One of Rapha's earliest and most successful creations was a tweed softshell jacket (which I gather is going to be reissued in a limited edition just before Christmas this year). The world divided into people who thought it was a thing of great beauty (of which I was one) and those who believed that it was complete impractical for cycling and was a sign that the world had gone mad (lots of people who sit on cycling forums finding the negative in things and complaining that it's not like the old days when the Tour de France was ridden completely unsupported and 370km was a short day in the saddle).
So when I was sent MEAME's Alpha reflective tweed jacket to review, I was excited.
MEAME produce what they call "performance fashion for discerning city cyclists", which I think translates as clothing you can wear on a bike or in the office or to the pub after work.
Out of the box, it looks fantastic. It is heavy enough to keep its shape (which I often find is a problem with jackets) but not as heavy as some tweed jackets which feel as though they have been designed to be bulletproof. It has cycling-specific design features too, most noticeably the brown suede shoulder panels which protect it against wear and tear from a rucksack and the breathing holes in the armpits to keep riders ventilated.
The herringbone fabric is very clever. It is designed with a reflective thread of millions of tiny glass beads that are barely discernible during daylight but when it is dark catch the light and make this a genuinely visible jacket when used at night. Unlike a lot of reflective materials, this looks like a normal tweed until a light is shone upon it. MEAME have the fabric made for them in Britain and it also has a Teflon coating on it, which makes it rain resistant.
When I put it on for the first time, I will confess that it didn't feel quite right. You can see from the photos illustrating this article that there is an elasticated strap that sits across the inside of the back somewhere just below the shoulder blades. This is presumably to allow some flex in the jacket when hunched over the drops while also allowing the jacket to keep its shape.
However after I had worn it for a couple of days I didn't even notice it was there and it is true that it does hold the jacket together well. Both from the front and back it looks well fitted, as the photos illustrate.
I've worn this jacket around London for a few weeks now and it has proved very useful. I can't see myself wearing it in deep winter because you really want a jacket that keeps you warm across the whole upper half of your body but I can definitely see it being an essential item for both Autumn and Spring (there is a well hidden strap around the collar that means you can button it up to keep out the cold but when I wore it a few days ago when it was 2 degrees on my morning commute, the wind definitely cut through the front of the jacket).
It is definitely smart enough to be worn to an office meeting and although I am not a huge fan of the suede collar protectors (slightly reminiscent of a history lecturer from the 1970s?), I can see the point of them because it definitely lengthens the life of the jacket. The Teflon coating did a good job of keeping light rain off, although don't think it will do you any good in a deluge...when the rain comes down properly, this jacket will absorb water and will become pretty heavy and need a good dry off in an airing cupboard.
It's up to the individual about whether tweed is a good thing. Tweed comes and goes in the fashion world. While the horseracing fraternity wear it through the winter, tweed is definitely cyclical on the catwalk. Fortunately at the moment tweed is very much in fashion, so it's a good time to be wearing it, if you care about that sort of thing.
At £325 it is not the cheapest jacket on the market but it will be hard wearing and last you several years. It will also make you stand out against the other less interesting jackets on the market. It would be a great Christmas or birthday present for an urban cyclist and not just the ones who like events such as the Tweed Run and the Eroica.
There is a women's blazer in the same fabric called the Maia and also a Polaris reflective cap, which I talk about in a separate review.