As a companion piece to his workshop visit with Albion Cycling Clothing, Petor Georgallou spent the majority of the past year reviewing multiple pieces across Albion’s range of cycling and cycling-adjacent outerwear product lines. Below, Petor shares his experiences with the Ultralight Insulated Jacket, Zoa Rain Trousers, and Zoa Lightweight Insulated Jacket…
My sister recently received one of those weird genetic tests as a gift, that apparently gives you some insights into your genetic heritage. She was pretty apprehensive but took the test anyway. I, however, was keen to see the results, as I imagine our genetic makeup is more or less the same. My family is from Cyprus, a small island in the Mediterranean that is rich in resources and, thus, has been invaded and colonized many times throughout history. We were both surprised to see the results come back as 100% Cypriot. Surely nobody is 100% anything, right? There was comfort in the results for one reason: Cyprus is a hot country, and it has very little rainfall. So, it’s likely that spanning back thousands of years, my ancestors would not have had to deal with being either cold or wet.
At least eight months of the year, cycling in the UK where I live means being at least cold, but also probably wet. While I have plenty of friends who say nonsense things like “my skin’s waterproof” or “I’m fine” when their hands and face are clearly lacking blood at the surface, I’ve never bought into that. I couldn’t even if I wanted to; I’m just not an Academy Award-winning actor. When I’m cold and/or wet it’s just abundantly obvious that I’m not having a good time.
Enter: Albion. As a UK-based cycling apparel company, Albion is all too familiar with the damp and chill that often accompanies riding here. I bought a few Albion bits in the past, and Albion sent me a few more bits to review, with the idea that I’d pick one thing that I think works well and review that single item. Having tried a bunch of different garments and combinations out, I found it harder and harder to work out what was remarkable about an individual item. Or, to rationally explain why I was enjoying using the Albion kit I was wearing. Having started this review last October, I’ve increasingly learned to use the Albion Zoa collection as a system rather than stand-alone pieces.
Packability, versatility, and longevity are the core values I consider important in cycling clothing, all of which Albion does exceptionally well. The Zoa range feels as though someone started out cycling in a jersey and bibs, and then designed each extra layer when they got cold and needed it. The collection has grown over time as garments have been added, so there’s a pretty wide range of mid weight layers available with a decent amount of overlap between them. Here’s my shakedown of the three garments I wore the most and why I see value in them beyond cycling as multi-sport/outdoor clothing.
Ultralight Unisex Insulated Jacket
The Ultralight Insulated Jacket is the most cycle-specific piece I tested and it’s a jacket that I more or less don’t cycle without unless I’m doing a short distance in the summer. It weighs less than 100g and packs down into a tiny pouch about the size of a tennis ball that can be compressed even smaller to take up about as much space as a pack of cards. Over the winter, it was the jacket I started every ride wearing, overtop a long-sleeved jersey. It features laser-cut armpit panels for breathability and a padded front with just a single layer of Pertex at the back. The cut is a straightforward performance cycling jacket silhouette that looks, feels, and fits the best on a bike.
I’ve worn it riding road, gravel, and also trails. I’ve not toured with it yet but I now wouldn’t go touring without it. Its warmth-to-weight ratio is unmatched by anything else out there, except for perhaps an emergency space blanket. It has a two-way zip on the front which I found really useful while riding to let a bit of air in without having to take it all the way off. This means it can stay zipped up at the top and flap around like a cool cape, and not get too sweaty. I did find the zip a bit fiddly, especially while riding with gloves on, but the zip pull strings are nice and long, so even if it’s tricky to connect at either end, it’s easy to zip up and down if you keep it connected.
The Pertex fabric is 100% recycled nylon and the padding is 90% recycled polyester. It’s amazingly windproof while still being surprisingly breathable, and has remained that way after around 20 washes. The jacket only claims to be water resistant, not fully waterproof: while none of the seams are taped, it features a DWR coating which, when new, meant water beaded off pretty efficiently. It does still, however (even now that I’ve washed it a load of times) kind of protect you from wet air. I’m not sure what else to call wet air. Sometimes it’s fog, sometimes it’s just wet air that, while it’s not actually raining, somehow permeates clothing and makes you cold and wet.
I wore the jacket on the majority of winter rides, and as the season changed its usage became more of a starting layer. A jacket for when you leave early in the morning, before the days had a chance to warm up, then gets unzipped and then removed once you get warm from riding. Even when it’s not cold or wet it’s a layer I’ve been carrying with me for stops, that I can put on while drinking coffee or taking pictures to not get cold if I’m soaked in sweat, which might only be a few minutes. At just under 100g it still feels worth carrying even if it only gets worn for a few minutes at a time—it just makes the whole day more comfortable. Having it stashed on rides also makes me feel at least a somewhat prepared if the weather changes, which it often does here in the UK.
It’s become one of my most used bits of cycling clothing because it’s the jacket I take with me when I’m debating whether to take a jacket or not. Initially, I was put off my the feel of the Pertex fabric against bare skin and didn’t like wearing the jacket over just a short sleeve jersey. But, having worn it that way out of necessity a few times, I’ve gotten used to it to the point where I don’t notice anymore.
- Light enough to pretty much always carry
- Amazing warmth-to-weight ratio
- Responsible use of materials
- Super versatile
- Packs small
- Windproof and breathable
- Pertex feels weird on naked skin
- Getting the zip to catch can be tricky while riding
Zoa Rain Trousers
The Zoa rain trousers are, as far as I’m aware, a product unique to Albion in that I don’t think there are any other high performance lightweight waterproof cycling trousers out there. They have a fit that’s slightly biased towards cycling rather than being cycle specific, so I found myself using them as normal trousers in the winter. I’ve worn them a lot riding trails and walking, where they just work well enough not to think about them. Designed to be able to be worn over something else, I found the fit to be a bit loose on the waist, relative to pieces of the same size in the rest of my Albion kit. They are on the cusp of being too big, unless I wore shorts underneath.
The design is thoughtful in terms of using them as rain trousers, as they can be put on over another layer with cycling shoes on. Once they’re on, the waist tightens with a big velcro pleat and an integrated cinch belt that pulls on one side to stay out of the way on a bike.
The saddle area has a second layer of a different, grippier and more wear-resistant fabric, and there’s a high, grippy neoprene-like waist at the back which is lower and less grippy at the front. So the fit is a bit bike specific, but doesn’t feel awkward off the bike. The legs taper towards the bottom and zippers on the outside hems helps keep them from getting snagged in the chain, while the ample fabric around the knees allows full and unrestricted motion on or off the bike. I did find the thighs a little tight, especially when I wore the trousers with shorts underneath, although not enough to feel uncomfortable or restrictive. Above all, having worn them through most of winter, I can’t believe rain trousers aren’t a thing that more companies make, and that more people don’t wear in the UK. Relative to how many people wear pretty high-performance rain jackets both on and off the bike, it seems no one has a need for the other half of their body to stay dry.
Waterproof trousers have been an absolute joy, especially riding boggy trails, and UK “gravel” through the winter. The main takeaway is that when you wear them you don’t get cold and wet from being caked in mud over time.
- The only performance rain trousers for cycling (that I know of)
- Dry legs and bum
- Comfortable on and off the bike
- Light and packable
- Dry fast
- No outside pocket (but they have a through pocket on one side)
- Could do with a tad more thigh room
- Not as adjustable in waist as I’d like
Mens Zoa Lightweight Insulated Jacket
I have both the heavier insulated hooded version of the Zoa jacket and also the lightweight packable version. I wore the hooded version either as a jacket or as a layer (with another jacket or the Zoa Rain Shell) on top pretty much every day during the winter. On a purely utilitarian basis, it’s the best jacket I own. Previous to owning this jacket I wouldn’t have considered purchasing an insulated jacket that’s not filled with down. While down insulation is supremely light, breathable, and packable, I’ve neglected my much-loved Patagonia pullover in favor of the Zoa Insulated Jacket because it’s just a better jacket to live with.
After I bought my lightweight jacket (not pictured), I had it customized. The large giant patch pockets provide increased utility for off-bike use, as they are quite a bit larger than the original pockets. With a DWR coating, as well as a decent amount of insulation throughout, I found that it takes a respectable amount of time for the rain to soak through if you get caught out. Weird wet fog air is never a problem with this one. Even if it does completely soak through, it dries pretty fast, and the insulation doesn’t clump up like down. Washing the synthetic-filled jacket is also easier than washing down fill. I always use Nikwax tech wash for all technical fabrics and hang these pieces to dry.
In the UK, temperatures are rarely cold enough to wear this jacket while riding, although the need has arisen a few times. It works well both on and off the bike, however, and I’ve worn it plenty for casual rides through the winter, and carried it in a saddlebag when cycling for transport or where I know there will be many stops. I don’t see it as being particularly cycle-specific, but more of a cycle-friendly option.
The Lightweight Insulated Jacket without a hood is, however, steadily becoming my go-to. It’s almost as warm, although it doesn’t have a hood (which on the loftier jacket fits over a helmet and adds a lot of warmth), but it packs down smaller into its own back pocket to be a camping pillow. I guess that’s a serious clue as to the intention behind its design which is to be the ultimate jacket for multi-day trips year-round. For me, at least it achieves this: the evenings in the UK are never warm enough to not to wear a jacket off the bike, or camping. In the winter it packs down small enough to wear at the beginning and end of a ride as well as during stops, and serves as a super valuable layer either on top while riding in the cold, or as a mid-layer when stopped. Both jackets fit under the Zoa rain shell, and these two layers stayed permanently fixed together as I used them constantly off the bike throughout winter. I almost wish they had poppers or an extra zip so they could be attached as one modular layer! While there’s definitely overlap in their purpose, the lightweight jacket will probably see more use year-round, but the heavyweight version has become a winter staple that won’t easily be replaced.
- Lightweight and warm
- Durable insulation
- Adaptable and multipurpose
- Pockets have a double zip on the heavyweight version, which are fiddly and not that useful.
Albion has designed a load of super useful, adaptable, lightweight, and packable clothing pieces that I didn’t know I needed, but that have definitely encouraged me to go riding in worse weather than I normally would enjoy. Having a system of clothing that I can wear year-round in a kind of modular way has helped me overcome my borderline phobia of being dysfunctionally cold and wet, and has proved a system I wouldn’t even think about not taking part in with me on a multi-day trip. I feel like each product has been purposefully designed and, while undoubtedly little details will be improved on future iterations of the garments, everything key to core multi-purpose functionality is spot on in a way I’ve not encountered to the same degree with other cycle clothing brands.