Dressing for the UK winter just got a whole lot easier with the new Sportful Fiandre Extreme Neoshell, a comfortable, warm and waterproof jacket that copes well with a wide range of weather conditions. It really is one jacket to rule in all weathers.
Like the rest of Sportful's Fiandre range, this new jacket is designed to cope with variable and constantly changing conditions. It's been race-tested, like all Sportful's top-end clothing, by the Tinkoff-Saxo professional cycling team. It's designed to keep you warm and dry, and be breathable enough to avoid overheating.
To create this new Fiandre Extreme Neoshell jacket, Italian company Sportful worked with fabric specialist Polartec to adapt its relatively new Neoshell material for its needs. Neoshell has been used in a cycling garment by Sugoi previously, but Sportful got Polartec to make the fabric stretchier, to enhance the fit and comfort.
You might be wondering what Neoshell is all about. It basically offers the rain protection of a traditional hardshell waterproof jacket, with the warmth, fit, comfort and breathability of a softshell. Sounds like the holy grail of winter cycling jackets, when dressing for winter can be fraught with indecision; there are too many choices and chances for getting it completely wrong, resulting in either getting wet or overheating.
The fabric is constructed with taped seams everywhere to ensure that the whole jacket really is waterproof. There's a waterproof YKK Vislon zipper on the front and three pockets around the back, plus a dropped tail and lots of reflective details. The collar is nice and tall and the cuffs are a simple design, intended to provide a close seal around the wrists.
The cut of the jacket is a good shape too. It's designed to be a close-fitting top, and for wearing over a single baselayer. I found it a bit tight across the shoulders when standing up, but on the bike it's fine. I'm probably right on the line between a size small and medium though. The fit around the torso and arms is excellent, with no excess material to catch the wind.
It's not as immediately comfortable as pulling on a softshell; despite Sportful's efforts to make the fabric stretchier, it's clearly more restrictive than a regular softshell fabric. Any concerns fade away when riding, though, because on the bike it's very comfortable.
Cycle clothing technology has advanced quite a bit in the last few years. There has been a rise in the popularity of rain-resistant high-performance softshell tops that can cope with the unpredictability of the British weather well. But they're not without their shortcomings, especially in prolonged heavy rain.
There are no such shortcomings with the Extreme Neoshell jacket. It really is one jacket you can wear no matter the weather. It's designed to excel at temperatures below 10 degrees, but I found the breathability sufficient to wear it above 15 with a short-sleeve baselayer underneath. I do run cooler, though – overheating is rarely an issue for me, but staying warm is!
It really is properly waterproof. We've had some stonking rain showers recently and so I've had plenty of wet rides to thoroughly test the jacket. Lucky me. On one ride it rained solid for the entire two hours I was out. The jacket kept me dry. Another ride saw about three of four short showers interspersed with sunshine and blue skies. Again, the jacket repelled the rain brilliantly, and dried out really quickly between each downpour. There are no weaknesses – all the seams around the arms and shoulders stand up to the rain just fine.
Those two examples demonstrate this jacket's brilliance. It copes in sustained downpours and also deals with sudden but short bursts of rain. On rides when the weather forecast makes it hard to predict what rain you might encounter on a ride, this jacket looks after you. I can now leave the emergency waterproof jacket at home, it's redundant.
And it's not just good in the rain. On cold and dry days when there's no hint of rain clouds on the horizon, the jacket provides adequate warmth to keep you comfortable. You can adapt for different temperatures by wearing a different weight baselayer or swapping from a short sleeve to long sleeve. Even with a short-sleeve baselayer there is good warmth on the arms, and with a long-sleeve there is no overheating to speak of.
It's impressively breathable. The material actually lets a small amount of air through from the outside – not so much that you feel it, but you do notice the absence of heat build-up. I've battered up hills and done sprint intervals and it has refused to allow me to overheat. I've taken it above the maximum temperature recommendation and it has coped just fine.
I've done the same test loops on the same day in different outfits, to really see how the jacket compares, and it comfortably outperforms a regular softshell in really heavy prolonged rain, and a waterproof jacket in the breathability stakes.
Essentially, this jacket makes it easy to dress for a ride. Regardless of what the weather is doing, you can just sling this on over a baselayer and hit the road, safe in the knowledge you'll be protected from whatever the weather decides to hit you with. It's the best expression of Sportful's Fiandre range yet, and is perfect for the British winter weather.
What I've not been able to do yet is test the jacket in really cold weather, so I'll update this review once I have done. I've been testing it for the last two months, and it's been getting a lot of use. It's been through many washing machine cycles and the fabric comes out clean every time, and it's showing no signs of wear.
A very high performance jacket that copes with rain, wind and cold without overheating
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Sportful Fiandre Extreme Neoshell jacket
Size tested: Small
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?
Sportful says: "The jacket that excels in every cool or cold condition, from sun to rain. There's never been anything like it.
"We set out to make the ultimate jacket: highly breathable, warm, with perfect stretch fit, and fully waterproof. This is the jacket that you'll choose for dry conditions, yet it's a full-protection rain jacket when you need it. The only jacket you need for conditions 10° and colder."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Exclusive Polartec® NeoShell is windproof, waterproof, highly breathable and elastic
Mid-weight fabric can be worn with a base layer or add a thermal layer for cold conditions
Fully taped seams for full waterproofing
Waterproof YKK® Vislon® zipper
3 external rear pockets
No-sew finishing on pockets, hem and cuffs
Reflective transfers on back
Impressive build quality and seems durable too.
Excellent performance in rain, cold and windy weather. It copes with it all.
No problems yet.
The fit and shape is good. It's not quite as comfortable as a softshell, but it's just fine on the bike.
There's no denying £250 is a lot of money, but it's a serious investment for winter cycling and it replaces a handful of other jackets that you no longer need.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
For dealing with the unpredictable British winter weather, this is a fantastic bit of kit. You've got no excuses for not going out on the bike in the rain now though...
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Material deals with rain really well and avoids overheating.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Slightly tight fit across the shoulders. Could always do with a few 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
Use this box to explain your score
Yes it's expensive, but it'll replace all your current winter tops and jackets in one fell swoop. It's all the jacket you need for the variable winter weather.
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.