You’ve got to be in it to win it. Battle of the Beach specifically. No, I didn’t win the event, far from it, but there were a load of little side event competitions and the like being played out over the weekend. That’s great, it means there’s a chance of you winning something even though you’re never going to challenge for the lead. Both myself and my riding partner Mike did quite well out of our £33 entry fee. He wound up with a set of Lezyne lights for being placed in a 10th position in Battle in the Dark (not THE 10th position, lights were given out to each finisher for 10th, 20th, 30th and so on). And, for the very small embarrassment of taking a selfie with the Assos car, I wound up winning this jersey. I don’t think I’ve taken a selfie before. But it’s worth it, it seems.
Right, deep breath, and let’s get rid of the elephant in the room. It’s a mighty fine elephant. Though Assos prefer to call it the JumboEvoMegaPhant.S7 rather than calling it what it actually is (though, to be fair this jersey is one of their more mainstream naming conventions). It’s also quite an expensive elephant. It might even be, and I’ve checked, the most expensive elephant in existence. Yes, this jersey retails for, wait for it, £254.99. That’s in excess of anything made by Castelli or Rapha. Indeed, it’s more than a Rapha skinsuit. It’s a mountain bike jersey as well, and that makes it even more baffling. It’s almost £100 more than Assos’s most expensive road cycling jersey. How, in all that is reasonable, could this ever be worth it? We know that road cycling is the new golf and that there will be a demand for the most expensive product. But mountain biking clothing? Hmm.
I pondered over this review for a while. Indeed, this review became more about reviewing methodology than it did about the product itself. I looked around the internet. There aren’t many reviews out there. In fact, I could only find one. Their conclusion, “It’s a good jersey, not great, and for the price, we would expect great.” What didn’t they like? The mesh, mostly, and I’ll come back to that. And the road cut and I’ll deal with that as well. I thought really long and hard about what I’m going to say here. Really long. If I even liked it, how on earth could I ever recommend something that costs this much. At what point does integrity get chucked out of the window? How can you take anything I say seriously? Do you conclude that it’s Assos and automatically great? Or is it actually easier to write a review where I conclude that it just cannot be worth it? I don’t think any review I’ve tackled has left me feeling quite so conflicted.
Testing is quite an interesting process. The observant of you will see that I’ve pointed out flaws in products but, by and large, I’ve been positive about practically all of them. And that’s because, in my view, all that kit has performed very well. Sometimes it’s about the tech, sometimes it’s about the value, sometimes it’s about something intangible. Sometimes it’s about all of the above. In writing ANY review I’m owed nothing and I owe nothing. My views are always mine. I’m grateful for those who have entered into the process and allowed me to review their products. Perhaps their confidence in that product is why they’ve allowed me to review it. But this review? It’s about something that I won. I didn’t buy it and I’ve not been given it to review. I can slate it without fear. And, at that price, if we value our integrity, I should do that, right?
Anyhow, for all their legendary (and sometimes infamous) status in the world of road cycling, Assos are a relative newcomer to the MTB world. And their take on it is, effectively, to utilise road style and transfer it to the trails. Their range is not extensive. Effectively, one pair of shorts and two jerseys for each gender. So you have the Rally bibs and then the Cape Epic (£110) and Rally (£255) jerseys. View them how you want, either the Rally jersey is the Cape Epic taken to extreme levels or the Cape Epic is the Rally on a budget. Whatever the case, the Cape Epic jersey looks practically budget next to this. Another point to bear in mind is this, the Cape Epic would look fine on a road bike. The Rally jersey would perform fantastically, but might look very weird on a road bike. So when I talk about the use you’d put this to, it really should be for off road.
While we’re at it, what is the Cape Epic? It’s a 450 ish mile multi stage, multi day MTB endurance event across South Africa. You can see all about the race here. Have a look. It’s an interesting one. I’d love to do it. Have a look at how everyone is dressed. It gives you some insight into why the Assos jersey is what it is. The Cape Epic jersey is named to commemorate the event. The Rally jersey is created to ride it.
So, in the rarified world of halo products is there something more going on here? Is there something different about this jersey? I’m relieved to say that there is. The first thing to say is that this is the only jersey that comes supplied with its own base layer, specifically Assos’s own skinfoil S7 summer base layer. We’ll come to that later. Why is it supplied? Well, take a look at the back of the jersey later on. It’s untraditional to say the least. The entire back mid section is mesh and open to the elements, specifically the sun. There’s a good chance that if you ride without a base layer that you’ll end up with some pretty unique sun burn. Hence the base layer. I actually like this as an idea. The mesh is a little more breathable than a normal piece of fabric and it’s always nice to have another base layer, isn’t it? We’ll return to whether it works a little later on.
I should add, at this point, that the jersey is designed to be worn in conjunction with the T.RallyShorts_S7. That’s actually a quite sensible name for an Assos product by the way. The overall effect is as below. See those bulgy bits in the shorts? No, not THAT bulgy bit, the ones at the side. There are some plastic/rubber inserts there to cushion your hips in the case of a fall. Tidy addition. They’re quite expensive as well, but, actually, no more expensive than the jersey (and that’s not actually bad for Assos shorts). The overall look is road warrior on the trails I guess. It’s orientated towards the XC rider clearly and one doing his stuff in the high summer rather than your average October UK rider. But, if I were doing a summer XC epic in the UK and the weather was right it’s certainly the type of look that I’d be going for rather than the baggier affair. That was cited as a drawback on one of the reviews I’d seen. It depends very much on what you want out of it. I like using road orientated kit off road, in the right circumstances. I did Battle on the Beach in exclusively road kit (MTB shoes aside) and was perfectly comfortable. If I had had this for that race then I’ve little doubt I would have worn it. With arm warmers naturally.
So, back to that jersey. It’s quality. Absolute, top drawer, off the scale quality. There’s a huge amount of attention to detail. Every bit of it screams Assos in a way that, frankly, only Assos can. That other manufacturers can do as well with other, more mainstream tech, is unarguable. But there is something to be admired about Assos’s unwavering use of proprietary technology to really push the boundaries of cycling clothing and technology. The jersey is a technological masterpiece. Does it need to be? I’ve no idea. Without doing the Cape Epic in searing heat and dust I don’t think I’ll ever really know.
Before we look at what it’s like and how it performs, let’s look at how it arrives.
It’s all a bit special. Assos make a great play about environmentalism on the outside of the box. But there’s a wealth of packaging. No bags though, no plastic, nothing that can’t be recycled. For all its volume it is environmentally friendly. Bigger volume though. More space needed to transport. Let’s give them a pass on that.Chamois cream as well, you can never have too much chamois cream.
Let’s start with the base layer. It’s the Skin Foil S7 vest version and, on its own, costs £55 (rrp). It goes some way to mitigate the cost of the Rally jersey overall and is, of course, usable with all your other kit.
It’s a pretty nice piece actually. It’s very compressive which is undoubtedly due to the ribbing going on. It’s fantastically comfortable. It wicks brilliantly and stays dry. It doesn’t appear to create too much, if any, insulation, which goes some way to offset any issues in relation to wearing a base layer in summer conditions. The best bit? Look closely, really closely. I don’t think that it’s deliberate, it’s just a happy co-incidence. But it does appear to feature the Spiderman chest symbol. Peter Parker was an excellent engineer and scientist so perhaps that webbing pattern is all about the support. It’s actually a top quality base layer as one would naturally expect. It’s an expensive one, for sure, but the base layer world has also become a little rarified. It’s not especially out of kilter with the other premium brands. Tenner more than Rapha? Nothing too controversial here.
So, onto the jersey itself. 6 textiles, 25 patterns, 13 components. Mine is an XL and is said to be a regular fit. I’d go with that though I am XL in most Assos jerseys anyway (Mille aside). It’s not overly relaxed but neither is it overly compressive. It’s, well, comfortable. Clingy and conforming. Fits like the figurative glove.
The front is actually pretty straightforward. The usual Assos quality zip is present with its large (ish) zip tag. No issues with altering the zip position in flight. The front section is made from an Assos proprietary fabric (i.e. their own mix of materials) which offers a really good form fit. This, as I stated earlier, was an area of criticism in some circles. Road fit on mountain bike. It’s a matter of personal preference. It’s a look that I tend to go for though, perhaps, that’s mostly because I prefer having one set of kit. And it’s an interesting point, you never see a CX’er in MTB kit, why shouldn’t a jersey designed for epic exploits be any different? Have a look at the Cape Epic pictures, it’s pretty much exclusively road/race orientated. Much depends, naturally, on the type of off road riding you are doing. I don’t think Assos had the Afan in mind but, on a dry, dusty summer day? Lovely. The black fabric is a work of art in itself. The white line weaves into the black fabric and gives it form. It stretches to a point then springs back.
The front jersey material continues on the arm but is interrupted by that lighter (green) fabric. That portion changes depending on your colour choice. So you can choose from green, red or black. The sleeve termination is a different fabric again. It’s a big stretchy thing. No rubberised treatment inside here, it just clings to your arm nicely and comfortably.
So, round the back we go. And this is where things go so very different. There are three very defined areas. The front material is carried over to a number of sections, the green material ditto and then there’s the mesh. It exists in the middle of the back and on the shoulders. We’ll come back to the mesh in a moment. There are three pockets and a zipped valuable one. And some reflective trim. On a summer jersey. Quite a lot of it in fact. You might wonder why? Kudos to them for adding it. Thing is a Rally can take place at night as well, and so do epic rides. Safety on the trails. Why not.
The pockets are excellent and very very strong. You could easily stick a load of stuff in there, bottles included, and be confident of the jersey standing up to loads of abuse. Assos pockets are always good and the jersey doesn’t sag even with significant weight placed in the pockets. At the bottom is the usual Assos big rubber band gripper. Nice, comfy and conforms to your shape. The construction, overall, is outstanding. The stitching is as good as you’re ever going to see on a jersey. Reinforced stips are placed over many of the seams and then sewn over for added strength. It’s hugely over engineered and will last for years.
And the mesh. It’s virtually impossible to describe in any meaningful way. Let’s take a look at it as best a camera can.
It’s 3D basically. Now, given that exists in this plain of existence that’s fairly obvious. But my point is that it’s not flat. It’s a tunnel like structure that compresses to the touch. Assos say that it can feel rough on the skin without the base layer. It’s certainly not like silk but I wouldn’t call it rough. Clearly though, being effectively see through, you can tan through it. So on the high trails of the Veldt a base layer is utterly essential.
The tunnel like structure is interesting. Effectively you have thousands of little exhaust ports to let the sweat out. I wouldn’t even describe it as wicking, per se, not in the traditional sense. It’s one giant vent. Utterly breathable. The big question is whether the approach is more effective than any other option. That’s a difficult thing to test and would require back to back testing in appropriate conditions. I’ve not done that, yet. I’ll report back when I do. It’s a given that Assos will have, so we’ll give them a pass for now.
How does it perform? Well, I’ve managed a ride in 14 degrees but no warmer, as yet. I’ll update you as we go on. I tried to do as tempo as I could. No sweating at all. How much Assos? How much weather? That’s still to see. My inclination is that it will work as described. Its presence on the shoulders as well as the middle back section is an interesting addition and I wonder whether it creates some element of “flow through” as you’re riding. You can see what I mean about the construction below. There’s nothing quite like it regardless of whether you feel that “it” is necessary.
So, the world’s most expensive jersey. Unless you know different. Does it stand up to scrutiny? Can it ever stand up to rationalisation? It’s a tough sell. I wonder how many they do sell. And if it is the world’s most expensive jersey is it the world’s best jersey?
I’ve won very little in my life. Indeed, it’s this and a copy of Tango and Cash on VHS in 1989. In terms of whether it’s the best prize I’ve ever won it’s certainly not the hardest ask. Top film mind, 80’s classic. Fairly sure it introduced the acronym FUBAR. Anyway, I digress.
In terms of performance it’s superb. It’s probably the best fitting jersey I’ve owned. It comfortably does what it says on the really fancy box. It will last forever. The thing is each of those sentences should terminate with “and it should be.” The same can be said for so many jerseys. I’ve a custom Owayo jersey somewhere that was £40 and it’s still as good as new, thing is I don’t want to wear it that often.
Regular readers will know all about the jerseys I’ve reviewed on here and what I think of them. I’ve rated them all very highly. And there are some crackers to come. How can this jersey ever be worth the price? And what is the real price? Do we divorce the base layer and consider it to be a £200 jersey? Does that make it better? It certainly undercuts something like the Rapha shadow (with its specific purpose) if we take that approach. But we have to have the base layer as it’s supplied. And is needed. So we’re back to a £254 jersey again…….
The question then is two fold. Would I buy one, do I think it’s worth it. The answer to the first question is probably not. The answer to the second is maybe. And the answers to the questions might change. If I was doing an epic somewhere hot, then I reckon it would be just the sort of thing I would wear. Indeed, even in the UK, if I were doing something like the South Down CX Sportive and it were dry, hot and dusty then it’s absolutely something I’d wear. I’d do that because I own it. I’d find it more difficult to say that I’d buy it to use it. Would I wear it in the rain? Unequivocally no.
For me the jersey is probably technology beyond my ability. Mind, so is Ultegra, so is Carbon, so is owning a Garmin. But then ability transcends technology. Sir Chris would whip me on a Claris Alu bike. It’s a jersey that is beyond my need. But there are people in the world who have that ability and have that need. I don’t think it’s beyond them and if they want to buy one? I’d say it’s actually a good buy. It’s up there with being the best jersey I’ve put on.
In the end I settled for this. If you want it, if you can afford it, if you can put it to the specific purpose in which it’s probably the world’s best jersey, then you can buy it. Whether it will be twice as good as the world’s next best (specific circumstance) jersey is the debatable point. In the end I decided that it’s a quite spectacular thing, the only issue is what value you put on it. And it’s true to say that value, whatever end of the spectrum of price that you are, is a quite different thing from price. Is it possible to derive value from something quite so expensive? I think that it is, though it’s a hard sell. Talk to me in 5 years and ask me how it is. I suspect it will look like it does today.
There’s light at the end of the tunnel though. Enter Wiggle. As I write this piece it’s been discounted to £178 It’s no longer the world’s most expensive jersey. It’s not alone in being reduced, there are quite a few Assos offerings in there, and a load of other stuff. Spring sale rather than Assos firesale. Factor in that very versatile base layer and we’re talking about a jersey with a price of a shade over £100.
“£100” for the world’s best jersey? That’s a price that might be well worth paying. But get the green one, it’s the fastest.
May 8th update: 27 degrees here today. Took it on road, then off. Just a short blast. I’ll keep this short, any good in the heat? Yep. Bloody brilliant.