Tossing and Tortured 'Till Dawn

I come back to you now, at the turn of the tide.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Product Review : Shower's Pass Portland Jacket

Here's my coworker Karl showing it off! Yes, he's wearing my coat, so, apologies for fit...

Showers Pass is both a street in the greater Portland area with a nifty name, and a manufacturer of nifty cycling outerwear by the same name.

If you ride in the wet, you know how challenging it is to find rain-resistant gear that doesn't suck. It's hard enough to balance comfort, performance, breathability, and water-resistance without having to think about fashion!

SP's high quality cycling jackets have been well-loved in the soggy Pacific Northwest for some time, and for 2009 they released a few items that broke the typical rules of cycling gear.

The Portland jacket is designed for more than the cycling enthusiast -- it's for "lifestyle" riders like yours truly. The idea is to make a fashionable, high-tech coat that looks nice out and about, but will serve well when riding a bicycle.

Many people separate the times when they are riding a bike from doing everything else in their lives, but if you bike everywhere you go, if you want to go from your home to your office to the grocery store to the cafe on your bike, wouldn't it be nice to look presentable in all of these places?

If that all sounds like a good plan to you, and you'll be riding long enough and in harsh enough weather that your street clothes alone won't do, look into the Portland.

The Portland is and is available in variety of colors that are stylish but fairly neutral: "midnight" black, grey tweed, brown pinstripe, and beige plaid. I picked the beige plaid, which I might even go so far as to call "houndstooth." Personally, I think the cool factor of this jacket might be wasted on simple black. My Portland passed its first test at the coffee shop near my place, where it received compliments by folks who didn't know it was a cyling jacket.

The single other cyclist in attendance at that cafe was duly impressed when he found out its multi-functionality. The lack of other two-wheeled traffic there also reminded me to get out of the suburbs. Really, though, this coat is styling. Everyone who sees it casually is impressed when they learn it's what I ride in, too.

What makes the Portland a "Cycling" jacket? How is this different from other standard outdoor wear?

The fit, for one. Fairly snug across the chest and lower in front than in back, the Portland fits well when leaned over on the bike. There isn't lots of extra material at the chest, even for the Medium that I bought. At six feet even and 140lbs, I'm often stuck with "shoulders too small, sleeves too short" or "chest too baggy, flapping material on descents," but the Portland sits well. The stiff lower hem and drawcord probably help with that.

You also get zippered cuffs to close down the sleeves -- I put gauntleted gloves over them -- armpit vents to unzip as needed, and a stiff, stowable tail flap with a wide 3m reflective panel. It adds a lot of visibility at night without requiring the rider to wear a yellow coat! You will be mistaken for neither a robot nor a bumblebee.

Other features of the Portland include fleece-lined pockets in the front, for your hands when off the bike, grippy pull-tabs for the zippers, and suble reflective piping around the sides of the sleeves and back of the jacket.

One thing the Portland is NOT is heavily insulated. There's a thin layer of some sort of high-tech fabric inside the waterproof exterior, but that's about it. On the bike, this is a good thing. I think most manufacturers underestimate how much heat the body really generates when it's pinned in an aerobic exercise for a few hours. The wind and waterproofness of the Portland's fabric is mostly what keeps you warm. My coldest commute began at 17 degrees, and while my fingertips felt like they'd fall off, my core felt fine. Under the Portland, that day I wore a brushed lycra long-sleeved cycling jersey and a long-sleeved poly base layer, and that was it.

While it's not as breathable as a thin shell, and certainly can't be stuffed into one's jersey pocket, I never felt stuffy or clammy. At training intensity, I find the Portland is comfortable up to the lower 50's, but I don't think much more. Then again, I run infamously hot. In its namesake city, one could probably comfortably wear the Portland nine months a year.

One miss with the way the Portland fits is the collar. While it does feature a stand-up collar, it's lacking a solid windproof backing behind the zipper, the bite tab is small, and there's no fleecy lining to the collar. This all means that, when in cycling position, a little bit of chill and rain are allowed to enter the coat.

Also, do be aware that the thin insulation means that if you're thinking to spend much time not exercising outdoors in cool temperatures, you'll want to bring along a sweater to go beneath. In just a thermal long-sleeved T and the Portland, I was uncomfortably cold hanging about in the parks of Vancouver, BC at temperatures just below zero. Erm, 32. Um, freezing. Anyway, it makes a great outer layer, but I'm glad my Portland is big enough to fit more layers underneath.

Living in the Northwest, I'm not lacking for rain to try out the Portland in, and its watertightness does not disasspoint. No material short of a rubber suit is truly waterproof, but flood-level rains in Seattle still didn't penetrate the Portland. Made of treated fabrics rather than just a single thin layer, though, the Portland does absorb a bit of water. Hanging up in my office after a rainy commute, it was not fully dry 9 hours later for the trip home. It never penetrated through to making ME wet, so, and that's the important part.

All in all, the Portland is a creative way to live active. It'll always be something of a niche product, but it's one that I'm happy to have.

FOR : Those leading a cycling "lifestyle" who want to combine fashion and function.

NOT FOR : Racers looking for dedicated training gear.


  • At 12:17 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Showers Pass is NOT the name of a street in Portland, nor is the jacket manufactured in Portland. I know this for a fact because I live here.

    I rode with the jacket once and it did leak on me. The jacket is NOT sealed. A light rain and you are OK. A heavy rain and you are wet.

    The jacket was too stiff for me while riding. Off the bike it was a decent jacket.

  • At 9:51 AM , Blogger Argentius said...

    Thank you for your insightful, thorough, anonymos review.

    Yep, busted, the geographic showers pass itself is in northern California, not Oregon. This portlander got a little confused!

    I wore my Porland jacket, daily, on my 32 mile commute to work and kicking around downtown, through everything from drizzle to torrential downpours. It performed admirably .

    Too bad your one ride didn't work out for you.


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