Castelli have cured my winter blues

Until recently, I lived in Rome, where “winter” is something of a theoretical concept. Everyone’s heard of it, sure, but they don’t really understand what it really means. The minute the temperature creeps below 10ºC, people appear in balaclavas, snow boots and full-length insulated jackets, presumably to cover up the inch-thick thermal onesie that they’re wearing underneath.

It made me soft. My hardy Irish blood grew accustomed to the sunshine, and even though I rode all year round, I can honestly say that – trips elsewhere excluded – I went years without getting wet on my bike. And I was never cold.

And then I moved back to Dublin, immediately realising that my bike wardrobe was totally unprepared. It’s not that it ever gets properly glacial here; the problem is that it doesn’t ever get hot, and you never – and I mean never – know what it’s going to be in a few hours’ time.

Adaptable is the name of the game. And it’s exactly how I’d describe Castelli’s Alpha Ros jacket, an all-weather marvel from the Italian brand that harnesses all the goodness of their game-changing Gabba and takes it up a notch. The result is a product that redefines the standard for winter kit.

It’s not waterproof, in the strict sense of the word, but it works flawlessly in the rain. And it’s super soft, fits brilliantly, and offers plenty of ventilation when you want it, so you’ll be happy to use it in blue sky conditions, too.

Drainage holes, reflective accents, and Gore’s totally windproof but extremely breathable membrane are just some of the nice touches on this great jacket.

The prominent parts of the seams are sealed, and Gore’s new (brilliant) Windstopper membrane is rain-resistant, so while I still carry a light shell for torrential downpours, this is all you’ll need in typical wet conditions. The two-layer construction separates the outer shell from an insulation layer, both of which zip up separately. It looks funny at first, but it’s a nice option to have when you just need to let a little air in without freezing.

There’s a nice and high double collar, complete with soft lining, and the seamless cuffs are similarly soft, with a snug cut that slots in perfectly underneath gloves without bunching up and leaving any exposed spots. And on top of the traditional rear pockets, there’s a zipped one on the front, too. Most riders will be accustomed to having three pockets, so this extra one isn’t strictly necessary, but I thought it was a nice touch.

So, is it worth the $350 price tag? That depends on how much you like being warm and dry. For me, it’s a resounding yes. It’s not cheap, but the Alpha Ros is a cut above anything else I’ve tried and it makes most of the competition look seriously out of date. And alongside some cosy new gloves and shoe covers to match, it’s enough to get even me outside when there’s a gale blowing.

The Castelli Tempesta Line Has Us Singing “Rain, Rain Come and Play …”

The Castelli Tempesta jacket. Photo: Jim Merithew/
The Castelli Tempesta jacket. Photo: Jim Merithew/

As I sit here in my not-so-cozy office and listen to the rain pelt against the roof with wild abandon I am reminded of the days when rain was a legitimate reason to ride the trainer.

Yes, this is another one of those ol’ man tale of the days before indoor plumbing and this fancy thing called eeeelectricity. Well, not that far back, but well before the days of windproof, waterproof materials.

We grew up wearing cotton on our feet, hands and legs. When it rained or snowed we were soaked to the bone and freezing. If you were lucky enough to get some wool socks you were the cat’s pajamas. We still used phrases like “the cat’s pajamas.”

And no matter how hard we tried to get our boots and mittens next to the radiator, we almost always had to pull them back on wet for the bus ride home.

End of history lesson.

Now the number of choices for winter and rain gear is nothing short of miraculous and I’m going to share of few of may favorites for 2016 in the coming weeks.
First up is the Castelli Tempesta line, including the dreamy Tempesta Race Jacket.

This jacket is not only prepared to keep you dry, with its waterproof taped seems and water blocking zipper, but it is stuffable, easily spotted in the dark hours of winter, and race cut. No more flapping, stiff, garbage bag style rain protection.

Throw in a couple of rear pockets and a butt flap and this jacket is ready for you to either start your day in the rain or stuff it in your pocket as the perfect insurance plan.

The Tempesta lineup also includes a pair of 3/4 pants which are everything you want and nothing you don’t.

One the best parts about such amazing rain gear is you never have to worry about putting on wet kit, just shake the shake Tempesta jacket and pants out and out the door you go … rain or shine.

How to be Precious and Still Love Winter Riding

jersey, kit, castelli, gabba, san, francisco, specialized, twin, peaks,

Nicknames are a strange thing. There’s a good chance your family has one for you your friends don’t know about; there’s a much better chance that it’s vice versa. They’re mutable, nonsensical, and the only thing you can ever really hope for is that, at some point in your short stupid life, one will stick that isn’t completely embarrassing.

Thanks to my riding partner, that hasn’t happened yet. Instead, I’m Precious.

I’m not saying there’s not good reason for it. It’s not the suffering that gets me about cycling—that’s the part I like. The despair that whispers in your ear when you come around a hairpin and see a whole new dizzying grade? Fine. That sensation when you’re 15 miles from home and concrete is settling in your legs? Bring it on. No, what I hate is discomfort. Headwinds; rain; drafts curling under your neck. So I’ve always done what I can to prevent it. Maybe that means a neck gaiter on a cold day, maybe it means keeping my warmers on even as the mercury rises past 70. Maybe it means begging off when there’s even a hint of mist in the air. So yeah, I’m Precious.

Or at least I was until this winter, when I finally realized what was possible in the rarefied air of Castelli’s Rosso Corsa tier.

(I should probably point out here that my definition of “winter” has changed over the years. Growing up in the midwest, it meant face-freezing cold and wind that bit through everything I wore; over my 15 years in New York City, it meant three months of filthy slush and de facto hibernation in a tiny apartment. Now, in the Bay Area, it means January early-morning lows in the low 40s. Yes, I realize that year-round riding leaves me very little to complain about.)

First came the Gabba 2 jersey ($180), which finally managed to integrate admirable qualities like “windproof” and “water-resistant” without also including less admirable ones like “feeling like a trash bag.” The thing’s already become such a staple in the peloton during inclement Classics that last year Castelli trolled us all by releasing a “pro edition,” the sole distinguishing characteristic of which is a magic marker so that riders sponsored by other apparel companies can black out the offending logos. The thing somehow combines the warmth and proetction of a softshell jacket with a regular jersey profile, never leaving you feeling overburdened or vulnerable to the elements. Paired with Nanoflex warmers, it kept me comfortable down to just about 50—in dense fog, rain, even pure brilliant sunshine.

jersey, kit, castelli, gabba, san, francisco, specialized, twin, peaks,

When the mercury dropped and the wind really picked up, though, I found myself throwing a wind jacket on over it—which was fine, but still wasn’t quite the all-in-one solution I’d been hoping for. So for the worst that Northern California could throw at me (again, I realize that that’s better than the best that many other states can muster up in late winter), I reached for the Alpha Wind Jersey ($250). It’s rated down to the low 40s, which made it the perfect choice for those weekday early-morning rides when I needed lights as much as I needed a good hat. A lightweight insulation layer is sewn into the jersey’s front so that you can unzip the windproof panel on a long climb to avoid overheating while still keeping things comfy. A super-high collar means that your neck stays warm no matter what, and the same extra-long rear flap as the Gabba’s keeps you dry from road spray. And when I say “you,” I mean “me,” because not only have I been riding outside all winter, but I’ve been doing so happily—which is a first for ol’ Precious.