Upper Downs Neo Bike Jacket | Review
South Downs start-up Upper Downs' first product is a super breathable Polartec NeoShell mountain biking jacket
'NeoShell's class-leading breathability is ideal for this mountain biking jacket and works well, though it's still a bit of a work in progress.'
Outdoors Magic: Super breathable fabric, nice cut for biking use, comfortable, some thoughtful details.
Outdoors Tragic: Lacks a hem cord, vents fiddly to use on the move, hood has limited functionality.
Outdoors Grabbit? NeoShell's pack-leading breathability makes it a cracking choice for mountain biking's brutal on/off efforts and it works superbly. The cut is generally good, but the lack of any sort of hem adjuster or tensioner is a bit of an oversight, though less glaring if you're using a pack with waist-belt. Lots of potential here, but not quite the finished article yet. Watch this space.
Waterproof mountain-biking jacket / 3 Layer Polartec® NeoShell® fabric / YKK water resistant zippers / vents / hand-pockets with internal phone sleeve / internal chest pocket / Key clip & lens cleaner / Removable hood
Full Review Below
Upper Downs Neo Jacket - The Tech
Mountain biking is brutally hard on fabric breathability thanks to its repeated high energy efforts, so when we read that a small South Downs start-up had come up with a jacket using Polartec's super breathable NeoShell fabric, we were intrigued.
NeoShell is, in our experience, the fabric which copes best with releasing the water vapour generated by hard efforts, but it's not used often in the bike industry, probably for reasons of cost. For the guys at Upper Downs though, it was all about 'superior breathability' so Polartec's waterproof fabric seems like a natural fit.
The downsides to that high breathability are that the stretchy fabric is less durable than some competitors and, in outright terms - in lab tests at least - less outright waterproof.
That's not necessarily a problem per se, but one long-term NeoShell user we know suggests that it means you need to pay particular attention to regular cleaning and maintenance
Upper Downs Neo Jacket - Performance
First the uppers: the fabric performance is brilliant. NeoShell is the closest thing we've used to a waterproof fabric that breathes more like a windproof. That means you can use it on a bike without overheating regularly and, when you do get hot and sticky, your damp baselayers dry out faster than with other fabrics.
It works exceptionally well and has a nice, soft, slightly stretchy feel to it too. It doesn't, of course, mean you won't get hot and sweaty, but it happens less frequently, and when you do, the fug clears faster.
We also like the feel of quality about the jacket, which is manufactured - unusually - in Portugal and the basic cut. It's neat, reasonably slim fitting, with longish sleeves and a neat, pronounced drop-tail. All that works well on a bike.
What No Cord?
It comes in a swank box too. But we'd happily swap that for some detail changes to the design. Most obviously, the hem doesn't have any sort of elastication or drawcord. For us that meant a coupe of inches of slack which allowed wind, rain and grit to get up underneath the hem.
It's less of an issue if you wear a pack with a belt, but it's still less than ideal. A half cord around the tail would snug things up nicely while keeping the front of the jacket flat and, if you didn't want it, you needn't use it.
Make Mine A Ninja
Also not quite right is the collar hood arrangement. Again the collar is non-adjustable making it harder to seal stuff out. But the hood could also do with an upgrade. It zips on and off neatly enough, but only really works if you wear it under your helmet as it's so shallow.
That makes it slightly limiting for general use off the bike. A close fitting 'Ninja-style' hood would arguably work better. Finally, we found the pit-zips really fiddly to reach while on the move. They're sited quite a long way back and are hard to completely undo on the move - maybe our arms are slightly too short. The lack of a zip-tab doesn't help there either.
If that sounds a bit negative, bear in mind there's plenty to like as well. The spec is good with a YKK Vislon moulded tooth main-zip, twin hand-warmer pockets with a phone-holding insert and, in the inside pocket, a glasses wipe attached to a key-clip.
One final point, the Neo is expensive in bike market terms, but it's not a cheap fabric and the performance of the material is, we reckon, good enough to justify the price.
Upper Downs Neo Jacket - Verdict
First, hats off to the guys at Upper Downs for getting onto Kickstarter and making the Neo Jacket a reality. They basic idea is spot on: Polartec's NeoShell is an ideal waterproof fabric for a mountain biking jacket and there are very few bike shells out there using the material.
We absolutely love the way it breathes and feels more like a windproof or protective soft shell fabric on the move. We also like the cut and some of the thoughtful features of the jacket.
That said, we really do think it needs an adjustable hem to work properly in rough conditions. The brand's Matt Parker says it was developed that way ' due to the fact we found elasticated hems tend to ride up the body and also create bulk which allows water pockets to develop. Instead we shaped the jacket to allow it to flow over the hips more freely.' We'd like the choice.
We also reckon the pit-zips need to be slightly more accessible - or even deleted - and the hood could also do with a tweak. Plus we'd happily swap the hand-pockets for a single decent chest one. In a nut-shell, the basics are pretty good, but it's a few crucial details short of being a really good bike jacket.
The goods news is that two new, more streamlined, Upper Downs jackets are on the way and hopefully some of those initial teething problems will have been ironed out. In the mean time, the Neo is still a very useable jacket with excellent fabric performance and decent fit, but could be better still.
To put it in perspective, we're looking at ways of retro-fitting a hem cord ourselves, something we wouldn't normally bother doing.