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Café du Cycliste Zélie jacket review

14 Feb 2019

A specialist audax or bike-packing jacket that’ll suit a range of riding styles

Cyclist Rating: 
• Excellent all-day wearability • Stylish • Unique design
• Premium pricing • Won’t replace a down jacket in cold regions • Not waterproof

A jacket made for audax style adventures, the Zélie is filled with Primaloft insulation and uses a technical exterior fabric to seal out the weather. A light puffer jacket, but vented enough to resist filling with vapour, it should remain as wearable once you've made camp as it is while out rolling.

With its insulation, hood, and multiple pockets, it’s far from the average cycling jacket or jersey, yet with a cycling specific design, it’s definitely not a repurposed bit of hiking gear either.

Recently, a few brands have decided that riding in an insulated jacket might be something to consider. I’ve not always been a fan, often finding it first a hot and sweaty, then cold and clammy, experience when riding at anything other than a sedate pace.

However, the construction of the Café du Cycliste Zélie jacket is drastically different to alternatives such as Rapha’s new Explore jacket.

Buy the Zélie Winter Audax jacket from Café du Cycliste

In fact, given what I’d expected from the website, it’s not really comparable at all. Using a three-layer construction, comprising a mesh lining, Primaloft Active insulation, and a technical outer fabric, the front panels of the jacket feel quite slim.

The degree of puff is more like a mid-layer than a bulky outer jacket. The jacket’s reverse, along with the leeward sides of its sleeves, do without any additional insulation and are made of thin and stretchy material with a brushed interior finish.

Just about packable into a large jersey pocket and around the size of a grapefruit once bundled up, it’s just compact enough to be worth precious space in your bag or panniers.

On the road

In use, the Zélie’s mix of materials means it remains extremely breathable towards the back, while the front does an excellent job of keeping you toasty.

An extremely comfortable jacket to wear, I was surprised by how aggressive the cut is. With a high front and low back it fits well when riding aggressively, I sized up in the interests of apres ride wearability.

This made it look a little less like I was wearing a cropped jacket when standing, and freed up some room in the hood and under the sleeves.

Given the breeziness of its rear panels, I found the jacket paired best with a long sleeve top or arm warmers. Café du Cycliste suggests the Zélie is also a good item to wear once camped up at the end of the day, or even to spend the night sleeping in.

With its hood, comfy insulation, and multiple pockets I’d concur, especially when ultra-light bike touring demands that every piece of kit earns its keep in multiple situations.

However, its minimalist insulation, tailored to keep you at a constant temperature while working on the bike, limits its usefulness to warmer climes when worn off the bike and into the evenings.

When wearing it away from the bike I also kept reaching for the standard chest pockets that I imagined were there from my normal camping jacket.

This underlines one of the key things about the Zélie. I’d expected an insulated jacket, adapted slightly to the needs of cyclists. What I got was a unique piece of cycling-specific kit that also manages some clever tricks once off the bike. Unlike a down jacket, it’s great to ride in, just not quite so cosy or convenient once worn into the evenings.

Back on the bike, all its main design features score well. The hood sits comfortably under the helmet and doesn’t make it feel any less secure.

In place its sides sit flush to your cheeks, sealing out the wind. A facet backed up by the well-cut collar, it means you won’t need to pack a cap, buff, or head warmer.

On the back, the jacket’s three pockets are deep enough to stop anything bouncing out. The zip pocket is sizable and even more secure.

Across the back of these is a long and stretchy mesh compartment that presents a slightly more precarious home for outsize items, or a convenient holster into which to bundle the jacket for storage.

Riding into the rain, the jacket’s front is backed up by a degree of water resistance. While water won’t bead off in the way some DDR coated garments manage, the front panels and hood won’t soak through straight away either. The same can’t be said for the back of the jacket though, meaning you might still want to pack a shell.

What’s it for?

So when would you use it? Certainly, any time you’re out on the bike in mild temperatures, or high up on the hills. In an ideal world, I’d still take along a down jacket.

But given the pressures of pannier space, if the weather looked favourable, I’d consider using the Zélie alone.

Buy the Zélie Winter Audax jacket from Café du Cycliste

Potentially the Zélie could have been made even lighter and more compact by using down as insulation. However, I was as happy with its synthetic stuffing as the unmolested ducks whose feathers its employment spares.

This is because the Primaloft insulation won’t suffer from rain or sweat in the way that down does. The fact that one errant shower could render your main piece of insulation worthless is always a nervy prospect, and as a second bonus, the Primaloft makes the jacket a lot simpler to wash.

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On the flip side, this leaves the Zélie constructed out of clever plastic. Its pricing is therefore on the premium side, especially for a light jacket that isn’t waterproof.

Still, the styling is suitably high-end, and while I’ve seen some similar products, none have had quite the same audax and bikepacking specific features of the Zélie.

Overall if you can deal with the price it's a good, if quite specific, jacket. Tailored to fast long-distance riding and other bike-related adventuring, you could probably find some of the functionality elsewhere for less dough, but not in such a neat package.


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