‘Keep Warm And Ride On.’ Specialized leans on that tagline for its new winter cycling clothing collection, which offers jackets, layers, and bibs made for fat biking and rolling through snow.
This year, Specialized partnered with 686 Technical Apparel, a brand best known for its snowboarding jackets. The resulting collection for fat-bike riders and anyone who bikes through winter’s chill is high-end, including materials and features often found on alpine-oriented outerwear.
I rode in a suit of the Specialized/686 stuff for the past few months, including through a Minnesota winter, on trails, and on some snowy roads. Overall, it’s not a perfect kit, but it’s very good, even if it does make me look a bit like an Alaskan crab fisherman.
Review: Specialized/686 Fat-Bike Outerwear
The inaugural collection consists of two jackets (an insulated piece and a shell) for each gender, and matching bibs. Together they make up a system that Specialized claims “can laugh in the face of almost any condition, while still retaining all of the fit and functionality required of cycling.”
I’ve been riding the system throughout the winter in all types of weather conditions and have gotten to know it well.
At $500, the Tech Jacket is the most expensive piece of the group, and it does not disappoint. Basically, this is a high-end, alpine jacket with some features made for biking.
It’s a hardshell/softshell hybrid, thin and waterproof like a hardshell, but it appears to the eye (and to the hand) to be “soft.” It has some stretch, and it is breathable.
The jacket needs to be experienced to fully understand, but simply put it does not “trap” heat like a less-breathable jacket, instead offering protection from wind and weather.
The trade-off is well worth it, as the moisture transport can keep up with a higher level of exertion on a bike.
The cut is loose enough to accommodate layering, the arms are long enough for use on a bike, and the hood leaves room for a helmet.
The waist gaiter and wrist gussets do an excellent job of keeping snow out and warmth in. The fold-out spray skirt is an awesome feature that keeps your backside protected from wheel-spray and tucks away when not needed.
Avalanche Danger & Pit Zips?
For some reason, the brand includes a RECCO avalanche rescue reflector. This is a small unit sewn in that allows rescuers with a radio detector device to find victims buried in an avalanche. (I guess some riders may take the kit into true alpine conditions, but it struck as superfluous to us.)
This is a beautiful jacket that has features and a build commensurate with its asking price.
But why are there no armpit zips? Admittedly, the jacket breathes better than expected, but the vent zips are located on the bicep. My biceps are close to my armpits, but not close enough to dump heat. This is both an odd and inexcusable oversight.
The Tech Insulator
First off, the purported “rocket red” is not actually red. The jacket is orange, and it makes you look like you’re about to board the Wizard for a season of crab fishing.
This Primaloft-insulated piece is otherwise awesome. The underarm stretch panels breathe very well and dump enough heat (when no shell is worn over it) to eliminate the need for pit zips on all but the hardest of efforts.
The hood is nice, the jacket is lightweight, the cut is great for sitting on the bike, and overall this jacket is a good buy at $250. Just opt for the “Navy-Haze” color unless you’re putting visibility at the top of your list.
The Tech Bibs
The bibs cost $450. They have a baggy fit to allow for layering, except for the narrow ankle taper, which avoids interference with the driveline. The fabric is again superior, the same huge breathability found in the Tech jacket, while remaining waterproof.
Pockets in the back are awesome, and are my favorite feature of the bibs. But our list of complaints is a bit longer on the bibs, starting with a lack of meaningful venting. They simply do not offer enough ways to dump heat — the small thigh zips are the only means of heat escape. I overheated in these pants on multiple rides when it was not below zero.
The four belt loops are weird and unwelcome. A style move? We’re unsure why a belt would be worn when you have suspenders.
Another small change: The buttons that cover the bottom of the zip caused some problems while relieving myself on the side of the trail. A magnet would have been better than snaps.
The material choice is excellent, the pockets are great, but otherwise we are not sold on bibs being the ultimate winter biking apparel.
For example, the bibs stretch a bit, but every pedal stroke still creates a swish-swish-swish sound that both tights and cross-country ski pants don’t.
Conclusions: Specialized Men’s 686 Collection
The three pieces work well individually, and they have at least a small amount of synergy when used together. But the functionality is not seamless. We can cobble together other jackets, layers, and pants here and get a similar fit.
Together you pay $1,200 for this getup. That’s a pricey kit, and we’re not sold it’s worth it. These are among the finest winter cycling garments you can buy, no doubt. Though, we can’t help but compare this collection with Specialized bikes themselves — well engineered and arguably the best. These pieces don’t quite hit that level.