Wednesday, December 05, 2012

dhb Cycle Clothing reviews: EQ2.5 Waterproof Jacket

Back at the end of October the British all-things-cycling internet shop Wiggle said via Facebook that they were looking for some bike bloggers to review some of their own brand dhb cycle clothing. I've been a Wiggle customer from time to time for years now and actually use the basic dhb road cycling shoes. These have been excellent and, particularly considering they only cost forty quid, superb value for money. So despite being only a blogger who sometimes writes about cycling, rather than a pure bike blogger, I put this blog forward and was very happy to be chosen.

Being a "house brand" makes dhb gear often amongst the most affordable option for technical cycle clothing but from what I've seen the lower prices come from the business model not at the expense of quality. I presume it works on a similar direct-to-the-consumer model that, for example, Alpkit has been pioneering in the outdoor world. Various middlemen are cut out and with the savings leading to competitive prices. Anyway, the long and the short of it is: good cycling gear for very reasonable prices. The two items they asked me to review, the dhb EQ2.5 Waterproof Cycling Jacket and the dhb Vaeon Zero Padded Bib Tight both seem well made out of quality fabrics. Wiggle wanted the reviews reasonably swiftly, so I can't attest to how well the items last over years, but I've ridden several hundred kilometres wearing the tights and the jacket now with no problems.

the dhb EQ2.5 Waterproof Jacket
I was interested in testing the EQ2.5 waterproof jacket for the rather self-contradictory reason that I probably never would have bought one myself. This is simply because, as a rule, I don't wear waterproofs whilst riding. When I ride, I do so at a pace where I warm up and get sweaty. For me, breathability to get rid of that sweat is by far the most important aspect of my bike clothes. Even top of the range expensive breathable waterproof fabrics like eVent and Goretex Pro Shell don't breath enough for me when doing aerobic sports like XC skiing or indeed cycling. The only exception to the no waterproofs rule when biking is when I go bikepacking - then I take a superlight Gortex paclite shell but only to wear it if the weather becomes unexpectedly horrible; most of the time it is stuffed away in a bag.

The EQ2.5 is not a 'just-in-case' jacket. With a mesh lining and pretty complex design, it isn't light enough to stuff into your commuting bag on the off-chance and won't pack down enough to fit in a jersey pocket for a road ride. It's a jacket to put on and keep on, with a design that reflects this. Firstly it's very well cut for cycling in. Short at the front and longer at the back (for me it could actually come down a bit more at the back) with gripper strips at the hem. Commuting with a satchel means sometimes the hem needs pulling down a little, but this isn't a problem with no bag. I've mainly used it whilst riding my cyclo-cross bike commuting, the arms are cut well for riding on the drops without pulling up. The collar is also great, coming high up at the back for lots of protection. There is a good, big zip pocket on the back, with an inner safety pocket inside it and a little internal pocket at the front that takes keys or an iPod safely.

The material itself is completely waterproof (and the jacket has taped seams) and somewhat breathable. How breathable is one of those almost unanswerable questions. Not breathable enough to avoid getting sweaty in, is one answer but that's no different from past experiences riding in jackets made of Goretex Paclite and Gore Windstopper for example. dhb seem to accept this will be the case for many cyclists riding hard, so have addressed the problem in other ways. Firstly the jacket has a mesh liner. This doesn't make it more breathable, it just minimises the unpleasant feeling of your sweat dripping down the the insides of your jacket! Secondly there is venting-galore; the jacket has vents on both sides at the front and right across the back. It's hard to say how well they work, I couldn't feel cold air through them - although perhaps that's a good thing (in the video below you can see the back vents open, so it must make a difference). Much more noticeable were the pit zips. I've never been a big fan of pit zips on mountain jackets - often far more hassle than they are worth - but the pit zips on the EQ2.5 are easy to use even whilst on the bike and make a very noticeable and significant difference, cooling you and letting a lot of sweat quickly evaporate.

I've been wearing the EQ2.5 over the last few weeks commuting in weather about as miserable as it gets in Helsinki. Late November days are so short it seems it is always dark or getting that way. The temperatures have been fluctuating between just above freezing and about 6 degrees. It's windy, it's soggy, the bike paths are damp and muddy. In these conditions the EQ2.5 has been pretty good, although even in these cold and drizzly conditions I get way to hot if I wear a microfleece mid-layer under it. So I've been wearing it over just a base-layer and with the pit-zips open more often than not. Like that I've been warm but not too hot, nevertheless the jacket is still damp to the touch inside due to the breathability issues after my hour-long commute and my base-layer damper than it would be with my normal system.

So, overall, the EQ2.5 is a well-designed, -cut and -made waterproof jacket for serious cycling. My reservation though is how many cyclists need waterproofs? A jacket identical in design and cut to the EQ2.5 but made of a windproof, highly breathable but NOT waterproof material could easily become my main jacket for 3-season cycling. For the cyclists in rainier climes, perhaps a commuter who rides daily regardless of the weather, the EQ2.5 may well do good service on wetter days. Also, if you are one of those lucky people who don't perspire too much, even when working hard, it may be perfect in autumn and winter. But for me it's too heavy and bulky to carry in case of rain but not breathable enough to wear when it's not. For me once the temperatures are below freezing I don't need a waterproof but in temperatures much above 5 degrees I quickly get too hot in the EQ2.5. So, whilst it is a well made and reasonably priced cycling jacket, for me it only works well in a rather narrow niche of conditions.

To follow in the next few days; a review of the dhb Vaeon Zero Padded Bib Tight.

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