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Apparel & Accessories

Ridden and Reviewed: Winter tops from Assos

Let’s dispense with the “is it worth it?” questions. The question you need to ask yourself about any high-end product is, “Do I need it?”

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Let’s dispense with the “is it worth it?” questions. Those get into materials costs, labor rates, R&D, shipping, and margins. They’re overly complicated and totally beside the point.

The question you need to ask yourself about any high-end product is, “Do I need it?”

Assos IJ.Bonka.6
MSRP: $519
Do you need a $519 cycling jacket? Of course not. There are sub-$200 cycling jackets that work in the same deep-winter temperatures as this one. So the calculus shifts to figuring out what the IJ.Bonka.6 offers over a $200 jacket, and how much extra you’re willing to pay for those features. And, honestly, if companies like Patagonia and Arc’Teryx can charge more than $500 for ski shells, Assos’s prices are hardly unprecedented.

The first bonus — as with Arc’Teryx apparel — is fit. How many of the 32 different pieces that go into this jacket were required to give it its precise shape I can’t say, but the IJ.Bonka.6 is so tailored to riding that it’s almost difficult to zip up unless you hunch over. Fit is so important to Assos that this jacket actually comes in two options at each size: The super-trim Cento, tested here, and the roomier Mille. It is, without question, the best-fitting winter cycling jacket I’ve worn.

The next bonus is engineering. The windproof front panels have a brushed, insulating lining to offer two layers of protection. Assos uses the same windproof material on the sides of the jacket, but with a more breathable lining. The arms feature an even burlier windproof, water-resistant fabric on the front and top, with a thinner rear panel. Three separate panels run the full length of the back — a wicking, breathable strip down the middle and, on either side, slightly more insulated single-layer panels.

Each panel is engineered for specific warmth and versatility. I’ve comfortably ridden this jacket below freezing — with only a base layer — and up to about 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Performance-wise, there’s nothing I would change.

Then there are the details. The IJ.Bonka.6 features an integrated neck gaiter that tucks away flat down the back, a 1.5-inch-wide insulating strip behind the zipper, and a zippered fourth pocket out back with a rubberized headphone port. The rear panels have minimal vertical stretch, so the pockets don’t sag even when they’re loaded down. Assos also offers a robust warranty and repair program. (The company will even repair garments damaged in a crash, free of charge, within one year of purchase.)

My only quibble with this jacket (aside from reflexively pausing at the price), and with all Assos products, is the overly complex branding. For example, Assos has built its line around four climate ranges: summer, spring/fall, early winter, and winter. Fair enough. But instead of calling them “summer,” “fall,” “early winter,” and “winter,” Assos has gone with Shasha, Tibaru, Habu, and Bonka. Run those out over jerseys, bibs, chamois options, base layers, jackets, fits, and genders, and it’s a mess. I’ve had Assos reps explain it all to me, studied it online, and tested various garments, and I still can’t keep it straight.

The branding gets in the way of what is arguably the best cycling apparel on the market. An IJ.Bonka.6 called something like “WinterJacket.6” would be just as extraordinary but would be much easier to understand.

And it is extraordinary. The IJ.Bonka.6 fits, insulates, and breathes better than any winter cycling jacket I’ve come across.

MSRP: $379
Offering the same ride-specific shape of the IJ.Bonka.6 but in a much lighter package geared toward temperatures from the mid-40s to 60 Fahrenheit, the IJ.Habu5 is as light and thin as a regular long-sleeved jersey. But it boasts a lined, windproof, water-resistant front and the same weather-blocking panel behind the zipper as its more robust sibling.

Honestly, given the $519 price for the much more involved IJ.Bonka.6, this one seems a stretch at $379. For the temperature ranges this piece is geared toward, a long-sleeved jersey and good vest work just as well and are arguably more versatile — and much cheaper. The fit, again, is second to none. But I would still have a tough time suggesting this piece at this price.

MSRP: $129
This one is a resounding yes. Winter riding always requires a form-fitting base layer that can wick and insulate without adding bulk under tight-fitting jerseys and jackets. Assos nails that here with tubular construction that allows for anatomical shaping with minimal seams.

The Evo7 also delivers moderate compression and varied surface textures for added loft or more stretch in strategic areas. The fit is so clean and friction-free, I’ve worn this as a base layer for skiing and as a lone top for cold-weather jogging. Even in sports with much more upper-body movement than cycling, the Evo7 delivers.

If you don’t want to fork out for an entirely new cycling jacket but do want to be more comfortable in cold temperatures, the EVO7 will make every jacket and winter jersey perform better.