We had a couple of products arrive at road.cc towers at the same time, both yellow and priced identically. Take your pick then - the B'Twin 500 hi-viz waterproof jacket, from the French kings of value sporting goods, Decathlon, or a pair of Rapha's Pro Team socks. I know where my money would go.
Decathlon is known for offering a big range of affordable own-brand gear for cyclists, not to mention people doing just about any other sport you can think of. I still use an inexpensive waterproof jacket that I bought there when living in France back in 1999, and it still works just fine. So while the price might give only modest expectations of this jacket, if anyone can turn out a good budget product, it's Decathlon.
B'Twin is Decathlon's in-house cycling brand, seen on the full range of bike-related gear from socks (six pairs for £20) right up to well-specced carbon race bikes. Nearer the sock end of the price scale, this jacket has a searingly bright fluorescent yellow polyester shell, with some well-positioned and ample reflective details for when it gets darker. Fluorescent colours work a treat during the daytime, but are no more visible than any other non-reflective colour in the dark, so I'm always glad to see some good reflectives thrown into the mix; research strongly suggests that's what gets you seen.
Here there is a wide stripe down each sleeve, starting on the front of the shoulders, plus a largeish panel at the rear, on the left hand side. For the UK market, it would have been better had this been on the right hand side and so more visible to passing cars, but overall I was pretty happy that I would be seen when wearing it, night or day. I particularly liked the sleeve stripes, as these make turn signals much harder for drivers to miss. With the asymmetric black sections, I think that it's a pretty smart-looking jacket - certainly a lot less gimpy than I had expected for a £20 hi-viz, anyway.
The first test ride was a very wet audax, and the dismal forecast had me contemplating a no-show, then getting the Castelli Gabba out, then ruefully putting it away again and donning this jacket, over a lightweight long-sleeve jersey and an insulating gilet. I needn't have worried, as this turned out to be just about the perfect combination. The B'Twin played its part to perfection. My upper body stayed completely dry through a couple of hours of heavy rain, and as things brightened up, it packed down small enough to fit in a jersey pocket without a problem. The Gabba is a superb piece of kit for when you're riding fast in changeable conditions, but the fact is that it is nowhere near as waterproof as a hardshell such as this.
Unsurprisingly at this price, there's no fancy waterproof zip, but a good storm flap behind the excellent cam-lock YKK zip kept the drafts and water out just fine. Cleverly, the storm flap folds back on itself behind the zip to provide a further baffle to those unwelcome cold gusts. All the seams are taped, and overall I found this jacket kept the water out as well as jackets costing more than five times as much.
"Ah, but what about breathability?" you say. It's a fair question as this is one of the big claims that makers of more expensive waterproofs will make. Decathlon make no particular claims for highly-breathable fabric, instead relying on chest vents (a small one on each breast, and more vents across the full width of the back, above the black slash) to let your heat and moisture escape. They do a reasonable job, and I found my torso stayed comfortable when riding at up to about 7/10ths if it wasn't that hot out. There's no venting on the sleeves, so it's here that you're likely to feel sweaty first, but as with any hard-shell, a wicking long-sleeve base-layer is essential and makes all the difference.
The fact is that when using a hard-shell, the use of an appropriate base-layer plays a far more significant role in keeping you comfortable than the jacket's particular breathability rating. When you are going flat out, the higher breathability of more expensive waterproofs will help, sure, but for a lot of riding, as long as you layer up properly, a basic shell like this is just fine. If you go hill-climbing with short sleeves underneath, it'll get pretty clammy, so don't say I didn't warn you.
The fabric used has a rip-stop weave with reinforced stitching as the key locations. Elsewhere the stitching is neat but unsurprisingly simple, mostly single row. There's a wide single rear pocket, with a zip and a covering flap to stop rain running down your back and through the zip. The cuffs and collar are of pretty basic construction, with a simple elasticated strip to make things more comfortable. Encouragingly, Decathlon offers a two-year warranty.
In terms of fit, it is obviously not aero, but - frankly - it's way better than I'd expected. The Large that I tested was reasonably slim on the torso. Yes, it bags out a bit at the front when you're riding, but the same can be true of much more expensive jackets. The back is dropped, so even when you're riding on the drops, your jersey pockets remain covered and dry. When you're going quickly, there's less noisy flapping around than you get with some jackets.
I can't say I was very excited to be sent this jacket to review but it has hugely exceeded my expectations. Yes, any £10 kagoul can keep the rain off, but this is also a well-designed and smart-looking jacket with cycling-specific features, great visibility night and day, and it is an absolute bargain. If you want some more features for only a bit more cash, then Dave was also pretty impressed with the 700-series jacket. Now, about those socks...
Absolute cracker: waterproof, super visible, lightweight and reasonable fit at a fantastic price
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road.cc test report
Make and model: BTwin 500 High Visibility Waterproof Cycling Jacket
Size tested: Large, fluoro yellow
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?
This cycling jacket is ideal for regular commuting in the rain. Bright yellow and reflective strips add extra safety. The b'Twin 500 High-vis Waterproof Jacket is waterproof, has taped seams and is made of durable rip-stop fabric. Ideal when riding your bike to work when it gets dark. Excellent waterproofing and visibility.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Waterproof membrane for cycling in moderate rain. Waterproof.
Coated membrane and vents on the back for breathability.
Low weight / lightweight; 276 g in size L
Practical back pocket with separate compartments for carrying your gear (reviewer's note - there was only 1 compartment that I could see!)
Reflective strips to enhance visibility of cyclists
Simple but still effective. No premium stitching or fancy fabrics, but it all hangs together.
There are certainly more breathable and more aero hard-shell jackets available, but this kept me bone dry in 2 hours of rain; I didn't get sweaty and it wasn't horrendously flappy, so I'm impressed.
Ripstop fabric is welcome, as is reinforced stitching at key points. No issues during testing and the 2 year warranty is encouraging.
Pretty light and packable.
Decent if unspectactular here, but the vents worked well when not going flat out.
Simply brilliant value.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Very well - it kept me completely dry and reasonably comfortable, and no-one drove into me, so the visibility works well too.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Staying dry and the stunning value; well thought-out visibility detailing.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
I could probably list 10 ways in which a £200 hard-shell is better than this, but that's kind of missing the point. It's basic but it works really well.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes - way more than I'd expected.
Would you consider buying the product? Definitely.
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes.
Anything further to say about the product in conclusion?
According to road.cc star ratings, 5 stars is supposed to mean "perfect". This isn't perfect, but it is such astonishing value that I think it merits the mark. Sadly, the Management disagrees so I'm giving it the maximum I'm allowed, 4.5.
About the tester
Age: 36 Height: 190cm 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, cyclo cross, 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.