Initial Review: Castelli Stelvio WS soft shell jacket
I can’t claim to be a big fan of winter. It’s not that I dislike the season, but one doesn’t often move to the Southwest for the fresh powder. Still, it does get cold here in the high desert, and the lack of any good skiing or other winter activities nearby means that I’m on the road or trails dang near year ’round. So, when temperatures are in the 30s and the sun is shining (or it’s not), I’m going to be suiting up for a ride. For cold weather riding, especially on the road, a good soft shell jacket is essential. Given the floppiness of my old cold weather jacket, I was thrilled when Castelli offered to send out a prototype 2011 Stelvio WS jacket for us to ride and review last winter. Hit ‘more‘ to find out if this sexy piece of Italian kit makes winter riding any more bearable…
The evolution of a company that’s been making cycling clothing for 101 years, Castelli are known for their high-end and innovative cycling apparel. That itchy, fragile wool that riders wore for years and years? Castelli and its precursors replaced it in the peloton with cooler, lighter silk. Castelli also introduced Lycra shorts to the market and, more relevantly, cycling’s first synthetic winter clothing and use of windproof membranes. An evolution of those last two firsts, Castelli’s Stelvio WS uses a wind-resistant Windstopper X-Fast fabric in combination with stretchy X-Lite panels to fight off the wind and provide insulation when the mercury hovers around freezing.
Made by GORE, Castelli’s Windstopper X-Fast fabric (also found in the company’s Chiro WS glove) features a cozy fleece interior and 1-way stretch outer sandwiching a water- and wind-resistant membrane. The fleecy material feels good against the skin and does a good job at moving moisture outward, where it can pass through the membrane and evaporate. Windstopper X-Fast makes up much of the Stelvio’s front, about 1/3 of its back, and most of the sleeves. The X-Lite panels at the jacket’s sides and under the arms make it very comfortable, aided by the cycling-specific fit. In a time where zips have been minimized to save weight, the locking silver YKK zipper is satisfyingly substantial and looks cool, and the dedicated pull tab makes zipping up easy. The back features three jersey-style pockets and an embroidered elastic waist band. The collar and cuffs are extra-long to keep the wind out (and black to keep smudges to a minimum). Both the front and back of the jacket are printed with reflective patterns for when rides extend beyond daylight’s reach.
Talking to Castelli over the phone last winter, our representative tried to describe the Stelvio’s “Cyan” color (black and red are also available). It’s really blue, she said, and she was right. Riding at dawn and dusk, being visible is a big part of being comfortable. That said, I’m not a big fan of day-glo pieces that scream SAFETY! For me, the cyan color of Stelvio WS strikes an excellent balance between visibility and dignity. It really does pop in low light conditions and tends to stand apart from anything else on the road. Very cool.
Cut to a true “Euro” cycling fit, the Large Stelvio fits my 6′, 140lb frame without being baggy or flapping in the wind. I can comfortably fit a long-sleeve base layer or jersey underneath and the cut works great on the bike. Fit-wise, my one request would be for slightly longer arms (they seem more ‘medium’ than ‘large’ in length), but the long cuffs on the company’s Chiro and Pioggia winter gloves do prevent any drafts sneaking in. The tall collar is great, especially at the back of the neck- a spot often left unprotected from the chill. There is a slight color mismatch between the Windstopper X-Fast and X-Lite panels, but my Stelvio was a pre-production sample, so that may have been resolved for production (and isn’t visible from more than a couple of feet away, so it really wouldn’t matter if it hadn’t).
For rides between 25 and 45 degrees, the Stelvio is a great choice. It may take some juggling of under layers to manage the entire range in one ride, but the jacket itself never gets overly hot until temperatures approach 50. The Stelvio offers an excellent fit and high-quality materials, looks good, and has no annoying qualities to distract me from the ride- making it my favorite piece of winter clothing by far. Those facts and its European manufacture (Hungary in this case) more than justify its $200 price- they make it seem downright reasonable.