The Skyline soft shell jacket from Portland brand Showers Pass is a great option for fast riding in the autumn and spring. It is pretty closely fitted so you can't fit as many layers underneath as some so depending on your build you may find that it's not for the coldest months of winter. But for fast club rides or even winter racing I found it worked a treat.
Softshell jackets are a pretty popular option for the cooler months. While not as impermeable as fully-sealed jackets, the best ones can be amply water-resistant for most riding while much more breathable than a hard-shell.
The Skyline is made of 3-layer Artex fabric (thankfully nothing like the stuff on your parents' ceilings). As is customary with softshells, there are no sealed seams - it's not that sort of jacket. What there are is an abundance of zipped openings (beyond the usual one): two sizeable armpit vents, cuffs that can be opened up with a neat zip and - most unusually - a small vent at the top of the back which opens with another zip. Add in a chest pocket and you might imagine that the Skyline would consist of more zip than fabric and be consequently rather ugly, but it isn't. To my eyes it's rather smart in the black I tested. The zips are pretty discreet and combine well with the pleasingly non-garish reflective details for a classy look.
There are no shortage of smart-looking soft-shells on the market, and with a price well north of £100 the Skyline is going to need to be more than a pretty face. I wasn't familiar with the Showers Pass brand and the name to me suggests a fairly utilitarian pub-ride sort of affair or maybe a cheap 'n' cheerful kagoul. My expectations were confounded however as this is definitely a performance-oriented jacket.
The absence of baggy flapping is welcome for faster riding, but most of all it is the ability to regulate your upper-body temperature that makes this jacket stand out. Arms getting a bit sweaty on a climb? Just open the cuff zips and get some airflow up there. The huge zipped armpit vents somehow manage to do a decent job of cooling down your torso without catching the wind and flapping about (or letting drizzle in). When you're really cooking, opening the waterproof zip on the small vent below the back of the neck lets a little more heat out, although it's so close to the neck opening that I wasn't really convinced of its necessity. That just leaves the big zip down the front for the times when you're really boiling.
The front zip has a 'garage' to stop it irritating your neck, with the asymmetry helping here as well; it veers to the right before it reaches your neck. The neck itself is lined with a soft micro-fleece which also aids comfort. Unusually, the front zip can be opened from the bottom. I never felt the need to do this. Ane review elsewhere suggested that the jacket sometimes started to unzip from the bottom and begin chewing up bib shorts, but happily this didn't happen to me.
As someone who prefers to err on the side of being too cold rather than overheating on a ride, I found that pairing the Skyline with a fitted base-layer or medium-weight long-sleeve jersey worked well for temperatures between 0 and 12 degrees. Any colder and I'd want another layer or two, for which there wasn't much space. I used the Skyline for a 25 mile alleycat race at barely above freezing and it worked a treat - plenty windproof when riding at speed but with the ability to let out some steam when I got too hot.
On wet days I found the Skyline did an excellent job of keeping the water out. Heavy rain would eventually find its way in, but for rides of up to an hour in drizzle or moderate rain there really wasn't much getting through, aside from the neck and cuffs. The cuffs are fairly closely cut, so I found I needed the zips open if I wanted them to fit over winter gloves.
It's worth mentioning the overall fit, which Showers Pass classify as 'Trim'. The medium was a good match for my lanky frame, with surprisingly long sleeves. The Skyline is dropped a little at the back but not nearly as much as some jackets. There are a couple of consequences to this: your arse doesn't get that much protection from back wheel spray; and the rear pockets are a little higher up.
At first I'd assumed that it was slightly awkward to reach into the pockets simply because of the tight-ish fit and relatively inelastic fabric, but having to reach a bit higher than usual certainly doesn't help. It wasn't a big problem, however, and the usual angled openings do help here. There are two large rear pockets, and a small zipped pocket for keys or coins. The chest pocket, accessible via another waterproof zip, is big enough for a smartphone and has an exit inside the jacket for a headphone cable.
The Skyline is available in red or black, with a decent amount of 3M Scotchlite reflective details to ensure you're seen. There are narrow stripes down at either of side of the back plus reflective decals on the back of the neck and the chest. The biggest areas are on the sleeves, where there is an inch-wide strip from shoulder to cuff. On the bike, this strip is visible from the front or the side; I would have liked it to be more visible from behind to help drivers see when I signaled a turn.
The price range for cycling soft-shells is pretty broad - dhb have honest offerings for under £50 and Rapha, Castelli and Assos all have jackets for upwards of four or even six times that. This, then sits somewhere in the middle, in competition with the likes of Vulpine and some of the cheaper Castelli jackets. I've also got the Vulpine soft-shell which has similar levels of excellent detailing but is not nearly as fitted. I like it and wear it an awful lot, but I couldn't imagine racing in it.
Where the super-high-end jackets often score is in the use of stretchier and more breathable material, enabling an even closer fit while still offering wind- and water-resistance. The Skyline is slightly elastic and certainly close-fitting, but not skin-tight. Most riders probably wouldn't want a skin-tight soft-shell anyway. The detailing is excellent - YKK zips throughout with very grab-able pulls, and I particularly liked the tiny draught-proof hoods on the ends of the waterproof zips.
For the slimmer cyclist wanting a performance soft-shell which isn't plastered with big logos and contrasting colours, this is a really sound option. Giving wind-resistance and particularly good water-resistance as you'd expect at this price, the standout features of the Skyline are the close fit and the well-designed zip vents, giving great temperature regulation.
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Make and model: Showers Pass Skyline Softshell Jacket
Size tested: Medium, Black
Tell us what the product 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?
Frosty morning training ride? No problem. The Skyline Softshell rides hard - and keeps wind, rain and chill at bay. Core vents and upper back vent offer flow-thru ventilation. 360 degrees of 3MTM ScotchliteTM Reflective Material keep you visible in low light.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
3-Layer waterproof-breathable fabric (not seam taped)
Race cut for reduced wind resistance and contoured fit
Angled front zipper and specially shaped collar to reduce chafing
Dual core vents and upper back vent for flow-thru ventilation
zippered cuffs for tunable airflow
360 degrees of 3MTM ScotchliteTM Reflective Material
light loop inside back pocket
adjustable drawcord at hem
Hard to fault - really well put together with good quality YKK zips, neat stitching and reflectives that should stay put.
Excellent waterproofing for a soft-shell, reasonably wind-proof and with the ability to adjust the ventilation to stop you getting too hot or too cold.
No issues during the test period and no indication that was about to change. Should last a good few seasons.
Less elastic than some really high-end jackets and would probably be improved with a lower back to catch the spray from the rear wheel. Otherwise comfortable and a pleasure to use.
An honest price for a very well-designed jacket. You can pay less but you can also pay a lot more.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Ideal for fast riding down to about 0 degrees (with a layer or two underneath). Much colder and you'd need more space to be able to fit a warmer jersey below (unless you're really skinny).
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Adjustable ventilation, 'Trim' fit.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Nothing serious - would prefer a slightly lower back and perhaps for the rear pockets to be an inch or two lower.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes.
Would you consider buying the product? Yes.
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes.
Age: 35 Height: 6 Weight: 78kg
I usually ride: Boardman CX team for the daily commute My best bike is: Rose Xeon CRS
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, time trialling, commuting, touring, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed, mtb,
Jez spends his days making robots that drive cars but is happiest when on two wheels. His roots are in mountain biking but he spends more time nowadays on the road, occasionally racing but more often just riding.