The Altura Electron jacket can be used in many 'normal' life situations as well as when cycling. Since it's not cheap at £190, this gives it a much better £/use ratio compared to a cycling-only jacket. It handles inclement weather with ease. I have enjoyed its features and versatility a lot, but it is the SCILIF wearable optic fibre lighting that has really impressed me.
Lighting is very visible
Comfortable all purpose jacket
Can be washed (without battery)
Would like a hanging hook
USB-C input on battery please (not micro)
Would like a key loop in Napoleon pocket
Base of jacket cinching not that secure, it slips a bit
Wiring block in tail could be more flexible
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The Altura Electron is a waterproof and breathable Jacket with a relaxed everyday commuter cut. It has the features that you'd expect from a similarly purposed garment yet it costs £190. How much...?
You could get an equivalent cycle-commuting jacket for around half that price but you be missing out on the Altura Electron's USP, which is that it has two strips of optic fibre from SCILIF (manufacturer of 'wearable active lighting technology') that run from the front of, and over your shoulder, and down to your waist.
Altura's aim is to increase visibility in low light conditions and whilst it can't replace a rear light (primarily as that is a legal requirement) it should enhance how well other road users can see you, particularly on busy commutes.
Altura Nightvision Electron jacket: construction and features
The jacket is well made from a 10K-rated waterproof and breathable fabric and it has taped seams. It has a relaxed fit, a storable hood (which can be detached) and Velcro-adjustable cuffs.
It also has a fleece-lined front and side panels, a zipped chest pocket as well as two zipped hand pockets. There is also a vent across the shoulders to aid breathability.
The SCILIF lighting system, I will say from the off, is (in the dark) really, really visible. Altura claims it can be seen from up to three kilometres away. I was unable to test it to that degree, but 50 metres across a dark country pub car park, and then a few hundred metres down the road it is completely and clearly visible.
I rode down my usual dark country lane route on a night ride with the jacket lit up on its high setting and I have to say that the care all the drivers took around me was astonishing. It's usually the mixed bag of careful to downright dangerous drivers. To be sure whether it was a freak occurrence or not I rode the same route a few nights later and the same considerate behaviour happened again! Wow.
My conclusion is that whilst a quality bright rear light is great, this jacket gives bulk to the rider in an area of the body that is usually unseen by drivers unless full beam has been applied. If they have seen you (and maybe wonder, "What the hell is that...?!") you're more likely to be driven past with caution.
With my driver's hat on, I see some commuters/riders who are all but invisible despite having a rear light. Often dark clothing and poor lighting don't help being seen. I say this as an observation. Personally I want cars to notice that I'm there...
I didn't find that the visibility panels were that reflective, but arguably they didn't need to be with the SCILF lighting being the star of the show.
The system is powered from a small 250mAh rechargeable battery which weighs 75 grams. The USB-A plug is in the left-hand pocket, which has a neat shelf or sub-pocket. This will keep the battery separate from other stuff kept there but also it raises the battery height which lessens the 'things banging on your leg as you pedal' effect.
Once attached, the lights are activated using a switch built into the pocket flap which cycles around high, low and flashing modes. A long click will turn it off. The battery is good for up to 50 hours of use, says Altura. This must be in the flashing mode. I found that using the high setting I was getting three hours of use from about a quarter of the battery so I'd say 10-12 hours on High seems likely.
The power pack is recharged using a USB-micro plug. I'd rather any new products were either A or C type for cable simplification purposes, but it's hardly a deal breaker.
A bonus for commuters is that as long as you have your proprietary cable with you, you can also charge your phone from the power pack too. Handy.
The soft feel to the outer shell was a nice surprise as I was expecting the stiff cardboard feel of older waterproof commuting jackets, and this, along with the micro fleece inner panels, meant that the jacket was a nice balance between comfort and warmth.
The next thing to comment on is that when I put it on and asked my wife's opinion she said that it looked like a normal bloke's black jacket. It certainly blends into normal life very easily. Be it an office, on the high street, in a supermarket or a pub, no one will know how you arrived. Unless you are still wearing Lycra shorts of course...
This jacket is for those of us who don't want to be 'Gilet Jaune' but still, at certain times, want to be seen clearly.
I wondered whether given the relaxed sizing of the jacket it would flap noisily while riding, but it didn't at all. With regard to sizing I had a Medium on test which, despite not being as close a cut as I'd normally choose, fitted well. It allows an extra layer (or two) for winter use. The arms were a good length, especially when stretching onto drop bars.
The drop tail contains a solid tube to connect the battery to the lighting strips. I thought that this would be really uncomfortable whilst driving or sitting down. However this proved not to be the case as the tube sits in the gap between a seat back and base. However given it's a junction box for wires does it need to be solid...?
You can apparently wash the jacket but I couldn't find any instructions on the garment or its tags, or on the Altura website other than "the battery pack can be removed for washing so that you can keep your jacket looking as good as new". I would use a Tech Wash then a proofing wash to keep the fabric functioning well.
Although Altura state in their FAQs that the hood can't be removed, with my example it could. It's held by two pop studs and two tabs of Velcro. Whilst the hood is stowable in the collar I found it to be a bit bulky on what was otherwise a really close-fitting but comfortable collar.
The micro fleece lining aided this. For me it was either hood out or off. The hood definitely has some pros and cons in use. If one was to ride with the hood up, the peripheral vision is excellent and by adjusting the cords the peak sat well and it didn't blow off while riding. However, I usually ride with a helmet and it's not tall enough to go over a helmet (mountain bike style). It will fit under a helmet and allow reasonable head movement but I found that my hearing was rather muted.
When using the jacket while walking I found that in driving rain, where I'd normally look down to shield my face and glasses, that the peak sat high and you got a wetter face than with a hill-walking jacket.
Altura Nightvision Electron jacket: conclusion
I'd say on the face of it £190 seems like a lot of money for 'just' a commuting jacket. Since it's fairly unique it's difficult to compare it against similar products for value. However, I think that if you break it down into three constituent parts you could categorise thus:
1) £100 jacket. Good value 80%
2) £20 powerpack. Good value 80%
3) £70 SCILIF optic fibre lighting. Fantastic value 100%
Given that the jacket can be used in many 'normal' life situations, in addition to cycling, gives it a much better £/use ratio compared to a cycling only jacket. I have certainly used it a lot over the past four months in cool five-degree damp conditions, full-on rain, 15-degree 80% humidity days through to lovely warm sunny days and am sure it can handle both warmer and cooler weathers easily. I have enjoyed its features and versatility a lot, but it is the SCILF lighting that has really impressed me.
I look forward to seeing what other items of clothing Altura and SCILIF can come up with next, as this is an exciting technology.
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