Review: The $725 Assos Johdah jacket and Equipe RS range is frustratingly good
Assos has raised the bar for clothing prices but are the price tags justified?
Assos has raised the bar for clothing prices but are the price tags justified?
Assos has always been synonymous with premium, high-performance apparel. The quality and durability of Assos garments are the stuff of lore; scan an online forum, and you will usually find someone explaining how incredibly long they have owned and used a single Assos jacket.
When Assos launched its new Equipe RS winter range last Autumn, the prices had most people talking. High prices are nothing new for Assos garments, but the price is usually within the limits of justification. Assos fans will explain how the extra durability, means the higher upfront cost gets balanced by years of additional usage.
However, at £575 (US $725) for a jacket, Assos brought cycling kit to a whole new premium price tag level. All in the four-piece Equipe RS range would set you back a hefty £1,265. While most baulked at the price, I had the job of reviewing the range and deciphering whether it can live up to its price tag.
I’ll cut straight to the point here; this kit is good, frustratingly good! Of course, I will go into more detail, but as much as it pains me to say it, the jacket and tights are both worth every penny if you are looking to stay warm in extreme conditions. With the price of this range, I really hoped I could report that a reasonably priced kit is just as good, but the reality is, this is better.
Having spent six years racing internationally and another six years working with a cycling clothing company, I have tried a lot of kit. It took me just one ride to realise how superior this jacket was compared to anything I had tried previously.
Straight out of the box, the garments are undeniably impressive. Both the jacket and tights have a nice weight to them, much more than any of my other similar garments, which gave me an immediate feeling of protection and warmth. The variety of panels and fabrics utilised in the garments reveals the level of detail Assos have gone to in creating this range. Wind-blocking material, protective membranes, waterproofing, and visible breathability aids.
The stitching is immaculate, the zipper seems incredibly robust, well-sized pockets, a high collar to protect the neck and of course, those defusers on the shoulders.
Assos created the Sphere membrane, its own waterproof membrane, specifically for the Johdah project, and it feels luxurious. Designers added a mix of Sphere light on the front panel and Sphere medium membranes on the backs and forearms to provide breathability, wind-blocking and insulation in varying levels.
The upper sleeves get Assos’ “ZigZaggy foam”, which provides extra insulation and wind-blocking protection. Apart from feeling like the underside of a carpet, it seems to work well and has a level of robustness that seems like it will withstand years of rubbing off walls and catching on briers.
While some of these features are not unique in themselves, to find so much technology and design work all on a single garment is unique. Even if I couldn’t justify the price tag, I started to see where the extra dollar was going on the jacket.
The kit looks sleek, black all over with small electric blue touches and a contrasting white A for Assos logo. Anyone who knows me will know I am unashamedly a fan of bright multicoloured kit, but I have to admit there is something very pro looking about the stealth design Assos have chosen here. That is not to say I am a fan of the stealth look out on the road riding solo, but more on that later.
When I tried the jacket on, things got a little less impressive. Assos had sent me a medium in the Johdah jacket, Equipe RS tights, and the mid-layer Thermobooster. I knew from writing the news piece that Assos designed the range to have an aerodynamic fit. I was not expecting it to be as aero as it is. The fit is so tight (sorry, I mean aero) I decided to use the online size calculator to confirm a medium was correct for me, which it is.
The jacket is short at the front and tight around the arms and chest area. These are the necessary characteristics to create an aerodynamic fit, but that does have me questioning if an aero fit is right for winter kit.
The fabrics and protective membranes on winter garments are naturally heavier and more rigid than jerseys. There’s less stretch. As a result, these fabrics don’t offer the same level of flexibility required for a comfortable aero fit. Couple that with the heavier nature of these fabrics means the aero fit feels restrictive. Thirdly, an aero fit should equal slightly faster riding; I want to go slower, not faster, in winter to reduce the wind chill effect.
I found similar issues with the tights. The sizing is definitely on the tighter end of the scale and even feature some compression technology. The twin layer fabrics used on the knees, thighs, crotch, and hips made for a restrictive feel when I first tried them. I found myself constantly adjusting them on my legs to get a comfortable fit, and zip at the end of the tights would have helped enormously getting them on and off.
At this point, I was a little underwhelmed. Nice feel in the box, but a fit that’s a bit limiting. That was until I got on the bike.
Once in the riding position, those fit issues evaporate. The fit still has a noticeably more aero in style than other winter garments, but it is not nearly as restrictive as it is when off the bike. There is still a slight issue when stretching, signalling, or reaching into pockets, but the jacket is exceptionally comfortable for general riding when used with just a base layer. The fit works as long as you’re locked into a normal riding position.
I still find it too tight to use multiple layers below it, which is an issue on its own. It ends up defining how this jacket will be used.
The jacket provides excellent temperature regulation, even on days below freezing. I found myself more willing to venture out in poor weather conditions to test the range in as many extremes possible.
On dry freezing days, I found a combination of a light base layer, the thermobooster mid-layer and the jacket kept me comfortably warm. Yet, If I wanted to raise the intensity and push a few efforts, the breathability was still there to prevent me from overheating. Despite my initial scepticism, those defusers must be working. This is where the jacket is most impressive, and where it stands above other, much cheaper options. You can ride hard without overheating.
Sure the defusers are perhaps only necessary because the membrane used in the jacket lacks enough breathability in itself. Still, I am ok with that given how well the defusers work and the protection the Assos Sphere membranes provide.
The Johdah was also up for the challenge on cold and wetter days. While I always do my best to avoid continuous downpours (that’s what we have Zwift for) on chilly days with heavy showers, the Johdah provided an extremely capable defence. I was happy to stick with the Johdah for showers that would typically have had me reaching for a rain cape. At times I could see an almost rejection like defence against the rain from the jacket and tights. Rain landed on the sleeves and legs, only to be shunned away by the Assos Sphere fabrics’ waterproofing properties. The whole kit is impressively waterproof, which in turn makes the breathability even more impressive.
Back to the diffusers again. I initially feared the two giant gaping holes on the shoulders might let in precipitation in along with the intended airflow. However, as the diffusers are attached to the jacket’s inner layer and appear to have water-resistant capabilities, I did not find it an issue.
The tights are equally impressive. As mentioned above, they provide a level of waterproofing I have not previously seen in tights. They also seem to click into position when you get on a bike. The compression that was uncomfortable off the bike makes sense and adds to overall comfort.
Assos has also used the Sphere membrane on the tights and combined it with its Osmos heavy brushed knit fabric for added insulation on the knees, thighs, crotch, and hips. The tights also have a Durable Water Repellent (DWR) treatment which helps with the water resistance I mentioned earlier.
The tights get a winter-specific chamois which is similar to the insert found in the Equipe RS bibs but ditches the ventilation holes. The chamois is incredibly free and barely noticeable while riding. From what I can sense, this is thanks to a technology Assos calls “Goldengate” and a small area of less protective, more elasticated fabric between the top of the thighs and the chamois. The golden gate is effectively a gap in the stitching which secures the chamois to the tights. This gap allows the chamois freedom to move with the rider, and the lighter section of fabric means the tights don’t bunch up around the upper legs due to the riders pedalling motion.
The calves and ankle areas of both legs get a wraparound reflective trim which adds some welcome visibility when hit by vehicle headlights. The reflective section is a wetsuit-like material and helps ensure less of the road spray from the front wheel soaks down into your shoes.
So is this the perfect jacket? The go-to jacket for all conditions, perfect in every way? Not quite.
The jacket also features an integrated zippered mid-layer which covers the chest only. I like the idea of adding thermal protection to the chest area to provide warmth where you need it, without an extra layer around your waist which is usually the area to overheat first. However, the execution seems a little off in the Johdah jacket. I found the mid-layer to be too short, meaning it was difficult to zip up if opened on the move and with the layer attached to the arms, it was often pulled off centre under the jacket.
The Thermobooster mid layer performs superbly and provides a noticeable extra level of insulation; however, the fit is again on the small side. I found the length of the sleeves and belly too short, which meant the layer rides up my body mid-ride. The tight fit of the Johdah jacket leaves little room for the layer, but when combined with other jackets, it noticeably improves heat retention.
Assos incorporated a pocket between the Johdah jacket’s shoulders specifically to hold the Thermobooster mid-layer. The Swiss brand suggests the mid-layer can be removed mid-ride as temperatures rise. Compared to removing a vest/gilet, I found Assos’ suggestion impractical as removing the mid-layer requires stopping and removing the jacket first. The jacket’s tight fit also meant adding the Thermobooster to the shoulder pocket felt like pulling the jacket even tighter.
I can’t help but think Assos took a mid-layer approach here to ensure those defusers stay open. I wore a very light gilet over the jacket on several rides, and breathability was noticeably diminished with the airflow through the defusers blocked.
Then there is the colour. As mentioned earlier, the kit looks impressive, but I can’t help but feel invisible and vulnerable when on the roads with the low visibility typical of winter conditions. I like bright jackets for dark winter riding.
Assos point to the difficulty in retaining protective membrane performance when printing on highly technical fabrics. And while this is true, I feel Assos has missed opportunities to brighten up the jacket.
The three lower back pockets and additional Thermobooster pod between the shoulders are extra layers and, as such, do not need to provide the same level of protection as the jacket itself. In one such example, Sportful has moved to lightweight mesh pockets to reduce layers and promote breathability in these areas. Assos could have done the same with a bright, vibrant colour on the pockets, improving visibility without affecting the jacket’s performance.
Frustratingly, Assos has printed the jacket interior with an electric blue pattern that would have looked even better on the outside and added visibility.
As mentioned earlier, it took me just one ride to realise how good the Equipe RS range is. After that first ride, I referred to the jacket as “the most dangerous jacket I have ever used”. Not because of the colour but because it kept me so comfortable for the entire ride. I hadn’t realised the temperatures had dipped below freezing, and the roads might have been treacherous with ice.
This amazement was a theme that played out time and time again as I tested the kit. Rain, hail, sleet, and snow, the new range was up to the challenge.
It is not without fault. Some of the design decisions are confusing and the price is humongous. The jacket is not a layering piece, despite Assos claims otherwise. It just doesn’t provide enough room, and it’s not packable if you need to take it off. When I layered below the jacket and I felt like the Michelin man and layering above blocked the diffusor valves, but as a standalone the jacket is incredible. The kit’s performance as a whole made up for the smaller individual issues.
It’s a great jacket if you plan to put it on in the morning and keep it on all day, with few changes to your overall layering. Its versatility makes this possible. If you are going to experience very large temperature or output swings, this jacket isn’t worth it.
Unfortunately, Assos has raised the bar in terms of what is possible in terms of pricing, and frustratingly no doubt other brands will follow suit. However, Assos has also raised the bar in terms of performance, which will not be as easy to follow.