reputedly, whisky has been made in scotland for over 500 years. there are a number of competing claims as to its origination, but one of the most likely is that of irish monks travelling to the western isles of scotland, ostensibly for the purposes of transmitting the word of christ to the heathens then inhabiting islay, mull, iona and the like. they are thought to have also brought the skills necessary for distilling a mixture of water, barley and yeast into a beverage that currently brings several millions into the economy each year. throughout those 500 plus years, the principles of distilling have varied little if at all, leading many of us on the island to query why so many return year after year for the same distillery tour that occupied their time in previous visits.
we'll probably never know.
however, transmission of alcoholic beverage concoction by religious adherents down the passage of history is not one confined to the irish. according to local lore, an artillery marshal of the french head of state, king henry iv, provided the carthusian monks in 1605 with a manuscript containing a recipe for an elixir of life. this recipe eventually made its way to the local religious headquarters at the grande chartreuse monastery situated at voiron near grenoble. since that time, the recipe has been used to produce the "elixir vegetal de la grande chartreuse" a liqueur produced to this day and more commonly referred to as simply 'chartreuse'.
this is no longer produced at the chartreuse monastery, but in a factory in the nearby town of voiron. unlike the distilleries on islay, the monks at the monastery do not permit visitors and motor vehicles are restricted on the roads surrounding the grounds. sales of chartreuse liqueur now support the isolated livelihoods of the carthusian monks.
whereas the amber nectar produced in islay's eight malt whisky distilleries is noted and characterised by its golden hue acquired from the casks in which it is matured, chartreuse appears in two variations: green and yellow. the latter gave rise to the colour chartreuse in 1892, but in order that it may be seen as distinct from its green sibling, in 1987 the colour was reclassified as chartreuse yellow. according to rapha's website, 'Scientific research shows the Chartreuse colourway offers exceptional visibility in low light. Though not technically fluorescent, studies have found that the rods in the retina - the part of the eye that work best in low light - are particularly receptive to the yellow/green colour. As a result, chartreuse is increasingly used around the world for emergency vehicles.'
my colleagues in the office offered selflessly to shower me with buckets of water or garden hoses that i might test the efficacy of rapha's new hardshell jacket, a variation on their well-known softshell. in my review of the latter, i recall mentioning that £240 was rather a substantial sum of money to spend on a jacket that offered showerproof qualities at best. i doubt that this departing remark subsequently goaded the design department into having me eat my words, but for the 2012/13 autumn/winter range, the ultimate in waterproofing has arrived in similar guise to the much-loved softshell.
if i can be throroughly pedantic prior to the start, i'd be most intrigued to know where the word hardshell originated in this context. those inviting black envelopes in which rapha gear arrives was a deal more flexible than i had banked on, and the burst of charteuse yellow that blinded from within seemed not too different in constitution from its soft bedfellow. i therefore, without resort to rapha's marketing or design departments, decided that it is hard in the sense that it laughs in the face of adversity; bullying the weather into submission rather than simply shrugging off its worst efforts.
wishing not to accede to my colleagues' offers of drenching for fear that it would do them more good than it would me, i watched the pages of xcweather with worrying frequency, waiting for weather conditions in which i could be hard. it's the west coast of scotland; such opportunities in the throes of autumn do not take long to arrive. during the preceding days i cut an increasingly eccentric figure by proclaiming that crap weather was just what i awaited for a lengthy bike ride along the arteries of the parish.
and lo, it was crap.
minimal in conception the hardshell may be, but so far as i can note, the only glaring omission is that of the drop tail featured on the softshell, an item i have had little need to call upon while riding the fendered cielo. hermetic protection from the elements would be a tad underwhelming were it not for some degree of breathability. fully taped seams on the hardshell are designed to keep out every last molecule of moisture, but i confess that i rather too often interrupted the good works done on behalf of its internal hydrophilic properties.
breathability works mostly via internal heat pressure forcing perspiration onto the inner moisture-loving membrane which, in turn, forces it outward to the jacket's surface and into the surrounding atmosphere. however, if the garment being reviewed has to be photographed in all sorts of obscure and interesting places, this necessitates inveterate stopping and cooling, allowing the self-generated perspiration to condense. do so often enough, and one can become slightly dampish, not because the jacket is failing in its duties, but because the incumbent, and intrepid reviewer is hardly giving it the opportunity to do as it is bid.
that said, by the time home was reached after 110km my rapha portland jersey was merely shaken, not stirred. breathable cycle jackets are, in my experience, rarely as breathable as we'd all like them to be; it's often a case of i want, i want, doesn't get. however, in the grand scheme of these things, the hardshell's breathability was actually pretty good, more especially if you don't stop every few kilometres to take pictures of yourself in chartreuse.
i cannot but admit that i had some assistance in the reviewing of this jacket. in order that it be possible to check every nook and cranny for imperviousness to persistant precipitation, i enlisted an at oft times gale-force wind. vertical rain is all well and good, but periods of horizontality are far more testing. it would also be importune of me to contend that the island suffered from east to west. though perhaps a smidgeon more windswept on the atlantic side, parts of the road were verging on dessication (perhaps a bit of an over exaggeration, but scene setting was never my forte). however, after a coffee-based lunch at debbie's, the heavens let go of all that they contained, so i took the (considerably) longer way home just for good measure.
in common with much of the united kingdom, islay's roads edge ever closer to sections of paris-roubaix as each week passes, rough enough, in fact, to have loosened one of the mudguard stays at the rear. thus, on the long and winding chartreuse inflected road home, i visited each and every passing place in turn to pull the full wood fender from its recurrent resting place on the tread of a vittoria pave rear tyre. though hardly a matter of life or death, if nothing else it proved why you would wish to be clothed in a rapha hardshell in the first place. it takes little time in this weather to cool below comfort level, a status that can remove all vestiges of the word comfortable from a bike ride if that coolness is subsequently invaded by the rain.
in short, i really don't care why rapha call it a hardshell if it offers this degree of protection from elements that, in my case, will only get worse between now and next march. the breathability could conceivably be improved by the retention of the side vents featured on the complicit softshell, but i daresay those would only add another possible area of ingress. the collar is commendably high, three rear pockets plus a (taped) zipped fourth is more than ideal, and a rear facing fifth zipped pocket on the bottom left side-panel easily carries and secures the coffee money. joe at rapha has confirmed that there will again be a festive 500 this coming december an event that, despite being blown off the road last year, now holds no fear whatsoever.
aside from which, if i do find myself ditching in the sea, the chartreuse ought to ensure the helicopters find me first.
rapha's hardshell jacket is available in chartreuse yellow, dark red or blue, in sizes ranging from xs to xxl. cost is a not unreasonable £240 ($375)
friday 28th september 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................