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Over The Bars

Gear Review: Merrell Universal Jacket
By MBT Staff

A stylish cut and waterproof zips make this a great addition to your outdoor wardrobe.

Merrell Universal Jacket Review
The Garment That is Sure to Impress

Since all of our testers reside in New York, there is little doubt that we know a thing or two about long cold winters. There is also little doubt that stir craziness has caused more than one of us to throw caution to the wind and mount up on our bikes despite conditions that were a little less than favorable. Cold weather riding is simply a fact of life around these parts and when a product manages to impress us like the following entry to this yearís Buyerís Guide has, thatís really saying something.

The Merrell Universal jacket is a work of functioning art in literally every sense of the word. Merrell knows outdoor gear like no other clothing manufacturer in the world and nowhere is their expertise benchmarked more clearly than in this jacket. The needs of a cold weather mountain bike rider are very specific and more often than not, riders force inadequately designed clothing into service only to suffer the consequences miles from home base. When the body becomes sweaty in extreme cold, the risk of hypothermia is all too real. We spent three months using and abusing the Merrell Universal Jacket in temperatures that ranged from mid 50's on down to the low 20's and here are a list of features that make this garment something special:

Shell. The Universal Jacket Pro Shell is made of Gore-Tex and is actually guaranteed in writing to keep its wearer dry. We can testify that this isnít just hype. The outermost fabric is water repellant with an almost waxy sensation despite being quite soft and flexible. Water literally beads up and runs off the surface like the hood of a freshly waxed car. Beneath the outer layer is the Gore-Tex membrane itself, which acts as a fabric-based moisture exchanger. Finally below that is the breathable inner lining. The seams are taped with clear coat so as to further enforce the waterproofing.

Vents. A majority of our time spent with the jacket witnessed each and every carefully selected fiber operating exactly as intended; meaning water and wind repelled on the outside with a breathable, always-dry lining on the inside. In the event that additional moisture alleviating becomes necessary, Merrell integrated a series of zipper-controlled vents to the jacketís exterior: One on each side of the front and double liners under each armpit. Fully opened, the jacket flows air better than any garment ought to but better yet, all of the zippers allow the rider to fine tune his or her airflow level according to the conditions.

Style. While style is relative, we thought the Universal was pretty darn good looking for both trail duty and post-ride dinner at the restaurant. Best of all, the waterproof nature of the material means it is also virtually stain-proof. Mud splatter, tire kick-up, and creek slime all seemed to roll right off the Universal without so much as a trace of their existence left behind. Ours still looks brand new and we havenít had to wash it yet. Merrell also wisely equipped the Universal Jacket with five roomy cargo pockets so carrying your keys, a few bucks, sunglasses, etc. are all a apiece of cake.

Bottom Line: A product like this is only as good as it performs and fortunately for Merrell, this thing performs! The Universal jacket feels light and non-restricting while getting the job done with confidence. More than one test rider said that they forgot that they even had the coat on once they got underway and thatís exactly how we expect our riding jackets to be. About the only negative to report is that the product comes with a pretty steep sticker price ($400), which may scare off casual riders and weekend warriors. However, as is the case with all of Merrellís clothing, you certainly get what you pay for. The quality construction and real world performance will speak volumes about Merrellís 26 year history creating outdoor garments more than clever advertising or sales pitches ever could.

For more information or to order direct, head over to: Merrell.com

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