Sportful Extreme Neoshell jacket
In Flanders they can’t hear you scream,at least not if the wind is blowing in the wrong direction. There’s nowhere to hide either. More or less flat and crosswinds that have seen pro riders, namely Geraint Thomas of Team Sky, lifted clean off the road.
It is these conditions and everything else that the Belgium countryside can throw at a cyclist that Sportful’s Fiandre kit has been designed for and named after. Which is nailing your colours to the mast if I ever heard of such a thing, naming a kit line after some of the grimmest cycling conditions you can imagine.
But then Sportful didn’t enter into this on a whim. As part of the Castelli family they test their kit in much harsher conditions, the Italian Dolomites, where the weather can swing from baking to blisteringly cold with the passing of a cloud, where downpours come along quicker than you could turn your shower on. In these conditions, kit has to be many things, and weatherproof is just one of them.
It’s therefore not much of a surprise that the Fiandre Extreme Neoshell and Norain Bibtight did exactly what they said on the tin. As it transpired the vagaries of this autumn meant that the claim of the Neoshell to be “the only jacket you will need below ten degrees” wasn’t actually tested even if the weather was otherwise suitably Belgian - namely thick, soaking fog.
This presented other challenges for a garment with taped seams which purports to be totally waterproof - namely would it liquidise the wearer by means of boiling him in his own juices? A sack of primordial soup doesn’t tend to be the most effective controller of a bike.
The great thing about the softshells that have become a staple part of every brand lineup is their breathability. They do in fact address a multitude of factors, but the ability to keep the owner dry from the outside while not boiling from the inside has to be the most attractive.
This is also the main concern for the wearer - that and windproofing. The two environmental factors that have the ability to turn a ride from a pleasure to a chore in a heartbeat.
Fog presents challenges of its own. Like drizzle, its molecular structure seems to endow it with the ability to seep into your very marrow, to make your bones feel damp. The water beading up on the Norain bibtights was a graphic illustration of how much moisture was actually in the air - in reality probably more than big fat droplets of good solid rain.
You’ll be relieved to know that in these conditions the Fiandre kit performed admirably. It has also since performed just as well in traditional rain and against some fierce winds. It has yet to be tested below ten degrees however, but you can blame El Nino for that one.
We should finally mention the colour here, given that it is a factor in decision making. The jacket comes in red. Not a bright, pillar box red, more of a sunset red, but a red that still manages to stand out against the dull winter landscape like a runway beacon, which is a good thing if you’re keen on being seen.
Fiandre Norain bibtights and gloves complete the outfit and proved so effective after a mud-drenched cyclocross expedition that they adequately fended off a post-ride hosing down with the reviewer (me) still in them.
Summary: Fiandre kit is designed for the harshest environments and while we weren’t able to test its claim to be the only jacket you’ll need below ten degrees, it certainly kept us comfortable through a variety of moisture levels and wind speeds. Water beads off the bib tights and also the gloves with incredible efficiency.