Nalini Mango Jacket

I have friends racing cyclocross who obsess about tires the way stoner college friends of mine obsessed about the best strains of pot. Neither of those do it for me. Similarly, there’s no chance I’ll lose any sleep from thinking about what I’ll wear to a friend’s party. I’m not a slave to fashion. At least, not in the traditional sense.

In fact, where cycling is concerned, I’m a complete clotheshorse. I check weather forecasts less out of a sincere concern for the weather than to give me my starting coordinates for the next day’s choice of clothing and embrocation.

Will it start cold and stay cold? Or will it start cold but clear and warm rapidly? Will it be wet? Or will it become wet? Each variation gives me the opportunity to consider the best response and maybe wear a piece of gear I haven’t pulled out in a few weeks. The fact that my local climate will spend most of the year hovering between 50 and 70 degrees gives me ample opportunity to vary my wardrobe between short sleeves, arm warmers, long sleeves, light base layers, heavier base layers, knee warmers, all manner of embro and, occasionally, the thermal bib.

Last fall at Interbike I noticed the Mango top in the Nalini collection. Nalini is one of the best-respected Italian manufacturers of cycling clothing going. They’ve made more clothing for more teams over the years than I could cover in this review. To this day, they are the default selection for many Italian pro teams. Points for innovation aren’t often awarded to companies other than Assos and Castelli, but Nalini is a reliable source of fresh ideas—for instance, they produce both red and white leg warmers, but the trick there is that only the front panel is either red or white; the back, always-spatter panel is serviceable black.

With a suggested retail of $250, it’s not a cheap piece, but then specialty items never are. I’ll get to that, in a minute, though.

This is a spring-weight top. While windproof, it features no warming insulation. It’s good down into the low 50s for me, which would probably translate into the upper 40s for those of you in more northern climes who are more accustomed to riding in objectively cold temperatures. The back of the top is adequately breathable, which is to say, when I wore it on a rainy day my back was only wet from perspiration, not soaked from the downpour, but on hard rides it doesn’t turn into a greenhouse on the inside; a feeling uncomfortable enough for me that I’ve skipped weekend post-ride coffee sessions to get home to remove the offending piece.

The cut on this may be my single favorite among its many great features. There’s just enough room inside that I can choose how heavy a base layer I wear beneath it, but it’s cut slim. While the back of the Mango bunched up a bit in the photo above, once I was stretched out on the bike, the fit was form-following and the sleeves were slim enough they didn’t flap and just long enough to reach my gloves. Sizing on these is typically Euro; I wore the medium, the same size I would wear in tops from Castelli or Assos.

The Mango is a cyclist’s cabriolet. By that I mean you can remove the sleeves. For the record, Nalini calls this a jersey and while I suppose that’s technically accurate, it strikes me a a hybrid sort of product; not really a jersey and not really a jacket, but perfect for changeable days. I’ve seen a dozen or so variations on this theme and in each and every circumstance I disliked them because they always had some sort of collar-like flap of material to cover the zipper. That extra material, meant to conceal the jagged-edge appearance of the zipper would flap in the wind; no bueno. Alternatively, the zipper would stay exposed and would look as attractive as corn smut. You can see the black zipper just at the outer edge of the white trim. The contrast helps to hide the appearance of the zipper. Sharp.

The Mango takes an unusual approach in that concealed beneath the removable long sleeve is a short sleeve, turning the jacket into a wind-front jersey. The upsides to this are numerous. First, there is the fact that when you remove the sleeves, you are left with a garment that keeps its design-sense intact. You don’t get some mismatched jersey sleeve poking out, so there’s no chance for the green of a club jersey curdling the red of a good-looking vest. Admittedly, my review sample is black with white and red accents, which would be hard(er) to spoil, but I like that the appearance of the top can’t be disturbed by removing the sleeves.

What makes the Mango especially trick is the way you remove the sleeves. A small reflective tab, reachable over your shoulder opens the zipper. The red portion of the zipper features unusual teeth that can be pulled apart. It works well enough that you can do this on the fly, though it may not be as easy as pulling down arm warmers. I found the right sleeve to be easiest to remove and the left sleeve to require me to hold the zipper pull in place with my thumb and index finger while I pull the end of the zipper out with my other fingers. I suspect it would have operated a touch more simply if a left-handed version of the zipper existed.

While sitting around having coffee I’ve messed with the sleeves just to see if I could zip them back on without removing the top. The answer is yes, it is possible, but it was difficult enough that I was distracted from the conversation at hand. Maybe not one of my more sociable moments. I wouldn’t suggest trying it on the bike.

Of course, there is another option here and that is that simply pulling the zipper open part way on each sleeve can offer a noticeable jump in ventilation. I’m generally the last guy on a ride to push my arm warmers down, but I’ve pulled the zipper part-way open on a few occasions and found that to be a terrific way to regulate temperature. However, once I did this, the zipper was open for the duration. To re-zip the zipper, you have to completely undo the sleeve first, which is not a big deal post-ride.

For those among us whose identities aren’t completely vested in team kit, this is a terrific piece for spring or fall. I wish I’d had something like this for those nasty spring rides I suffered through in the Berkshires.

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