Sportful is now growing in reputation outside its Italian homeland thanks in part to its sponsorship of pro team Tinkoff-Saxo. ProCycling’s Jamie Wilkins checked out the new range, which includes plenty of layers for all conditions as well as waterproof bib shorts.
“We realised that the way we had been going about rain jackets was all wrong,” said Sportful brand manager Steve Smith. “The benchmark has always been 100 per cent waterproof and windproof,” continues Smith, “but that isn’t necessarily what you need.”
As much as this seems like a very frank admission, the ‘we’ referred to by Smith could just as easily apply to the entire cycle clothing industry. The irony of traditional rain jackets has always been that while they might be impermeable to rain, you soon get soaked from the inside by all the moisture that can’t escape. Sportful’s ‘eureka’ moment, the firm tells us, was realising that the real goal was rider comfort and that it didn’t necessarily go hand in hand with ultimate waterproofness.
“We’re now working a situation where you choose how you dress for a ride based on intensity and temperature, taking rain out of the equation," said Smith of Sportful's new approach. "Our priority is very high water resistance while maintaining breathability and stretch so it fits well, you can move easily and it doesn’t flap, meaning you go faster.”
The new gear has been in development for two years and Tinkoff-Saxo has been involved throughout. The team was especially instrumental in ensuring the new jackets have an aero fit – the racing doesn’t stop when it rains. In addition, research carried out by Sportful’s fabric partners for the hiking market was beneficial because it focused on moisture transfer with minimal airflow, which is the main challenge of a windproof jacket.
For the presentation of the new Fiandre (Italian for Flanders) range, Sportful invited us to Oudenaarde in Belgium to test the new gear on the famous roads and cobbled climbs of the Ronde van Vlaanderen.
The new gear is aimed at 'changeable' weather which, when you think about it, is a more accurate description of most wet rides. For the rare days when it’s pouring down as you set off and you know it won’t stop, Sportful still suggests using its Survival jacket. For every other day, choose the warmth you need – the range covers temperatures from sub-zero to mild – and forget about rain.
Fiandre Light Windstopper jacket
First up is the Fiandre Light Windstopper jacket at £165 (US, AUS TBC). This was used by the Tinkoff-Saxo riders at the Giro on the snowy Stelvio stage, and Bjarne Riis said they had a real competitive advantage. It’s really warm, and not for above 10C even if you’re riding steady and with a single layer underneath. It’s capable of being a deep-winter jacket with a warm mid-layer. It’s very water resistant and breathable, so you won’t get damp inside it.
Fiandre Light Windstopper long-sleeve jersey
The Fiandre Light Windstopper long-sleeve jersey (£165, other regions TBC) is made to go over a base layer. It has a very slim fit with loads of stretch, so even though it’s fully windproof and highly water-resistant, it’s very comfortable. It feels like a jersey, not a jacket, much more so than a Castelli Gabba. It’s highly breathable thanks to the different-fabric back panel, yet also warm. Our ride was quite stop-start as we smashed up the bergs and regrouped at the top. That’s a recipe for getting sweaty then chilly – but not in this jersey. It’s a standout performer and it really moves the game on.
Fiandre Light No-rain top
The Fiandre Light No-rain top (£100, other regions TBC) is the thinnest of the new trio, described as being a more versatile and showerproof alternative to a gilet and arm warmers. Only the front is windproof, but it’s water-resistant all over. It has a close stretch fit and weighs just 180g. A short-sleeve version will follow. Wearing it over a summer jersey, we found it very breathable when riding hard yet totally windproof. It isn’t insulated so it’s suitable for temperatures down to 8-12C, depending on how hard you’re riding. Unlike the other two garments, it doesn’t have pockets, but it does have a neat zipped side slit via which you can reach inside. We’ve been saying for years that anything without pockets, such as a gilet, needs this feature.
Fiandre No-rain bib short
The Fiandre No-rain bib short (£180, other regions TBC) is a gem. It’s a water-resistant, thermal short with the superb BodyFit Pro seat pad that we’ve loved in lots of other Sportful products. There’s a bib tight version as well, but we find a short with leg warmers more comfortable. Water beads off it and your backside stays dry thanks to the seam-free rear panel, which removes a weak spot.
This is where you get one over the pros: Tinkoff-Saxo’s Nicki Sørensen said that this "would be a great piece for the team”, but it can’t be sublimated so they can’t have it. Genuinely, this is one of our favourite products of the year. It’s a perfect partner to the Fiandre Light Windstopper Jersey and is a complete steal. (For UK riders it’s arguably even better value because you could wear it for six months of the year, and even on wet summer days, because it’s as breathable as any other short.)
A key point to remember with all of the No-rain products is that you mustn’t wash them with regular detergents because it kills the water-resistant coating. Use a specialist product for waterproof gear.
Also worth mentioning are the updated Windstopper gloves (£35, other regions TBC) and overshoes (£45, other regions TBC). Both are extremely effective – warm, windproof, water-resistant – and they look awesome in yellow combined with a contrasting jacket, especially a blue one. The gloves are warm enough down to around 3-4C but are still thin enough to avoid feeling bulky, and lots of shades are available.