- by James Wade
- Published: 23 December 2013
I am a reluctant believer in ‘you get what you pay for’. I’m also a bit of a gear head and commute daily… rain, hail or shine. I have spent a lot of money on kit before and literally hundreds of dollars on rain jackets. Perhaps I have more money than sense (I don’t have much money, so make of that what you will), but I do think that when you pay a bit more, you end up with nicer gear; gear that you enjoy riding with. So when I was given the opportunity to test a budget jacket against a pricey one, I was able to test my beliefs.
I admit I hadn’t heard of O2 before; O2 is from Minneapolis (USA) and they’re specialists in rainwear for cycling. In Australia their gear is available through the Aussie online retailer Velogear. The premise of the review was to compare O2’s bare bones ‘Original’ jacket with their top of the line ‘Nokomis’ jacket. In terms of price point, we’re talking $39.95 vs $149.95, which I would consider to be at the lower and higher ends of the ‘reasonable’ pricing scale, although you can easily spend even more on specialised cycling wear.
My first impressions of the two jackets were largely positive. The Original jacket appeared basic and utilitarian, which is indeed the purpose. It was obviously very waterproof, but being a basic and non-breathable jacket, the overheating sensation was almost immediate. I did note that the inside of the jacket had a cloth-like weaved lining, perhaps in an effort to wick away sweat. Another feature worth mentioning was a particularly burly front-zipper. The jacket was, however, not as Spartan as some other ‘plastic bag’ style jackets that I have worn previously; it was a clear winner against the sub-par quality of a Castelli rain jacket that I once purchased for 40 pounds.
The more sophisticated Nokomis jacket has it all in the details. The quality of materials is comparable to my beloved Rapha Rain Jacket. The zippers are waterproofed, and there are removable sleeves (more on that in a second) and several pockets. I like this jacket.
Fit is quite a subjective thing, and being a skinny climber I probably have different views on things to a stockier counterpart. Nevertheless, I’ll talk fit because it is worth sharing some insights. I found the Original jacket to be quite an aggressive cut. Slim and tight; not quite a race cut, but close. I like that.
On the other hand, I found the Nokomis jacket to be a more generous fit, particularly in the arms. It is certainly not race cut. While riding I never found wind noise to be excessive, although while descending or in heavy winds, you may get some flapping. For what it’s worth I’m 5’11 and 68kg, and picked medium in both jackets. If I had my time again, I would have picked small, particularly in the Nokomis jacket.
You have probably guessed already that these two jackets serve starkly different purposes. Yes, the Original jacket is a hotbox. Climb for just ten minutes wearing this jacket and you’ll work up a sweat, even on a bitterly cold day. It is just the nature of this jacket – it doesn’t breathe. However, concentrating on this alone would be ignoring it’s true beauty, and conversely its advantage over the Nokomis. It’s packable. Heading out on a day where it looks like it’s going to rain? Stuff the O2 Original jacket in your jersey and you’ll know you’re covered if you get unlucky.
The Nokomis, on the other hand, is no hotbox. I cycled with this jacket through rain, drizzle, and in overcast conditions with no worries. Well, no worries till you hit about fifteen degrees, then you start to heat up a little bit. Mind you, I do ride with pace. While I have suggested that the Nokomis jacket is not packable (so it can’t be stashed in a jersey pocket), it does feature removable sleeves. The jacket essentially turns into a waterproof gilet, and when unzipped you get a lot of airflow. As a gilet, it’s comfortable for temperatures to the low 20’s.
So which jacket?
As you may have guessed, I like both jackets. Quite a lot. But as different types of jackets they are suited to different situations. The Original jacket really shines when you’re heading out early morning into the hills and you need insurance against potential rain. It’s light, it packs up into a jersey pocket, and it’s waterproof. Add to that the fact it’s absurdly cheap, and we’re talking a no brainer.
For ‘pure’ road riding, the O2 Nokomis really shines in the depths of winter. You can head out of the house in the rain and trust in two things – you won’t get soaked wet by rain and you won’t over heat. You truly are safe up to 15 degrees. For commuting, it’s excellent too. While I did complain about it not being jersey pocket friendly, it packs up relatively small and is quite light, so just stash it in your backpack or pannier for a rainy day. I mentioned this earlier, but feel like I should labour the point: the Nokomis jacket is comparable to my Rapha jacket. It really is that good.
Both cycling jackets are priced well for their purpose and, because Velogear are an online only retailer, customers also benefit from a price advantage that probably wouldn’t be possible if buying instore.
photos © Craig Linder / O2 Rainwear