Review by A.J. Barlas // Photography Jon Anthony & A.J. Barlas
A riding jacket that works well is a tricky piece of gear to find - both for the consumer looking for the ideal jacket, and the designer developing it. Depending on where you do most of your riding, water repellence, warmth and breath-ability become prerequisites of varying importance, and striking the perfect balance between these attributes is key.
In Squamish, we generally need all of the above for a jacket to work well. Our 'off-season' involves plenty of wet, cold rides, with the body working hard enough to really generate some heat. The Royal Stage jacket is a soft shell jacket developed specifically for riding in cooler, damp conditions, and we've been putting it to the test for the better part of winter thus far, in conditions ranging from -10c to mild, wet days around +10c.
Royal Racing Stage Jacket Highlights
- Technical DWR fleece faced double weave Nylon fabric
- Oversized front double opening vents/pockets
- Rear venting strategically placed above hydration pack positioning
- Internal storm flap
- Lycra cuff and waist trim/taped neck seam
- MSRP: $109.99 USD
The Stage jacket is without doubt a no frills jacket. There are no fancy waterproof zips, venting or stitching. The styling is simple and all business - similar to that of a base model Ford Focus, its sole purpose is function without any glam. But this is what Royal set out to achieve when setting out to develop a jacket that would keep you warm during cold days on the bike. The vents work out of the same zip as the pockets, running vertically up each side of the front of the jacket. The rear vent works in a fairly common 'exhaust' fashion, though it is positioned higher than most average riding packs will reach, resulting in a jacket that still vents with a pack on.
The rear vent is always open and covered with a logo adorned flap of extra material to hold the elements out. Sizing for the jacket was a little odd, with a large fit - the recommended size for my height - being a little short in the body. It was actually shorter than the exact same size of the Royal Stage Jersey (review to come). The result was the jersey hanging beneath the waist of the jacket, a minimum of an inch. Tucking the jersey in, the jacket is long enough to work, but this is not ideal and worth noting.
On The Trail
In the past I've personally avoided soft shell jackets when it comes to riding. They're great to wear casually, with the soft material being more comfortable than the rigid nylon shells out there, but riding in them always seemed like a bad idea… until now. This soft shell breathes better than other (nylon) jackets I've ridden in and despite the added warmth of the material, often resulted in less sweating. When it was a little milder out, the vents on the front of the jacket did a great job of pushing the warm, stagnant air out through the vent in the back.
Colder days and the Stage jacket were a great match, the intended use case for this jacket. On the warmer days, up to around +10c, the jacket was a little hot, but anything below that and it was great. Th jacket also saw a number of wetter rides that resulted in the it being soaked through by the end, though only just enough to get the closest layer beneath it wet. If we're talking about a light drizzle the jacket keeps you dry, but any more than that, or if you stay out for an extended period of time, the soft shell is not the best option. It is also worth noting that the material gets heavier than your regular nylon shell when it begins to really soak up the water.
Long Term Durability
After a few wash cycles the reflective logos on the sleeve and other areas of the jacket have begun to wear off. But with the jacket being positioned as mountain bike clothing, are the (small) reflective details even all that functional? The Stage jacket is coated with DWR, which gives it its water repellent qualities. While we haven't spent enough time in the jacket to comment on the life of the coating, it is known that it doesn't last forever, especially when used regularly in wet conditions. If the jacket is used for warmth and to keep the occasional light drizzle off a rider, the coating should last some time.
Aside from the above, the jacket has been flawless, with zero zip malfunctions or excessive wear to any of the materials on the jacket to report, despite the particularly abrasive winter conditions it has had to endure.
Things That Could Be Improved
Under the conditions it was developed for, the Stage jacket worked really well and was comfortable to ride in. The jacket's material does cause dirt and mud to cling to it, which isn't ideal for riding in really mucky conditions, but realistically this is not a surprise on a soft shell. It would also be nice to see sizing consistent across Royal's range, a point made especially clear with the same model jersey, in the same size, being longer than the jacket.
What's The Bottom Line?
Colder, less damp conditions were when the Royal Stage jacket shone and on these days I would forget that I was wearing it, indicative of it doing its job well. The jacket was really comfortable, and I appreciated the light weight and the simple, to the point design and functionality. Riding in these colder, drier conditions is what Royal design the Stage for and under these circumstances, it rates very highly. While it also does a good enough job of keeping you dry on wetter, muckier rides, it's not ideal, and if it gets a little milder, many will find it a little warm. Both these points are worth noting, despite the jacket's intent not falling directly inline with either scenario.
For more information visit www.royalracing.com.
About The Reviewer
AJ Barlas started riding as most do, bashing about dirt mounds and popping off street curbs. Not much has changed, really. These days the dirt mounds have become mountains and the street curbs, while still getting sessioned, are more often features on the trail. He began as a shop monkey racing downhill since day zero, only to go 'backwards' and start riding and racing BMX later on. He then came full circle once moving to Whistler. AJ loves riding everything from 8 hour mountain pass epics (bonking) to lap after lap in the park and 20 minute pumptrack sessions at sunset. Driven by his passion for biking and exposing people to the great equipment we ride, AJ started and maintains the Straightshot MTB blog. So long as wheels are involved, and preferably dirt (the drier and dustier the better), life is good.