We still have four months left in 2013, but I’m closing the election now because the possibility of another serious candidate is zero. I’m naming the Louis Garneau Speedzone vest ($99) the best piece of cycling gear of the year, bar none.
In fact, I’ve put off writing a review of the Speedzone because I was worried the superlatives would get out of control. I thought taking some extra time, my enthusiasm for this vest might wear down to more reasonable level.
It hasn’t and so you’ll have to excuse what in most cases would be a ridiculously over-the-top review. In my defense, I can only say the positives are genuine.
First, let’s talk design because that’s the biggest, most striking and unique feature of the Speedzone. The lower portion of the back is cut out except for a wide, elastic band across the bottom that keeps the fit in perfect shape.
Garneau did that for two reasons and the first one is brilliant. The cut-out means you always have immediate and total access to your three jersey pockets. This is huge for anybody, from pro racer to weekend rider.
We all know the annoyances of trying to lift up tight vest and dig into jersey pocket and pullout energy bar and then tug vest pack down over jersey. Repeat and repeat and repeat while you’re trying to ride in a fast group or even race. I can’t tell you how fun it is to have full up front wind protection and still be able to reach into pockets like the vest wasn’t even there.
The second bonus on this is that if you race, your pinned number is visible even with the vest on. Garneau developed this for the Europcar WorldTour squad and that is great, but I’m going with reason one, the amazing access.
What this design also does is make your vest even more versatile and one you’ll take with you on those days when you may or may not need a vest. Obviously, it works perfectly with a Garneau jersey like the Course (read our review of the kit here) but I’ve paired the Speedzone with jerseys from several manufacturers and the pocket access is excellent. The cut-out also reduces the amount of fabric, so it packs up well in that jersey pocket. A win-win.
There’s a huge selection of vests put there but I’ve seen only one with this design. On that merit alone, I’d be tempted to make the Speedzone my first choice. However, there are plenty of other reasons to like this Garneau vest: fit, styling and the over-all cool factor.
The Extenz fabric is 100% polyester and has a nice stretch from side to side and less stretch vertically. The red elastic banding on the shoulder openings have good closure so they shut down the entrance of wind. For extra ventilation, there’s a mesh panel down the middle of the back from neck to top of cut-out.
I mentioned the wide band at the base of the cutout: it does a great job of tightening up the fit overall and it exactly matches the band you’ll find on the back of the Garneau Course jersey. So when you wear the vest, that band lays snug against the jersey band and the visual integration is nice. Even with the cut-out, this vest fits well from top to bottom.
I also like the styling of this vest because on the inside the fabric has this silvery contrast to the black exterior. It’s a good look when the vest is half zipped and gives you a slight industrial bad-ass vibe. That’s just me but vests can be pretty dull and one dimensional so that ramps up the style points.
As far as sealing off wind, the inner zip flap is wide and generous and I like the seriousness of the zipper. There are designers who prefer the lightest, smallest, most plastic zipper they can spec, but this feels substantial and easy to grab and pull up. Which reminds me to mention that overall construction feels very solid and there are plenty of flimsy vests that don’t. I don’t often ride at night but I will say that the reflective accents are integrated into the design so they get attention when needed but don’t wreck the styling.
Now, how does the vest handle wind and light rain? It’s hard to quantify that from vest to vest and after doing reviews for a number of years, I have several. I will say that I’ll match the Speedzone up with the performance of most any vest and the cut-out design gives it the definitive advantage. It’s not a heavier wind & rain vest, rather a mid-weight garment that will get you through windy days and light rain and drizzle.
One final note: there’s a small, well-hidden pocket at the base of the right side that’s just big enough for a gel or for stashing the used energy bar wrappers. It was so well integrated, I didn’t even discover it for months but now I use it all the time.
If you plan to buy the Garneau Speedzone, keep in mind that it’s a race cut for skinny guys that train five hours a day. Read the size chart carefully and measure yourself even more carefully and then maybe go up one size.
There you have it. Vest of the year if there is such an award. If you’re in the market for a vest, I’m going to have to insist you check out the Garneau Speedzone. And pardon all my superlatives and enthusiasm.