Bontrager Circuit Winter Wear: At The Finish – by Grannygear
A couple of months ago we looked at a selection of the new Bontrager Circuit series of Fall/Winter clothing. These were pieces that were on the lighter side of things, temp rating wise, since after all, I am in So Cal. In my desert foothills area, Winter temps seldom drop below 30 degrees. Days are in the 40s-60s.
For the details on what we have on hand, have a look at this link , then come on back here for my thoughts.
Our weather here has been a bit different than the norm with less winds and more rain. Typically Fall/Winter is dry-ish and windy/cold, but not truly cold by the thermometer. However, a good 20 mph wind will chill you down a bit. So performance in cool to somewhat cold winds is key.
Also, we climb a lot here. Maybe not to a Colorado Rockies level, but it’s still pretty legit. To further complicate things, it might be 35 degrees when you start your ride, but 65 degrees and sunny three hours later.
Flexibility is key. Layers rule.
That all said, lets see what I have found about the three pieces of gear I rode in over several hours and a goodly amount of miles. First, my favorite piece.
This has been my fav piece and I have used it quite a bit. More than any other single item of the three. Why? Because it, and good garments like this, make up a key part of a cyclist’s layering system. I consider this a top-layer item with big mid-layer potential.
Mid-layer would be over a base (I pretty much always wear some kind of base layer), and under a shell. If it is really cold, it would go under a jacket. It should insulate well, move water vapor (sweat) out into the air, and give you that in-between insulation layer under a shell.
But on its own as a outer layer over a base, this jersey might be all you really need. You would not expect it to block the wind, but if it does help in that regard, all the better, and it would not be expected to do much if it is raining, etc.
The Circuit Thermal Long Sleeved jersey does all this really well. Really well. In fact, I have to compare it to a GORE long sleeved jersey that I have hanging in the closet. That one was a real winner too.
The fit of the size Large is just right for me (6’2”, 175-ish lbs). The arms are long enough to cover the wrists and meet the gloves. The neck zips up decently high, although it is not as tight a fit around the neck as others I have used. Still, it did not feel drafty. The back pockets are easy to access, deep enough, and the zipped security pocket is a nice touch.
Like the GORE jersey I own, it has a way of feeling very warm once you stop moving. And when you are moving, the fabric is decently effective for lessening…not blocking…wind from moving through the garment.
This was demonstrated to me when I grabbed an older (like 5 years old) long sleeved jersey that is fleecy, warm, and comparable to the Circuit in bulk and fit. I have a few pieces from the same clothing company and I loooove the graphics and colors. Very fun stuff.
I had a base under it and no shell, as I was expecting to not need that extra layer. I was warm in it when just standing around, but when I rode out I was shocked at how easily the wind moved through the older jersey. It felt like a screen door compared to the Bontarger piece.
I have not worn that older jersey since, and that perhaps demonstrates the progress in fabrics for the outdoor clothing industry. I think Bontrager chose wisely.
I often paired the Long Sleeved Circuit jersey with the Circuit Windshell and that was a very usable combo. I also wore it with no shell quite a bit and with a short sleeve (and especially a long sleeve) base under it. It was surprising how low the temps could be before I felt cold, especially if I were climbing.
My only complaint is the grey color. if I were on the road a lot in traffic, it disappears on an overcast and cold day. For gravel stuff, it’s less of an issue.
This was an interesting piece. I cannot recall a long sleeved windbreaker that was less ‘there’ in the ratio between mesh areas and windbreaker material as this one is. Pretty much the entire back panel is mesh, like a lot of vests are, but it also has mesh sections in the length of the arms, on the back side of the sleeve. It is, in a word, minimal. No pockets (where would they be?), no frills.
That makes it very stuff-able. It also makes it one of the better pieces like it that I have used when you are climbing and generating heat. It vents well. Adding to the venting is a two way zip which I really like in any garment that is a shell of some kind. That ability to zip the bottom of the garment open from the waist up is so useful.
You can zip the top zipper down so they meet in the middle or any place in between and while zipping a flapping jacket up in the traditional sense can be a two handed process, it’s easy to zip a bottom zipper down with one hand.
Speaking of flapping, this one barely does that. Maybe it is the snug fit and maybe it is the mesh panel area quelling the dreaded flap. Dunno.
I would have liked about a 1/2” longer sleeve as it tended to sit above my glove top (size Large). Also, keep in mind that this is not a shelter type of cover up. I took it into temps it really was not intended for, like high 30s/low 40s (got surprised on a ride!). When worn over the Circuit Long Sleeved Jersey and a base, it was adequate into the wind when I was generating heat. But on the descent, I could feel heat leaving my body from the mesh areas, even the back of the arms. “Why are my elbows cold?”
Also, I was not as happy with the black color covering so much of the back. Bright white is pretty visible on the road unless it is a cloudy day, but 90% black from the rear view is less than great in this regard.
That said, as part of a layering system that provides wind coverage and tilts toward a high level of venting, this one has won me over.
Just keep it in conditions it’s suited for.
This one got the least love of all of them. Mostly that was due to the temps just not getting to where it made sense to wear it until just recently. Unless it was into the 40s I just would pass on a jacket like this, although 50 and light rain might change my mind.
Worn just over a light to medium base layer, it is very warm as wind just gets denied. It has some fleeciness to the inside, so it does feel good against the skin, but it would get clammy with no base layer. It is a definite step up in warmth over any windbreaker though.
It also has no ‘puffiness’ to it, so worn just over a base shirt, that warm layer of dead air that a mid layer garment provides is not there.
That all said, it has just enough room to run two thin layers under it, although I might size up if I were putting this over something like the Circuit jersey + base. But I never wore it that way. That would be some real warm stuff, more than I typically need where I live. I always used it over a long sleeved base, either a very thin one, or a slightly fuzzy one.
I did not get in any serious rain while I was wearing it so I cannot speak to that, but one ride did see about an hour of heavy drippiness: mist, clouds, and light rain, and I stayed warm and dry up top with a lighter weight long sleeved base under it. The rest of me was pretty wet and cold! Temps got to about 37 and were 40 most of the time.
Now then. What else did I like? Loved the two way zip. That added a lot of ventilation potential and for me, saved the jacket. I appreciate the way these soft shell jackets wrap you in a windblocking, close fitting, semi-water barrier because it is a step up from a windbreaker. They seem to breathe better than a rain shell would.
In fact, I was always pleased with how the Circuit Softshell brought me home with a rather dry base layer as long as I had some easy pedaling time on the way to my doorstep. It was not a tin-of-beef, sauna experience.
It is not the smartest garment for a day that starts cold and ends less cold, unless the ‘less cold’ is still below the upper limit of the jacket. It is hard to bring this into a layering situation like we need to have most of the time. In fact I wore this at night a lot since I knew it was only going to get colder.
Which is why I have a few of these soft shells hanging in my closet and I seldom wear them. I have given a few away. My fav is the Castelli Perfetto (older version) because it breathes so well, deals with water, and has zipped vents at the flanks of the jacket. I would put this Circuit jacket right there with the Perfetto, mostly because the double zip works so well and that extra venting saves the day for me.
Oh yeah…..socks! There was a pair of wool blend socks in the bag from Trek that I may not have mentioned, (Editor’s Note: He did), but yeah, it’s wool sock season and these are really good. I wore them to Colorado in winter for a media trip and they were smart looking, warm, comfy, and just-right in terms of compressive feel. They have proven themselves over many rides as well. If you have not tried a Merino wool blend sock, treat yourself! Bonus points to Bontrager!
Images and website information used in this post are courtesy of Trek Bicycles.
Note: Trek/Bontrager sent over the Winter Wear items in this article to Riding Gravel at6 no charge for teat and review. We are not being paid, nor bribed, for this review and we always strive to give our honest thoughts and views throughout.