Test – Ion Shell Jacket Vario
Ion clothing based in southern Germany are new to the bike market for 2013. They have produced a range of bike specific clothing that builds on their experience in demanding conditions in water sports but now they specifically design performance clothing for bike sports.
The vario shell jacket coming in at a list price of €249 is one of their bad weather items and we were able to test it in a range of conditions over time and have a fair understanding of how it performs.
Rated at 5000mm of water column repellence, and 20,000mm of breathability, we were expecting the jacket to perform well in the worst of bike-able conditions. The jacket is light weight at 128g/m2 and has fully taped seams in all directions. It has useful elasticated adjustment points that allow the rider to tune the fit. The hood is helmet compatible and also the sleeves and main front part include useful pockets for various things, including lift passes if you so need. The pocket linings are mesh which means the pockets also have a double function and allow more air to circulate. The zips were of high quality and have a solid feeling to them and looked like they would stand up to abuse. The cut of jacket is ideal for biking and did not restrict movement or feel over the top.
We tested this jacket over a number of months in light rain Mediterranean climates, alpine climates as a wind jacket, and in the wet and cold eastern maritime climate of Newfoundland, Canada. As with all clothing hey are designed to work well with the right base layers, in most cases we used cotton T-shirts which are not an ideal base layer.We did mange to use proper technical base layers which are ideal.
Our most extreme test was eastern Canada where we experienced riding temperatures of 13 degrees celsius, driving rain and mist over the whole course of a 29 km very technical trail ride along a stunning piece of coastline from Torbay to Flatrock. The type of riding was ideal, as we had to pedal and descend along the whole trail, getting very hot/cold, wet and tired as we went. The first thing we noticed was that despite the rain and surface water in every direction the jacket initially remained dry and comfortable inside.
Later in the ride despite our excessive sweating, which had increased the humidity level inside the jacket, we still felt fairly comfortable, halfway through the ride the wind picked up and was cold, despite this the jacket worked well blocking the wind and we were able to maintain a comfortable temperature whilst stopping briefly to look at the views and pedalling. Our choice of base layers in these extremely wet conditions was not ideal, despite this though, it was clear that the jacket fabric was functioning as it should, breathing enough to balance the atmosphere inside the jacket and keeping the rain out.
One point which we feel is good is the hood. It was possible to use with a helmet, and really gave that extra protection needed when it got really rainy and cold, at the same time when we weren’t using it, the hood remained out of the way. Mud splashes and trail dirt were handled well, with no heavy feeling from the fabric as it loaded up with dirt and water.
The fabric is lightweight enough to notice very little weight and at the same time it feels like you have a substantial jacket on protecting you from the elements. Storing it in a pack is easy as it packs down small. We were surprised by how the cut allowed us to move about on the bike easily and the fabric resisted tree scratches, rubbing against sharp vegetation and abrasive contact with rocks well.
From a fashion perspective the styling is fairly conservative and neutral but Ion have used contrasting colors well that should suit the tastes of most people. Sizing was fairly accurate, with the test jacket being an XL, normally the test rider uses a large, sizing can be personal with some brands sizing up differently to others.
We have tried many jackets over the years and this for the moment is our go-to jacket as it is versatile, has excellent water-replency and breathability characteristics and is up to most riding conditions. The market is full of competition in this segment of trail riding and we think Ion has done an excellent job in its first wet weather jacket for riding. We loved the low weight yet easy packability, the jacket gave us the impression it could handle more extreme conditions than one would think it could on a first inspection. We think that a few improvements could be made by maybe having a few more zip-able vent slits for greater temperature regulation for use in warmer (think Mediterranean) yet sometimes wet climates, however the jacket is designed to be simple and functional, in our opinion it functioned way above our initial expectations and is a great trail riding jacket in questionable weather conditions that can be bought along in your back pack easily. Compared to the competition price wise the jacket is actually quite competitive and is definitely worth considering for its performance vs price characteristics.
Available from Surf Relax