Review: You say hi-viz, Albion says much more

Albion is single-handedly hogging my everyday carry. Can a £125 hi-viz vest ever be worth every penny?

Ronan Mc Laughlin
by Ronan Mc Laughlin 15.09.2023 Photography by
Ronan Mc Laughlin
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Albion has an impressive knack of developing seemingly simple products that become my everyday staples on and off the bike. Kind of weirdly for me, given Albion is a cycling brand, I more often than not have some piece of Albion kit on or with me pretty much every time I leave the house. 

Be that the simple Burner insulated chest protector I bring on almost ever ride, or the bright orange Zoa Insulated jacket my colleagues Jonny Long and Caley Fretz reckon I can’t leave the house without. In fact, according to Jonny, he has never seen me not in an Albion jacket. Thankfully, he is wrong, as there are actually three different Albion jackets in my new stock appearance.

Jonny is somewhat accurate, though, in that I am usually in one of these three Albion jackets. Which one I actually pick on any given day is dictated by the infamous Irish weather. The funny / odd / peculiar thing, though, is that, technically, all three are cycling jackets, and despite wearing at least one on an almost daily basis, I’ve only ever worn one on a bike, and that only happened once.

Long story short, I have enough Albion branding in my life; I don’t really need much more. Enter the Visibility Cargo Vest, yet another Albion thing I’ve become slightly dependent on. At least this one I actually wear on the bike. 

The Visibility Cargo Vest is basically a cycling specific hi-viz vest. Albion says it developed the Cargo Vest in response to what it sees as the need for a lightweight, comfortable, breathable, stowable, load-carrying, hi-Viz vest designed specifically for cyclists and “better than what was currently available.” That’s a pretty big ask of the humble Hi-Viz vest.

Parsing out the various goals, improving visibility is probably the primary objective. The Cargo Vest hits that objective with its bright orange and wrap-around “high illumination stretch reflective tape (<100 candela lux per square meter)” plus an additional reflective strip on the rear. 

As the name suggests, Albion wanted to double up the vest’s feature offering with plenty of pockets and cargo or load-carrying capacity. The vest features an impressive four front pockets and a full-length rear backpack compartment with open top access and zippered side access. 

Finally, to make it “better than what was currently available,” Albion focused on fit, comfort, and breathability. Central to that, both figuratively and literally, is the front closure system. 

Nowhere is the difference between the typical Hi-Viz vests and the Cargo vest more noticeable than in the fit and the closure system. Rather than velcro or zip closures, the Cargo vest uses what Albion describes as a highly adjustable “stretch shock cord strap system.” The strap system resembles a mini bungee cord with an auto-locking clasp buckle. 

This closure system is a neat solution that ensures the vest can be kept pretty minimal and isn’t restricting airflow or breathability up front. The real brilliance of this design, though, is the adjustability of the three straps anywhere along the front of the vest. The strap simply loops around the cord fixed to the front of the vest, making for easy relocation. Attach a strap lower down the curved chest panels to tighten up the vest for a snugger fit, or higher up for a looser fit or more security for the higher pockets. As simple as it is, the design provides ample adjustability to tune the vest’s fit to your own preferences. 

Clearly, there is a lot of thought behind the Visibility Cargo Vest design. It is hi-viz and cargo by name and delivers hi-viz and a surprising amount of carrying capacity by nature. But, truth be told, my initial impressions of the Cargo Vest were less glowing.

Having recently butchered a Hi-Viz vest in a bid to make an Assos jacket more visible, I was excited to see and try a professional’s take on a similar concept. That excitement dwindled when the Cargo Vest arrived, and, feeling a little deflated after my first impressions, I have to admit I let the vest lay in a drawer for at least a few weeks before actually trying it on the road. 

It seemed Albion had finally hit a dud note. The vest seemed too short and I figured it wouldn’t be visible to drivers approaching from behind when a rider was in a tucked or aero position. The simple brilliance of the closure system wasn’t immediately obvious, and the £125 price tag (Albion also offers International shipping with prices calculated at checkout) for a hi-viz vest seemed all kinds of wrong.

As it turns out, I was wrong. Yes, the vest is short and, as such, doesn’t cover your entire torso, but that’s the very point. The vest typically sits just above my jersey pockets, ensuring access to said pockets is maintained and, aided by the lower reflective strip, still improving visibility to drivers approaching from the rear. 

Jamie Davidson (seen here modelling the vest), rode to second overall in the TransAtlantic Way bikepacking ultra-endurance race back in June. The 2,000+km race started just up the road from me, and I was pleasantly surprised to see a rider wearing the Visibility Cargo Vest at the start. I was even more pleasantly surprised to find out that said rider was an Escape Collective member. Jamie used the Albion Visibility Cargo Vest throughout the race and was kind enough to, firstly, let me catch these images moments before his start time and, secondly, give me feedback on his experience using the vest throughout the ultra-endurance event.

Jamie was as happy with the vest as I was, and I have included his thoughts throughout the sections that follow.

Comfort-wise, the vest may be considerably heavier than a typical hi-viz vest, but it’s infinitely better for bike riding. The mesh material is much more breathable, while the size, shape, and fit are specifically designed for the bike riding position. As such “infinitely better” probably doesn’t do justice to the difference between riding with the “this feels like riding in a plastic bed sheet” sensation of an actual hi-viz vest compared to the barely noticeable and figure-hugging Cargo Vest.

The mesh fabric and overall-almost-minimal coverage ensure the vest is both breathable and barely noticeable in the riding position, while the adjustable closure system helps dial in the fit. The curve running through the chest and shoulder areas ensures the vest fits as snugly and comfy as a well-designed gilet. Jamie agreed, saying the fit was like “getting a nice hug”. Who doesn’t want a hug mid-ultra-endurance ride?

The two upper thin and tall pockets on the chest along with the two deeper and wider lower front pockets combine to offer storage for gels, bars, a phone, an AirPods case, gloves, or whatever else (bar a rain jacket) you might normally stuff in a rear pocket. I usually carry my keys, phone, and a multi-tool pouch in these pockets … finally curing my phobia of causing a nasty spinal injury by crashing onto a solid object (or objects) in my back pockets. 

I’d go as far as to say the extra carrying capacity the vest offers is as attractive a feature as its increased visibility. I can imagine going on ultra-long rides where I use the vest’s pockets to free up space in my jersey or bar bag for more food or whatever, with the added visibility a nice bonus. Jamie confirmed as much in his feedback, mentioning the extra food-carrying capacity within easy reach as “fantastic.” He also mentioned the hydration-carrying capacity of the backpack pocket, mentioning he could carry 1.5 litres of Lucozade (presumably other drinks also work) in two bottles stuffed into this backpack pocket, with the side zipper doubling up for bottle loading/unloading on the fly.

Then there is the price. As good as the vest is, £125 seems like a bitter pill to swallow for a hi-viz vest. Truth be told, I would struggle with parting with that much money for a vest, but similarly, truth be told, I probably would, given how I feel now about the vest.

The attention to detail in every aspect of the design plus the manufacturing quality partly justify the price tag. Furthermore, the versatility the vest offers for almost any ride would probably help to justify the cost by using the vest on almost every ride. Not to mention the fact the added visibility means I’ll actually start using a considerable chunk of my winter cycling wardrobe again.

Granted, a standard hi-viz vest offering full-length coverage at a fraction of the price would improve visibility further and save me a packet in the process. Then again, I have countless standard hi-viz vests and none of them have ever seen the light of day, never mind a vehicle’s headlights. Weighing up the pros and cons, a standard hi-viz jacket is too much of a nuisance to wear on all but the darkest of days. The Cargo vest might not improve visibility as much, but the very fact I will gladly wear it every day, means its slightly less coverage is still much more useful.

That said, Jamie did mention comments he received from other TransAtlantic Way competitors complimenting the vest’s visibility both day and night.

Personally, my ideal solution is a world where its safe to ride on the road without adding extra visibility. Aware that’s nothing more than a dream, my secondary wish is that jerseys, jackets, and gilets are visible enough that I don’t need to add a hi-viz jacket. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case. Most frustratingly, there’s nowhere that’s more evident than with winter or rain kit when visibility is naturally diminished anyway.

Until such time as those dreams are a reality, the Visibility Cargo Vest is the latest addition to my list of daily Albion gear. And if those dreams ever do come true, the presumably renamed Cargo Vest will likely prove just as useful.

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