As a former Boy Scout and someone who tries to get outdoors on a regular basis, I’ve always subscribed to the “layering” philosophy for outdoor sports. Rule number one is: No Cotton. Cotton absorbs and holds onto moisture, making it pretty dangerous in the winter because the wet fabric conducts heat away from the skin, thereby cooling the body when you don’t want it to be cool. It’s also unpleasant to have a wet shirt clinging to your torso.
The second rule of layering is that several thin or light layers generally outperform one really bulky layer. I’ve been following this rule for years. My typical riding apparel for 40 degrees and below consists of a long sleeve wool or polypropylene base layer, a long sleeve wool jersey and some sort of wind breaker if it’s closer to 30 degrees or windy. For 30 or below, I add a second polypro layer. All these layers make me feel a bit like the Staypuff Marshmallow man and, more importantly, they are difficult to manipulate when I start to overheat because only the jacket and the jersey have zippers to relieve heat build-up.
A couple of months ago, I became aware of an alternate approach. Instead of wearing multiple layers, why not buy layers that are matched for certain temperature ranges? The benefit of this approach is that you do not have to wear as many layers to achieve the same thermal performance. Fewer layers means less bulk and improved comfort. The Assos Climarange accomplishes this approach to winter dressing on the bike.
At this point, some of you are probably shaking your heads in disgust and picking a different blog to read because Assos garments are undoubtedly some of the most expensive sporting apparel on the market today. You’re right. In fact, the packaging material for the Assos winter hat admits that their products are ridiculously expensive. Stick with me here….
I have no desire to waste money. On the contrary, I’m a tightwad when it comes to buying clothes whether it’s a business suit or a cycling jersey. But I do enjoy being warm, dry and comfortable and, as such, I will spend money on items that meet my needs and will last for years. My Sidi cycling shoes were expensive when I bought them 14 years ago, but I can safely say I got my money’s worth out of them. I can safely say I will get my money’s worth out of the Assos items I’ve acquired over the past two months.
In case you didn’t click through to the Assos page, here’s the basic premise. You identify a temperature range that you ride in and then select a base layer, shorts, jersey, jacket etc that covers that range. Don’t worry, you’re not locked into that specific range for those specific garments, and if you choose not to buy their base layer, the base layer you already have will probably work fine. In other words, you don’t have to spend $3,000 to buy everything all at once.
I was looking to improve my comfort in the <35 degree range so that I didn’t have to wear so many layers. After speaking with a few people and searching the interwebs, I decided to get two items in the “6″ range: a winter Skinfoil and the Bonka jacket. They are engineered to work together. Here’s the Skinfoil.
The Skinfoil is a winter base layer. Paired with the appropriate outer layer it will keep you toasty warm and will help manage perspiration. Two notable things about the Skinfoil: it’s meant to be snug fitting. Snug, as in skin tight. I’m not accustomed to skin tight garments, so it took some getting used to. The second notable thing is the zippered neck. The zippered neck is invaluable for managing heat. It is easy to grab the zipper and open up to let some heat escape while climbing, for example. I’ve had the Skinfoil for over a month and am very pleased. My first ride with it was under a Rapha winter jersey (didn’t have the Bonka at the time) in 27 degrees and I was too warm. I’m not sure how they engineered this thing to be so light and provide so much insulation.
My Bonka arrived on the 25th. The first ride was this morning. I wore a lightweight, long sleeve Pearl Izumi base layer under it in 40 degree temps (at the last minute I left the Skinfoil home because I thought I’d overheat in it) and had to unzip the jacket after about 50 minutes of riding because it was a tad too warm. It has a built in neck gaiter, which I can’t imagine using except on the coldest rides but it stows nicely inside the jacket. Ample rear pockets including two that zip shut. I can easily imagine riding in this jacket, with the Skinfoil as the only other layer, into the mid to upper twenty degree range; maybe lower but I tend to run hot.
My tendency to run hot, by the way, almost kept me from buying the Assos kit. I was afraid it would be overkill or that I’d overheat in it. I don’t see that as a real concern anymore. And I really enjoy not having to deal with multiple layers.
I’m reasonably certain the Bonka is the finest piece of cycling kit I’ve ever owned. If you saw it hanging on a rack and looked at the price tag you would walk away because at first glance it looks like there is nothing to this garment. But when you put it on and ride with it in the cold and wind, you realize that it is a high performance garment intended to replace multiple layers. In terms of winter cycling apparel, Assos gets it right