The holidays have been especially kind to me this year. As if I did not have enough reasons to celebrate my father's love of cycling, in 2007 he gave me two more...both hailing from Switzerland and both arriving in the familiar white Assos boxes. In one box, a pair of PRO Line tights that have enough wind stopping material on them to fool your lower half into thinking it was time for umbrella drinks poolside. The other contained the bee's knees, the quintessential piece of the PRO kit: a PRO white Assos 851 jacket.
The debate rages on as Assos continues to stake its claim on the top of the cycling clothing pyramid. Some argue its quality and features are no better or worse than the competition's top offerings. However, there is one aspect of the Assos brand that is never debated: pricing. Assos pricing borders on offensive, and when a product carries such a hefty sticker price, consumers expect greatness. The 851 jacket delivers.
For the past two seasons I have been living in a parallel world, one in which ambient temps were always 10-15 degrees higher than actual. In reality, I have been underdressed for two seasons. At the end of last season, I concluded that if I wanted to make it through another winter with a good base come spring, I needed to invest in some new cold weather gear.
Winters at BKW headquarters can mean 60 degrees and sunny to 10 below with a windchill cold enough to snuff out even the best intentions. Assos claims the 851 is ideal for temps ranging from 32 to 50 degrees. A wide range indeed and a perfect match for our proverbial, meteorological weather grab bag.
Ten Pounds of Swiss Action in a Five Pound Bag
Assos has mastered the art of pairing warmth and comfort without bulk. This mastery is evident across the Assos products. From their world-class chamois to the 851 jacket, Assos gets the job done (and done well) with nothing extraneous. As I removed the 851 from its $40 packaging, the first thing I noticed is the jacket's "hand," a term used to describe to how the product feels in your hand or against your skin. The 851 is one of the most supple garments I have come across; the soft texture of the polyester sections feels silky on one side and the brushed fleece on the reverse makes you want to rub it against your cheek while sighing deeply.
The polyamide sections are the utilitarian end of the jacket, protecting the skin from wind and working in tandem with the brushed fleece to give you a mix of warmth and protection. As a cyclist, the windproof material is critical on the forward-facing panels, providing protection from the wind while the rider is in motion. It's equipped with windproof panels on the front of the arms and chest and there's front and back coverage on the collar and shoulders, the prime areas subject to wind when you are tucked into position. Assos is a stickler for details and this is one of the reasons their products are so desirable: a look at the lower half of the 851's front shows a detail that could only come from cyclists who design clothing. The windproof material stops 6" from the bottom of the jacket. This small detail noticeably reduces bulk when in the riding position. The arms have an articulation to them that improves fit when tucked and the torso's front is slightly shorter than the rear, giving adequate coverage to the back of the jacket and minimizing bulk in the front. Moreover, like almost all Assos products, their signature grippers are an Assos-specific elastic that slips away from consciousness once placed in the correct location. This jacket is warm and comfortable. Undoubtedly, the 851 delivers a boat load of action with little bulk.
When sitting on a hanger the full PROness of the jacket is realized. The cut of the 851 mimics motorcycle leathers where the cut of the jacket is 100% business.
Junk in the Trunk
By far, my favorite attribute of the 851 is the ample pocket space in the back of the jacket. Honestly, I have backpacks with less storage space than this jacket. There are four rear pockets, which is a significant improvement over the traditional three pocket design and nearly laughable when compared to the single zipper pocket on some jackets. The pockets wrap around the back of the jacket placing two pockets back and center and then one pocket to each each side. Additionally, the right side pocket also includes a zipper for valuables that could be accidentally yanked from the pocket if intertwined with say, an Enervit bar or the headphones for your iPod. As a bonus, there is significant depth and roominess to the pockets making them highly functional. Pack a rain jacket, a spare tube, digital camera, iPod, and house keys and there remains enough room for a Thermos filled with strong coffee and half a bundt cake. It becomes easy to overpack. Throw in a reflective stripe and Assos proves this jacket means business.
The Little Things
Like a good cage match, with Assos, you can expect the most convincing blows to be thrown in the first round; this is accomplished with fit and feel, but with a dozen or so rides in the 851, I have begun to appreciate some of the minute details, those that keep you around. After all, it's the hook that grabs you and the barbs that keep you. The collar is roomy enough to be comfortable over base layers with collars, yet somehow Assos manages to keep it tight enough that there is never a draft. The zipper is a work of technical mastery; the teeth are large enough that zipping up or down with gloves on is easy and at the base of the zipper lies a reinforcement that hides the square edges of the zipper start and keeps you from bursting out on those early season rides when multiple base layers and Belgian beers really stress the jacket. Assos even utilizes this reinforcement to throw a little healthy advice your way: Sponsor Yourself.
At $330 the 851 is a huge investment. But winter is a tough time of year and the features of the 851 make riding outdoors that much better. When you consider the effectiveness of the jacket, and the ability to to forego some of the intermediate layers that make up your current winter wardrobe it becomes easier to justify. Even if it hadn't been a gift, I would have somehow, somewhere picked up the 851. If you're seeking a winter jacket and have room on a credit card, do yourself a favor and take the plunge. The 851 is to winter riding what a chaise lounge is to relaxing poolside. The 851 is the perfect companion for the cold and wind that is your off-season.
The Assos 851 Jacket was originally posted on January 28, 2008. With the cold rapidly approaching most parts of the world, it seemed fitting to bring this post back.