The Altura Electron is a waterproof and breathable jacket (opens in a new tab) with a relaxed everyday fit. It has the features you’d expect from a similar-purpose garment, but it costs £190. How much…?
You might get an equivalent bike ride (opens in a new tab) jacket for about half that price, but you miss Altura Electron’s USP, which is that it has two fiber optic bands of SCILIF (opens in a new tab)(maker of “Wearable Active Lighting Technology”) that extend from the front and over your shoulder and down to your waist.
Altura’s aim is to increase visibility in low light conditions and while it can’t replace a tail light (mainly because it’s a legal requirement) it should improve how other road users can see you, especially on busy routes.
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, stowable hood (which can be detached) and velcro adjustable cuffs.
It also has fleece-lined front and side yokes, a zipped chest pocket and two zipped hand pockets. There is also a slit on the shoulders to aid breathability.
The SCILIF lighting system, I would say from a distance, is (in the dark) really, really visible. Altura claims it can be seen up to three kilometers away. I couldn’t test it to that degree, but 50 yards through a dark country pub car park, then a few hundred yards up the road, it’s fully and clearly visible.
I took my usual dark country road on an evening ride with the jacket lit up at its high setting and I have to say the care everything the drivers took me around was amazing. It’s usually the mixed bag of safe drivers to downright dangerous drivers. To be sure if this was an abnormal event or not, I took the same route a few nights later and the same considerate behavior reoccurred! Wow.
My conclusion is that while a quality bright tail light is great, this jacket gives the rider volume in an area of the body that is usually invisible to riders unless full beam has been applied. If they’ve seen you (and may be wondering, “What the hell…?!”), you’re more likely to be driven with caution.
With my driver’s hat, I see commuters/cyclists who are practically invisible despite their taillights. Often, dark clothing and poor lighting don’t help to be seen. I say this as an observation. Personally, I want cars to notice I’m there…
I didn’t find the visibility panels to be all that reflective, but you could tell they didn’t need to be with the SCILF lighting being the star of the show.
The system is powered by a small 250 mAh rechargeable battery that weighs 75 grams. The USB-A socket is in the left pocket, which has a neat shelf or under-pocket. This will keep the drums separate from other stuff kept on it, but it will also raise the height of the drums, which will reduce the effect of “things slapping on your leg as you pedal”.
Once attached, the lights are activated using a switch built into the pocket flap that alternates between high, low and flashing modes. A long click will turn it off. The battery is good for up to 50 hours of use, Altura says. This must be in flashing mode. I found that using the High setting I got three hours of use out of about a quarter of the battery, so I’d say 10-12 hours on High seems likely.
The power supply is recharged using a micro USB socket. I would prefer all new products to be Type A or Type C for the sake of cable simplification, but that’s not 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 bank. Practice.
The softness of the outer shell was a nice surprise as I had expected the stiff cardboard feel of older waterproof pack jackets, and that, along with the inner micro-fleece panels, meant the jacket was a good 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 it looked like a normal guy’s black jacket. He certainly blends into normal life very easily. Whether in an office, on the main street, in a supermarket or a pub, no one will know how you got there. Unless you’re still wearing Lycra shorts of course…
This jacket is for those of us who don’t want to be ‘Yellow vest‘ but still, at times, want to be seen clearly.
I wondered if, given the relaxed waist of the jacket, it flapped loudly while riding, but it didn’t at all. As for the size, I tested a Medium which, although not as close to the fit as I would normally choose, fits me well. It allows for an extra layer (or two) for winter use. The arms were a good length, especially when stretching on drop bars.
The drop tail contains a strong tube to connect the battery to the light strips. I thought it would be really uncomfortable while driving or sitting. However, this turned out not to be the case as the tube sits in the gap between a seat back and the base. However, since this is a junction box for the wires, does it need to be sturdy…?
You can apparently wash the jacket but I couldn’t find any instructions on the garment or its tags, or on Altura’s website other than “the battery can be removed for washing so you can keep your jacket looking like new” . I would use a Tech Wash (opens in a new tab) then a waterproofing wash to keep the fabric functioning properly.
Although Altura states in their FAQ that the cover cannot be removed, with my example it could. It is held in place by two press studs and two Velcro tabs. While the hood can be stored in the collar, I found it to be a little bulky on what was otherwise a very fitted but comfortable collar.
The microfleece lining helped with this. For me it was either hood up or off. The hood certainly has advantages and disadvantages in use. If one had to ride with the hood up, peripheral vision is excellent and by adjusting the cords the visor sat down well and it didn’t blow out while riding. However, I usually ride with a helmet and it’s not high enough to go over a helmet (MTB style). It will fit under a helmet and allow reasonable head movement, but I found my hearing to be rather muted.
When using the jacket while hiking I found that in heavy rain where I would normally look to protect my face and goggles, the visor was high and you got a wetter face than with a hiking jacket.
Altura Nightvision Electron Jacket: Conclusion
I would say that at first glance £190 seems like a lot of money for “just” a transport jacket. Since it is quite unique, it is difficult to compare it to similar products in terms of value. However, I think if you break it down into three constituent parts, you could categorize it as follows:
1) £100 jacket. Good value for money 80%
2) £20 PSU. Good value for money 80%
3) SCILIF fiber optic lighting €70. Fantastic value 100%
As the jacket can be used in many ‘normal’ life situations in addition to cycling, this gives it a much better £/use ratio compared to a cycling only jacket. I’ve certainly used it a lot over the past four months in cool, humid five degree conditions, heavy rain, 15 degree 80% humidity days to beautiful hot sunny days and I’m sure it can easily handle warmer and cooler temperatures. . I really liked its functionality and versatility, but it was the SCILF lighting that really impressed me.
I can’t wait to see what other garments Altura and SCILIF can come up with next, as this is exciting technology.