The Merlin Wear Sport Thermal Cycling Jacket is almost too warm for its own good. If you run cold or cycle in freezing temperatures, for the money it's a stylish, functional option.
The design is definitely minimalist – the name 'Merlin' appears nowhere and there are just three small reflective logos to match the three thin reflective stripes on the rear pockets. The green detailing on the chest pocket zips, zip garage and rear pocket stitching are tastefully done. Rounding out the detail, there's a silicone grip strip around the hem, and the whole thing is brushed fleecy Roubaix fabric inside.
Sizing is out by quite some way – I'm a 94cm chest, 84cm waist, which Merlin's chart says is on the cusp of S/M for chest, and M/L for the waist. In reality the large was a perfect fit for chest, shoulders and waist, only coming up maybe an inch short in the arms, but then each of mine is two inches longer than what's considered normal for my height. If I were any larger in the chest I'd want to size up – the fit under the arms was tight when standing, though it came just right when on the bike, which is what you want to see in a serious cycling garment.
The collar stands not too high, with a bit of a gap to vent when the zip's up. Maybe the sizing assumes I'd have more neck to fill the gap, but it didn't bother me at all.
There are three pockets plus a zipped security pouch big enough for an iPhone 5 in a waterproof case. Setting off for a long ride, I had the rear pockets completely crammed with waterproof shell, tools and food – and could feel them due to the snug fit of the jacket. However, everything stayed in place and didn't feel overly loaded.
It also has two zipped chest pockets. Given the close fit of the jacket I couldn't imagine keeping anything in there beyond a slim cash-and-card flexible pouch, or maybe a key. Even a slim phone felt out of place. Merlin's website says, 'Chest side-pockets also double up as vents if required.' I get that, but you do have a full zip too...
Speaking of the zip, it's backed with a generous bright green flap to keep wind at bay that ends in a fold-over garage to prevent irritation. The zip itself is somewhat let down by having a very short pull that's difficult to get to and operate one-handed with gloves on. For a 'thermal' product, that's a bit of an oversight.
I was out in some fairly chilly, windy weather for extended periods, and never found myself wanting for warmth. Merlin says 'you can be sure of a cosy and comfy feel next the skin' which implies it sees you wearing this with no baselayer or 'jersey' underneath. I'm a fan of layering, giving the flexibility to remove things if it warms up. If you are setting out on a chilly morning of, say, a few degrees and are treating the Thermal Cycling Jacket as your only layer, you will probably be cooking once the sun comes out and things warm up. That said, one ride I did was with a 150gsm merino baselayer underneath, in sunny 5-10°C. Pushing quite hard, I didn't overheat by venting regularly – think every hill. But then I usually run pretty cold.
One memorable ride was into three hours of heavy rain. I wore the Sport Thermal jacket over a merino base and under the rather excellent Endura FS260-Pro SL shell (review here). The jacket felt perfect, never too warm, never too hot. At one stage I could feel slight damp in the middle of the shoulders but this soon passed. Given the fact that the Endura shell was blocking any wind-assisted evaporation, the fabric of the Merlin obviously does a good job of breathing.
In very cold, windy weather, at £70 RRP, this jacket could be just what you need to stay warm without breaking the bank, especially as it's currently discounted to £49. The features are decent, and the design is bang on trend – just check the fit.
The chest pockets are strange and it weighs a bit, but it certainly keeps you warm
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Merlin Wear Sport Thermal Cycling Jacket
Size tested: Large
Tell us what the jacket 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?
Stop the wind from chilling you to the bone with this exceptional jacket. The main body of this jacket is made from a fabric that has a wind-blocking polyurethane membrane within it.
To further help cut out the wind the cuffs are extended and specially shaped to prevent breezes from entering the jacket at that most vulnerable of entry points.
To help the garment fit well and to improve breathability we've used a secondary fabric in strategic locations. Both of these fabrics are lightly fleece lined so you can be sure of a cosy and comfy feel next the skin.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the jacket?
Wind stopping polyurethane membrane in the main fabric.
Tailored arms and drop lower tail for perfect on-bike fit.
Full length flexible zip.
Three rear pockets plus an additional zipped security pocket.
Subtle but effective reflective detailing.
Elasticated waist with silicon gripper.
Chest side-pockets also double up as vents if required.
It's very well put together. Classy, even.
It kept me warm.
It washed well over a few months.
For a garment this heavy/windproof, and at this price, it breathes surprisingly well.
If you know to size up, it sits on you very well for a slight-to-athletic build.
Out by nearly two steps. Go one or even two sizes larger than usual.
It's pretty heavy, for sure.
Yep, comfy. Roubaix fabric.
For RRP of £70 and on sale now for £49, it's pretty darn good value.
How easy is the jacket to care for? How did it respond to being washed?
Tell us how the jacket performed overall when used for its designed purpose
I stayed warm, almost to a fault.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the jacket
The cut/design. Classy and minimalist.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the jacket
The chest pockets seemed a waste of time. And the zip pull.
Did you enjoy using the jacket? Yes
Would you consider buying the jacket? Yes
Would you recommend the jacket to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your score
If Merlin removed the, to my mind, rather pointless chest pockets, made the zip pull bigger and the sleeves a bit longer, for £70 I'd rate it a 4-4.5-star. As is, I think 3.5 max is fair.
About the tester
I usually ride: Merida Ride 5000 Disc My best bike is:
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: A few times a week I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: cyclo-cross, club rides, general fitness riding, mountain biking, Dutch bike pootling