one of the most variable factors involved in cycling, at least at our level, is the weather. having lived on the outer edge for over 27 years, i don't have a great deal of experience of any other regions of the uk and their climatic conditions. that, however, is really of no nevermind, for ultimately i'm happy to accept that several, if not all of my velocipedinal perambulations nudge against the upper regions of the protective abilities on offer. were i not in the fortunate position of reviewing a wide variety of cycling apparel, i figure i'd still be happy at these circumstances. however, that doesn't eliminate external meteorological factors.
everytime i pop over to scotland or down south to london village, i find myself overdressed. sometimes rather drastically so, despite having been comfortable at the time i boarded the ferry. and discussions with visiting cyclists lead me to believe that what we in the velo club take for granted, others look upon as verging on the extreme. this doesn't make us special, but it does rather point towards greater demands of our clothing, often leading to my wondering whether apparel designers really have our more specific best interests at heart.
for instance, if our hypothetical designer's office is in central london, is he/she in the ideal location to figure out just where a galeforce wind can deposit intrinsic precipitation? and do they think that opening a window constitutes a headwind? maybe it's my job to find out.
the ashmei website contends that they live by three words (performance, quality and style), though i'm sure that coffees and danish pastries are bound to augment those on more than a single occasion. now entering the well-stocked world of cycling apparel, up till now the ashmei folks have occupied their time serving the needs of the running and triathlon corners of the active world. though the three disciplines share more than just one or two factors, with no shortage of quality, specialist cycle clothing, complacency really isn't an option at this level.
currently the ashmei cycling range consists of bibshorts, merino jersey, socks and a softshell jacket, the latter of which has had the onerous job of keeping me warm and dry in early march. stuart brooke, who heads up the attractively named company, aims to compete with assos and castelli, a factor that might easily be determined by the price of the ashmei bibshorts. the softshell once more re-defines the word from the point of view of fabric. i have several softshells from a number of those i would view as ashmei's competitors, and not one of them is the same as another.
in this case, it's a jacket of two halves, required to satisfy several seemingly contradictory demands. according to ashmei their brief was to build a jacket that might satisfy heat regulation, windproofing, water resistance, stretch, uv protection and breathability. those are either aspirational or unrealistic, for in my experience, the garment that can manage all six has yet to make an appearance, though there surely has to be a first time.
the ashmei softshell is substantially lighter than i'd expected, and the packaging in which it arrives shows careful and clever concern for its presentation when delivered by post. the principal front-facing fabric that covers the arms and the shoulder panel is their ultra breathable softshell designed to offer wind and water protection while not forgetting breathability. the back of the arms and the back of the jacket from the shoulder panel to the pockets is crafted from a very stretchy merino/polyester blend to prevent any overheating.
while that's conceivably the ideal combination, in practice there seems a fundamental flaw in the thinking. or at least there is over here. though the forward-facing windproofing is superb and the water resistance far better than i'd hoped, galeforce winds harbour their own iniquities. these are made more obvious when they form the basis of a tailwind, where the lack of windproofing on the rear, on occasion, had a tendency to cool me down a bit more than i'd have liked. coupled with heavy rain, it means it is eminently possible that you end up with a wet back.
however, in mitigation, softshell material is not the miracle fabric that might emulate the uss enterprise's shields. to be honest, ashmei's combination of fabrics is pretty well judged; on a ride still featuring galeforce winds but considerably less precipitation it really was very, very good. breathability is aided by two zipped side vents which proved surprisingly effective when things became a tad too warm, though i'd have preferred tags on the zips to make zipping and un-zipping easier when wearing winter gloves. the full length front zip features zip garages top and bottom, while its path veers towards the right as it makes its way from bottom to top. though i'd have liked a tag on this zip too, in practice it was easy to make use of while riding, gloved or not.
unfortunately, reflecting one of my pet hates, there is no hang loop inside the collar. am i the only one who hangs up his jackets on a coat peg?
i do have issues with the pockets. over the years of our rich cycling heritage, three rear pockets has become pretty much the norm, but the ashmei softshell features six. these consist of diminishing sizes: a big one, a medium one, a narrow one and an even narrower one that could only harbour a mini-pump. those are joined by an inner zipped pocket and a rather pointless pen pocket on an inner flap inside the front zip. in serious weather, i like to take with me a spare pair of gloves, a stowaway waterproof jacket (just in case), something to eat, occasionally a mini-pump and quite frequently, my compact digital camera.
and on sunday, i had the mighty dave t's belated birthday card to carry also.
no matter the philosophy that reigns at ashmei towers, i'd still prefer my usual three (plus the zipped one) allowing me the luxury of deciding for myself how to arrange the cargo. however, i still think it a better arrangement than those whale-sized single zipped efforts that blemish many other jackets of this ilk. on the plus side, the pockets, bisected by a full-length reflective white strip, are commendably deep. you can actually stuff in quite a lot if you try.
at this time of year, other than the occasional sortie on the cyclocross bike, the principal mode of transport is the cielo, a bicycle that offers the luxury of full wood fenders. therefore, i found no need for the short drop flap concealed above the rear hem by three magnets. those of you with more sporting pretensions aboard your guardless carbon fibre may benefit from its modest protection, keeping those expensive ashmei bibshorts in the luxury to which they have become accustomed.
all in all, this is a rather fine softshell jacket. i'd have been very surprised if it had excelled at every imaginable demand that could have been thrown at it, but in a world of endless compromises, you have to choose your battles. my superficial criticisms aside, this is actually stunningly good.
the ashmei softshell jacket is available in sizes small through xl, in either black or red. cost direct from ashmei and currently with free shipping, is £210
monday 9 march 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................