A few months ago we reviewed some of the Arc’teryx’s commuter line of clothing and loved it. The brand is best known for its technical outdoor gear, and generally most items made for outdoor adventuring work great for cycling. With that in mind we thought it would be a good idea to try out some of the other items for use on a bike around London and see if they worked out well too.
The perfect opportunity arose when we got tipped off to a new lightweight insulated jacket and managed to get our hands on one prior to its launch to see if it is really as suited to cycling in a London winter as it seems to be.
What is it?
Arc’teryx have had the Atom line out for a while, but even the least insulated jacket was still intended for colder climates than we usually get in London, particularly when exercising. There are of course days when its really freezing, but for the most part, lighter layers are best. The new lightweight Atom SL is more suitable.
It has a very thin layer of synthetic insulation in the front and back of the body, mesh lined sleeves and stretchy fleece panels. The outer fabric, other than the stretchy panels, is wind proof and water repellent. There is a thin hood made of just the wind proof fabric. The women’s medium we tried weighed only 235 g’s.
The cuffs are shaped so they dip over the top of your hands. The fleece material extends all the way down the arm, so the cuffs are tight enough to not let too much air up them, whilst still venting excess heat out and not being constrictive. The jacket is quite long, coming down to at least hip length. The back is slightly scooped and has a drawcord in it to tighten it.
On a bike?
Even though this isn’t a jacket made specifically for riding a bike, it shares a couple of the features of a cycling jacket – longer, shaped sleeves and a lowered back. The hood is also very thin and pulls into the head well, so you could easily have it under a helmet. Or, you can tuck it under some rucksack straps or the collar if you want to keep it out of the way.
The wind proof fabric and stretchy panels are perfect materials to have on a bike. There is enough stretch that you don’t feel restricted at all, but you also don’t get chilled in the near constant wind we seem to be experiencing this winter. The stretchy panels are not wind proof, but are positioned so they don’t really catch any direct wind. Therefore, they can act as a heat release if you do work up some warmth, but they don’t make you cold.
The jacket comes in a good range of colours available so you can have bright or stealth, depending on how you feel about your cycling clothing. The logo on the chest is reflective, but it is quite small, so doesn’t really stand out or increase visibility.
I have found this jacket to be really comfortable in a wider range of temperatures than I expected. I get quite hot when I cycle at any kind of speed or effort and so tend to stick to really thin layers in the winter, preferring to be cold at the beginning that sweltering later. With this jacket, I can be warm when I start out, but it breaths so well that I don’t end up over heating when I have been riding a while.
When it was really cold a few weeks ago and hovering only just above freezing, I was still fine in this jacket with a good merino base layer underneath. When I stopped I just threw a thicker insulating layer over the top. The Atom SL is also, of course, a great jacket for wearing around town. Admittedly mine was a not so subtle bright yellow, but I still found it great for wearing with a thin top underneath above 10°c, or with a merino layer below that.
The length is great on a bike, it doesn’t ride up at all when stretched out on the drops on my tourer. The sleeves are also long enough. In terms of the hood, I don’t really like wearing one on my bike, I find it somewhat disorientating. However, in the interests of good journalism, I tried it out for you good people. The hood on this jacket is the best fitting hood I have ever tried. The elastic to tighten it fits around my head perfectly and the thin fabric conforms well. As it is thin it does not block sound, but it is still very windproof and does offer a surprising amount of warmth.
I can’t really find much wrong with this jacket. The one thing I have found somewhat irritating is the pockets. They are in front of the insulation, so there is only a thin outer layer of fabric over them. Therefore, they do not function very well as hand warmers should you forget your gloves.
The other slight problem is that with the lighter colour fabrics, the pockets are basically see-through. This has been oddly irritating when taking the tube or overground as it is really obvious that my brightly coloured debit card is in my pocket. I prefer to keep it in my pocket for easy access, particularly when toting my Brompton, but I don’t really want it to be obvious.
At £170 the Atom SL falls well inline with insulated offerings from other premium brands, or in fact slightly cheaper. Arc’teryx clothing is so well made that the cost, if within your range, is totally worth it. I have worn this jacket almost every day since I got it, primarily for bike riding, but also for general around town wandering. The jacket is so light and small that I can easily put it in my bag making it perfect for warmer weather when a jacket is not needed straight away but may be desirable later.
Even though it is not a cycling specific jacket, it works perfectly well on a bike, probably due to its general active cut and materials. If you are in the market for a great spring cycling jacket, summer end of ride coverup and just about everything in-between, then the Atom SL is definitely worth checking out.
Arc’teryx Atom SL – available in men’s and women’s for £170 from arcteryx.com
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As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.