Clothesline Review: Nalini jacket and tights

Tech editor Zack Vestal takes on the cold in a Nalini jacket and Cirello bib tights.

Editor’s note: The Clothes Line is an occasional column about clothing, shoes, helmets, and other accessories we’ve encountered. Clothing is possibly the most personal of all gear choices: two riders can try the same jersey and come back with completely different opinions. This is not meant as an extensive review (as in, worn until threadbare), but we simply hope to ride these products for as long as possible and report back on the basic fit and features. We hope you find it helpful.

The last time I wrote about clothing, the weather was still warm enough for short-sleeve jerseys and shorts. Sadly, those days are gone, replaced with temperatures in the mid-40s and gritty roads bordered by dirty snow.

Nalini makes ProTour clothing for a number of teams, but even standard pieces get cool graphics.
Nalini makes ProTour clothing for a number of teams, but even standard pieces get cool graphics.

On the bright side, I’ve got a few pieces of gear at hand that are keeping me warm and dry on the bike from the Italian company Nalini (whose parent Moa Sport is the clothing sponsor of Columbia-HTC, Crédit Agricole and Caisse d’Epargne, among others).

Before I get to the review, here are a few tips on dressing for winter riding. The fundamentals are the same as you’ve heard for years: Use layers to keep your core warm, and it will help keep your hands and feet warm.

• I always start with a base layer against my skin, to provide insulation and wick moisture off the body. Choose long or short sleeves and the weight of base layers depending on temperature. My threshold is 50 degrees — anything below, and I wear a long sleeve base layer. Over 50 degrees, and I find a lighter weight, short sleeve base layer. Most clothing companies have base layers in their collections, but I like Craft, Pearl Izumi, and DeMarchi.

• After the base layer, wear an insulation layer. Pick a long or short-sleeved, heavy or light jersey based on temperature. Again, for temperatures below 50 degrees I usually choose a long sleeve, insulating jersey. Over 50, and I can sometimes get away with a short sleeve jersey, arm warmers, and a vest. Your insulation layer doesn’t have to be fancy, it just has to provide warmth. I’ve got a stash of nice, basic Giordana long sleeve jerseys that I turn to for warmth.

• Finally, you’ll need a jacket or outer layer to block wind (and water, if it’s raining). Your long sleeve insulation layer won’t do any good if the wind is cutting right through it, so look for a jacket with wind-blocking panels on the front, and ideally some form of ventilation or breathability to prevent overheating. Around 50 degrees, a light vest might be enough. For temperatures below 40, I’m a big fan of stout, windproof jackets like the Pearl Izumi PRO Softshell.

The same basic principles apply for shorts and tights, but most riders prefer just one layer on their legs. Choose tights or leg warmers that are windproof and warm, but adequately flexible for pedaling. I am a big fan of warm, fleecy bib shorts paired with good leg warmers, but fleecy shorts are harder to find than good bib tights like those from Campagnolo, Castelli, and Nalini.

In transitional temperatures (50-60 degrees) accessories like arm warmers, knee warmers, and leg warmers are helpful. You can keep them in place when it’s chilly and peel them off as the day and your body warm up. I love Descente “ColdOut” leg and arm warmers.

Zips on the Aquila are easy to access and don’t look out of place on the jacket.
Zips on the Aquila are easy to access and don’t look out of place on the jacket.

Finally, gloves, hats, and booties or shoe covers are essential to protect your extremities. Make sure these pieces don’t restrict circulation, because good blood flow to fingers and toes is critical to warmth. I actually have some bulky downhill skiing gloves by Carhartt that are my favorites for road riding, along with some Adidas booties and a Gore Bike Wear hat.

Nalini Aquila jacket ($240)
and Cirello Skinsuit bib tights ($300)

The Nalini Aquila is a medium-weight, full-zip jersey/jacket for the transitional temperatures of fall and spring. The long sleeves zip off, so it’s very versatile — it can be a long-sleeve jacket or a wind-blocking, short-sleeve jersey. It’s perfect to pair with just a base layer (long or short sleeve, depending on temp).

The Cicerello bib tight is much more substantial, great for colder temperatures, and with the added bonus of Polar heart rate monitor compatibility. It’s a standalone tight that doesn’t need an over-layer.

I’ve worn the Aquila jacket in a range of temperatures from the mid-60s to mid-40s. It’s been great because the front panel and sleeves are a lightweight, wind-proof material, but the back is a lighter, breathable jersey fabric. As the day warms, zipping off the sleeves turns this mid-weight jacket into a comfortable short-sleeve jersey with a wind-blocking front panel.

Reflective piping aids visibility, all the zippers are nice, and the collar is tall but soft and comfortable. The “MantoVent” windproof membrane does a great job keeping out the chill, but I can’t say how it would perform in rain. The front and sleeves are built to be water resistant, but the back is not, and the configuration of the zip-off sleeves is such that water could easily soak through the tops. If you expect to be riding in wet conditions, bring a real rain jacket.

At 6-foot-1 and 165 pounds, I find a size medium to be just long enough in the torso and surprisingly perfect in the arms. The fit is trim and the sleeves don’t flap in the wind, which I love. Plus, with the sleeves zipped off, the remaining short sleeves and armpits don’t bind, which is great. Overall, the fit and function are perfect for temperatures from the mid-40s to mid-50s.

The Cirello bib tight has a sleeveless, full body upper with a Polar heart rate strap built in.
The Cirello bib tight has a sleeveless, full body upper with a Polar heart rate strap built in.

My only complaint is that the pockets are too small. There are two main pockets and a small cell phone pocket, but none are big enough for bulky cargo. Any jersey or jacket for three-season riding should have generous pockets to accommodate layers shed as the day warms or an emergency rain jacket. The Aquila pockets are almost filled up by the zipped-off sleeves, leaving little room for hats, gloves or other spare clothing.

I find the Cirello bib tight to be warm and substantial, great for temperatures in the 40s and below. Rather than just shoulder straps, it has a full-body sleeveless top, which adds warmth. The fit of a size large is snug and compressive, but the legs have adequate stretch for freedom of movement. The knees and crotch have abrasion-resistant fabric, which is nice, but not quite as stretchy as the surrounding fleecy Super Roubaix Lycra. On the upside, this dense fabric aids wind protection, making these tights very warm indeed. Nalini incorporates several different brands of moisture wicking and insulating fabric to further boost warmth.

A unique added feature to the Cirello tights is a built-in Polar heart rate sensor strap. The sensor is sewn directly into the fabric on the back of the torso, so all you have to do is snap a transmitter to the back of the bibs. If you train with heart rate, I can see how it would be nice to skip wearing the chest strap, and simply snap a sensor directly to the bibs. Note that you couldn’t do this if you were wearing an insulating base layer.

The Nalini UCN (Ultra Comfort Nalini) chamois pad is very nice, made of natural suede and microfiber. It’s the right size and shape, in the right place, and feels great against the skin. The surface is more like a traditional leather chamois than today’s more common synthetics, and it feels good.

A three-quarter zip on the front torso and ankles make it relatively easy to get in and out of the Cirello tights, but I’d prefer the front zip to be longer to make things easier when nature calls. It’s my only gripe about these otherwise very comfortable, very warm bib tights.

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Stay tuned for more editions of The Clothesline. I’ve got items from Craft, Rapha, and Pearl Izumi in rotation as winter wears on.