There’s been a creeping trend in the PRO peloton over the last couple of seasons that mystifies me as much as the enduring attraction for Brittney Spears. PRO teams have been wearing baggy wind breakers and vests featuring solid colors with the team’s sponsor logos silkscreened (silkscreened?!) in white on the nylon tent fabric.
I cut my teeth watching Spring Classics that when contested in rain would show the colors of the peloton muted beneath a layer of clear PVC. For all that the average rain cape isn’t—breathable, well fitting, long lasting, sophisticated in construction—it always had a certain elegant function to me. Teams were unmistakable in their rain capes, but the foggy window look that the rain cape provided told you that conditions weren’t just cold, they were seriously rainy. After all, PROs don’t put a rain cape on for drizzle. If a PRO has a rain cape on, Noah is framing a boat.
Aside from looking strictly amateur (they could just as easily say “Billy’s Carburetors” as “Rock Racing”) the number of dark blue and black vests in the peloton at some races can make it downright difficult to tell the riders apart. Not really that big a deal in the grand scheme, though.
Of course, there’s another point to consider: The average rain cape is as comfortable as a Hefty trash bag, as flexible as granite and as wet inside as it is on the outside. It does at least offer the improvement of shielding you from the wind while making sure that if you’re going to be wet, at least you’re warm.
My first rain cape featured a zipper that rusted immediately following its first use in appropriately inclement conditions. Thereafter, each time I donned garment, a red dust flew into the air. Eventually, the creases that formed in the PVC cracked, increasing the garment’s breathability, if dramatically cutting its weatherproof functionality. The experience was kinda like noticing all the afternoon light streaming into your kitchen after the outside wall collapses.
The sensible thing to do in rainy conditions is to ride a bicycle with fenders. It’s like eating your vegetables, separating your lights from your darks in the laundry or changing your car’s oil every 3000 miles. But we’re cyclists and if you’re reading this now, your connection to the sport isn’t about sensibility, its about emotion. Admit it: You like to go fast, but you don’t want to look like a teeny-bopper while you do it.
That’s where the Assos ClimaJet Breaker comes in. Now, we have some disclosure to get out of the way. The typical PVC rain cape runs somewhere between $20 and $40. The Assos ClimaJet Breaker is the world’s only rain cape that costs more than a good French dinner. It does, however, last considerably longer. I’ve never gotten more than two seasons of use out of a PVC rain cape, but after more than a year of use of the ClimaJet Breaker it displays exactly zero signs of wear. I might as well have just opened the packaging; I could hang this in a shop’s inventory.
A stay-fresh appearance has some appeal, but it’s not really a deal-closer among selling points. That a see-through fabric can be so supple is, however, a real shocker. It’s as if Assos discovered see-through steel. That suppleness gives the piece two key qualities. First, it’s the only rain cape I’ve come across that’s as easy to pack in a jersey pocket as a vest. Second, using a soft material allows it to more closely follow your form and because it was cut by Assos, rather than Joe’s Burlap Sack Outlet, the fit is practically bespoke.
Allow me a little aside: I’ve met a great many riders who graduated from the entry-level clothing we typically purchase as newbie cyclists to club clothing made by any of the myriad custom producers and among the tallest of them I hear (and see) a consistent fault. The long-sleeve items consistently feature sleeves that are too short. It’s as if they were the jersey (or jacket) answer to knickers. If you are among those who’ve had this problem, I can tell you you’ll never end up with wrist tan at the end of a long day spent on the hoods. If the sleeves of this—or any other—Assos garment don’t reach your wrists it can only mean one thing: You’re a giraffe.
(I’m using their photo of the ClimaJet Breaker on a model because he looks the part more than I do and this thing isn’t easy to shoot. Casper is more easily caught on film.)
And that’s the thing about Assos. We all gasp at the price, but in every other regard, the clothing is nearly without peer. It is a correct reponse to any clothing issue you’ve ever had—not the only correct response, mind you, but one that can never go wrong, like showing up to a dinner party with a bottle of Pinot and a bottle of Chardonnay. Assos garments never fit properly until you’re in the saddle and then they fit perfectly. The materials often seem like underkill until you’re out riding and you discover an hour into your pedaling that you couldn’t be more comfortable.
Almost all rain capes feature a long hem that, thanks to the stiffish PVC, ends up trailing behind you like tail on a kite. The ClimaJet Breaker is both different and not. It’s different in that it does feature a long hem, but the previously mentioned suppleness of the fabric means that if you don’t have a caboose like a watermelon, it can protect said caboose from rooster-tailing spray with one little downward tug.
The zipper is small and fine, helping the garment retain its terrific fit, now matter what position you’re in. It is, however, small enough to be a challenge to try to zip up on the fly after pulling it from your pocket. I don’t know too many riders who actually put jackets or vests on while rolling any more, so maybe that’s not much of an issue.
The standard joke about rain capes is how, despite side vent panels, you end up as wet inside as it is outside. While true, that inside moisture can be 20 or more degrees warmer than what’s falling, and that difference is key to comfort. Under hard riding moisture will build up some inside the ClimaJet Breaker even though it has side mesh panels, but it is far more breathable than versions made from PVC. At moderate efforts it breathes well enough to end up no more damp inside than a standard vest. Amazingly, in dry conditions—say it stops raining and the sun comes out—the fabric contains an active membrane that expands in the presence of water and contracts to open pores in dry conditions. On a sunny day it is roughly as breathable as a standard wind breaker, and that’s significant because it makes this rain cape more than just a rain cape.
And that’s not something you’ll ever say about a PVC rain cape.