As a product reviewer, it’s rare that you encounter a single circumstance that can tell you everything you need to know about a product in order to write a complete, or at least competent, review. The more specialized the piece of gear, the harder it can be to try to find the circumstance that sufficiently taxes the item’s features to tell you whether or not it works, or is at least justified in its price and reputation.
This becomes all the more acute when you work for a print publication with a nearly six month lead time. Try writing a thermal jacket buyer’s guide in August.
But then there are those days that are so complete in their challenge you get to the end with no unanswered questions. Sure, you may not have the answer to life, the universe and everything (which happens to be 42, but that’s another matter), but there are days where as you put the bike away you realized whether or not you’ll wear those shoes again, buy new tires, look for a new rain jacket.
I’ve been hearing from colleagues and readers just how good Castelli’s Gabba 2 Jerseys are, and I finally got the long-sleeve Gabba 2 to review recently.
Castelli designed this piece for conditions that deliver both cold and wet, which has traditionally been a serious weak spot in clothing lines, doubly so for custom team kit. The backbone of the Gabba 2 is Windstopper X-Lite fabric, a windproof and nearly waterproof but still breathable membrane sandwiched inside layers of polyester. The outer layer gets a water-resistant finish that cause moisture to bead up and run off, much like Castelli’s popular Nanoflex material, which was used in the arm pits of the Gabba 2, for added stretch while maintaining water resistance.
Initially, I took the Gabba out on a coolish-damp day. Mid-50s rising into the low 60s, and a bit of mist, but no actual rain. On the one five-minute hill I hit I warmed up sufficiently to unzip the two chest ventilation zips and they allowed me to cool off without taking a full chest of rain. Those zips are pretty ideally placed—easy to reach but far enough apart to sit in the draft of your arms so that even if you’re riding through a downpour, opening those on a warm-ish day won’t be “hey watch this” stupid.
When the forecast firmed up for the Chileno Valley Grasshopper—low 50s, rain, wind to take the paint off a barn—I realized that due to the event’s length and lack of sag stops (there was only one refueling stop, a bit past the midpoint), I needed something that would keep me warm, dryish and give me ready access to food. At 80 miles and with 8k feet of climbing I’d be gnoshing every 20 minutes or so. I needed to be able to get to pockets easily. To make sure I’d be warm enough, beneath the Gabba I wore a long-sleeve base layer meant for spring conditions. Castelli says the Gabba is good from 43 up to 59 degrees (F). I’d say that’s spot-on, depending just how you layer below it. It’s possible to wear it in warmer conditions if you’re going easy, or if it’s raining, of course both.
I can say with comfortable conviction that from a weather and conditions standpoint, that was the worst race I’ve ever done. It rained for at least half the day, though it seemed like more. The wind was so brutal that there were times the rain was blowing sideways. The temperature never rose above 52.
When I got back to my car at the end of the day, I pulled my gloves off then wiped my hands on a towel before unzipping the Gabba and feeling the base layer. I wanted to see just how damp I was inside the jersey, in part because there had come a point in the day where even the outer layer of fabric on the Gabba became saturated with water. I was impressed to note that while the base layer was damp, it wasn’t wet. The moisture in it was warm, indicating it was only perspiration.
Castelli is to be either credited or faulted with the rise of the pro fit, that is, the skin-tight fit of many jerseys and even jackets we see today. It wasn’t that many years ago even short sleeves would flutter in the wind. With the Gabba, Castelli’s fit expertise comes to the fore. This thing is form-following, but not skinsuit tight. And it’s definitely cut for being worn on the bike. Stand up and the chest is tight and the sleeves are too short, but climb on your bike and put your hands on the hoods and this thing practically disappears. This is the single-best fitting long-sleeve garment in my closet. Why Assos hasn’t mounted a vigorous response to this piece I can’t fathom.
If there’s one thing Castelli kills at, it’s style. Hell, this thing made me look good. Castelli gets how to use color and the sorts of colors to use. I had trouble choosing between the red, yellow, green and blue. You can keep the black.
I wear a medium in the Gabba, a size larger than I wear in most other lines, save Assos. If you’re a medium in brands like Capo and Voler, then you’ll want to go up a size.
So well-considered is this piece that the mesh used in the chest zips is also used at the bottom of the pockets. As hard as it rained on the course, there wasn’t so much water that it needed to flow out the bottom of the pocket, in part because the pockets lie flat as you ride. And while snug, they were deep enough that I was able to carry enough food for the whole day. Another handy touch? The drop tail like you get with many rain jackets, only this was is actually big enough to accommodate the whole of my tuchus, and stays put, in part thanks to the gripper at the hem. There’s a storm flap over the zipper, not to mention the collar is cut high. To be better sealed against the elements, you’d have to be John Travolta in “The Boy in the Plastic Bubble.”
As happens so often in my apparel review we reach the discussion of the investment. The Gabba is $200, more if you go for the convertible version in which you can remove the long sleeves. That’s three short-sleeve jerseys from some makers, so yeah, that’s a fair bit of coin, but I suspect no one who buys one will ever think they chose poorly. I’ve worn a great many garments meant to keep me comfortable in the wind and rain and I can say with certainty that nothing I’ve ever worn has been as effective as the Gabba.
Final thought: If you can’t finish the day in this, you can’t finish the day.