What sorcery is this? I'd thought the days of the fully waterproof jacket were numbered, pushed out by rain-resistant jerseys and high-performance softshells. I've not worn one much lately, and only on the most biblically wet days, but the Bontrager Velocis Stormshell might just change all that.
It's waterproof, natch, and it's breathable too. Yep, the usual marketing shtick, but this really is – as breathable as many a softshell in fact. It fits really well, thanks to the surprising stretchiness of the fabric and well-designed cut. And the details are all there, from the waterproof zip to the comfortable fleece-lined neck and admirable use of reflectives. It was all set to get the full five stars, in fact, were it not for one small thing...
Hardshell waterproof jackets haven't really made waves that much of late. The focus has mostly been on the fabric technology allowing manufacturers to make jerseys that can keep riders relatively protected from the elements; the distinctive fwappy noise of a rain jacket seemed consigned to the past.
There's not too much fwapping here as the Velocis is nicely fitted and its outer layer feels and behaves more like a softshell. It's really soft, lightweight and comfortable. Water doesn't bead off it, it soaks into the outer fabric – but that's as far as it gets. The seam-sealed layer is on the inside, and it's clever stuff – a 2.5 layer fabric "powered by 37.5™ active particle technology", says Bontrager.
Okay, 37.5 technology was a new one to me but there's a website that gives you the skinny. Active particles built into the fabric play a role, and the goal is maintaining a 37.5% relative humidity "microclimate" between the jacket and your body. That sounds like a tall order given that typical relative humidity on a wet autumnal day in Britain is 95%, but apparently the hotter you get inside the jacket, the more efficiently it moves moisture across the membrane to the outside.
The explanations left me a little sceptical, but by golly it works. Sometimes the measure of how breathable something is becomes clearest when you look at the bits that aren't. Look under the scorpion decal on a Castelli Gabba sleeve after a hard ride and there's a neat circle of moisture that couldn't escape. On the Velocis, it's the seam taping that doesn't breathe as much as the rest of the fabric, and it was only there that I ever found thin stripes of condensation. The rest of the inner surface stayed stubbornly dry even when I got pretty warm.
The inner surface has an unusual but not unpleasant feel to it. Generally, I only ever wear waterproof jackets over long sleeves as I hate the feeling of clammy arms. Here, that was still my preferred option but the inside surface of the jacket remained pretty much dry, meaning comfort was decent even against bare skin. This meant I used this jacket even when rain was but a distant threat – like I would a softshell, in other words – but with the knowledge that it would keep me really dry were the skies to open.
And when they do, the Velocis does a cracking job of keeping it all on the outside. I wore it on some pretty grim days and was reminded of what a real waterproof gives you compared with a mere DWR-treated jersey: 10,000mm water resistance is typical on a breathable waterproof (25,000g/m2/24hr breathability) and I didn't have an issue with rain penetration.
A further surprising property of this rather unusual material is how stretchy it is – significantly more than something like the Sugoi RSE Neoshell and notably more than some weather-proof jerseys, even. It's directional, so the fabric will quite easily stretch to twice its normal size in the horizontal direction but less in the vertical. This makes it comfortable but also allows for a really good fit. The size tested was a large in EU sizing (or medium in the US) and fitted well, while allowing room for a couple of layers underneath.
The rear of the jacket is dropped around 100mm lower than the front, such that it looks right on the bike without really being enough to keep your bum dry if you're not running mudguards. It would be nice to see this extended further to offer better protection, especially as the elasticity means it could be cut to sit close to the body.
There is a generous assortment of reflective details – narrow stripes down each side of the back, down the sleeves and by the zip at the front, plus decals by the cuffs and a logo on the butt. Like a lot on this jacket, they really suggest some concerted design effort was expended to get it right. The Firebrand orange of our test sample looks pretty smart too – falling acceptably short of full-on high vis. There's a Visibility Yellow and a black option too.
The only pocket is on the left breast and is a decent size – easily enough to get a phone in, and with a small eyelet to feed a headphone cable through inside the jacket. The main zip is waterproof, with a flap to protect your neck and a double pull, so it can be opened from the top or bottom once it's done up. I'm not a fan of this – I've never really seen the need of opening a jacket from the bottom, and it just makes it more fiddly to close the zip. Every. Single. Time.
My only significant reservation was with the stitching at the cuffs. There's a single row of stitching and it was already coming undone on one sleeve before I even donned the test sample for the first time. Trek sent another one over, and within a couple of weeks the same thing happened again. There are pull loops protruding from each cuff, apparently intended to make it easier to take the jacket off. They do, but there's no reinforcement where they join the sleeves, and you only need to use them once or twice before the stitching starts to come undone. Reinforcing this area would be such an easy, cheap fix, so it's hard to fathom how this made it through to production.
Cut those loops off straight away, exercise care taking the jacket off, and you've got an absolutely cracking waterproof. In use it feels more like a softshell but will keep you drier in foul conditions. The details are almost all spot on and it's not bad looking. I really like this jacket.
The waterproof jacket fights back: comfortable, breathable and with a great fit – highly recommended
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Make and model: Bontrager Velocis Stormshell Jacket
Size tested: Medium, Orange
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?
Bontrager says: "The ultimate bad weather jacket that offers superior waterproof and windproof protection, the Velocis Stormshell has you covered. Features include a streamline fit, full-length, two-way zipper, and a zippered left chest pocket, into which the jacket can be packed."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Profila Stormshell fabric powered by 37.5™ technology
2.5 layer fabric provides next to skin comfort with a stretchy no-flap fit
Full-length, two-way YKK zipper provides great ventilation options
Zippered left chest pocket into which the jacket can be packed
Drop-tail and articulated sleeves for a precise on-bike fit
Reflective elements enhance visibility for maximum safety
Fitted - Streamlined fit for all-around cycling performance
10,000mm waterproof, 25,000g/m2/24hr breathability
Rate the product for quality of construction:
Very high-performance fabric, well thought through details and a great fit. I could live without the lower zip pull but I guess some people like them. Loses a mark for the inadequate stitching around the cuffs.
Rate the product for performance:
Simply the best waterproof jacket I've ever used. Keeps the rain out while being as breathable as many a softshell. Stretchy fabric means you can get a close fit too, if you want.
Rate the product for durability:
The single-row cuff stitching is a definite minor weak point – the test sample started to come undone here, was replaced, and the same thing happened with the second jacket (when I tried to use the pull-loops to take it off). Otherwise no indication of weak points and it's not a superlight shell so I wasn't worried about it tearing too easily.
Rate the product for weight, if applicable:
You can get waterproof jackets that are around 40-50g lighter, but normally without some of the niceties present here, like the fleeced collar and zipped pocket. This one feels well built but with minimal weight penalty.
Rate the product for comfort, if applicable:
The outer shell feels like a lightweight softshell, and even the inner surface is pretty comfortable against the skin. Nice fleecy neck lining.
Rate the product for value:
It's an expensive jacket, but you get what you pay for here. I've not used a cheaper jacket that is in any way the match of this, and I've used more expensive waterproofs I've liked less.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
It ticks all the boxes – waterproof, particularly breathable and with a great fit thanks to the stretchy material. Add in very well-designed reflectives and agreeable styling and it's just about perfect.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Very little. The stitching around the cuffs should be doubled up as it's a vulnerable area and I'm not a fan of zips with two pulls, but that's about it.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your score
This was a stone-cold five stars if it wasn't for the flimsy stitching around the cuffs. That aside, it's a superb piece of bad-weather gear.
Age: 37 Height: 190cm Weight: 78kg
I usually ride: Commuter - something with disc brakes, drop bars and a rack My best bike is: Rose X-Lite 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, mountain biking
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