Tackling unpredictable but mostly bad weather is tricky at this time of year, but not so with the redesigned Sportful Fiandre Extreme jacket. It's become my go-to jacket for horrible weather because it keeps me protected when it's cold, windy and raining, manages heat well, and the bright yellow ensures I'm as visible to other road users as can be.
This is an update of the original Fiandre Extreme Neoshell jacket I tested a couple of years ago, which used Polartec's Neoshell. It's a phenomenal material, highly breathable and insulating, easy to layer and works well in a range of temperatures. It's ideal for UK cycling. The original jacket provided the rain protection of a hardshell waterproof jacket with the fit, warmth and breathability of a softshell, but with a few wrinkles. The new model irons these out.
The biggest improvement is the fit around the shoulders. The Neoshell material doesn't have that much stretch, so the shape of the panels and seam placement are really important. By changing the orientation of the bonded and taped seams around the shoulders and other key places, Sportful has radically improved the fit. It's more relaxed around the shoulders, there's less restriction when moving the arms about. It's far more comfortable than the previous jacket.
Sportful has also improved the cuff design. They're now elasticated and fit more comfortably, and they work well with a range of different types of gloves I tested the jacket with.
More critically, it has improved waterproofing around the three rear pockets, which was a weakness with the previous jacket. The taped seams have been positioned away from areas prone to leaking, and my testing has found no ingress of water around the pocket seams even when riding in really heavy rain.
It's not as waterproof as something like Sportful's Stelvio jacket, but it's not far off, and I reckon it's more than adequate for the sort of rain the majority of us have to deal with from time to time. Where it scores better than a dedicated rain jacket is in the impressive breathability and insulation. I've worn it for five-hour training rides over just a baselayer and been perfectly comfortable, even taking in lots of hills, and the insulation is ample for all but the chilliest sub-zero rides.
Other details include a generously tall collar for snuggling down into on cold morning rides. The body and sleeves are a good length, and the tail is slightly dropped but could perhaps scoop down a bit lower because it's a given you're going to be wearing this jacket in grotty conditions with loads of rain and surface water to contend with. There are some reflective details too.
One thing lacking, and it's my usual gripe (and I might be alone here), is a zipped pocket for storing house keys.
The Fiandre Extreme commands a big price tag but it's not alone, just £5 more than Rapha's similar Classic Winter model, and if you want one jacket to rule all of the challenging British winter weather conditions, it really is one of the best. It doesn't have the zipped pockets of the Rapha, but I'd say the fit and cut are better, especially around the waist, and it's slightly warmer.
It's a lot of money, but if you aren't signing up to in indoor training plan and want to commit to big miles outside, then a jacket like this will really be a solid investment.
It makes dressing for winter rides real easy: just throw it on over a baselayer whatever the weather and you'll be just fine. And I mean that. It keeps you dry in heavy and sustained rain, and for most typical UK rides that involve a bit of rain, it's enough protection to leave the dedicated waterproof jacket at home, or at least saved for the wet as an otter's pocket days.
My new go-to jacket for cycling in horrible weather with a high chance of rain
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Sportful Fiandre Extreme Jacket
Size tested: Small
Tell us what the jacket is for
Sportful says, "Second generation of our most extreme jacket, tested on the worst World Tour races where warmth and wet weather protection help detemine who finishes the race. Well adapted for the rest of us looking for a great combination of insulation and rain/ wet snow protection without sacrificing comfort or performance. Stretch construction for a tailored fit that is both comfortable and fast on the bike. Highly breathable NeoShell fabric offers a great weather barrier while letting your excess heat and sweat out."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the jacket?
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
Strategically placed seams to maximize on the bike feel and fit and reduce exposure to the elements. Fully taped seams for full waterproofing
Waterproof YKK Vislon zipper
Reflective transfers on back
3 external rear pockets
Very nicely made.
Excellent for dealing with whatever the British winter can throw your way. Wind, rain, cold temperatures, mud... it deals with it all.
I've tested it relentlessly over the past couple of months and it's stood up really well. My only small gripe is that snot/mud has stained the bright yellow arms a bit.
Very, very good; improved over the mk1 jacket, and it's comfortably adequate for typical British winter rain weather.
The Neoshell jacket combines that impressive waterproofing with superb breathability.
With the improved seams, the fit is now excellent, and it's a really comfortable jacket.
Usual Sportful sizing here, nothing out of the ordinary.
It's not heavy.
It's exceedingly comfortable.
Yes it's expensive, but it's on par with what I'd consider its closest competitor, Rapha's Classic Winter jacket, but a little warmer and a better fit. If you're looking for one jacket to conquer just about all the bad winter weather you're likely to encounter, this might be it.
How easy is the jacket to care for? How did it respond to being washed?
Pretty easy. It goes through a wash well, though it's worth washing it straight after a muddy ride so the dirt doesn't stain the bright yellow fabric.
Tell us how the jacket performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Keeps rain, wind and the cold out.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the jacket
Great fit, super all-weather capability and brightness.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the jacket
No zipped pocket.
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 overall score
It's a highly capable jacket that excels in really bad weather. The Polartec Neoshell is a superb material balancing the needs of protection and breathability for a cyclist really well. Just a shame it's so expensive.
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.