Sunday, 17 May 2009

Assos sj.13 LuftSchutz Review

Assos sJ.13 LuftSchutz - Hybro V2 logo

Windproof Shell Jacket

The sJ.13 first appeared as a teasing image in Assos' catalogue last Autumn, before information and photos gradually began to materialise on European sites. It only appeared on Assos' own site in early February and finally debuted in UK stores a few weeks ago. Despite the similarly named SS.13 jersey leading with a capital, the LuftShutz begins with a lowecase "s". Being fairly sure of the Swiss precision in which these items are named, I am sure there is a reason for this, but we are left to speculate - or ignore and move on to the jacket itself.

Described by Assos as a "super compact, high performance windbreaker & thermo insulator" it is categorically unintended as a rain jacket although has some degree of waterproofing to it, an extremely useful facet when riding in the UK.

Being a new item and therefore nowhere having existing stocks, there didn't seem to be a way to escape the recent price increases seen across the whole cycling spectrum, but even so Ribble offered the jacket cheaper than anywhere else I could find, and with a 15% May Day sale on it represented a substantial saving over the RRP. Given my apparel persuasion for the shade of driven snow, I pushed 'add to cart' next to the white option. My belief is that a few extra minutes with the stain removal soap stick is worth it for the PRO look.

Upon opening the box one is greeted with a package around the size of a couple of stacked CD albums:

Assos sJ.13 LuftSchutz - folded

What at first appears to be a carry pouch reveals itself as the jacket's pocket turned inside out. In my haste I paid no attention but I'd advise unfolding it slowly in order to obtain some comprehension as to how to replicate the folds and therefore repack it to the smallest possible bulk.

On this label attached to the inside-yet-sometimes-the-outside there is a whole user manual's worth of information - a description as to the jacket's function, the usual care instructions and the logo for the new HYBROv2 material. This logo is also sewn to the inside, in the same omnipresent location as other Assos garments.

The construction of the sJ.13 is excellent. The black sections are made from a stretchier material, this keeps the cuffs wind tight and allows the jacket to form a better fit around the body, with no loose bits and it feels soft enough to wear over bare arms without discomfort. The elastic waistband is of the same design as the new S5 series shorts - with soft gripping dots rather than the usual strips as on the winter jackets. The mesh down the sides of the jacket and under the arms is similar to that seen on the climaJet and photos show the Easy Entry System silver tab by the zip, although this was not present on mine.

Last weekend I set of for my Saturday afternoon ride and headed for the hills with the weather bordering on rain. I had hoped this would give me a chance to see how water resistant this not-water resistant jacket was. Several hours later and I was in the usual position of cursing the British weather but perversely in this instance because it was too warm and too dry. Even when descending I wasn't sufficiently cold enough to put the jacket to use.

This morning I set out for the club run and with the weather looking iffy and around 10˚c, I stuffed the sJ.13 into my jersey pocket and sure enough after an hour or so the rain came - just a few spots at first. At this point I had on my intermediateEvo and arm warmers so I removed the warmers and donned the sJ.13. Temperature wise I was perfectly comfortable, the jacket breathing well and keeping me dry. After a few miles the heavens really opened and the water soaked though, although not as much as I had expected and importantly I was still warm.

Upon returning home the jacket went straight in the wash, but it took a second wash and a fair amount of time with a Vanish stick to get it back to white. I think if you're planning to make the sJ.13 work part time as a rain jacket in UK conditions, then the black is a very wise idea.

Great fit, lightweight, effective, comfortable

White stains easily, possibly of limited use

Photos - Click for full size or view more on flickr

Assos sJ.13 LuftSchutz - open box

Assos sJ.13 LuftSchutz - front

Assos sJ.13 LuftSchutz - back

Friday, 8 May 2009

Assos elementZero Review

Assos elementZero - collar detail

Early Winter Sleeveless Shell / Gilet

If there's one item of clothing a cyclist must own in addition to the staple shorts and jersey, it's a gilet. Easily the most versatile piece of apparel and for myself at least, the most used. The beauty of a gilet is that it keeps warm the body parts that need warmth and allows cooling to those that require cooling. A cycling specific gilet is a very tailored design that does everything up front and virtually nothing behind. That is to say the front is almost always a windproof material with a high collar and the back is only really there to keep the front in place. Mesh or other lightweight fabric is all that is required. As all the wind is coming from the front due to the cyclist's direction there is no need for the back to provide any protection.

The elementZero takes this principal and expands on it. The front is mostly Airblock 799, the thinner, yet almost as functional weight of the two Airblock fabrics. The back has a mesh panel, the collar a thick foam padding, identical to that of the winter Fugu uber-jacket, and cut low at the back and high at the front so close fitting when in the riding position. The rest of the material is X-Zero a water-repellant, breathable textile.

My elementZero has accompanied me on every ride since it's acquisition. Used as an extra layer on sub-zero winter excursions to a temporary wind chill shield when descending after a sweaty climb it packs small enough to stuff in a jersey pocket and when paired with arm warmers makes an almost-a-jacket combination that can be donned or removed in parts to suit the current conditions.

Although not claimed to do so, the Airblock material is more water resistant than expected and having got caught out a number of times the elementZero has kept me warm and sheltered for the 30 minutes ride from work to home. I can't comment on the effectiveness of the back panel's fold down flap, as I always wear waterproof Gore shorts when commuting.

I really can't fault the elementZero. It may be a bit more substantial around the collar and therefore bulkier than some other manufacturer's offerings, but this is a small price to pay for the extra warmth. Whilst on the subject of price, much debate is made over the cost of Assos products. The elementZero is no different, when paying this price for a gilet you expect performance to match and I can honestly say it does not disappoint. Swiss perfection supplied in a stylish, grey zipped bag.

Windproof, quite water resistant, warm, great fit, very comfortable collar


Photos - Click for full size or view more on flickr

Assos elementZero - front, unzipped

Assos elementZero - back

Assos elementZero - flap open

Assos intermediateEvo Review

Assos intermediateEvo - tags

Early Fall Jersey

On first glance at the range of Assos garments one could be forgiven for thinking that no-one could possibly make use of so many similar items. Certainly it is possible to cycle in most conditions with only a limited selection of clothing, but for maximum enjoyment and performance there's no substitute for having an outfit perfect for any given meteorological or climatic situation.

After a series of judicious, not to say fiscally taxing, purchases this past winter I am in no need of substitution, and as Winter has morphed to spring and now hints at Summer, the upper half of my outfit has thinned out from the heavyweight air blocking fleece of the airJack 851 to the lighter elementOne and now to the item I'm reviewing here - the intermediateEvo, an item Assos list as a jacket but is really closer to a long sleeve jersey, and so I will be describing it as such.

Rather than just lengthen the sleeves of a standard jersey and perhaps use material a touch thicker, Assos have put a bit more thought in and arrived at the sensible conclusion that if it's cold enough to merit long sleeves, then chances are that you're probably going to need a bit of wind protection too. To this end the front of the jersey is the thinner of Assos' two Airblock fabrics - 799. This lacks the fleecy backing of the winter-weight 851, so is lighter but only marginally less effective. The rest of the material is the same Micro Cell used on the short sleeve jerseys in the range (except for the SS.Uno and SS.13, which use the newer Plasma fabric).

The standard features are all present and correct - three sizeable rear pockets, plus an ever useful smaller, zipped pocket ideal for keys, money and cards - an addition often annoyingly omitted by other manufacturers.

Fit is up to the usual spot-on AEPD standards - tight around the chest when stood up, but in position on the bike just right, with no bagginess or ruffling of the front. My only real criticism here is the sleeves seem unusually long for the size, my medium being an inch or so lengthier in this area than the same size elementOne. My jersey featured the silver zip garage seen sporadically on other Assos garments, I have not yet worked out what the pattern is to whether an item will have this or not. My airJack and elementOne are both missing it, yet photos on Assos' site clearly show the garage on both jackets. I am unsure if it is something that has been added since mine were produced, or removed since the photos were taken. Either way, this doesn't seem to serve any purpose except to make zipping and unzipping the jersey trickier than it needs to be. Still, it can be folded out of the way if need be.

As with most outer layers, the usable temperature range can be extended by varying the thickness of base layer worn. I started off wearing the intermediateEvo around six weeks ago with the earlyFall base layer underneath. This was fine for the 8-12˚c range, and now the mercury has risen to between 12 and 18 the short sleeve summer layer is more appropriate.

Performance of the jersey is excellent, with the Airblock providing noticeable wind protection without being too stuffy. The Micro Cell fabric is comfortable and just the right weight yet, although hardly a criticism, is a little too similar to other manufacturer's material and doesn't score high on the Assos tech scale. A new version of the intermediateEvo with the super smooth and stretchy Plasma from the SS jerseys would be fantastic.

Excellent wind protection, very good fit

Sleeves seem excessively long, zip garage is fiddly

Photos - Click for full size or view more on flickr

Assos intermediateEvo - front

Assos intermediateEvo - back

Assos intermediateEvo - packaging