As more riders braved cold winter days, more outstanding thermal jackets cropped up. Over the past few years, the jackets have become lighter and more weather-resistant, courtesy of new fabrics and more intensive engineering from clothing manufacturers. Gone are the days of heavyweight fabrics and the Michelin Man-like puffiness of jackets from 7-10 years ago, replaced by nice-fitting, lightweight garments sleek enough for training or early season racing. The Craft Performance Stretch Jacket is one of this new generation. How does it measure up in a competitive field?
The Stretch Jacket is part of Craft’s Performance line which slots between the more casual Active and the racer-targeted Elite lines. Performance line offerings include a range of jerseys, shorts, leg and arm warmers, tights, jackets, and headwear. This jacket is for cold weather, targeting conditions below the teens. Our test model came in a very attractive red with black accents and silver reflective piping; it looked nice enough to wear to the shops. It might look nice enough for shuttling around London, but it’s a piece of cycling kit first and foremost.
Like most high-performance tops, the front of the jacket is significantly (2.5+ inches) shorter than the back. When in the racing crouch this ensures the back of the jacket doesn’t creep up exposing the lower back and that the front doesn’t bunch up unflatteringly around the belly. The fabric design reinforces the cycling emphasis as well, with a thicker wind resistant structure at the front and a thinner design over the back. The fabric itself is quite soft and compact. Although this is a winter jacket, it could be folded and stuffed into a jersey if conditions warmed dramatically.
The sleeves and collar are well-fitted. The cuffs use the stretchiness of the fabric to slide snugly over bare wrists of gloves while the collar is fleece-lined. This combination stops the marshmallow man effect; the jacket stays pressed against the body with no flapping or billowing. The jacket is topped off with a flapped front zip to keep out the cool air, a spacious single rear pocket, and reflective striping on front, back, and sides.
It seems to be the perfect winter apparel but how would it stand up in the cold of a British winter and a chillier British spring?
Out On The Road
We found the Stretch Jacket a versatile, lightweight companion for cold weather mixed condition rides. The soft, luxurious feel of the fabric combined with the low weight deceives the wearer into thinking this is late spring or early summer gear. Once on the road, it’s quickly apparent this jacket is designed for the cold. The cuffs, collar and flapped zipper do a great job of keeping all wind and rain on the outside of the jacket, not only reducing flapping but also keeping the core warm as temperatures dove into the single digits.