Sportful's R&D range aims to be at the cutting-edge of cycle clothing design, and this brand new Light Jacket, with its stunningly warm but highly breathable Polartec Alpha insulation, is the perfect choice for cool and dry winter rides.
I tested (and was blown away by) the original R&D Long Sleeve Wind jersey when it was released two years ago. It has now spawned two new jackets with this new Light Jacket replacing the original. It's intended for moderate temperatures, with a recommend working range between 5 and 15°C. That's largely typical of a British winter day for most parts of the island. (The pricier R&D Zero Jacket uses a beefed-up construction to help it deal with temperatures closer to zero degrees.)
At the heart of the R&D Light Jacket is a Polartec Alpha synthetic down used in the front, shoulder and front of sleeves panels, targeting warmth where you need it most. This limited use of the Alpha down, while it doesn't provide as much outright insulation for really cold rides compared with its more expensive version, does mean it can cope with higher temperatures and breathability is really impressive.
The outer layer of the jacket is made in the most part from WindWick LT fabric, with DualFit fabric used on the arm panels to enhance breathability. The combination provides effective protection against the wind, is water resistant and highly breathable. This is not a jacket designed for the rain, though it'll deal with a light and brief shower before you might want to start thinking about taking shelter, heading home, or pulling on a dedicated rain jacket. Sportful's Fiandre clothing (see my review of the Sportful Fiandre NoRain Cycling Jacket here) is better suited to dealing with changeable conditions and rain, but for keeping you warm on dry rides, this jacket is superb.
The use of the Polartec Alpha just in key places ensures the jacket treads that fine line between adequate insulation on colder rides but with sufficient breathability if it warms up during a longer ride. It's ideal for fast-paced winter training rides as it's very unlikely you'll overheat, provided you stay south of about 12-14°C – these actual figures will depend on how hot or cold you run and how slow or fast you cycle. You can, of course, use the full-length zipper, which is very effective at dumping any excess heat quickly, but I always found the breathability was such that I never had to touch the zipper during a ride.
Sportful clearly sweat the details, because this is one very nicely fitting and featured jacket. The shape is an improvement on the original: the various panels sit nicely flush with the torso, while the shaping around the shoulders and upper arms avoid any restriction of movement. Despite the Polartec insulation, it's a slim fitting jacket and the bulk and weight are both kept to a minimum. I like the large and snug wrist enclosures that ensure a good seal to prevent cold air finding its way up the sleeves and the tall collar for wrapping your neck. The waistband is a large flat elasticated band with silicone tape that keeps the jacket nicely in place.
You get three generous pockets, and quite ingeniously for a winter jacket – when you might want to take a lot of food or spare clothing – the middle pocket has a central channel of highly stretchy material that allows the pocket to expand to accommodate extra loads. There's an off-centre front zipped pocket that's an ideal place for your house keys or cake money. A smattering of reflective details, on the shoulders and rear pockets, helps you stand out in the dark.
The R&D Light Jacket is available in sizes XS to 3XL and two colours, the pictured red over black and an all-black option.
An excellent winter jacket, with highly impressive Polartec Alpha insulation and superb breathability
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Sportful R&D Light Jacket
Size tested: small, red
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?
Sportful says: "Designed for cool weather or higher-intensity rides, this jacket shares many of the features of the R&D Zero but is designed for more moderate temperatures.
"Mild winter weather, fast training rides... Still a serious winter jacket but designed for those who ride in more forgiving climates or at a fast pace. Strategically placed wind protection and insulation combined with extremely breathable inserts will keep you warm but eliminate sweat and excess heat when needed."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the jacket?
WindWick LT outer fabric is elastic, highly wind resistant, water repellent and very breathable
Polartec® Alpha® 60g insulation inserts on front, shoulders and front of sleeves for breathable warmth
DualFit fabric inserts on sleeves and back for added breathability
Bonded elastic cuff
1 hidden side zipped pocket
3 external rear pockets
Lie-flat elastic hem with light silicone grip
First rate construction, as usual from Sportful.
An excellent cold weather jacket with great insulation for most typical British winter rides, provided it's dry.
I've been wearing the original for the last two years and it's been fine, and this new version is faring well too.
It's not a waterproof jacket, the outer material is water resistant so it'll look after you in a light shower, but it's really designed for dry and cold weather.
For a jacket to offer this much warmth yet prevent overheating is very impressive.
Sportful has managed to improve the fit of the original and the result is a very flattering and comfortable jacket.
It's Italian sizing but there's a massive range of sizes to suit all shapes.
Considering the level of insulation it's impressively light.
Superb, soft next to the skin.
Yes it's expensive, but it's a serious investment for winter cycling and will keep you warmer than most winter jackets.
How easy is the jacket to care for? How did it respond to being washed?
Very easy, it washes on a 30-degree cycle just fine.
Tell us how the jacket performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Tell us what you particularly liked about the jacket
The insulation, it keeps me warm without being bulking or at the risk of overheating.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the jacket
There's nothing to criticise – it's even got a small zipped pocket for the house keys which I love.
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
£170 is certainly a lot of money but there aren't many jackets that are as warm as this one, thanks to the excellent Polartec Alpha down insulation, with impressive breathability sufficient to prevent overheating even during the highest tempo rides.
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.