Review: five packable shell jackets

Words and photos: Adam Newman and Jon Pratt

Keeping one of these lightweight, packable layers handy can make the difference between a miserable experience and getting home comfortably.

Patagonia jacket

Patagonia Houdini

  • Price: $99
  • Weight: 108 grams
  • Fit and shape: Designed for all-purpose use, it has a horizontal hem and baggier fit.
  • Material: Nylon with DWR treatment
  • Packability: Packs into its chest pocket with zipper closure
  • Hits: Non-cycling style makes it more versatile
  • Misses: Non-cycling fit catches more wind as you ride
  • Best for: Bike to casual crossover
  • Also available for women

Sugoi jacket

Sugoi RS Jacket

  • Price: $80
  • Weight: 112 grams
  • Fit and shape: Slimmest fit. Designed for road cycling it is the least flappy in the breeze. No hood.
  • Material: 100 percent polyester
  • Packability: Packs into its own rear pocket, with zipper closure.
  • Hits: Extra straps allow the packed jacket to stow under your bike’s seat.
  • Misses: Slimmest fit might not be as practical for bike commuting or non-bike use.
  • Best for: Sporty road riding
  • Also available for women

Nau jacket

Nau Slight Pullover

  • Price: $135
  • Weight: 158 grams
  • Fit and shape: Pullover design saves weight and has no zipper to break. More generous fit, with hood.
  • Material: Recycled polyester with a crunchy feel and DWR treatment.
  • Packability: Packs into its chest pocket, with zipper closure.
  • Hits: Thickest fabric of the group seems more durable.
  • Misses: Lack of zipper means you have to remove your headgear to put it on or take it off.
  • Best for: Harder use
  • Available for women as a full-zip jacket

Novarra jacket

Novara Stowable Bike Jacket

  • Price: $70
  • Weight: 111 grams
  • Fit and shape: Slim cycling fit, but still big enough to wear over a sweater. Back vents allow access to jersey pockets. No hood.
  • Material: Nylon shell with glossy sheen.
  • Packability: Packs into its chest pocket, with zipper closure.
  • Hits: Sold through REI with its generous return and exchange policy.
  • Misses: Sold only through REI.
  • Best for: Road riding to commuting
  • Also available for women

Kitsbow jacket

Kitsbow King Ridge Windbreaker

  • Price: $179
  • Weight: 112 grams
  • Fit and shape: Mid-range fit keeps it from being baggy. Size down if you want a slim, road riding fit. No hood.
  • Material: Nylon with DWR treatment, sewn in America.
  • Packability: Will fit into its own chest pocket, but no zipper closure.
  • Hits: Off-center zipper is more comfortable than having a zipper in your throat.
  • Misses: Price is significantly higher than the competition.
  • Best for: Road riding to commuting with some luxury
  • Not available for women



Review: Five pairs of jeans for cycling

You don’t have to dress like a fluorescent ninja to ride a bike comfortably. Then again, not all trousers are created equal. Many brands are now offering pants that are tailored (sorry, terrible pun) for an active lifestyle. These are a few we’ve been wearing lately.

Testers: Eric McKeegan and Adam Newman

Cadence jeans

Cadence Collection Cycling Denim

Price: $120
Fit and shape: The slim cut is bordering on skinny, but there is less taper at the ankle than a true skinny jean. Only a 32-inch inseam is available.
Material: Made from raw, untreated 12 ounce denim and 2 percent spandex, it is heavy and just a touch stretchy.
Comfort on the bike: They could use more room in the thighs and the heavy material can get chafey on long rides.
Bike-friendly features: Double thick seat area and reflective patch.
Hits: Great pockets, simple styling, quality workmanship.
Misses: Could use more stretch, or more room for riding. Doubled seat area means double thick seams down there, too.
Best for: Hanging at the pub

Club Ride jean

Club Ride Shift Jean

Price: $85
Fit and shape: These fit slim and straight with a body-hugging style that might not be for everyone.
Material: The StretchRide cotton/lycra blend is the lightest of the pants tested, and one of the most stretchy.
Comfort on the bike: Despite the slim fit these have plenty of stretch to accomodate a cyclist’s physique and movement.
Bike-friendly features: Reflective accents and a zipper hip pocket that can fit an iPhone 6.
Hits: Super deep front pockets are great for making sure your stuff will never fall out.
Misses: Hip pocket is discrete but it still has a techy vibe that might not be for everyone.
Best for: Summertime rides

DUER jeans

DU/ER No Sweat Pant

Price: $129
Fit and shape: Relaxed fit version is definitely more baggy than what’s “hip” these days.
Material: OK, technically not a jean, but same idea. Made from a new textile called Nature2X, it’s a blend of Tencel® (made from eucalyptus trees), polyester, spandex and cotton.
Comfort on the bike: Incredibly stretchy, these pants disappear as you wear them. The relaxed fit is baggy enough that you need to keep an eye on your cuffs when you ride.
Bike-friendly features: Seamless crotch panel.
Hits: As comfortable as your favorite sweatpants.
Misses: Front pockets could be a bit deeper.
Best for: The office

Endura Jeans

Endura Urban Jean

Price: $140
Fit and shape: Only pair here sold as S, M, L, XL so sizing isn’t as flexible. More room up top with tapered legs.
Material: Thinner than typical denim, with a soft sheen thanks to its 55 percent cotton, 30 percent polyester and 15 percent nylon weave.
Comfort on the bike: The looser cut above the knee offers plenty of freedom of movement while the tapered lower leg stays clear of the chain.
Bike-friendly features: U-lock holster, plus reflective accents on the inside of the right leg and a deployable reflective flap from the back pocket.
Hits: The rinse is the perfect shade of blue.
Misses: Lack of traditional pants sizing is a drawback.
Best for: Date night

Levis Jeans

Levi’s 511 Commuter Jean

Price: $88
Fit and shape: Fit is slim but not skinny. The classic straight leg style is modern without being hipster tight.
Material: Very similar to classic denim, there is not much stretch despite a 93 percent cotton, 5 percent polyester and 2 percent elastane construction.
Comfort on the bike: The least stretchy pair, they still allow more freedom of movement than normal jeans, but not enough to be comfortable on every bike.
Bike-friendly features: 3M reflective accents at the cuffs and a U-lock holster at the waistline.
Hits: Thick denim should be durable. Can often be found on sale for less.
Misses: Raw ink stained my bike saddle.
Best for: Working in the yard



Rapha updates its City Collection

If you’re the type to ride your bike anywhere and everywhere but want to arrive in style, the Rapha City Collection might be for you. The collection offers versatile urbanwear combining Rapha’s performance expertise with tailoring and aesthetics suited for everyday living.


New this year are updated pants, an Oxford shirt, a short-sleeve polo and a windproof wool jacket. There are nearly 170 combinations of pants to choose from, including multiple lengths, waist sizes, leg trims and fabrics from traditional cotton chinos to U.S.-spun cotton denim with a polyester lycra mix. Prices range from $150 to $220 per pair.


The 100-percent cotton Oxford shirt was designed with riding in mind, including a drop-tail hem, stretch across the back and side panels, and hidden buttons to keep your collar flat while pedaling hard into the wind. Retail is $140.

The Essential Polo is a cotton-polyester blend made in Japan and designed to be quick-drying. Retail is $120.



The new, windproof wool jacket features a cinch cord at the hem, a concealed front zipper, front and rear pockets, subtle reflective details and a Polyester panel in the front to protect you from the wind. Retail is $320.

The Rapha City Collection also features shorts, socks, gloves, backpacks, sunglasses and base layers.



Review: Bontrager RXL Softshell and Race Thermal tights

Bontrager continues to improve upon and expand its women’s line of cycling clothing. I’m always pleased to see when high-end offerings get women’s-specific versions, such as the RXL Softshell Tight reviewed here, and versatility in investment pieces. Neither of the bottoms have built-in chamois, for example, making them endlessly useful through winter and allowing you to choose the right padding for each ride. Both of these pieces have comparable men’s versions, as well.

RXL Softshell Tight – $130

I was told when I started working here to expect inconsistent product review times. Some items could be written about right away—their virtues and flaws would be obvious. Then, there would be bicycles, gear and other items I would have to stick with for a while to figure out. These tights fall into the latter category.

I know, I know, they’re just pants. But they’re fancy pants.

Bontrager weatherproof tights

The downside of this relationship is the fit. The RXL doesn’t stretch as much as I think “tights” should and I find them a tad short for ensuring warm ankles (I don’t have long legs). They’re too fitted around my cyclist thighs and too loose at my little waist. I can’t hoist them up enough to prevent the crotch from sagging and have caught the pants several times on various saddles.

That said, they might fit your body type just fine. Mine is apparently called “spoon,” which is like an hourglass figure but with a smaller chest. Anyway…

The upside of this relationship is everything else. The RXL Softshell Tight is a very nice product that, fit issues aside, I still wore the heck out of over the past couple of months and will continue to reach for on cold, snowy rides. They are pre-bent at the knees and have a nice rise in the rear to prevent gaping when bent over. The RXL tights are windproof, water resistant and lined with a light, cozy fleece (Profila Thermal fabric). As advertised, these thick and hearty pants kept me warm and dry on the most frigid of outings, including a multi-hour fat bike ride through spitting snowfall and temperatures in the low teens.

The ankle area of the tights is longer in the front. The shorter back of the ankle allows for unrestricted pedaling motion with cycling boots and the longer front means less cold air seeping through your laces, but I’d rather see an overall longer length.

The quality of the RXL Softshell Tight is impressive. They’re impeccably made and full of nice, little touches like a drawstring at the comfortable, yoga-pant-inspired waistband, ankle zippers and reflective detailing. My pair has been through the wash several times and so far, so good. I would also be perfectly happy wearing them hiking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

Sizes: XS-XL
More info:

Race Thermal Tight – $90

The Race Thermal Tights were designed to be performance tights that remind the wearer of yoga pants. They are versatile for winter activities, both on the bike and off, as well as layering for winter warmth.

Bontrager Thermal Tights

The Profila Thermal fabric is the same medium-thickness, smooth-faced, cozy fleece as the RXL tight, but without the windproofing front. The outer fabric of the tights feels particularly hearty. I think they would work better than a thin base layer tight for tramping around in thick, snaggy underbrush, should you find yourself on a rather adventurous outing. The tights also wick and breathe as advertised, preventing clamminess when you heat up too much on that hard road ride.

These tights offered me some of the same weird fit issues as discussed above, and I’ll confess that I heard some ripping noises in the waistband area the first time I put them on and had to yank them up over my thighs (but sizing up would have meant serious waist gaping). Again, I’m willing to concede that women with other body types won’t have this issue, but I like to think of tights as generally more stretchy and universally shaped enough enough that one-design-suits-most. Admittedly, because of the tight fit, I can’t comfortably get chamois liners under these tights, so I primarily wear them running and snowshoeing.

Speaking of the waistband, it’s wide and soft, but the comfort factor is interrupted by harsh, itchy seaming on either side near the hips. Because of that, I always make sure to have a long under shirt tucked in if I’m wearing them. This might be a problem with my pair, only, so try to find these at a Trek dealer to try out before purchasing.

Sizes: XS-XL
More info:



Review: Café du Cycliste’s Celeste Cardigan and Loulou Neck Warmer

Cafe du Cycliste Celeste Sweater—WEB (1 of 5)

Cafe du Cycliste Celeste Sweater—WEB (1 of 5)

Celeste Cardigan

Even with all the modern materials found in clothing, Merino wool has rightfully retained a place in the hearts of the outdoor enthusiast. Café du Cycliste’s Celeste cardigan sticks with that tradition, blends in some polyester, and adds a super soft fleece lining to make things that all that much better. Café du Cycliste is marketing this cardigan to the urban cyclist who finds the need for a bit of insulation during the brisk autumn months.

As a mid-weight top, the Celeste is great option on chilly outings but won’t keep you from shivering when the real cold blows in. On those days you’ll have to add some sort of wind resistant outer layer to bolster up your defenses.

Cafe du Cycliste Celeste Sweater—WEB (5 of 5)

The Celeste features a sturdy metal zipper, a two button neck flap, and a single rear pocket. That zippered vertical rear pocket contains a reflective flap that strangely can only be seen when the pocket is unzipped. The flap is sewn on to the inside of the pocket and secured by a single button on the outside of the cardigan. I don’t know if I’d trust it to transport anything of importance as I can easily pull a set of keys out of the pocket when it’s only secured with the flap. Obviously when it’s zipped, you’re fine…but you lose the reflectivity.

The Celeste is extremely comfortable, but it would be even better if the neck was also fleece lined instead of just wool. I think overall this is a good looking cardigan that lacks a few features I look for when shopping for cycling clothing.

$186 –


Loulou Neck Warmer

We here at Bicycle Times love our buffs. You can even find one in our online store. A buff is the single most used piece of gear in my cold weather arsenal.

Café du Cycliste’s Loulou is definitely a step up from our offering. It is made of a Merino/Poly blend and can be worn around the neck, pulled up to cover the lower face, or even over your head to keep the heat from escaping through your helmet.

Cafe du Cycliste Celeste Sweater—WEB (4 of 5)

Besides being made from a nice soft wool blend, what makes the Loulou stand out is the additional material below the neck line. Extending to above my sternum it kept my neck warm, even when wind snuck past my jersey’s collar and through its zipper. It’s lightweight and easy to stash in your pocket if the day warms and you don’t need the additional coverage anymore.

The Loulou is stylish, inexpensive and extremely functional. Great product.

Made in Italy. Gray or blue. $39 –

Want to see more? Check out Café du Cycliste’s autumn/winter product launch video below.


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