THE BEST SPRING AND FALL CYCLING KIT
For many road cyclists, the season never ends.
Those of us enthusiasts who are truly committed won’t stop riding with the end of summer. We’ll certainly ride outside in the fall. Depending on where we live, some will ride the roads during the winter while others grind-it-out on the trainer or do some cross-training to stay in condition.
As soon as winter fades and signs of spring emerge we’ll come out of hibernation and get on the road again.
Spring and fall riding can include cool temps, wind, wet roads, less sunlight and sometimes a combination of these conditions on the same ride. Riding earlier and later each of the last few years, I’ve realize that trying to save some money by layering up on top of my regular summer kit just doesn’t provide the comfort and performance I want to enjoy some of the best times of the year to be on the road.
Wearing kit specifically designed to work for you when you start your road riding season a month or two early in the spring or extend it another 2-3 months into the fall and can double the amount of time you enjoy biking outside each year and add to the amount of high-value training you can do.
Choosing the best spring and fall cycling kit is what this post is about.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
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In The Know Cycling is for road cycling enthusiasts like you and me who want to know what gear we should get next and where we can get it at the best prices from great stores. I do hours of my own testing and analysis on an entire category of cycling gear for each review and incorporate insights from other independent reviewers and riders I respect. I respond to most any question you have in the comment section of each post, usually within a few hours if I’m not on a long ride or sleeping (Eastern US time).
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WHAT MATTERS WHEN CHOOSING SPRING AND FALL KIT
There are a handful of things that matter most when choosing kit for any season and several that are unique to the spring/fall, summer and winter seasons.
Looks and price are obvious starting points any time of year because these are go/no go considerations for a lot of us. If you like what you think a jersey or jacket or pair of bibs will look like and you can afford it, you are usually good to move on to what else matters. If not, it doesn’t matter what else that kit has going for it. So let’s cover looks and price first.
In general, spring and fall kit doesn’t have as wide a range of colors and styles as you’ll see in summer. There does seem to be however, more than enough to choose from that runs from a basic to distinctive look. You’ll generally want a highly visible kit as many drivers don’t expect to see riders out on the road in March or April and the low sun and shortened days in the fall will put you in low light situations at times. I’d stay away from black, grey or white jerseys and jackets and choose bright or high visibility colors and any kit with reflective accents that announce your presence. High-vis shoe covers and gloves will also help you stand out as they are constantly moving and signaling your plans.
Expect to pay a bit more to kit yourself up to ride in the spring and fall. In part that’s because you’ll find yourself buying some combination of base layers, jackets, gloves or booties in addition to jerseys and bibs. You’ll also find that you want clothes that perform well in these cooler and often windier seasons and you can’t get away with average performing kit that you might in the summer. But, good performing kit for spring and fall isn’t generally more expensive than good performing summer kit.
Getting cycling clothing that has the right cut for your body is key to your comfort in any season. At the most basic level, kit will run either standard or slim.
When I say slim I’m talking about the width at your hips and shoulders. It’s much the same as when you talk about having narrow feet. I don’t mean “small” which would be both your width and length. Some of the best cyclists have a slim frame or narrow feet but are tall or have the same length as other riders who have a standard or wider body.
If I put on a medium, the size I wear, in bibs that are cut for slim frames like mine, it will fit fine. If I were put on a medium bib with a standard cut, I’ll have some room in the chamois area and around the inside of my legs, something I’m not going to find fully comfortable out on the road.
Even if you add a few pounds when you aren’t riding as much volume as you do in the summer, the added weight usually finds its way to your butt, gut and love handles. It doesn’t make your shoulders or hips any wider. You might want to go up a size if you find you ride a good deal heavier before and after summer but I wouldn’t suggest you go from a slim to standard cut if the slim suits you better when you are fit.
Clothing makers usually have charts to help you find the size that fits your dimensions best and whether a kit’s cut is suited to your body width. It normally doesn’t work to just drop down a size or half size on the kit you like if it is a standard cut and you are slim or vice versa. It’s kind of like buying shoes. If you have narrow feet and the shoes you like are only sold in a standard width, if you try on a smaller size to compensate for the extra width, you may find the shoes are too short and your toes get crowded in the front of the shoe.
Once you know your cut and size, fit comes into play. While recreational cyclists will often be fine with relatively loose fitting bike clothes, most enthusiasts want a closer “race-fit” that wraps your body in high-performance materials.
Differences between race-fit kit comes down to:
- how well it moves with you (stretch),
- how well it supports your leg muscles as they do the work (compression),
- how unaware your skin is of the kit’s seams as you rub against them,
- how well the bib chamois conforms to your anatomy,
- how well your legs are gripped but not strangled by your bibs,
- how flat and your bib straps rest and stretch with you as you get out of the saddle,
- how flat your jersey or jacket stays against your body as you move in and out of aero positions, and
- how well the sleeve length conforms to your arm length for a long sleeve base layer, jersey or jacket.
With the right cut kit that ‘fits’ you well, comfort is the final consideration. Here again, some things are common to being comfortable in every season, most notably your chamois and the wicking and breathability of the clothing layer closest to your skin. Some of what matters most is quite different between summer and spring/fall kit.
Summer kit is mostly a question of whether and what kind of base layer to wear under very breathable, sweat removing, soft and stretchy jerseys and bibs. If you are heading out on your summer ride very early or ending it late, you might also bring leg or arm warmers to cope with a 10-15F/5-8C temperature change. You might also stuff a rain jacket or vest/gilet in you back pocket if a shower is possible.
For spring and fall road riding you still need kit that breathes and removes your sweat, but you also need additional capabilities built in to make you comfortable in these seasons. Bib shorts or tights, for example should have fleece-lined material to keep you warm in cooler temps. When you ride on a windy days, you’ll want the jerseys, jackets and even base layers with wind resistant materials in their front torso and shoulder panels, and bibs shorts and bib tights to have similar materials in your crotch, knee and front leg areas. Some jackets and bib tights have water repellant materials or treatments that will protect you for a while when you are riding on wet roads or when it’s misting, drizzling or you get caught in shower.
HOW I SELECTED THE KIT FOR THIS REVIEW
High-performance, higher priced clothing tends to build in better performance, more functionality and more versatility to work in different conditions than lower cost kit.
That said, you can’t really choose a couple of jerseys and bib shorts to serve you across all the situations you’ll be riding in during the spring and fall. Instead, you almost need a small wardrobe of kit of slightly different weights and materials to cover the range of temperature, wind and moisture conditions you’ll ride in during the spring and fall seasons. That’s what I tried to pick to test for this review.
Since I couldn’t do a good job of comparing five brands of cycling clothing for the variety of different spring and fall weather (for example, jerseys for cool, wind-free days, jackets for colder, windy days, bib tights for drizzly weather, etc.), I picked a number of kit pieces to test that my research suggested could become part of a seasonal wardrobe I could recommend one to you.
Over the next couple spring and fall seasons I plan to test more kit to give you additional options. I’ve noted ones I’m currently testing at the end of each section. Please tell me in the comments section at the end of this post if there are others that have worked well for you and why and I’ll look into adding it to this review. For now, I hope I’ve given you some a good range of kit to choose from.
Living in the northeastern US, these seasons cover temps that range from near freezing (35F/2C) to quite pleasantly refreshing (55F/13C), sometimes in the same day. We’ll see wind-free days and on others winds that can blow steady up to 10mph/16kmph with gust up to twice that. Especially in the spring, we’ll get our fair share of damp weather and unexpected showers, and plenty of low sun and low light conditions in the fall. Sometimes I think I’d be better off skiing or sailing, two of my other favorite things to do those times of year, were it not for their training benefits being limited mostly to wrist curls.
Not all this kit is high-priced, but some of it is. It’s all fit for performance – not loose, low budget, underperforming stuff. Riding poor fitting clothes, beyond slowing you down, can be quite uncomfortable as they can trap the cold or won’t wick well or don’t move with you when it’s cool or damp or windy outside. Not fun. I want kit that will work well in the conditions we’re riding in and don’t want to put you or me through the ordeal of discovering that we’re wearing underperforming clothes when we we’ve already committed to ride, enjoy our time on the road, and get a good workout in.
Working through the various kit reviews in much the same order I’d get dressed, here are my reviews.
Beyond having ridiculously long names, I found two, long sleeve thermal base layers that were great performers for temps below around 50F/10C with some wind and well into the 30s.
The Craft Active Extreme 2.0 WindStopper Crew Neck Long Sleeve (USD$130 MSRP/RRP; Competitive Cyclist, Amazon, Bike24) is best down to the coldest temps. It has a crew neck and uses the Gore Windstopper fabric in the front torso panels and across the front and back shoulders. That material is a little crinkly when you put it on and little less stretchy but those things are soon forgotten when you get up and riding. If you are wearing a jersey or light jacket with a wind resistant front panel, it’s somewhat redundant but I’ve found that there are quite a few jerseys and jackets that don’t have any wind resistance so this gives you that failsafe if you find yourself out on a windy day.
While the Craft fits snug, the Assos LS.skinFoil_Spring_Fall s7 – Body Insulator (USD$109/£70/€82 MSRP/RRP; Competitive Cyclist UK/EU Wiggle, Chain Reaction Cycles, Westbrook Cycles) is a closer “skin” fit and is seamless around the torso. It has some small ribbing woven into the fabric across the chest, back and shoulders which makes my skin tingly when I first put it on. It’s a good feeling, kind of like my base layer telling me it’s “go time.” I imagine it’s there to keep some of the heat in while still wicking the sweat. Regardless of the reason, it works
(I know, snug, crinkly, stretchy, and tingly are just the kind of high-tech terms you can’t get enough of. If I had more descriptive ones, I’d use them! I try to stay clear of the blizzard of tech gobble-dee-gook used by the apparel makers that make everything sound way cool but don’t pass through the hype filter for helpfulness.)
Both these base layers breathe and wick quite well. The Assos is mostly (82%) polypropylene with the rest polyester while the Craft is all polyester with the wind resistant panel woven over top of it in the torso. The Craft has a vertical channel weave while the Assos is a very small diamond one. Despite these material and weave differences, I didn’t find any difference in their wicking abilities – both first rate.
Each works well under close-fitting jerseys and jackets and with thermal bibs that have quite a bit of mesh fabric coming up the back, the kind that most enthusiasts will wear this time of year. They are as thin as a late spring or summer base layer.
A couple other notes. The Assos has white stripes down the arms and slogos (slogans and logos) front and back that are all woven into the base layer from the inside. One concern I had was that a wayward finger or fingernail or another piece of clothing would pull one of the many exposed threads on the edges of these stripes and slogos. Hasn’t happened yet despite many washes and wears.
Craft sells a few models with similar names so be clear to get the you want. The base layer I reviewed above is the Craft Active Extreme 2.0 WindStopper Crew Neck Long Sleeve. You may see it listed with abbreviations such as the Craft Active Extreme 2.0 WS CN LS.
Craft also sells the Active Extreme 2.0 CN LS, Active Extreme CN LS and Active CN LS models. These don’t have WS panels in front but are otherwise the same polyester channel weave and fit as the one I’ve reviewed above.
Another Craft model is the Active WS CN LS. Note the “Extreme” designation is missing. Rather than having a WS panel in the front added to what is otherwise an all polyester baselayer, this model is all WS material and doesn’t stretch or wick as well as the reviewed “Extreme”.
There and others that are SS (you guessed it, short sleeve). Most of these come in men’s and women’s cuts. I provided you the links to the one I reviewed above but you can see the full collection at this link to Competitive Cyclist.
With all that’s going for these two, I have two simple considerations when choosing between them. Which one is clean and then what’s the temp and wind like outside. The cooler and windier it is, the more likely I’ll wear the Craft. If it’s a moderate spring or fall day with temps in the low-40s or higher and without much wind, I’ll go with the Assos.
If it’s in the 50F/10C range or you run hot down to 45F/7C and there’s little wind, an inexpensive mid-weight polyester short sleeve base layer like this one from dhb is plenty.
If you are a commuter or more relaxed rider, you might want to go to a Merino wool base layer for their ultimate warmth and ability to get multiple uses between washes. For enthusiasts extending their season with good training rides and perhaps a little friendly competition, I think a wool base layer will make you too warm and wouldn’t fit well under a close fitting, somewhat aero jacket.
I’m currently testing the Endura Transmission II and Sugoi RS Core long sleeve base layers.
In this section and the next I’ve reviewed a collection of bib shorts and bib tights that are each best suited to a different combination of temperature ranges, wind, or wet conditions during the spring and fall seasons. Rather than getting a few pair that essentially perform well in the same conditions, I suggest you get two or three different bibs that perform best against the two or three types of different conditions you are likely to experience where you ride.
In my case, for example, we don’t get as much rain as riders in the UK and I don’t go out if I think it is going to be wet. So I don’t have a need for water resistant tights. About half the time it’s pretty windy in the spring and fall but the other half, there’s almost no wind. So I want at least one pair of bibs with some protection from the wind. Finally, I’m also happy to get on the trainer when it gets much below 40F/4C so I’ll only need one pair of bib tights for those occasions when I do go out on days below those temps. Instead, I’ll go use two or three pair of bib shorts in my normal kit rotation for warmer days.
Everyone has different tolerances to heat and cold and some of us run hot or cold ourselves compared to our cycling friends. So knowing yourself is important too in figuring out what to get. As a reference point, I’ve reviewed the kit in this post as someone who is probably slightly more tolerant to cold than what I see in my fellow riders and as one who doesn’t run particularly hot or cold compared to them.
The shorts in this section are all considered “thermal bibs”. They have fleece type lining in parts or all of their panels and are designed to keep you warm in colder temps. Using some embro cream instead of leg warmers, I found the thermal bib shorts I reviewed for this post warm and comfortable down to the 45F/7C range without much wind.
I’ll bring a pair of leg warmers if it is going to go below this temp or I’m likely to encounter some wind during the ride. With those on, you can ride these bibs down below freezing temps. They are that warm. If I know it’s going to stay in the 45F/7C range or get cooler I’ll just go with a pair of bib tights like those in the next section.
Whether to deal with warmers at all is also a personal choice. I’m not a fan of leg or arm warmers in part because I’ve never found them as comfortable around the knees, elbows and grippers as bib tights or a long sleeve jersey and also because I hate carrying extra gear just “in case”. If I’m starting a ride on a cool spring or fall morning that I know is going to warm up considerable or in mid-afternoon when you know it’s going to cool down a lot, yes, I’ll bring them.
Also, while I get the idea behind knickers – cover the knee tendons and ligaments that are sensitive to cold but don’t restrict the calf muscles that are less so – they’ve always seemed like an indecisive choice and a piece of kit that are hard to fit right.
It’s become a cliché but my experience with the Assos T.tiburuShorts_s7 confirms there’s just nothing better than Assos bib shorts. You kind of take for granted that the chamois is going to be a step above the others, and it is. They’ve figured out how to cover and align the pad with the butt anatomy (or at least mine) and how to get the pad to move as if it were part of you in a way most other shorts don’t. Quite amazing.
What I really love about the Tiburu in particular is the comfort and warmth of the waffle-pattern fabric that wraps your legs, backside and lower back and moves as if it were part of you.
It’s more comfortable than any towel, robe or sweatshirt I own and I’m not cranking it out at 90+ rpm in any of those. I’m sure there’s all sorts of technical explanations for this but that’s for someone else to explain. It’s just the most comfortable pair of shorts I’ve ever been in regardless the season or conditions.
They are cut under the belly button in the front, good for easy access should I need to take a pee and so I don’t sweat across my gut. The straps are also wide and stretchy, the kind that you put in place and forget. The best kind.
Grippers are a moderately stretchy elastic material with some narrow silicone dashes on the inside to hold your leg or leg warmers in place without grabbing you. There’s also a thin, flexible layer of wind resistant material coming up your front-side that covers your privates and flares out to cover your lower abdomen and deflect any wind chill.
All in all, an amazingly comfortable, wonderfully executed pair of bibs. It’s my first pick when I reach into the drawer. Considering how well they perform and how often I wear them, they are totally worth the price IMHO.
While it’s probably not fair to compare, the Gore Oxygen Partial Thermo bib shorts aren’t as enveloping and comfy as the Tiburu. They feel more pieced together than the all-in-one feel of the Assos. That said, they aren’t uncomfortable by any means and their fleece like insides feel good against the skin. Together with the wind-resistant material in the front crotch and groin outside panels, they provide for good, comfortable warmth.
The chamois is good, not on par with the exceptional Assos or Castelli ones, but not anything I could find reason to complain about (other than they aren’t as good as the Assos or Castelli ones). The front and back panels and straps combine several pieces of material with different elastic properties that added up to give me a loose fit but perhaps more appropriately snug for a standard cut rider with wider shoulders and hips.
The “grippers” go for warmth and comfort rather than grip with modest compression (no elastic material or rubbery bumps) but work well with the Gore leg warmers I have that use the more standard silicone grippers to hold them in place. The stomach panel cover the entire belly (above your button). The stretch built into it and the straps allows for easy access.
I found the Assos worked well for my slim hips, though they aren’t as slim as Italian cut bibs like Castelli. The Gore is a standard width cut, a bit too wide for me but well suited for many of you boys and girls. Both fully cover my hammys, a length similar to my summer bibs but shorter than some thermal bibs that reach within a couple inches (50mm) of my knees.
Neither of these are cheap, but the Gore bib ca run about 1/2 to 2/3 the market price of the Assos depending on sales and stores (see above links for the best prices from stores with high customer satisfaction ratings).
They both come in basic black, curiously each with some distinctively colored accents around the grippers. The Assos has a purple band around the bottom of the right leg and while the Gore has red stitching around the top the of both leg grippers. Eh. Doesn’t do anything for me, but I’ve been told I’m fashion blind. (Thanks Hun!)
I’m a light guy and generally pretty thin. If my dear grandmother was still alive, she’d be very unhappy about that. I’d explain to her that I’m a cyclist and that I really enjoy climbing and to climb it helps to be light. She wouldn’t understand. She’d want to feed me and fatten me up. I loved her for that.
Some guys I ride with aren’t so light and thin. They are strong and generally crush me on the flats. We play cat and mouse on the climbs. I escape from them going up, they catch me on the way down.
Their grandmas probably love them.
The Endura Thermolite Winter bib shorts are for those big, strong riders. They cover your entire stomach, extend up to just below your chest in the front, halfway up your rib cage on the sides and reach across your back nearly the width of your shoulder blades. The straps are also wide and they have a strong, elastic hem on the edges of all the material above your waist.
If you’re carrying a few extra pounds in your midsection, these bibs hold it all together, unlike the lower cut ones above where you’ll likely hang over the sides a bit. The legs are also a little longer than most thermal bibs and the grippers hold on comfortably.
I wore these bibs through the late winter and early spring when I was about 5-7 pounds or 2.5-3kg heavier than I ride in the spring and summer. (It happens to a lot of us; ask Contador.) They held it together and at the same time encouraged me to get my sorry *ss in shape.
All of the bib material above the waist keeps you a good deal warmer than those without it. I definitely ran hotter wearing these than any of the other bibs I’ve worn. For that reason, I learned to wear them on colder days. They work well down into the 30s F/low single digits C with leg warmers.
The pad is ok. Coverage width is good although I wish they had extended it a bit further up the front side.
While these Enduras not the most comfortable pair of bibs I’ve worn, it’s certainly better than some. There’s quilted material in the pad everywhere except for a somewhat narrow and short cutout in the front where your shaft should you go, assuming you line it up to go there. That’s where they put a less padded, more ventilated, softer material.
I’m not trying to get all Donald Trump on you about my anatomy (or real estate preferences) but the Endura pad appears to be a lower cost, studio apartment version of Assos’ Cuckoo Penthouse. Less room and less comfort for your junk.
These bibs also have a rather industrial look. The logo that runs down the side of each leg looks like those ironed on letters you put on T-shirts whose edges can peel (like mine are) after a few washes. There seem to be seams everywhere; three down each leg, one down the center of the bib, another outlining the chamois.
I don’t feel the seams on the inside which is otherwise quite comfortable with the thin fleece material. The seams and the silicone grippers do leave an impression however. I don’t care much about that but if you are sensitive to seams, you may notice these more than I do.
The $75-$100/£70-£95 prices I’ve seen them sell for in the market is fair for what you get and it is one of the few that offers the kind of coverage and warmth that bigger riders may prefer.
Pearl Izumi P.R.O. Thermal Bib Shorts (USD$175/£140/€150 MSRP/RRP Competitive Cyclist)
When I was more of a weekend warrior riding 2 or 3 times and doing about 75-100 miles a week, I really didn’t pay much attention to the clothes I wore, other than the price I paid for them. I had a couple pairs of $50 Pearl Izumi shorts (not bibs) in my rotation and another 2 or 3 pairs of shorts I’d picked up from charity rides over the years. They seemed to work for the kind of riding I was doing.
Once I became an “enthusiast”, the term often used for cyclists who ride 5-6 days and put on a couple hundred miles or kilometers a week and often doing 2-3 hour long rides each weekend, I realized that my shorts weren’t terribly comfortable and my butt would get sore.
I discovered bibs, learned about the chamois pad thickness, coverage and cushioning techniques and the value of a well-fitting, comfortable straps and effective grippers. I “invested” in a couple good pair of bibs, meaning I spent more on a single pair of bibs than I previously had on three or four pair of shorts. I entered the world of way more comfortable cycling and could ride longer and faster than before.
With my budget and yours in mind, I wondered what it would be like to wear one of the better regarded “value” bibs. And by value, I was thinking about half or less than what you would pay for some of the best performing bibs I’ve evaluated in this review.
I went back to Pearl Izumi and got a pair of their P.R.O. Thermal Bib Shorts for USD$125, closer to what they normally sell for than the $175 MSRP. These that had been given positive mentions from several of the regular cycling publications that give you 50-word summaries of a half dozen pieces of apparel in their annual buyer’s guides.
The first time I wore the P.R.O bibs, it took me a couple days for my butt to recover. And you are talking about a guy who already has a pretty calloused rear after spending as much time in the saddle as I do every week testing out cycling gear while riding my preferred, hard, Specialize Romin saddle.
It was better the second and third and following half dozen times I wore the bibs but I haven’t yet found them comfortable. While the front, rear and width coverage is fine (better than the Altura), the pad is thin and has no quilting pattern to it like the others to cushion you. I could easily see (or feel) the value that an extra $75 or $100 gives you spend on a pair of bibs with a good pad.
While the thermal material keeps you warm, there’s little else I can say to recommend these shorts and nothing positive I could say about them would offset the barely passable pad.
There are two seams down each leg. The sides of those seams that face your skin are thicker than the ones on the outside. It makes little sense to me to do it this way. The grippers are at the bottom of 2.5” tall, non-insulated material sections with no hem sewn below where they attach to the legs so they easily roll up on themselves. The two rows of ¾ inch long silicon bumps are thin, placed about an inch apart and don’t grip much.
The straps are made of a nice breathable mesh material, edged with an unobtrusive elastic and sit comfortably on your shoulders. The back panel has this vertical oval cutout that exposes your upper lumbar discs for reasons I can’t fathom. The front panel cuts down in a V shape toward your belly, leading you to believe that you can access your wiener should you need to take a pee but the front panel is a bit to too tall and doesn’t have enough stretch in the straps to allow you to get it out comfortably.
I’ll keep trying to find you (and me) a value pair of thermal bibs but sadly, this is not a pair worth spending any money on.
While I can and prefer to ride with the total freedom bib shorts provide on most spring and fall days, the Castelli Sorpasso bib tights are the reason I don’t hesitate to cover them if I’m going to do a recovery ride or am unsure just how cold a fall or spring ride it’s going to be. I find they are nearly as comfortable as riding with shorts and a lot more comfortable than wearing leg warmers.
Are you thinking that I haven’t found a good pair of leg warmers yet? Perhaps. Certainly nothing as comfortable as these bib tights. Or perhaps you are wondering if these are so loose from the knees down that they feel free to me? Hardly.
No, what I love about these slim cut bib tights starts with a great chamois pad that both cushions in the right spots and provides great coverage in colder temps and ends with uncannily aligned movement and compression from straps to stirrups. (Well not actually stirrups; there aren’t any stirrups in bib tights of course. I was just looking for a phrase that meant top to bottom without actually using that overused phrase.)
Tights are awfully hard to get right. More than just integrating the cut, fit and comfort of bib shorts with added material that runs the length of your legs, you’ve got to figure out how to give unrestricted range of motion so the front and sides of your knees to do their thing without having material bunch up or irritate the back of them. You also need to have the leg material flare to make room for your calves yet also taper the bottoms to get a snug fit above your ankles. And all of this with an equivalent amount of compression from quad to calf.
That’s hard enough to explain. I can’t imagine how hard it is to pull off. With material panels that widen as they angle to the outside of each knee, another piece on each leg that runs from your hamstring to just above your calf and a third that wraps the calf, the Sorpasso pulls of the combination of fit and comfort that moves with you, provides even compression, breathes, wicks and keeps you warm throughout these seasons. It’s well thought out and executed, right down to the elastic closures at the bottom of the legs and the tab you can hold with one hand as you pull on the zipper with the other.
Yes, zippers. I prefer them as you don’t have to worry about getting your foot through the narrow ankle opening at the bottom. Zippers all do a good job of keeping the cold from getting in the tights from riding up your leg.
Lacking wind or water resistant materials, I wouldn’t try to wear these on a real windy or near freezing day and I likewise wouldn’t ride them in the rain. Those aren’t issues for me as I’m on the trainer inside when that’s going on outside. (Soft, I know). If you are an all-season, all-weather cyclist, Castelli makes these with Windstopper panels for your thighs and knees called the Sorpasso Wind Bib Tights (use the same store links above to find them.)
I’d make sure you take care to drain your main vein before heading out – the front panel is cut below your belly button but has non-elastic piping across the top that doesn’t make it easy to gain access without removing the straps. The straps themselves are thin, work fine, but aren’t anything special. The mesh back panel doesn’t even try to handle the job of wicking, delegating that to your base layer rather than trying to compete with it. Makes sense
These tights shout Castelli… or at least feature the Castelli name in big letters atop a 10 inch, 25-centimeter-long and 1¼ inch, 3-centimeter-wide fire-engine red stripe running along the outside of the quads and another running the length of your outer shins. These aren’t fluorescent or reflective but they are loud and the shin stripes may improve your visibility somewhat. You can order them with yellow fluo stripes but that wouldn’t be very Castelli of you.
The stitching attaching one of the red quad stripes was poorly sewn so I returned it for replacement. More a cosmetic than a performance issue but an issue nonetheless.
These have been in Castelli’s line for a half dozen years so I assume they haven’t come up with anything better. Their list price (MSRP/RRP) is high but you can usually find them on sale at 2/3rds that price including at the stores with good customer satisfaction ratings like the ones I’ve provided links for above.
These Vega bib tights are, like most things Santini, cut quite slim and feel snug even in your normal size. That’s not a negative, it’s just the way they are cut. If you are a more standard width cyclist or still working to lose a few pounds, these aren’t for you and you can skip ahead to the next review.
Like all of the other kit I’ve picked and reviewed for this post, this is a high-quality garment in terms of its materials and construction. Unlike the other bibs however, Santini didn’t quite get the fit right on these.
[As I wrote earlier, cut and fit are different. Cut is about garment width. Fit is about how well it moves (stretch), wraps, supports (compression), aligns (chamois, seams, grippers, straps) to you as you ride.]
Specifically, it takes a bit of adjusting to get the Vega chamois positioned right to keep your “junk” comfortable. Likewise, you have to do a little pulling and shifting the leg sections up and down around your thighs to get them comfortable during first parts of your ride.
These tights don’t have ankle zippers. Depending on how high your shoes are, that can be a plus or minus. Clearly, no zipper makes getting the Vegas a little more difficult to get on and off. My fellow tester Nate strained a hammy trying to take them off too fast.
On the other hand (or maybe foot), not having zippers provides a better fit if you are wearing these with ankle high shoes or boots. You can wear these tights comfortably below freezing temps and into some of the wetter weather. If you do, you are likely to ride with winter boots that cover your ankle. Not having a zipper avoids interference or rubbing with the tops your boots.
Nate also found the shoulder straps are best worn with a base layer as they are a little too rough and uncomfortable without one on. They also lack any features or reflective piping that would add to your visibility on the road. Front and rear blinkies are your best friend with these and most bibs and tights these days as it’s rare to see ones with much that help you be seen.
The Vega has a soft fleece lining which, while thin and quite breathable, keeps you warm through the full range of spring and fall temps. The water-resistant treatment do their thing well against drizzle or the splash from wet roads but aren’t going to keep you dry in a steady rain.
Sportful Fiandre NoRain Bib Tights (USD$180/£125/€160 MSRP/RRP; Wiggle, Chain Reaction Cycles, ProBikeKit UK code ITK10)
Sportful doesn’t run as slim cut as Castelli, Santini and other classically Italian kit but it’s not quite a standard width either. Somewhere in between the two. It does size a little short. If you are nearly 6 foot or 1.8 meters tall, as is Nate who tested these, you’ll likely want to go a size larger to get the length you need. Switching from a medium to a large provided the right length while not being loose around his 32” waist.
As the name suggests, these bibs are designed for wet conditions, best shedding water in a mist, drizzle or even steady rain better than others we’ve tried. They also come with a pull-out rain panel that runs across your butt that looks a little silly with the bright red vertical line highlighting your crack.
However, as Nate found, the panel avoided that instant soggy feeling when he was caught in the rain without having put on his rear fender. There’s also extra NoRain material added around the knees and thighs that doesn’t hinder (or highlight) your lower body functions or comfort.
These Sportful bib tights aren’t just for wet weather through. They are breathable and all-around comfortable in dry spring and fall conditions too. Key to their comfort is the bib’s first rate chamois. Its thickness varies, putting extra padding where it should be and avoiding it where it doesn’t provide any extra benefit.
A couple of things to point out that the experience of wearing these bibs many times in different conditions reveals. First, pull the tight closing zipper away from your leg before you zip or unzip it unless you shave your legs year-round. Second, the bib straps aren’t the softest so are best worn with a base layer, no matter how warm out.
That said, these have become a favorite of Nate’s, one that he wears from 50F/10C through winter’s sub-freezing temps and precipitation long after I’ve retreated to the trainer.
The difference between a spring/fall jersey and a jacket seems to be in the eye of the beholder or perhaps the torso of the rider. Personally, I consider a jersey to be a relatively thin layer worn over a short or long sleeve base layer. A jacket, on the other hand, is made to be warmer and more weather resistant than a jersey and something I would wear over a jersey or a heavier base layer.
There doesn’t seem to be a common view on this however. Some clothing companies call what I would call a jersey a jacket and vice versa. What I’ve done in this and the next section on jackets is to group them the way I just explained it rather than what companies call them.
Unless your body runs really cold, you should be able to stay warm and repel the wind in the spring and fall with the jerseys below down to somewhere between 40F/4C and 45F/7C. On warmer days, go with a short sleeve base layer. On cooler ones, use a long sleeve base layer like those I reviewed above.
The Perfetto comes in short and long sleeve models and a convertible jacket. I bought and am reviewing the short sleeve one here for those warmer spring and fall days when it’s too cool to wear a summer jersey without a wind vest but too warm to put on a long sleeve jersey.
I like that the Perfetto comes in bright red and fluorescent yellow front panels for the lower light conditions in these seasons. They also make it in black, blue and grey. The back is always black save for the tail piece which covers the upper part of your rear end, matches the color of your front and has reflective edging. There’s also reflective edge across the top of the pockets. If you are riding in a somewhat aero body position, these edges will help you be seen by cars coming from behind (along with your always on blinkie, of course)
The price is quite reasonable compared to other spring/fall jerseys when you consider that you can usually find a 20% off Castelli sale of going several times a year.
The Perfetto has the light version Gore Windstopper fabric built into the front and is very breathable out the back. You should wear a base layer at the lower temperature range however, as I found your back can get cool after sweating without the warmth of a base layer
While the Perfetto is comfortable and warm for me down to around 50F/10C even with a little wind, it also is comfortable into the low to mid 60s F, mid to high-teens C range without overheating. I don’t like to cover my arms in this temperature range and prefer the close fit of the Perfetto jersey over the looser fit of a vest over a summer weight jersey.
If you are one that regulates your comfort with arm warmers and a vest that you put on or take off during a ride but want to eliminate that hassle, I’d suggest one of the long sleeve jerseys below rather than the long sleeve Perfetto. The latter is really a renamed Gabba, one that is constructed with heavier Windstopper in the front and a less breathable back. It will be much warmer than the Perfetto, well beyond just adding sleeves.
There’s been much hype around the Gabba (for good reason) and Castelli is promoting the Perfetto as the next Gabba. There are a lot of similarities in fit (slim) and performance (wind, rain) but the Perfetto is really for warmer spring and fall weather and more breathable than the short or long sleeved Gabba.
The Gabba was a benchmark for spring classics weather that a lot of other companies have copied. With the Perfetto and the colder weather Alpha (reviewed below), you have the benefits of the wind and rain resistance with two garment that cover the range of temperatures you’re likely to see in the spring and fall without much overlap. They both provide the breathability and warmth you need for the conditions you wear them in. The Gabba doesn’t cover the highs and lows of this range the way Perfetto and Alpha do. Yes, I have one of each.
As with other Castelli gear, the Perfetto is cut for slim riders. Fit ones at that. You might want to order your normal size and a size larger and see which one fits better. If you ride in the spring a few pounds or kgs over your normal summer weight, definitely get it a size larger than normal.
Assos has an almost dizzying array of clothing with an even more dizzying array of names. Assos calls everything with long sleeves a jacket whereas others might call the same weight garment a jersey. For me, a jersey is something you would wear over a short or long sleeve base layer whereas a jacket is something with a lot of warmth, rain and/or wind resistance built into it that you would wear over a jersey or a warm, long sleeve base layer.
They make four spring/fall weight “jackets”. The iJ.Intermediate_S7 Lady is what I consider a jersey and it’s the only one they make for women. For men, they make the iJ.Tiburu.4 with a lot of fleece in the front, upper arms and back for those colder spring/fall days. I consider the Tiburu a jacket. Finally, they make two intermediate weight long sleevers I consider jerseys.
The iJ.Intermediate_S7 profBlack, to quote Assos, is an all-black “summer jersey with long sleeves and increased protection from the wind.” (Ha! See, they admitted that they are making jerseys they call jackets). All black, no visibility, super expensive, limited edition, not interested.
That leaves the MilleIntermediateJacket_EVO7 or what I’ll call the Mille jersey because life is too short to screw around with long names. This jersey is best worn with a short sleeve or long sleeve base layer depending on how cool it is out and how hot you ride.
I found the Mille jersey supremely comfortable from 40F/4C on up. It’s a slim cut and moves very well as you go from upright to aero to standing positions. I don’t know how they figure this stuff out, but the sleeves are cut in a way and use a stretchy fabric so that it’s as if you didn’t have any sleeves on at all. It moves that well with you. The arms bend with no gathering or tightening at the elbows and the shoulders move with no restriction. Pretty amazing actually.
The front of the jersey uses a wind resistant fabric that keeps the torso warm. The back, side and lower arm panels use more of a mesh material that breathes extremely well. The upper arm panels are a tighter weave that are somewhat warmer though not wind resistant per se.
As I really want to be seen on the road, especially in spring and fall when many drivers aren’t expecting to see cyclists as much as they do in the summer, I wish the Mille was made with more color. Assos makes this jersey only with white, yellow or red patterning in upper left arm and shoulder panel. The rest of the jersey is black. The elastic “waistband” that runs below your rear pockets and covers the upper half of your butt has a thin reflective stripe that will add to your nighttime visibility but it seems pretty dark overall.
There were two other things about this jersey that bugged me but that might not bother you. While I love the fit of the arms as I described above, because of the way they cut the panels to make this fit so great, you get more of a curving seam rather than a straight one up and down along your arms. It looks like I’ve got it on crooked even though I don’t. On the left arm, with only the top having color, this unbalanced look is even more pronounced and, to me, seems like I’ve got it on wrong even though I don’t. Oh well…
The other thing I struggle with is the Assos zipper pendant. The zipper works well and the pendant that hangs down from the zipper pull is easy to grab but it does tend to bounce around at times when I’m riding out of the saddle. If I have it zipped all or most of the way, the pendant will hit me in my chin or Adam’s apple when I’m riding head down in my “pain cave.” Of course, I should always be looking up, so perhaps having the Assos pendant smack me in the chin or neck when I’m not is a good thing.
As with the Oxygen bib shorts, Gore’s Oxygen Windstopper Long Sleeve Jersey is a standard cut. This doesn’t mean it’s loose; on the contrary, it’s a race fit just like the Assos and Castelli but it is cut to fit those that couldn’t close the zipper on a typical Italian slim cut jersey.
That said, Steverinos with chicken wings and sunken chests like me can wear this jersey without flapping. The elastic waist and long wrist bands, the high collar and the tailored panels between and beneath your shoulders and those coming up your ribs and extending under your arms make for a close and breathable fit when in both aero and more typically upright endurance positions. It also has longer sleeves for those of you with longer arms.
Getting the fit right is especially important because, as the name of this jersey suggests, this is a signature Windstopper from Gore and it has the company’s less stretchy wind resistant materials just about everywhere in the jersey. Except for the places I mentioned just above, the front, back, side and upper arm panels are all Windstopper.
If the Castelli Perfetto is ideal for warmer spring and fall days, the Gore Oxygen Windstopper long sleeve jersey is best for the coolest and windiest ones.
I also like the visibility this jacket creates. You can get it in some very bright and unusual color combinations that aren’t going to be confused with spring flora and fauna or autumn leaves. I bought mine in orange and black (school colors!) with salmon accents. The other half dozen combinations of color options are equally distinctive and visible. The Oxygen jersey also has some reflective highlights in the center rear pocket, under the rear shoulders and sprinkled around in logos that appear on the left turning arm and a few other places.
It’s often discounted well below the MSRP/RRP (see the links above) so can be had for decent price and is a good value for the added warmth and visibility you’ll get on the cooler spring and fall days.
Santini is an Italian brand and has a classic Italian slim cut. After wearing the Vega Aquazero jersey for several months, fellow-tester Nate found it ran about as snug as possible without being constrictive on his long frame that welcomes kit cut somewhere between slim and standard.
Nate welcomed it as a core member of his kit rotation as the jersey (and Nate) is best suited for spirited, fast ride efforts more so than more casual, recovery rides. That’s because this Vega long sleeve jersey fits skin-tight and racer ready, similar to the way I found their summer kit. If you wore this jersey on a cruiser, it would probably swear at you in Italian that you should be riding at FTP or, at least at tempo pace.
The small plastic tags that protrude from the jersey side seem to have little more than branding value and detract from the Vega’s otherwise aero feel. The long jersey arms suit riders stretched out in that aero position (or just riders longish arms) and tie in well with your gloves.
The Vega is clearly a jersey, most comfortable in the 40F/4C to 55F/13C range without a lot of wind. Below that, throw a jacket or warm vest on. It does have a light fleece-like material inside and that runs up the high collar.
Similar to the Assos Mille, the Vega is mostly black and not terribly visible on its own. It has a couple of narrow yellow or red and white stripes, none of which are reflective down the center of your front and back. The similar colors wrap your wrists and are wider. These will add visibility to whatever gloves you are wearing when you are signaling.
As the Aquazero part of its name suggests, this jersey is treated to keep the rain from ruining your ride. Unless it’s a steady or hard rain, you’ll stay dry for an hour or so in a light rain. The water will begin to penetrate after that but you’ll stay warm thanks to the fleece lining. Not a raincoat, but a pretty good water resistant jersey if you are planning to ride on a day when the weather is somewhat uncertain or you are certain it may shower at some point during your ride. This is an added benefit, especially at the favorable price of this jersey relative to the other top end ones we’ve tested.
I’m currently testing the Altura Peloton Long Sleeve NightVision jersey.
While Sportful calls it a jersey and it can be used as one, the Fiandre Light Wind long sleeve jersey is at its best as a jacket. Its resistance to wind and drizzle and its ideal fit coming with a long sleeve jersey or robust base layer underneath make it Nate’s go-to jacket in temps from about 40F/4C down to 25F/-4C.
As a pure jersey, Nate found it slightly baggy in his normal size M but still comfortable between 50F/10C and 35F/2C. So, depending on where you live, how cold it gets, and how much winter you enjoy or need to ride in, this jersey/jacket can serve you through the entire “off-season”.
Wind resistance is where this Fiandre shines. The term “Light Wind” in the name can be misinterpreted by literal readers (like me). Light refers to the weight of the jersey/jacket rather than how strong the wind is that it blocks. It uses Windstopper fabric across your front torso, neck and arms and has a covering flap to keep wind from infiltrating around your zipper.
Like the other jerseys or jackets that get water resistant coatings, this jacket isn’t a raincoat. However, with Sportful’s NoRain treatment in the back panel and a long tail that covers the upper half of your backside, it does repel moisture well on a misty day or in a light rain for an hour or so and keeps your warm while you get to where you are going. If you ride to work or prefer to ride outside rather than on a trainer even with the chance of foul weather, jerseys like the Santini Vega and jersey/jackets like this Sportful Fiandre give you that option.
This top layer does its thing with good breathability to go along with everything else
In addition to black and a bright, but not quite fluorescent yellow, it comes in a light blue, somewhere between aqua and powder blue. It’s distinctive, or at least you don’t see this color around on cycling gear very much, and unlike any color I’ve seen on cars or in nature.
Nate felt more comfortable wearing a fluo vest over the blue when riding during rush hour and would like to see some more reflective piping to improve visibility for morning and evening rides in normal traffic. He also cautioned that if you have long arms, you are best with gloves that have cuffs that cover your wrists in the cold weather as the jacket sleeves aren’t quite long enough for those with long arms .
All-in, this jersey/jacket’s versatility and performance in a range of weather conditions and temperatures makes it well worth the price.
The Alpha is clearly a Castelli jacket made to be worn over a jersey or thermal base layer. With it range of insulation and ventilation options at the throw of a couple zippers, it best suits me at temps from 25F/-4C to 50F/10 though I’ve ridden it comfortably on days when it warms up above that range. I’d expect you could take it out on colder days but I’d rather be on skis and indeed have worn it comfortably under a winter coat in far lower temps while out on the slopes.
It has a robust Gore windbreaking outer layer, something I’ve found quite nice when you are riding in crosswinds or into 10-15mph headwinds created either by Mother Nature or your own foolishness going downhill in near freezing conditions. And when I get caught out in a cold rain or even a snow squall in the late fall or early winter, it was sure nice to have an outer layer that resists the precip as well as my ski parka but that still rides with the fit of a jersey.
Let’s just say I’m a pretty fearless male once I put the Alpha on. Maybe that’s where the jacket’s name came from.
Interestingly, the Alpha weighs the lightest of all Castelli’s jackets for this temperature range yet it offers the most insulation and breathability in their line and is the only one with Gores’s top windproof fabric. I’m not quite sure how they accomplish all of that but it sure works for me. It’s got mesh and a covered vent across your upper back to let the heat out that direction and a separate zippered insulating inner layer that allows you to open the front of your wind-protecting outer layer without exposing the cold to your base layer.
This venting system keeps you from overheating and sweating if you are doing a hard turn or cranking it out going uphill. Castelli even thought to offset the zippers so there’s no interference between them. It’s really quite ingenious.
Despite the Alpha’s colder weather rating, it’s still form-fittingly snug so you are best riding it with your elbows and back bent. As with all Castelli kit, this one is cut for the slim riders among us. I seldom wear it with anything thicker than a thermal base layer and the “fit like a glove” and breathable comfort gives me a similar feeling to riding in the summer despite the temp being half of what it is during that season.
While it lacks any reflective accents, I find the red version to be quite loud for daytime riding. It comes in black and more muted steel blue and grey options, none of which will stand out like the red I favor.
While often on sale well below the MSRP/RRP, the Alpha is not cheap to start off with. For me, its range and comfort and the likelihood I’ll wear it for a good number of years and many days each of those years has made it one of the best deals amongst all my spring and fall kit.
Chances are you’ve heard and read a lot of great things about this jacket. This is one case where the performance lives up to the hype, or where you can ignore the hype and just enjoy the performance and value.
I haven’t done a comparative review of warmers, gloves, socks, booties and the like. But, for those of you who may wonder what I use (and to pre-empt your questions with answers), here’s the accessories I wear.
SOCKS– I have lousy circulation in my feet and hands, probably as a result of getting frostbite a few too many times while out skiing. I use DeFeet Woolie Boolie Socks (Competitive Cyclist, Wiggle, Tweeks Cycles, ProBikeKit UK code ITK10, Amazon) which are half and half merino wool and nylon with a little bit of lycra mixed in. The are so damn comfortable and warm, I wear them around the house instead of slippers in the winter and they fit fine into my summer cycling shoes.
BOOTIES – Staying with the keep it warm and visible theme, I use a pair of neon yellow Gore Bike Wear Road SO Overshoes (Competitive Cyclist, Wiggle, Chain Reaction Cycles, Amazon). They are a great fit over top of my Specialized S-Works shoes, the under-shoe strap is pretty durable and they cinch up nicely up and easily. With these and the Woolie Boolies, I can wear my summer shoes without my feet getting cold.
GLOVES – I use Craft Hybrid Weather Gloves (Competitive Cyclist, Amazon, Bike24) for spring and fall days when it’s just a bit too cool to wear fingerless gloves. They are warm but thin and have a nice wind-proof mitten cover you can pull out from a small zip pocket atop the glove if it starts getting cool. I’ve got the fluoro yellow model but they also come in neon green, hot pink and basic black. They are inexpensive and do the trick.
On the coldest or wet spring and fall days that I ride, I pull out my Gore Bike Wear Universal Gore-Tex Thermo Gloves (Competitive Cyclist, Wiggle, Amazon). They are very warm without being clammy or thick. The top side has a Gore-Tex cover which deflects the wind, the inside is fleece and the underside is leather. They’ve also got a nice cuff which covers my wrist and cinches up with Velcro. The leather takes a bit of breaking in and there are probably warmer gloves out there but these work for me.
LEG AND ARM WARMERS – I’ll admit to being a Castelli fanboy. Not because they send me kit to demo (they don’t) but because I love nearly every piece of Castelli I’ve ever worn. The cut works for me, the design is first rate, the fit and comfort are great and their kit, while expensive, is usually on sale at a price that makes it a great value for the level of performance I get out of it and the number of times I wear it.
That said, I’ve tried Pearl Izumi and Gore leg warmers. The former were really priced right but lost their shape and didn’t stay up after wearing them a dozen times one spring and the later just didn’t stretch well enough being made of the Windstopper fabric and it bunched up behind my knees. Talk about wrecking your ride!
Once I learned about using embro cream – I use Mad Alchemy Mellow Heat Warming Embrocation (Competitive Cyclist) but there’s others to choose from that will keep you warm (Evans Cycles) – I’ve pretty much limited the number of times I use leg warmers. I do have a pair of Castelli Nanoflex Leg Warmers (Competitive Cyclist, Wiggle, Tweeks Cycles, Chain Reaction Cycles, ProBikeKit UK code ITK10) for those days when I’m headed out on 3-hour or longer spring or fall rides and have no idea what the weather will be like on the way. I’m even more unlikely to use arm warmers but do have a pair of …. wait for it…. yes, Castelli Thermoflex Arm Warmers (Wiggle, Tweeks Cycles, Chain Reaction Cycles).
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