Years ago I was researching thermal jackets for a buyer’s guide and noticed a funny thing. Cycling apparel companies based in lands where frozen water drops from the sky had lots of insulated options. And they were easy to find. The companies based in places with imitation or nonexistent winters had fewer options, if any.
In perusing the Assos web site, one could be forgiven for coming to the conclusion that this company is based in Finland and summer is as occasional as a presidential election, but doesn’t drag on to the same degree. They have so many cold weather options it can be hard to tell just what is right for the conditions in which you ride.
Complicating this, as I’ve written before, is that while in hot weather you can’t really wear less than a jersey and shorts—which must suffice from somewhere in the 60s or 70s for most of us, all the way to triple digits—in cold weather your wardrobe must be more finely tuned. What works at 50 degrees is laughable at 35. Complicating matters is that what I wear at 50 some riders would wear at 40.
This winter, when El Niño isn’t replenishing the aquifers, I’ve been heading out early on weekend mornings to log my miles. While temperatures here in Sonoma County almost always rise at least to the 50s, I’ve thrown my leg over the saddle on many mornings when the temperature was still in the upper 30s or low 40s. It used to be the only way I could ride in those temperatures I needed three layers and I’d be soaked by the end of the ride, no matter how breathable those materials were meant to be.
The Habu Jacket and Habu Tights (or more properly the iJ.haBu5 and LL.habuTights_S7) are the middle grade of Assos’ cold weather line. They are considered “Climarange 4: Early Winter.” So, yes, Virginia, for Santa Claus, there’s even warmer stuff, the Bonka jacket and tights. Unless I move to Norway (could happen), it’s unlikely I’ll ever review those. Here’s why:
As individual items, the Habu Jacket and Tights are the warmest cycling pieces I’ve tried, save for that time I did a ride back in the ’90s in Assos’ (since discontinued) Commander Suit—a one piece, hooded kiln that would allow you to ride across Antarctica on your fat bike. With these, I wore two layers—bib shorts and a long-sleeve base layer and was reasonably comfortable at 39 degrees.
The Habu tights use the same waffle-pattern fabric through the legs found in the Tiburu thermal bibs. The material is warm like you’re mother’s hugs. The Blasenschutz—wind stopping panel—at the front of the bibs is also found in the tights. As a result, I was able to wear the Equipe bibs and be plenty warm, but had the temperature dropped to below freezing the addition of thermal bibs could have extended the range nicely.
It would be easy to underestimate just how good these tights are. Poorly cut tights will restrict movement. They end up feeling like a corset for the legs. These tights move with me like none I’ve ever tried. Were I still a Nordic skier, they would immediately go to first rotation in my gear. Their incredible fit is most apparent at the knees where a poor cut will bind.
The Habu tights come in two versions, with pad and without. I opted for without because: 1) I don’t have to wash them as often if they are pad-free and 2) I can dial the warmth by choosing which bibs to wear underneath. Heck, even without going to thermal bibs, tights plus bibs is warmer than tights with a pad.
The Habu Jacket seems less substantial than might be necessary on first blush. In its black and white construction (it comes in other color schemes including all black, red, yellow and green) it’s a binary creation. The black is windstopper and insulator. The white is insulator and breathable.
Over the years I’ve encountered a number of jackets that suffered because they were too breathable. They were warm at 12 mph, but frigid at 24 mph. The Habu doesn’t suffer this fate. The front of the jacket could stop a gust coming off McMurdo Sound, which is why the rear of the jacket remains so breathable. Honestly, I was afraid that crosswinds would chill me, but that was never a problem. The collar is also quite high, and that’s even among a line that tends toward higher collars as it is. I never had an issue with icy fingers of wind reaching through that collar.
Assos’ tops have undergone a gradual change in cut over the last ten years. It used to be that the medium tops were cut on a bit more of a taper and had longer sleeves. Put another way, the medium was a true pro’s fit, meant for a guy who was 6’1″ and 150 lbs. The change is by no means a club cut, but it’s more appropriate to someone who is, say 5’11” and 155 lbs.
The only fault I can find with the jacket is that the zipper requires a firm tug to close or open. Much of this is because it seals well against the wind, but it does mean that you usually must hold the jacket in place before grabbing the pull. It’s not a big deal. There are two additional zippers on the jacket; while there are three pockets in back, the right and left pockets are both zippered. They chose to do this because they want riders to be able to spread the load of food, phone, keys, etc. across all the pockets with security. There’s also a pretty cool pocket in the right sleeve that can hold a phone (without case), in the event you need to keep an eye on communications while you’re out. It’s covered with a thin mesh that will actually allow you to read the screen.
Like all Assos items, these piece are expensive. The jacket goes for $379, while the tights go for $389 with chamois and $339 without. However, if you do the math based on two years of use, the staggering per-ride cost will make cocaine seem a cost-effective hobby, which is why no one ever appreciates Assos until they comprehend that they’ll get five years out of these pieces even if they throw them in the dryer. If I’m not still wearing both of these items in 10 years, it’ll only be because I went full Mr. Creosote.
The tights come in but one color, Henry Ford black. They do feature sizable reflective stripes on the calves which are apparent at any distance, provided the driver is paying attention. The jacket comes in five colors: black, red, white, yellow and green, though all are black in the front. What changes is the color of the material in back. The jacket comes in six sizes—small through TIR (this is what they put on back of wide load trucks in Switzerland). The tights come in five sizes spread over the same range; the tights stretch more so fewer sizes are needed.
It says something about the Swiss manufacturer’s dedication to the pursuit of cycling apparel perfection that the worst thing I can say about these items goes back to their names. No one, not even their North American staffers, ever utters the full “iJ.haBu5,” and for fairly obvious reasons, the biggest of which is that it is so ridiculous that it would make famed Surrealist André Breton burp in his grave. That the peculiar syntax of the two names don’t even agree is demonstration of just how silly that stuff is. Even they can’t keep it straight.
And while some will deride their use of models, or their use of all caps in their web copy (did you want people to read that?), none of that can flake the chrome on the unparalleled achievement of these garments. Sure, other companies do great winter gear; they may make stuff that fits as well, or keeps you as warm, but no one else is producing stuff that does both and will last longer than your next car.
Final thought: Maybe they should offer 120 days credit, same as cash.