful say the jersey is designed for temperatures of 25 degrees and up), and if you have a lightweight gilet stuffed in your pocket then you have most bases covered – but it truly comes into its own when things get really heat up. As a jersey designed for hot weather (whether that’s here in the UK or if you have a trip abroad planned), the Sportful R&D Ultralight jersey comes highly recommended thanks to the combination of low weight, first-class breathability and a finely-tuned cut. It’s well-priced against its rivals, too.

Pros

– Incredibly light and breathable fabric
– Excellent race-inspired and comfortable cut
– Electric blue/white colour combination looks great
– Well-priced against competition

Cons

– Specificity of a jersey like this may limit its use
– Close cut may not work for all shapes and sizes

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