With the Sportful R&D Zero Jacket, you'll never be able to use the excuse that it's too cold to ride outside, as the excellent Polartec Alpha insulation it's made from keeps you comfortably warm when the temperature plunges below zero.
Earlier in the autumn I tested Sportful's updated R&D Light jacket and was highly impressed with its performance. This R&D Zero Jacket is essentially a beefed-up version for much colder weather but employs some of the same materials and design features. Basically, if you want a jacket for combatting the coldest weather, this is the one to go for; if you rarely go out unless the temperature is no lower than, ooh, about 5 degrees, the R&D Light is a better bet.
The R&D Zero gets its toasty warmth from the highly impressive Polartec Alpha material, which is used to provide a full wrap of protection from the elements, used in the main panels and the arms for extra insulation. Alpha is a very light and low-bulk synthetic down and is startlingly good at providing adequate protection from the cold without restricting breathability or freedom of movement. It's combined with Sportful's WindWick LT outer face fabric for wind and water resistance, and NoRain Thermal inserts on the sleeves and back panel.
Sportful claims the jacket is good for a temperature range of 0 to 10°C, but I found I could go much lower – such as the -5°C temperature the other morning. Brrr, that was a chilly ride. Not for my torso and arms, though – this jacket was just marvellous in those conditions.
That was wearing a baselayer underneath, admittedly a chunky North Face winter one too. But it's a long way from the days when I used to wear at least three of four layers in a desperate effort to keep warm on cold rides. You can tailor the baselayer to suit different temperatures, going to a lighter one for warmer temps, and you can layer up if you feel you need more insulation, but I've not yet ridden in cold enough temperatures to warrant an extra layer.
Now it's all very well the jacket keeping you warm when it's cold, but if it's not breathable then things get can very sweaty and clammy as soon as you hit a hill. Fortunately, the Zero offers impressive breathability, and even when riding at a brisk tempo or doing hill repeats the going never got uncomfortably warm. I think that's helped by the fact that you can get away with just wearing a baselayer. There are two side ventilation ports if you do feel the internal temperature increasing, and opening the main zipper obviously dumps a lot of heat quickly.
What the jacket doesn't do is keep you dry in the rain. The outer fabric offers a level of resistance against the rain, and there is NoRain Thermal fabric on the back, but really it's not designed to keep you dry when the heavens open. A short downpour is okay, it'll shake off a light shower, but anything heavier and more sustained and you might want to think about pulling on a rain jacket.
The fit is really good too – that's a size small in the photos by the way – and the shape around the shoulders and upper arms is perfect. There's generous length in the sleeves and the double cuff design is a neat way to ensure a tight seal with your gloves to avoid draughty wrists. The lie-flat elastic hem is lined with a silicone gripper tape and it keeps the waist in place, and the pockets don't sag even when loaded.
If you don't want to let the cold stop you riding, then this R&D Zero Jacket really delivers impressive warmth, allowing you to continue for mile after mile in comfort. It's well constructed with an exceptionally good fit and some nice details, which are all factors that go some way to justifying that price. It's definitely an investment, but it'll reward you with ample insulation and decent breathability for deep winter rides.
Wonderfully warm and breathable winter jacket, if a little pricey
road.cc test report
Make and model: Sportful R&D Zero Jacket
Size tested: Small
Tell us what the jacket is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
The ultimate winter jacket for those who want warmth with high breathability and thermal versatility for cold winter riding.
An evolution from our innovative R&D jacket, with a unique combination of fabrics and strategically placed breathable insulation. The layers work together to move moisture away from the skin while keeping the body comfortably warm and dry. This jacket with a tailored fit is surprisingly warm but also comfortable for fast riding.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the jacket?
WindWick LT outer fabric is elastic, highly wind resistant, water repellent and very breathable
Full Polartec® Alpha® 60g insulation for breathable warmth
NoRain Thermal fabric inserts on sleeves and back for water-resistant breathability
Internal cuff for excellent warmth and fit
360° reflective accents
2 side zipped ventilation pockets
3 external rear pockets
Internal front zip flap
Lie-flat elastic hem with light silicone grip
Priced at £210 it's an expensive jacket, certainly for Sportful, a company that has long offered extremely well-priced cycle clothing. There aren't many companies using Polartec's Alpha insulation at the moment: Sugoi does in its £150 RSE Alpha Bike Jacket, which makes the Sportful jacket look a bit pricey.
How easy is the jacket to care for? How did it respond to being washed?
It's been washed plenty of times just fine.
Tell us how the jacket performed overall when used for its designed purpose
For cold winter riding, jackets don't get much better than this.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the jacket
The warmth, fit and comfort.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the jacket
Apart from the price, it's hard to find anything to criticise.
Did you enjoy using the jacket? Yes
Would you consider buying the jacket? Yes
Would you recommend the jacket to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your score
It's exceptional: incredible warmth and comfort but the high price might make you look twice.
About the tester
I usually ride: My best bike is:
I've been riding for: 10-20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, time trialling, cyclo-cross, commuting, touring, mountain biking
David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.