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Forget the monicker and think of the Samvaer Overshirt as a natural lightweight jacket with some weatherproofing ability and you'll find you have an effective and stylish – if expensive – piece of urban cycling outerwear.
When I was a lad, I was a member of the cadets and, against my better judgement, found myself volunteering to walk across Dartmoor – twice. One lesson from those experiences that sticks with me very clearly (apart from 'don't volunteer for anything') is that, despite being kitted up with GoreTex products and all sorts of good stuff, the bit of equipment that actually performed best was a chunky jumper knitted by my mum. It was warm, soft to touch, and breathable. OK, it was no good as an outer layer in terrible weather, but if it did get wet, it dried out very quickly.
So I am a big fan of garments made from (mainly) natural materials, and Samvær's Overshirt – "made from 50% wool, 30% polymide, 20% silk, and manufactured here in the UK" – certainly seems to tick some important boxes.
In the flesh, there's a lot to recommend the Overshirt. It looks like a quality product with some suitably smart details. The cut and design is particularly good, with nice square shoulders and a loose, relaxed feel. In position on the bike, there are no obvious weaknesses, with plenty of room in the sleeves and articulation in the shoulders to allow you to ride without any feeling of restriction.
Although this is classed as an overshirt, it's actually far more of a lightweight jacket (albeit, one rather short of pockets and carrying potential). The fabric works very well to keep out the wind and maintain warmth. In fact, it's very impressive – I think many riders could probably get away with wearing a T-shirt and just this even when temperatures drop down into top-end single figures. On the flipside, on milder days you may become too warm, although you can just open some buttons to let a breeze flow.
Samvaer says the Overshirt has also been treated with Nanosphere to withstand a shower. That's just about true, although I'd put in the proviso of it being a passing shower – too long or too much direct contact with water will have it getting soggy. I recently tested Isadore's Urban Jeans, which also claim water resistance and I'd say performance is on a par. For damp, misty mornings the Overshirt is a fine bit of kit. Because of this Nanosphere-ing, however, longterm garment care is slightly tricky. Samvaer recommends you avoid washing it, and if you really have to, take it to a dry cleaner.
Surprisingly, given its natural ingredients, slightly less effective than the performance is the Overshirt's next-to-the-skin sensations. Because it comes unlined, it feels a little scratchy – I would say it's not even as soft as a typical tweed, for example. In fact, to the touch, the fabric used feels a little similar to the kind of blankets hire van firms supply to protect stuff when you're moving home. On the bike, this isn't much of an issue and you quickly forget about it, but anybody expecting merino-esque luxuriousness will be disappointed.
As for those other nice little touches, well, there are quite a few, such as the embroidery around the second-from-top buttonhole and the double-button lower fastening. There's also a subtle grey reflective stripe underneath the collar for when your inner Elvis takes over, and a grey reflective neck strap.
Best of all, a pleat running all the way down the centre of the shirt's back panel opens up to reveal another welcome reflective stripe.
There's also a single side pocket, which opens forwards so you can reach around and use your opposite hand to retrieve your hipster Kitkat, or whatever. On the bike, the fact that this pocket opening faces forwards (and downwards when you're on the bars) means I did worry things were going to fall out. Perhaps a little too much style over function there.
And when it comes to having a little too much of anything, we have to talk about the price. At £195, the Overshirt is not cheap (although it is substantially cheaper that its £330 'Classic Jacket' sibling). Initially, I thought the price was ridiculously high, but the more I have worn the Overshirt, the more I have grown to feel that cost is just simply 'high'. For all its little foibles, it's still a really nice piece of kit with those natural fibres and British manufacturing at least going some way to explaining the premium cost. It's also something of a rarity – I'm not sure I can think of a similar product made by anybody else.
So would I buy Samvær's Overshirt with my own money? I'd have to try hard to justify it. But I certainly wouldn't take it back once I had it.
It's available in a lighter Almscliff Grey, as well as this Charcoal.
A classy bit of kit, with good looks, performance and manufacturing quality... if you can see past that high price
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Samvær Overshirt
Size tested: XL
Tell us what the jacket is for and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
Samvær says: "Like the Samvær Classic Jacket the Overshirt mixes the technical with the traditional. Created from our desire to have a stylish garment designed with the cycle commuter in mind, it blends functionality with our understated design ethos. Where it differs from the Classic Jacket the shirt blends the more traditional shirt look with modern day needs. Blending a mix of fabrics we're able to offer what an individual needs on and off the bike; a blend of fabrics that provides insulation when needed whilst offering breathability, smoothness on the skin and weatherability when caught out in an unexpected shower."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the jacket?
Samvær lists these features:
Made from 50% Wool, 30% Polyamide and 20% silk.
Treated with Nanosphere technology to provide weather proofing.
Samvær's signature Hi-Viz rear panel provides night-time visibility when on the bike.
Features a small side pocket.
Can't fault manufacturing quality.
Surprisingly good windproofing and heat retention. Breathability not quite as impressive, but still decent.
Feels well constructed with hardwearing fabric.
A passing shower is fine...
Fairly good, although I had to open the shirt when overheating.
Very good both on and off the bike.
Quite heavy for what it is, but that's the nature of the fabric used.
Very comfortable, although the fabric is a little scratchy.
Better value than it might initially appear – as well as its surprising functionality, the Samvær Overshirt's style is unique.
How easy is the jacket to care for? How did it respond to being washed?
Tricky. If it gets dirty, dry-clean is recommended.
Tell us how the jacket performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Very well. Felt great on the bike, offered good ride performance and looked smart when not riding.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the jacket
Style and design. Heat retention, and windproofing was impressive, too.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the jacket
Probably that high price.
How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market including ones recently tested on road.cc?
There aren't really many similar products to compare it with.
Did you enjoy using the jacket? Yes
Would you consider buying the jacket? Possibly
Would you recommend the jacket to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your overall score
It might not be everyone's choice of lightweight outer, but the Samvær Overshirt is a surprisingly adept performer on the bike, and quite a stylish bit of kit on civvy street.
About the tester
I usually ride: Islabikes Beinn 29 My best bike is: 25-year-old Dawes Galaxy
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, touring, sportives, general fitness riding, mountain biking, leisure