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Sportful's new R&D Long Sleeve Wind Jersey makes use of Polartec Alpha, a synthetic down material with a windproof outer that provides impressive insulation for cold rides with fantastic breathability, all wrapped up with an excellent fit and smart attention to detail.
As the temperature drops you need to wrap yourself in appropriate insulation, and there are many choices and approaches a cyclist can take in an effort to stay warm. However, cycling being the physical activity it is, dealing with the buildup of heat can be very tricky. Get your layering wrong, and you can end up a sweaty soggy mess. Essentially, your clothing needs to be breathable while still keeping you warm.
Polartec's new Alpha is a puffy synthetic down (sandwiching a bundle of knitted high-loft fibres between a liner and protective outer shell) and comes closer than most other cycling clothing I've tested to providing that perfect blend of insulation and breathability. In a nutshell, it provides adequate warmth for cold winter rides while offering impressive breathability. I've not once overheated in it. No matter how hard I ride in this jacket, it simply refuses to reduce me to a sweaty, soggy mess. And I've tried, flinging myself up endless steep and long climbs with the jacket fully zipped up, all to no avail.
Sportful use the Alpha fabric in the front-facing panels, with a mesh lining and a WindShield windproof fabric outer layer. It's used in the shoulders and most of the arms too, coming just short of your wrists. That's most of your upper body facing the cold, harsh wind protected by the Alpha insulation. Elsewhere, a Dual Fit fabric provides good breathability and allows any excess heat to escape. Oh, there's DWR treatment (durable water repellent) too which keeps you good in short showers.
Alpha is pretty new to the market. It's only been around for a couple of years, and this is the first cycling-specific garment I've seen it in. What Alpha does is to provide necessary insulation to keep you warm on the coldest rides, yet without any of the overheating issues resulting from a lack of breathability that can be the pitfall of many winter jerseys and jackets. It's good enough for the US Special Forces who apparently wanted a jacket that retains warmth, dries quickly and circulates airflow, exactly what Polartec Alpha does.
I've been wearing the jersey with a short sleeve base layer on recent rides and it's coped well. Yes it's nippy for the first 5-8 minutes, the same as any jersey or jacket, but once you get up to a good operating temperature, the jersey keeps you nice and toasty, and there's none of the heat buildup when you increase the pace, tackle a hill or try and hang onto the fast club run group. I've worn in it temperatures into the mid-teens where it also coped just fine.
I simply find dressing for a ride has been made much simpler with this jersey. I just don a short or long sleeve jersey, the Sportful over the top, maybe a rain cape if it's looking like it could be wet, and I'm good for whatever the conditions are going to be. From nearly zero degrees up to 17, it just does the job without any fuss.
You'll notice that Sportful call it a jersey. That might be the case, but it definitely offers far more protection and warmth than any regular jersey. It's in the cut and fit that it feels like a jersey though. As usual with Sportful clothing, it's a close-fit jersey and while the Alpha insulation does provide a bit of extra noticeable bulk around the chest, it's not enough to hamper the quality of the fit. The jersey does show a bit more weight on the scales compared to other Sportful jerseys, but the extra grams aren't noticeable when you're riding.
The sleeves are an excellent length, and they taper at the wrists with a Hot Pack style cuff. There are also thumb loops. I found them a bit small for my thumbs and resorted to folding them up inside the sleeve. A nice idea but could be better executed. Your thumbs may fit better though, and they're easily folded up inside the sleeve if you don't want to use them.
The tall collar is a highlight and provides good neck coverage when it's really cold. Even with the zipper done right up and stretched out in the drops there was no restriction around the neck indicating Sportful have played very close attention to the fit.
You get three standard pockets which are very flat when empty but have expandable bottoms, and here they're lined with reflective mesh fabric. They're big enough for all your essentials. Around the side, are two additional pockets. I was skeptical at first, but one ride convinced me of their worth. I found them really useful for stashing a gel or energy bar and for long winter rides as they were really easily accessible, especially handy if the main pockets are stuffed with spares, tubes, pump, spare jacket and mobile phone.
There's a full-length YKK Vislon zipper with a flap of windproof material over the front. The wide elasticated waistband keeps the jacket solidly in place and prevents it riding up when you're in the drops, and you can load up the pockets with loads of food and spares and they won't sag down to your bum. The back drops down a bit, just enough to provide good coverage when you're hunched over the handlebars.
For recent conditions, worn over a short sleeve base layer, the R&D Long Sleeve Wind Jersey provides just the right level of insulation. I never once got cold or too hot. Compared to other jerseys that require precise and careful layering, I could sling the Sportful on over a base layer and head out for a ride safe in the knowledge I would be warm enough, and yet without needing flexible clothing that can deal with warmer temperatures as the ride progressed. No matter how hard you ride, you simply won't overheat. I recognise that might not be completely true for every single cyclist, some people run hot, I run colder and need good insulation even when it's not really that cold.
There is no other jersey I've tested that provides this level of insulation with such impressive breathability. There are jackets that provide the same sort of warmth for colder rides, but with a lot more bulk and less ability to cope with heat buildup in the same way the R&D Long Sleeve Wind Jersey does. It's a little on the pricey side perhaps, but the fantastic use of the Polartec Alpha fabric and the rest of the details combine to make it a standout garment this winter.
It's available in sizes XS-3XL and black or blue colours.
Lightweight warmth and fantastic breathability with Sportful's new Polartec Alpha winter jersey
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Make and model: Sportful R&D Long Sleeve Wind Jersey
Size tested: small, 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?
This wind jersey is amazingly lightweight yet remarkably warm, thanks to the Polartec® Alpha front insulation layer. Since it will become your favorite cool-weather riding piece, we've built it full of features.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
WindShield / Polartec® Alpha / Stretch mesh fabric sandwich for nearly weightless insulation and weather protection
DualFit back for excellent breathability and stretch
YKK® Vislon® zipper with external wind flap
3 external rear pockets
Side pocket for quick access
Reflective fabric in pocket pleat
Microfiber elastic at waist with silicone grip pattern
Hot Pack style wrist closure
Really nicely made with good attention to detail.
For dry, cold and windy days for anyone that likes to ride hard and wants, needs, really good breathability, this is a stunning jacket.
It's proving very hard-wearing so far.
It's a bit heavier than a regular jersey, but it's a lot lighter than a jacket, and provides a lot of the protection of the later.
Superb fit, lovely tall collar, nicely shaped arms, wide elasticated waistband.
As far as I know there aren't any other jerseys utilising Polartec Alpha yet to compare this jersey too.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
For cold and dry winter cycling when you don't want the bulk of a winter jacket and three layers, this is a really good choice.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Fit, warmth, breathability, comfort.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
The thumb loops were too restrictive. Could do with some more reflective details.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes.
Would you consider buying the product? Yes.
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes.
Anything further to say about the product in conclusion?
A brilliant jacket making use of the Polartec Alpha fabric which provides amazing insulation without much bulk or weight, and no compromise in breathability.
Age: 31 Height: 180 Weight: 67
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, mtb,
David worked on the road.cc tech team from 2012-2020. 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, and you can now find him over on his own YouTube channel David Arthur - Just Ride Bikes.