Luckily, the British tourism board doesn’t rely on Albion’s website to drum up visitors, the entire site has enough pictures of soggy-looking riders pedaling bikes through desolate, rain-battered British countryside to make the UK look like a thoroughly miserable place to exist. Their Instagram page is even bleaker, which on its own is enough to bring on a case of seasonal affective disorder without even needing to look out the window.
The grizzly pictures of riders being subjected to the elements might appear to be the glorification of hardship and suffering but it's just reality for riders who want to be able to ride all year round. Albion was founded to equip these year-round riders with kit so they can continue riding through the grim UK weather that we are frequently subjected to.
To combat the usual eight months of unpleasantries, the rain dancers over at Albion have developed a broad range of high-performance riding gear to take on the inclement weather. We have been testing the Zoa Rain Shell waterproof jacket for over a year and while it's not perfect, we think it has more than enough features to compete with some of the best MTB jackets around.
Albion has used Pertex Shield Air as the jacket's main fabric, made up of three layers including a nanofibre membrane designed to be waterproof whilst still being air permeable. Shield Air is made from 100 percent recycled materials and has a nice soft finish to it.
Elasticated drawstrings can be used to adjust the hood entrance and circumference as well as the bottom hem to avoid any surprising up-the-back splashes. Velcro is used to seal the jacket around the wrists and there is a flat folded section of material sewn in to make it easy to open and readjust while wearing gloves.
Two front pockets are accessed via a double zip, the actual pockets themselves are a good size whether you're looking to store a few items or want to warm your hands. Albion also advertises them as having a secondary venting purpose, although we will touch on that later in the review.
Finally, the styling of the jacket is very subtle and understated, unless you opt for the Black/Orange or full Orange color options which are very bright. Branding is kept to a minimum using a small white box with Albion’s logo emblazoned on the left arm and a very small Pertex logo on the right forearm. At the rear Albion's line logo (which I presume is inspired by a cycling route although details remain a mystery) is used to give some reflective detailing on the rear of the jacket. There are a further two sections of reflective trim on each sleeve.
The Zoa Rain Shell has an excellent fit that nails the trail to casual wear balance well. Sleeve and shaping are just right so nothing shifts up or binds whether riding in an aggressive gravel position to a more relaxed, wider mountain stance. A baggier fit and very minimal drop tail mean speed demons will be better off with a trimmer and more shapely jacket, but if you prefer a slower pace then the extra material isn’t going to be a concern.
The cuffs have a diagonal velcro section, giving a folding closure with little bunching or draughty gaps. It does this without any elastic stretch which keeps it very simple and tidy, however, that does mean the hand hole doesn’t open as wide so checking your watch or tucking in gloves is a little fiddlier.
The hood is particularly good, easily fitting over a helmet without billowing or blowing down. The peak isn’t just stiffened but also moldable giving a bit more control over positioning the hood in the right place.
Water beads up well on the jacket's surface and the Zoa Rain Shell will hold out against heavy rain storms for a commendable amount of time. As with all waterproof jackets, it will eventually succumb to ingress but after a year of testing, it's still doing a great job at keeping the weather on the outside.
My biggest criticism is that I didn't find the jacket to be particularly breathable. While it was able to easily manage temperatures during casual riding, the jacket interior would soon get hot and bothered when heart rates increased. This heat buildup isn’t helped by the lack of any real venting, even if you use the pockets as vents as Albion suggests. Not only do the pockets face the wrong way to provide any meaningful airflow, but opening them up also negates their ability to be pockets. Albion aren’t the only brand guilty of this and this pocket/vent combo thing is a bit of a pet peeve of mine.
However, Albion has redeemed themselves by adding a two-way zip and something I see as vital for cycling outerwear. Opening the jacket up from the bottom is far more effective at dumping hot air out than the pocket ‘vents’ and doesn’t add as much of a parachuting effect as unzipping from the neck or completely opening the up jacket.
Albion’s Zoa Rain shell is a very well-fitting good looking jacket, all the draw cords around the hems and the cuffs are well thought out and neatly executed for you to batten down the hatches when the worst of the weather is coming down.
Venting is a big letdown with the Zoa Rain Shell and although a good equilibrium is possible, an up in tempo can quickly change the internal environment from temperate to tropical. Having the double zip is a big help here but I would still love to see some proper venting.
Lastly, as with all jackets that offer on and off-the-bike wearability, it's a bit of a tightrope to get the right compromise. The baggier fit means it's more casual leaning than a fast riding shell, but for bikepacking, MTB, and proper grim gravel riding it's very comfortable. As it is not visually cycling specific, the Zoa Rain Shell will crossover well to any other rain-soaked outdoor activities too and, assuming you give it a good wash post-adventure, will look great down the town as well.
The Zoa Rain Shell is available direct from Albion at Albioncycling.com.
Tech specs: Albion Zoa Rain Shell jacket
- Price: $330.00 / £260.00
- Weight: 370g (M)
- Sizes: XS-XXL
- Colors: Black (tested), Black/Orange, Orange