I don’t wear windbreakers. That ought to be a problem considering that this is meant to be a review of a … windbreaker. Call it what you want; in my book, all lightweight jackets that aren’t insulated or waterproof are windbreakers. And I don’t wear them.
You may wonder why. It’s simple. Simple in that the-gas-tank-is-empty-so-I-need-gas way. As a category, they are cut so generously, they flap like a flag in the wind. At 25 mph, the sound is as annoying as a helicopter and nearly as loud. So I don’t wear them for my own sanity, not to mention my regard for anyone I’m riding with. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the roomier the windbreaker, the more like a hothouse it becomes. The sweat captured in the sleeves is a feeling as uncomfortable as wet socks.
For those reasons, I’ve been a vest and arm warmer man for … well, it was far enough back that most of us were still on steel bikes. My exceptions to this have been full-on insulated winter jackets and rain capes.
The folks at Gore wanted me to try two of their jackets (I’ll get to the other one soon). That frightened me. Gore makes so many products I like that I didn’t want to be faced with either dodging the review or publishing a review that trashed their work.
But then I realized I needed a jacket for a mountain bike ride I was going to do. I needed something that could fend off fog to the point of mist and a deep enough chill to serve a white wine. And because I was wearing a Camelbak, I wanted something that would be quick to don or remove and didn’t have to worry about stuffing it in a pocket; I could just jam it in the pack.
That I’ve only ever worn the Xenon 2.0 jacket while mountain biking does affect this review in one notable way. I didn’t realize there was a pocket in the back for probably the first dozen rides. But there is one; it’s small and zippered and not something you’ll be able to access while moving, at least, not unless you’re part of a Russian acrobatic troupe. But it’s there.
It’s a feature, that pocket, but I don’t see it as a selling point. But this is: I can do 25 mph on a fire road descent in this jacket and not go deaf. Both the sleeves and the torso of the jacket are cut on tapers to keep them surprisingly form fitting. The particular genius behind the sleeves is that they are articulated at the elbows so that they have a natural bend to follow an arm’s reach to the bar. When you get sleeves cut straight they pull at the outside of the wrist when you place your hands on the handlebar. On the rare occasion that the sleeves are cut slim enough, what usually happens is that they get tight at your triceps. It’s not terrible, but it does restrict movement just a bit.
If this jacket has a liability, it’s that anyone who isn’t in fair form is going to find fitting into this thing a challenge. You can’t be 5’8″ and 175 lbs. and find this a good fit. It just doesn’t feature enough stretch. But that’s not to say it doesn’t stretch at all. It does stretch just enough to allow you freedom of movement even though it features a fit more snug than my most accidentally tight T-shirt. To their credit, Gore tags this as a slim fit.
While the outside of the jacket feels linen light, it’s the inside that’s a surprise. It’s silky enough in feel to be comfortable against bare skin. That, sports fans, turns up as often as a passing comet. Cut from Gore’s Windstopper material, the Xenon is both effective at stopping the wind to keep you warm enough in walk-in refrigerator and compact enough to fit in a jersey pocket. Gore uses a bit of mesh in the side panels as a liner to aid in wicking for high-perspiration areas; it kept the jacket from going clammy and clingy during a sustained climb.
One of the most surprising features of the Xenon is the thin neoprene used in the cuffs on the sleeves. It gives them just enough stretch so that they can be timepiece snug without be restrictive when you want to pull the jacket off. Everyone knows the struggle of pulling off arm warmers when you have gloves on, and this touch is astrophysicist-smart. Best of all, the cuffs prevent the jacket sleeves from inflating in the wind like a blown-up paper bag.
The Xenon 2.0 goes for $199.99 and comes in four colors; in addition to the white and black edition you see above, there’s also red/black, blue/black and, of course, all black. Why companies make all black top is beyond me; it decreases the visibility of someone who really can’t possibly be too visible. It comes in five sizes: S, M, L, XL and XXL; I’m wearing the M.
I’m not exaggerating even a little bit when I say this is the best fitting and most comfortable wind breaker I’ve ever worn, that it has taken from me one of those lines in the sand on which I derived a certain snobbish pride. I can’t say I don’t wear windbreakers anymore. I almost miss that status.