by AJ Barlas
Jackets for mountain biking are quite often super cheap rain jackets that we either purchase knowing that at some point we may wreck and cause it damage, or old casual wind and rain jackets that are no longer suitable to an individual's swagger. In either scenario, they are often, in one way or another, inappropriate for riding in.
So what makes a jacket appropriate for mountain biking? The features included on the Royal Racing Matrix jacket certainly help! Do these features add up to a comfortable and functional riding jacket, and can a mountain bike jacket double as a casual? If so, then the logical step would be to purchase a mountain bike jacket like the Matrix and rock it on your bike as well as out for Sunday brunch.
Royal Racing Matrix Jacket Highlights
- 1000 DPI/10000 MVP breathable water proof polyester fabric
- TPR molded hook and loop cuff adjusters
- Waterproof zippers
- Moisture wicking lining
- Toggle adjustable hood and waist
- Mesh vent at the top of the back panel
- Large enough hood to fit over your helmet
- MP3 pocket
- MSRP $129.95
Upon first receiving the Matrix Jacket, it was hard to believe that I was going to be riding in some of the most horrific conditions of the winter in it — the jacket is really nice! Perhaps it was just the subtle pinstripes in the material that gave it that feel, but one thing is certain, everyone will be blown away by the quality of this 'cycling' jacket. Royal went all out to create a garment that was going to look good on and off the trails and they didn't fail.
The jacket is designed around Royal's all-mountain/freeride fit, which paints a fairly clear picture at the target audience it's aimed at. The fit, while loose-ish, is so in all the right places thanks to the tailored cut. The size we tested was an XL, based on past experiences, and although it felt great and comfortable, probably could have been a large, especially for riding in (though the larger size never caused any issues on the trail).
The pockets are not 'real' pockets in the true sense. Similar to Dakine's and a few others, they seamlessly double as ventilation — unzip halfway down and keep whatever is stashed in your pocket concealed while allowing for some extra air — but be careful, pull it down too far and you will not only open the vent, but lose a pocket full of stuff. The reverse-taped zips are top quality and move smooth and freely, but will remain wherever you leave them — no phantom shifting from these suckers.
Rag Dolling Through The Woods
Hitting the trails in the Matrix was equally as impressive as the initial impressions of the styling. The jackets first journey was arguably one of the worst days to ride this winter in Vancouver. Temperatures around zero, 50mm+ of rain throughout the day and upwards of three hours of hammering trails in North Vancouver — the jacket took it all in stride, making the ride so much more enjoyable for me!
The larger hood, while admittedly not a key feature for us initially, soon became something much appreciated. Upon setting off for the initial (horrific) ride, the hood was thrown up over the helmet and left there… the fact that the hood was on was forgotten for at least half of the ride. It kept me dry and comfortable, while not letting me know it was on as many do — tugging away at your lid whenever you turn your head and restricting movement. Any wet weather trail rider should add this feature to the list for any possible purchase.
The jacket's 10,000/10,000 waterproof and breathability stands true. To this day, we are yet to get wet inside this jacket and we've tried. Regardless of how gnarly the weather is, the Matrix will keep you dry. The huge surprise for us was that this jacket actually breathes! No, its not a $400 Goretex jacket, but it does the job well at a fraction of the cost. When temperatures reached the low to mid teens (Celsius), it did get a little warm on longer climbs that required more effort, but the surprise came in the fact that it was still comfortable and didn't act like a garbage bag wrapped around your core.
The vent at the top of the back panel is always open — which honestly doesn't need to be shut — and a flap prevents you from getting wet. Even on the bitter cold days, the fact that there was an open vent did not hinder the comfort level—after all, it is trailing you. When seeking cooler temps and a little more airflow, unzipping the pockets/vents and lowering the main zip a little was all that was required.
Things That Could Be Improved
The only nag we had was with the slack bungee chord cinches that hold the waist and hood adjustments in place. The plastic cinch struggles to hold the elastic in place, effectively leaving the jacket looser than preferred around the waist or hood. This could be just an issue with our jacket, but it is worth noting if you like to tailor the waist or hood of your jackets a little more. Add to this dedicated pockets and making the MP3 pocket waterproof and it would only benefit the overall outcome of this already great garment.
Long Term Durability
Its safe to say that this jacket is going to stand the test of time. Our review jacket has been through a cold, icy, wet hell and back, rolling around in the mud and crashing into rock gardens throughout the winter months, yet it still looks the part. Given the conditions met by the Matrix, an inordinate amount of cycles through the washing machine were also warranted — it still goes strong. So strong it still looks like the day it was pulled out of the packaging — a testament to the quality materials and construction used to create the final product.
Reliability with this garment should be a non issue. There are no loose threads, still no leaks and it's still fancy enough to wear out to brunch (as long as you remember to give it a rinse).
What's The Bottom Line?
Spend a little extra on your riding jacket and double it up as a casual versus repeatedly going the other way — you will save money, not only because you are effectively getting two jackets in one, but also because the Matrix is great value for money, with the functionality of jackets priced well above and similar capabilities.
The fit is great, it keeps you dry and breathes well. Slightly warmer rainy conditions will require a lighter piece and less layering, but for those that ride in conditions similar to the Pacific North West, or that want to get a jacket for all-mountain/downhill/freeride days, you can't look past the Matrix to meet your needs on the trail.
For more on the Matrix Jacket, visit www.RoyalRacing.com.