Not long ago, cycling jackets were plastic-feeling pieces of long-sleeve protection and jerseys were soft, breathable shirts. But in 2017 there are so many hybrids of the two that even the basic titles are getting confused: we have short-sleeve jackets and long-sleeve water-repellent jerseys… behold, the jerket.
In street clothing, you would never call a short-sleeve garment a jacket. Yet, this year, we have scores of short-sleeve jackets that are cut to look and fit like a short-sleeve jersey. Sportful’s Extreme NeoShell Jacket and of course Castelli’s Gabba are examples of this.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have pieces called jerseys made with nothing but Gore Windstopper fabric — a material that looks and feels like a jacket to most people. Gore’s Oxygen Jersey and the 7mesh Long Sleeve Jersey exemplify this.
So, what gives? How did we get to a point where basic definitions are completely overlapping? Well, in a word, breathability.
From Gabba to Gore
“I’d like to think that from Coppi to Merckx they had these things that sat between a jacket and a jersey,” said Castelli brand manager Steve Smith. “It was a recent aberration in the late ’80s through the mid naughts that jackets became much warmer and thermal jerseys weren’t quite warm enough. So we faked it with a vest over our jerseys and it worked reasonably well, but there is definitely space for more appropriate equipment.”
In 2007, Castelli made a long sleeve jersey with front wind protection that fitted like a jersey but protected like a light jacket. “And of course the Gabba in 2011 changed everything,” Smith said.
The Gabba is a widely emulated short-sleeve piece which Castelli made as race rain wear. It’s a jersey-shaped protective piece made with Gore Windstopper X-Lite Plus and it feels almost like a thin neoprene — completely windproof and largely water repellent, but still somewhat breathable.
Many clothing companies now have something similar in their line.
Castelli certainly isn’t the only brand to use Gore fabrics. Gore is unique in that it makes materials for its own clothing and its competitors.
Gore spokesman Jasen Thorpe said the jersey and the jacket first started to merge when membrane fabrics like Windstopper were integrated into jerseys. “It was usually on the front panels only, at first, and then expanded as the full Windstopper jerseys became more popular for their high level of water resistance,” he said.
Today Gore Windstopper is seen in both jerseys and jackets by many brands.
Sportful, the Italian sister brand to Castelli, did a shorter sleeve version of its Fiandre NoRain in 2014. “That one was an ultralight windproof so it made sense to have something a bit more versatile, that doesn’t have pockets though so it’s more of a top layer,” said Sportful communication manager Daniel Loots.
“Then when we made the Extreme NeoShell Jacket later that year the pro riders were asking for a short sleeve version. For them it’s easier to get on and off, and you can get a better fit with a short sleeve.
“Now we’ve got three short-sleeve weatherproofs in the Fiandre collection for different conditions. Realistically you can cover 5°C / 41°F up to about 20°C / 68°F with these products, they offer a way of being protected in a variety of weather conditions without having to worry about whether you remembered to pack your jacket, or overheating when the sun comes out.
"The biggest advancement in these is the breathability — you don’t ‘boil in the bag’ anymore. There’s definitely still room for heavyweight jackets and regular jerseys but these cover a lot of ground in between.”
Time to ditch the vest?
Layering has long been the directive taught for cycling clothing, so you can adjust to weather conditions, but improvements in fabric technology is changing that.
“The big advantages [for hybrid pieces] that we see are less bulk, better temperature regulation, improved aerodynamics and the ability for one piece of gear to cover a wide range of conditions,” said Pearl Izumi’s Andrew Hammond. “Also, you’re not constantly adjusting a vest or putting on and taking off a jacket.”
Castelli’s Smith echoed this thought: “A key thing is that we’re able to replace multiple layers and give an increased feeling of freedom,” he said. “We try to make it so you can comfortably ride in cool conditions but feel as free as riding in a summer jersey."
The temperature range for these pieces is defined by their breathability as much as how thick they feel in hand.
“Making a snug-fitting windproof and water-resistant garment is one thing. Making one that moves moisture away from the body quickly enough for high-output riding is another entirely,” Gore’s Thorpe said. “With the newest versions of the Windstopper fabrics, depending on layering underneath the jersey, we’re seeing riders use full Windstopper jerseys from 2°C / 35°F up to about 20°C / 68°F.”
At Castelli, Smith says improved breathability has restored some sense to winter jackets, too. “These lighter weight winter jackets are finally taking hold and breaking the downward spiral that was dominating jackets for a number of years,” Smith said. “With the advent of some wind protection fabrics that didn’t really breathe, cyclists would ride in cool weather and get wet and cold. So the natural reaction was to buy a warmer, heavier jacket — with the result of overheating and sweating even more, and then getting even colder… which meant an even heavier jacket.”
With breathable windproof pieces, riders can now enjoy riding in cool and cold weather without having to overdress and/or constantly be changing clothes on the road.