Tuesday, 26 November 2013
The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there. Once upon a time people who wanted to race their bicycles wore figure hugging outfits made of stretchy material. Everyone else just wore clothes; the same clothes that they would have worn at home or work, or to play tiddlywinks in the pub.
We live nowadays in boundary-blurring times. With the demarcation between classes, genders and political parties successfully rendered fuzzy the forces of confusion have set to work on cycling attire. Lycra has broken out of the bike racing scene and otherwise normal people on their daily commute now disport themselves in tights, padded shorts and team replica jerseys, seduced by the comfort they offer when astride a bicycle. There is a downside however; unless some part of their person is attached to a bike, anyone wearing lycra looks like a bizarre grime-bespeckled fetishist. Ever willing to innovate, the cycle industry has responded to this problem by creating cycling specific clothes made to look like normal clothes (henceforth referred to as CSCMTLLNC to avoid early onset RSI). They are all cut to accommodate the simian hunch of a rider sitting atop a racey (if not a racing) bike and are made from a fabric designed to repel repellent things; rain, oil and dirt from the outside and perspiration from the inside.
The retrograde Dutch have no need for such attire; they ride upright bicycles equipped with mudguards and chain guards at speeds slow enough to obviate the need to sweat, and (presumably) use washing machines to remove the dirt from time to time. Fortunately in the more enlightened UK we have no truck with such nonsense. We ride fast bikes in fast traffic, and consequently now have a plethora of companies producing CSCMTLLNC, most notably Rapha and Vulpine.
Comparative newcomers to the CSCMTLLNC scene are Water off a Duck's Back (WoaDB) who plough the same nostalgic furrow as Brooks, Pashley and Brompton. I am the proud owner of one of their cycle blazers (pictured above) courtesy of the ever lovely G. The jacket looks to all intents and purposes like an ordinary navy blue blazer. Pay attention though reader, there are one or two rather special accessories; no rocket launchers or ejector seat alas, but concealed under collar and lapels are Scotchlite reflective patches and the cotton cloth has been coated with Teflon. This latter causes water to run off the surface like coffee from a scalded cat (I'm sure there must be a better simile but for the life of me I can't think of one).
The fabric works brilliantly; water stands proud on the surface of the jacket, a glimmering translucent orb that scuttles away like a cockroach on a granite worktop (hmm). WoaDB are justly proud of this material and have a video on their site to display its properties, although at the moment they have replaced it with a seasonal one showing how the jacket performs in blizzard conditions.
Off the bike the cut of the jacket feels a little baggy on my spindly cyclist's frame, reminding me of my first school blazer. In actual fact the fit around the chest and shoulders is perfect; the sensation of bagginess stems from a combination of the very long sleeves and a generous amount of material around the waist, although this extra material is swallowed by the double vent at the back. There is extra material too at the back of the jacket which is pleated behind the shoulders. Once on a bike all of these design decisions make perfect sense; the sleeves reach no further than the wrists and there is none of the sensation of being squeezed into a straight jacket that accompanies riding in a normally tailored jacket.
But what of the waterproofing? I am originally from Manchester; I know a thing or two about rain. In that fine city the rain is elemental; it wraps itself around you like a cowl and slowly but surely inculcates its gelid essence through to your very marrow. In Brighton where I now live the rain is altogether more flamboyant. It flounces across the channel and hurls itself upon the city in a tantrum of rain. In an instant roads become rivers, junctions become lakes and every living thing is half-drowned. I tested the jacket in one such outpouring and it fared well, manfully holding off the worst extravagances of the rain. I didn't remain entirely dry; some water did make ingress down back of my neck and a little through the fastenings at the front. Short of turning the blazer into a hooded anorak it is hard to see how this could be avoided however.
Overall this jacket has convinced me to stop worrying and learn to love CSCMTLLNCs. It is no substitute for a cycling jersey and arm warmers or my trusty Gore Windstopper jacket on a proper bike ride. However if it's wet and I need to bimble into town and look presentable when I arrive it's just the ticket.
Please note that WoaDB have not paid a penny for the above review. I am however fantastically bribeable and blogs can be edited; if the above review is anything other than an excoriating diatribe you must assume that I am now the proud owner of a leaky inner tube and length of rusty brake cable.