Assos Fugujack Jacket
Assos isn't shy about advertising this jacket. The Fugujack is featured in just about all of their winter advertisements. The jacket looks like the ultimate winter outer layer. And it gets both the dedicated winter rider and the one who's been reluctant to ride in the cold salivating. Most cyclists give it a look and think, "this could be the ultimate winter jacket."
When you get it in your hands, take a look at the cut, the fabric, the stitching, it seems like that feeling is being confirmed. When you look at the price, you take a breath and say, "for this price, it should be." It is.
A simple fact about winter riding: people can ride into the negative digits (Fahrenheit), but the problem becomes layering. The issue is that most shells are either not warm enough or too warm—and neither generally let any warm, sweaty air out. Cyclists usually prefer the former, and then put on two or three undershirts and a vest on under the jacket. That's where dressing gets long. It takes a while to put on enough layers. And no one wants the act of dressing to take nearly as long as the ride. It's hard to justify getting out for an easy hour when it takes 15 minutes to dress. Ergo, the dream is to make dressing as easy as going for a ride in the low 60s—undershirt, shorts, jersey, arm warmer, go. The winter ideal goes baselayer, tights, booties, jacket, hat, gloves, go.
Assos constructed most of this jacket out of their AirBlock 851 fabric. The material definitely lets nothing inside. It seems to allow some vapor to escape, but it's not really designed for that. There are some thick mesh panels, two under the armpits and two low in back, that are designed to let hot air escape. The collar has a strange-looking vertical-baffle thing going on. Definitely aesthetically arresting, but it took an inquiry to learn that it's to keep the collar stiff and upright in front. The wrist cuffs are made of a thick Lycra and the seam is backwards from where one would expect it, on the outside of the wrist, not the inside. The pockets are zippered (with the Assos logo pulltab of course) and on the sides of the back. The positioning seems to allow for a better jacket shape, and the inside of the pockets has more of that thick mesh stuff, which, when riding with the zippers open and nothing in the pockets, could help further cool the body—if overheating is becoming an issue. The back drops much lower than most jackets, reaching down almost to the chamois on the butt when standing. In the riding position, the multi-panel lower back seems designed to hug the contours of the gluteus. Reflective piping is added as well.
The most curious feature of the jacket is the zip-up inner liner. It is attached to the front panels of the jacket and has it's own zipper. The liner, when zipped, runs from just above the navel all the way to the chin. The back of the liner is shaped like a minimal hood and can be worn over the ears. Assos suggests combining this liner with their roboCap on really cold days to insulate the head and neck without sacrificing comfort or mobility. If this isn't comfortable, the liner can be folded down and worn almost as a neck gaiter, sealing the garment from the neck down. Assos deliberately stitches their AirBlock logo to appear on the inside of the jacket—it's symbolic of their belief that what is inside counts.
The name Fugujack comes from Japanese puffer fish. Fugu. It's an ironic commentary for how one usually dresses in winter. Another irony is that the fish is a delicacy, so long as the toxic parts are removed. The toxic parts are deadly. So it is with winter riding. Dress properly, and the ride feels like a delicacy. Dress wrong, and it's all discomfort.
The pictures of the Fugujack don't do it justice. The models are usually standing up. The jacket is designed for riding, so wearing it upright makes it look like it doesn't fit so well. The back is puckered, the arms are bunched in the front of the shoulders and the back of the elbows, and the front of the jacket seems a bit tight across the chest.
When we first tried it on, the material stretched and it felt like we were sliding our torso into a glove. The arms stretched as our hand went through, and then went back into place and sealed out the elements after the hand popped through the wrist opening. Zipping the liner seemed to start to get the jacket into the fitted riding position, and then doing the external zipper sealed the body in a second skin. The articulated rear end rode around our cheeks rather nicely.
The front liner struck us as the oddest thing about the jacket. It made us feel as if we were dressing for battle when we first zipped it up to our chin and went for a ride. Maybe thinking of it as battle gear was a good thing. We were prepared for the elements—our first ride in the jacket was on a windy, 20-degree day—and felt like we could take on anything. With the liner up around our noggin, we found that we could run a ski hat on top of the liner, the roboCap under the liner (particularly good under helmets), or even just the liner over our ears and under the helmet. Definitely easier than wearing a balaclava, and it has a second use when you fold it away.
As mentioned earlier, our first ride in the jacket was on a blustery, 20-degree day. We put on our warmest baselayer, a warm vest, and then the jacket. Donned ski hat, gloves, etc., and went for a quick hour spin. We were fine. After 45 minutes or so, we caught up with a friend who was merely noodling along. After several minutes of jaw jacking at a pace that barely elevates the heart rate, a realization occurred. We had been overdressed. We could feel the wet baselayer. Still warm, though. When we got home, we peeled off, and the undershirt was soaked through as was the vest. Mental note: wear less than we were used to.
On subsequent rides in the 20s, we tried different combinations. If we were riding at an endurance pace with some tempo-like efforts thrown in over hills, one layer was sufficient. If we were doing a recovery ride in the 20s, a sleeveless undershirt in addition to the long sleeve baselayer was sufficient. Wearing the jacket into the thirties, which we did as well, entailed using lighter gloves and tights than we typically use in such weather.
As we've written before, Assos really takes pride in their details. At the bottom of the jacket zipper, where you join the two halves, is a silver triangle. On the little piece of fabric is embossed the words, "have a good ride," in a repeating pattern. It's a great reminder, and exactly what we intend to do.