There are times when I notice that what I feel for Assos is also what I feel for my son Philip. Yes, there’s the incandescent affection that can cause me to smile at the simple utterance of his, or their, name. But there’s also cross-eyed frustration that comes when you simply want your kid to stop moving. Not only have I said through gritted teeth to my son, “Would you please sit still!” (It wasn’t a question), I’ve noticed that the same thought has occurred to me with regard to Assos’ ongoing reinvention of its product line.
Case in point: They are redesigning the SS.13 jersey right now. It’s the single greatest short-sleeve jersey I’ve ever worn and the reasons why are too numerous to list in a review of a different product. I’m bringing it up because I’d like to shout from rooftops just how great that jersey is, but because it’s being redone, they’d like me to skip it. Just to be clear: They don’t want me to review the finest short sleeve jersey on the market.
These people are depriving me of an opportunity to do what I do best: geek out.
I had a similar reaction to the announcement that Assos would discontinue the intermediate EVO. It wasn’t the depression I experienced when I realized that the latest season of Archer had come to an end, but it still merited a small-scale WTF. After all, most manufacturers make long-sleeve garments where the sleeves are just as heavy as the torso, when usually, the sleeves don’t need to be quite so heavy. Rarely has a garment so light been so warm.
(This next portion requires a brief channeling of John Belushi.)
But noooooo! They couldn’t leave it be. They introduce the iJ.intermediate_s7, and if I’m going to complain about anything else Assos does it’s point to their arcane naming nomenclature and call it out for being just as strange as standing in line for the next Star Trek movie and hearing two pimple-faced teens telling knock-knock jokes in Klingon. Not that I’d know anything about that.
When I talk with people at Assos, I’m not always sure just how to talk to them. By that I mean that I’m patently unwilling to say, “I really love the eye-jay-dot-intermediate-underscore-ess-seven.” Won’t do it. I just say the eye-jay-intermediate. I’m not sure how they feel about that, but for me it feels like one of those rare occasions when I get to protect that final, hidden, scrap of dignity that allows me to continue believing I’m some variety of adult.
But they’re Swiss and when you make trains run like atomic clocks and timepieces (anything that beautiful is not a watch) more handsome than Fabian Cancellara, I suppose you have earned the right to invent whatever naming convention you want. Drat.
When I first spied this piece on the Assos web site I was concerned by just how black it was, even in the red edition. Fortunately, the back is far more red than the front. I have genuine concerns about visibility for cyclists and wearing black doesn’t really help. Pair black bibs with a black jersey and you’ve created a big dark spot that’s easy for drivers to miss. But how often do drivers see the front of a rider’s torso? I’m guessing not much, which is why I’m okay with the black front of the torso. The back, which is mostly red, is what counts.
Were you to ask me what could have been improved about the intermediate EVO, I’d tell you that the sleeves were just a hair long and it would be nice if the front of the torso breathed just a bit, as opposed to not at all. They were minor points that within the grand scheme of the garment really didn’t even rise to the level of irritant. That sprig of parsley delivered on your steak.
It’s points like those where the superiority of the iJ.intermediate is most obvious. The piece is light in feel, weighing only slightly more than a long-sleeve base layer; the hem, cuffs and pockets are the points where its bulk is most noticeable. It seems too light to offer the warmth that it does on a 50-degree day; paired with a short-sleeve base layer, I was perfectly comfortable. The sleeve length? About 2cm shorter than the intermediate EVO, which turns out is perfect for my arms.
Also different from the intermediate EVO is the cut of the pockets. Not a big deal, but the two side pockets are cut at a slight angle now, easing access. Pocket capacity seems to have improved, which is saying something because the pocket capacity of an Assos jersey is greater than any other similar jersey I own. Think watermelon in hip pocket. They also moved the fourth, zippered pocket from the right side to the center and increased its capacity, making it big enough to hold a phone, but not a phablet (don’t get me started).
I tried wearing the intermediate EVO one day and the iJ.intermediate the following day, under similar weather (something easy to do ’round these parts), and while I can say the intermediate EVO kept my torso warmer, the difference in warmth from my arms to my torso—not that my arms were actually cold, mind you—was noticeable until I started riding with a firm tempo. The iJ.intermediate was different in how the garment felt more uniform in its temperature control. I can’t say that my arms were actually warmer, but they didn’t seem cooler than my torso, which felt like an improvement as I rode.
As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m not the skinny racer I once was. Poorly cut jerseys will make my 160-lb. physique look, well, rather John-Belushi-ish. (I’m not sure why I’ve just referred to Belushi again in the same review. I think this the final reference to him.) So part of my definition of good cut includes the requirement that wearing the item makes me look faster, not fatter. I’ve yet to encounter a clothing company to do this as well, or as thoroughly, as Assos does. So while I could go Commander Data on you and rattle off their marketing prattle about how they use advanced patterning this and hyper whatever that, what it comes down to is Assos understands the body of a cyclist better than anyone else. I believe that the way I believe in the love of my parents.
I’m aware that, technically, Assos considers this piece a jacket, but to all native-English-speaking cyclists, this is a long-sleeve jersey. Having said that, I can say I’ve worn a lot of long-sleeve jerseys and none combine the breathability, warmth, fit and good looks of the iJ.intermediate. We can discuss the finer points of the look of the piece (I know someone is rolling his eyes right now), but I’ve not encountered another long sleeve jersey that comes close to the technical achievement of this. This is how they can charge $370. Jaws are clattering to the ground around the world as people read that number, but when I consider that number against what other top-notch companies are charging for their best long-sleeve jersey, this strikes me as fair. Pricier than lunch at the French Laundry, but still fair.
In that I’ve struck what may be the fairest comparison of all. People who take an interest in fine dining understand that a meal at the French laundry is an extravagance, not something you do on a whim. The iJ.intermediate is a rare piece of gear and comparing it to most other long sleeve jerseys is like comparing the French Laundry to Red Lobster.
(John Belushi was not harmed in the making of this review.)
In what passes for cold weather in the record fall heat of Southern California, I’ve been wearing a couple of pieces from Rapha. Our mornings are still cool, cool enough to require long sleeves if you’re on the bike before 8:00 in the morning. I’m going to volunteer a piece of information I don’t put out there a lot: I’m not a big fan of long-sleeve jerseys. The challenge of the long-sleeve jersey is one of proportion. It seems that rarely are both the hem length and the sleeve length of the jersey correct. I’ve had jerseys that fit my chest, but the arms reached beyond my wrists and the pockets hung as low as those on my jeans. I’ve found other jerseys where the hem was perfect, but the sleeves ended about where my old concert baseball jerseys did—mid-forearm.
Even when those proportions are right, there’s another detail that can ruin a long-sleeve jersey for me—sleeve circumference. Most cyclists I know don’t have big guns, so having sleeves that leave room for biceps that can curl 150 lbs. seems kinda silly. For a lot of cyclists, you just end up with extra material that flaps in the wind. If ever I had a pet peeve, it’s fabric that flaps like a flag left out in a wind storm.
You’ll pardon me if I say I was flat-out shocked when I tried on the both the Long Sleeve Jersey and the Lombardia Jersey and they fit almost perfectly. At my chest they were fitted just enough not to bunch up when I leaned down and put my hands in the drops. The sleeves reached to the end of my wrists and the cuffs are cut on a slight taper so that you don’t end up with exposed skin between the cuffs and your gloves. The hem was expertly cut as well. My preference is for my jerseys to be cut just a bit shorter, but these have a very traditional fit, short enough that there’s no chance of me catching the back of the jersey on the saddle when I go to sit down following a standing effort. And yes, the sleeves were snug enough they didn’t flap. Holy cow; it was a veritable fit trifecta.
The jerseys share a few other features as well; they are cut from a 52/48 Merino wool/polyester blend which means they offer the temperature regulating adaptability of Merino with the fit and finish of polyester. It’s a great match on paper (or in pixels) but honestly, these are only the second or third wool/poly blend that I’ve ever seen that didn’t look like a shortcut straight to the junkyard. The two outer pockets are cut at an angle to give you easy access and they are also a bit wider than the center pocket. A slim pump sleeve shares space with the middle pocket; it’s a great idea, but getting a mini pump and a vest into that space is nearly impossible. There’s a fourth, zippered security pocket for something you can’t afford to lose, like say a house key, or your sanity. The hems sport a silicone gripper and elasticized draw strings to keep the jerseys fitting snug on breezy days.
Where the Long Sleeve Jersey and the Lombardia Jersey differ is in closure. Not that one of them has unresolved issue, mind you. The Long Sleeve Jersey features a locking, full zipper. As simple and straightforward as hamburger. The Lombardia Jersey, because it is meant to evoke the spirit of Giovanni Gerbi, features a button closure on the left shoulder (five buttons) and at the sleeves (three buttons each). Also helping to distinguish the $240 Lombardia from the $220 Long Sleeve is the embroidery on the rear pocket—a brief homage to Gerbi who was known as il Diavolo Rosso (the red devil)—and just below the collar. It’s a choice piece, there’s no doubt. There’s also exactly zero doubt that trying to button or unbutton the shoulder to adjust for temperature changes is utterly impossible, at least while on the fly. The buttons on the sleeves are a bit more doable and if you unbutton all three buttons, you can pull the sleeves up, effectively turning it into a half-sleeve jersey, which is definitely helpful.
I’ve found these jerseys to be terrific with just a base layer from low 50s to the mid 60s. Anything warmer and I pull a Wicked Witch of the West and melt. For colder temperatures, the addition of a vest or windbreaker is all you need. Both garments are best-suited to days where the temperature won’t vary by 20 degrees as we’ve been dealing with here. They are both starlet gorgeous. My wife says she loves how the Moroccan Blue of the Long Sleeve Jersey matches my eyes, but my son saw me in the Lombardia and said, “Ooh, cool shirt!”
It’s worth noting that while the very first Rapha jerseys I saw were well-made, I didn’t care much for the finish of the fabric and I liked the cut and fit even less. These are noticeably better than those first efforts. If these jerseys don’t last people ten years, it won’t be for lack of quality. For those who think $220 is too much to spend on a jersey, there are other good options. This is one of those occasions where the cost of this garment can easily be justified by how long it’s going to last. I’ve examined the embroidery, the seams, the fabric. I could foresee buying a steel frame to match either of these and retiring them both in the same season.