Welcome to GamJams Midwest Tech, where we check out new gear and gadgets designed for bike racers like you.
When out for a ride in cooler weather, I always get a chuckle when I see a fellow rider completely bundled up, as if their ride will be taking them through the Yukon Territory. This tends to start happening below 50 degrees around here. Full-length tights, balaclava, thermal baselayers ... it's a sight to see.
I tend to dress a bit lighter than everybody else, even when it's actually cold. For some reason, once I'm warm I generally stay warm. Give me a good hill near the beginning of the ride and I'm good to go. Because of that, I've generally eschewed winter cycling jackets. Most of them would simply be too hot.
Recently, though, after a team switch and subsequent gear purging left me without warm things, I headed to the bike shop and checked out winter jackets. In my experience (selling them), Castelli has made the best jackets over the past few years. The materials and fit are spot-on, and they look good. (Yeah, I'm vain.)
I ended up with the Castelli Mortirolo Due jacket, which retails for $179.99. Should you shop around (now's the time, after all), you could probably find one on sale for significantly less. It will warm up, eventually, and most shops are keen to get rid of this stuff.
The Mortirolo checked off all of the boxes I had on my list: reasonably lightweight, wind-blocking panels in the front (backed by lightweight fleece), zippered vents, locking zipper, three rear pockets, tall collar, good looks. The back panels have standard fleece, which Castelli calls Warmer.
With wind-blocking panels up front (made by Gore), I can wear a lighter baselayer underneath. The vents help keep air moving when it warms up, and the locking zipper can be left "open" to easily open the collar a bit when climbing. Having pockets on a jacket makes it easy to carry stuff, and the tall collar speaks for itself. It's cold out there sometimes. And, of course, it's a sharp-looking jacket.
Castelli rates the Mortirolo (named after the Italian climb) for use from 45 to 60 degrees. That is insane. You would die if you wore this jacket above 50 degrees and climbed any sort of hill. That said, if you're wearing a winter jacket at 50 degrees, you're doing it wrong, anyway. And 45? You can go way, way, way lower than that.
Over the past two weeks, I've pushed both the upper and lower limits of the Mortirolo. (We've had pretty sketchy weather.) I've had it out in the wind and in the dampness, too. If you want to skip the rest of the review, this next statement will help: This is a fantastic jacket and you should get it if you ride outside all winter.
On my first ride, wind chills were in the teens. I wore only a lightweight sleeveless baselayer underneath and was plenty warm. I finished that ride with the vents open, actually. A few days later, wind chills were in the mid-single digits. I went with my trusty thermal baselayer and found myself almost too warm. Impressive.
One long weekend ride started very cold but warmed up significantly along the way. By the end, when it was nearly 45 degrees, I was wishing for another vent to unzip. But only once over the course of the ride — on a long hill attacked at race speed — did I feel seriously overdressed. I hate that feeling, but I was happy to have the wind panels on board as we ripped down the other side of the hill.
In a more temperate area — a few hours south of here, for example — this jacket might be too much for all but the coldest of winter. In that case, it's hard to spend almost $200 on something that might get worn for a couple of weeks each winter. But for those who endeavor to ride outside as much as possible, even when it's super-cold, the Mortirolo will do the trick. With the proper baselayer, it can handle even low-single digit riding easily.
As a footnote, Castelli also makes a similar jacket with full wind-blocking fabric — the Zoncolan (a previous version was called Stelvio). Without the vents up front and venting fabric in the back, that would, indeed, be a warm jacket. But probably too warm for all but a few riders.