THE BEST CYCLING KIT FOR PERFORMANCE AND VALUE
When I want some new cycling kit to replace or freshen up what I’ve been wearing, it can be hard to choose between all that’s out there. You get great photos and prices and superb sounding write-ups online. But comparative performance and value? Who knows.
It’s great when you do find a kit that fits and feels superb every time you ride in it or when it’s surprisingly good for what you paid. But unless you have a pretty good idea of what works for you or a recommendation from someone you know, that doesn’t usually happen.
Over the last three years, I’ve tested many of the purported best cycling jerseys and best cycling bibs that I think road cycling enthusiasts like you who read In The Know Cycling might be interested in. Or, at least they were the ones that this road cycling enthusiast thought were worth trying out, comparing, and sharing what I found with you.
No, I haven’t ridden all the brands or models. That quest continues, but I think I’ve covered many of the best performing and best value ones that most of you can get no matter where you live.
For this post, I’ve added reviews of 9 new pieces of cycling kit I’ve worn this spring and summer to those I’ve written about before that are still featured in the lines of leading companies. All told, there 24 cycling jerseys or bib shorts and a few other accessories you can read about in my detailed reviews and compare using my rating charts below.
This collection will give you and fellow enthusiasts some options to chose from whether you are looking for great performance or good value for long endurance rides or faster group rides or races.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT CYCLING KIT
Click on any red statement below to go directly to that part of the post. Click the back arrow to return to this list.
WHY TRUST THIS SITE AND MY RECOMMENDATIONS
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 trusted stores. I and my fellow evaluators do hours of testing and analysis on an entire category of cycling gear for each review and incorporate insights from other reviewers and riders whose evaluations and independence I respect.
To eliminate potential bias, I don’t accept ads of any kind and don’t post press releases rewritten as “first look” reviews or articles paid for by bike companies or stores. I buy some of the things we review and then either keep or sell them. Other gear I demo and then return or donate. We don’t go on company-paid product review trips, don’t work in the industry, and don’t charge access to any of the content on the site. My only influence is what I think would be best for my fellow roadies. This is my passion, not a business.
To share this passion with you, the site uses a simple and transparent model you can support at no cost. I find and provide you regularly updated links to the lowest prices for the gear I’ve reviewed from online stores that have the highest customer satisfaction ratings among the 100 or so I track. When you click on and buy something through one of those store links, some (not all) pay the site a small commission which I put toward buying gear for more reviews and covering site costs. You save time and money looking for the right gear and store while supporting the creation of independent reviews written for you and by fellow road cycling enthusiasts. And it doesn’t cost you a thing.
If you prefer to buy your gear at a local bike shop but still want to support the site, you can make a simple contribution here or buy anything through these links to Amazon or eBay. Thanks.
HOW I SELECT AND TEST CYCLING KIT
Cycling clothing, like a lot of other cycling gear, can be highly technical, style-focused and over-hyped. My approach for this and other cycling kit reviews – apparel, shoes, helmets you can see here – is to find and order top performing and great value cycling kit from brands that have solid reputations for quality and customer satisfaction, and are widely available at competitively priced stores.
For this review, I looked for combinations of the best cycling jerseys and best cycling bibs from a single brand that coordinates well.
“Best” means either best performing or best value. The best performing cycling kit is often the kit you’ll want to pull out for those big rides where you want to put it all together. The best value cycling kit also has to have good, if not the best, performance for enthusiasts like us who might ride that kit a couple times a week for training or group rides and don’t want the kit to detract from our performance.
This review is about cycling kit for the late spring and summer. If you are interested in fall and early spring kit, you can find that review here.
Once the jerseys and bibs I’ve ordered arrive, I take the tags off and lay them out for a photo. I then put them together in one drawer, try to ignore the branding and forget the reasons why I picked each kit, and just go out and wear a different one, one after another about once every week or so for a couple months to reach my own conclusions. I also mix in other bib shorts and cycling jerseys that I have reviewed and rated highly in the past to compare to the new kit, especially when the laundry gets backed up.
Rather than go in with a checklist of what clothing makers say is important or what other reviewers say matters in evaluating cycling kit, I try to start fresh and just experience each kit for the first few rides. I might note down one or two things that jump out at me about them. For example, a pair of bibs were loose around the inside of my thighs, a jersey flopped around my back when I got into an aero position, a kit made me feel like I was Superman. (Especially that last one!)
After a number of rides, I start to notice a lot more things about each and how they differ. For example, some jerseys keep me far drier on hot days or some bibs compressed and supported my quad muscles more than others. Some fit me much better all around while others seem as though they would fit a heavier version of me.
I might get the odd favorable comment about the style of one or two jerseys I wear or find myself subconsciously looking for a coordinated kit or a particular bib or jersey to come through the wash for the ride I have coming up.
At the end of the first year I tested spring and summer cycling kit, I put together a categorized list of what mattered to me most and what I think would matter to you as road cycling enthusiasts about the jerseys and bibs I’ve worn.
Now, each time I review new cycling kit for a couple months, I organize the notes I made along the way and make others to compare each piece according to that list of what matters. I write up reviews and rate whether each kit is better, equal to or worse than the others I’ve reviewed against the list of things that matters.
WHAT MATTERS MOST IN CHOOSING CYCLING KIT
Here is my list and explanation of what my experience suggests should matter most to enthusiasts in choosing between cycling kit.
Looks – No doubt, I and most of us will initially be attracted or turned off by cycling kit based on how we (or others) think it will look on us. This is the first way a lot of us filter clothing in or out. I’m going to note the importance of looks and give you my 2 cents where I think something looks especially distinctive. I have not, however, rated or recommended one piece of kit or another based on looks. That’s for you to decide.
Price – Another filter many of us will use before buying new cycling kit, especially good ones, is the price. For many years, I’d go out and spend about $60 for a new pair of the same of bike shorts each spring to add to or replace what was in my drawer, mostly because they worked well enough I hadn’t tried anything else to know better. When I started riding more and realized some of the shortcomings of what I was wearing, I swallowed hard and spent out 2x and 3x what I had been to try out a couple good pair of bib shorts.
In retrospect, I’m glad I did.
The far greater comfort and performance you get from a really good piece of kit is easy to tell and well worth it, especially compared to all the other things you can spend your cycling budget on.
There are often 25% off sales on many of the best brands of cycling kit typically before the big stage races like the three major tours and at the beginning or end of each season. So while the list price can be a bit jarring, the sale prices aren’t so bad.
I use the words cycling kit or a piece of kit loosely to refer to bib shorts, a jersey, a combination of the two or any piece of cycling apparel. To my American friends who haven’t fallen for soccer, kit is a term for a uniform or coordinated outfit that the cycling apparel world has also adopted.
A coordinated cycling kit has the advantage of an integrated look and typically has a similar performance and price level across its pieces. The jersey and bibs will usually be cut for a similar body type, be made of materials that should breathe similarly, and have a stretchiness and compression to give you a similar feel.
That certainly doesn’t mean you have to or should buy pieces of cycling kit together. Most bib shorts are black and go with any style or color jersey. And jerseys can be like ties; you might pick out a different one based on how you feel that day or the ride or event you are doing.
On the other hand, you can wear bib shorts like the way I wear jeans. You have a few pairs that fit and you grab whichever pair is on top of your pile and hopefully clean. (I do wash my bibs more often than my jeans!)
Most bib shorts and jerseys are available as a coordinated kit. Cycling clothing makers will often give them similar names or display them together. I’m also noticing that the latest bibs and jerseys seem to have more visible brand logos on them than in the past, same as the role branding seems to play in every other part of our street clothes and lives these days. If you are at all fashion aware, this may make it a bit harder to wear cycling bibs and jerseys from different brands at the same time.
Some bibs and jerseys are given names that tell you they go together, others aren’t even though their cut, fit, price and performance tell you they should. I’ve selected, tested and reviewed bibs and jerseys together for the most part if you want to go that route. But if you want to buy just one or the other, the tables that accompany the reviews compare cycling jerseys against each other and the same with bib shorts.
OK. Enough of that. Once you find the coordinated kit or individual bib shorts or cycling jersey you like the looks of and get over their list prices, I found there are three things that matter most in choosing between them.
Cut – I list cut next for a simple reason. If a piece of kit isn’t cut for your body, it’s not going to fit or be as good a performer or as comfortable as it could be for you the way it might for someone else.
Simply stated, most cycling kit will run standard or slim. A small percent of kit will fit well on either body type.
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. Slim doesn’t mean small. 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 you are slim and put on a medium pair of bib shorts cut for slim riders, it will fit fine. That’s me. If I put on a medium bib with a standard cut, however, I will likely have extra room in my chamois or around the inside of my legs or maybe in the small of my back, all things I won’t find comfortable out on the road.
When this has been the case with some kit I’ve ordered, I’ve passed it on to David, a fellow rider/tester friend of mine who is a standard cut medium and I incorporate his experience wearing these in the reviews.
Most cycling kit makers don’t come out and say they make slim or standard kit. But, you can find that in my charts and reviews for those I’ve tested.
It usually doesn’t work to just drop down a size on standard-cut kit if you are slim or go up a size on slim-cut kit if you are a standard width cyclist.
I’ve tried to go smaller with standard cut bib shorts and it doesn’t work, or at least hasn’t for me. The grippers are too tight around my quads or the straps too short and there’s still extra room in the seat. Cycling jerseys can be too tight or loose and the arms and length at the waist to short or long if you order a smaller or larger size to compensate for cut.
Fortunately, there’s an ample amount of good performance and value kit cut both slim and standard. Some kit actually works for either kind of enthusiast, probably because of the material they use and the way they piece it together.
Regardless of the cut, the length of bib legs and jersey sleeves varies by brand as does the height of the front and side panels on the bibs and the neck on some jerseys. These are differences in design rather than cut. I’ve noted these differences in the chart and reviews. For the most part, I found they are differences in preference rather than performance.
For example, if you are carrying more weight than you prefer around your midsection, you might benefit from higher bib panels for added support. Or if your arms look more like the chicken wings of a pro cyclist than the guns of a pro where upper body strength matters more than in cycling, you might want a jersey with sleeves that extend fully across your biceps.
While not affecting performance on the bike, your ability to execute a quick roadside natural break can definitely be stymied by bibs whose front panel is too high or whose straps don’t stretch enough to allow you easy access. I’ve noted those bibs which offer particularly easy access or force you to take down your straps to get the most basic form of relief.
Fit – Once you’ve picked a cycling jersey and bib shorts with the right cut for you and in the right size, fit comes into play. On the whole, most performance kit with the right cut and in your size will “fit” you in the traditional sense – it’s going to wrap your body without being too tight or loose.
Instead, the difference between how well different cycling kit fits principally comes down to, in the case of bib shorts, 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 your legs are gripped but not strangled by your bibs to keep it in place, and how well your bib straps rest along your shoulders as you move in and out of different positions.
Among the best cycling jerseys, I’ve learned to judge fit by how well your arms are held by your jersey sleeves where they transition from the edges of your kit to your skin (arm grippers), how flat your jersey stays against your torso especially along the zipper, and how well it stretches with you as you move in and out of aero positions especially around your shoulders, neck, upper back, pits, forearms, and waist. Well, I guess that’s everywhere.
Comfort – With the right cut cycling kit that fits or moves and supports you well, comfort is the final consideration. While each season’s kit has different comfort requirements, hot summer (and cold winter) riding can be the most demanding.
A good kit should be darn near as comfortable after several hours in the hot sun as it was when you put it on. Sure, you might be spent, but a good kit won’t be and will breathe enough to keep your body comfortable (neither too warm or cool) and remove or wick (absorb and evaporate) the sweat you generate while still feeling dry. You’ll run into a load of claims and high tech names and cool graphics about how different cycling kits do this. This is technology marketing. Ignore it. It either breathes and keeps you dry and comfortable or it doesn’t.
The mix of materials and where they are used in cycling kit differ and might feel more or less soft, stretchy, or “quality” to those of you who know good fabrics and garments. All of this probably plays into the kind of comfort a cycling kit delivers but I’ve focused on the results, keeping you cool and dry, rather than the details of the materials that produced those results. (Hey, I’m a chemical engineer by training and took a lot of surface chemistry and thermodynamics courses so I should be all over this but I’m repressing my technical curiosity in the pursuit of practical simplicity.)
The comfort of the chamois or pad in your shorts is given a lot of attention from both reviewers and bib providers. Fortunately, I found the chamois in most performance bibs I’ve selected and reviewed to be very comfortable. This is not the case if you drop down to average or low-cost bib shorts.
There are a lot of different chamois designs – how thick, how wide, how far back and how far forward they go, how graduated they are, what materials they use, etc. Some of this does make a difference and some not so much. I’ve pointed out when I’ve experienced that it does.
For example, the chamois on a couple bibs I’ve tested don’t extend back much beyond your sit bones. If you ride sitting up a lot, they won’t pad you there. However, if you ride the way my training videos say you should – your abs engaged, navel pulled toward your spine, pelvis rotated downwards, etc. – you don’t need padding beyond the sit bones.
Some chamois have hour-glass shapes and avoid padding your groin area while others have “wings” or extra width that run up your groin, perhaps for those whose legs rub the insides of their saddles from time to time, another thing that a good riding style and position should avoid. Some chamois provides a nice big pocket of softer material to comfort your private parts, others a narrow one, and still others none at all.
What I’ve concluded, however, after riding different performance bibs from a lot of different brands with different designs is that there are many ways to make a comfortable chamois.
The differences I’ve noticed in bib comfort is more between the higher priced, performance bibs and the more moderately priced, value bibs. The value bibs either don’t keep you as comfortable over longer rides as the performance ones, or their design is such that I never could get comfortable in them in the first place. They tend to be thinner, not as anatomically shaped, and don’t stay in position as well as performance bibs due to inadequate grippers, straps or compression.
Note that all of this comes from a guy who has a “bony ass”, not much fat around my glutes or outside my hips. I also prefer to ride a relatively firm saddle. So I’m going to notice if the chamois isn’t comfortable and I do note in the comparison a few that are more or less comfortable than the rest.
On the whole, however, and in my experience, the marketing around chamois pads and their design differences seem way out of proportion to the actual performance differences.
PERFORMANCE CYCLING KIT
Click to go directly to reviews of each brand
In The Know Cycling supports you and your fellow enthusiasts by doing hours of independent and comparative analysis to find the best road cycling gear and kit to improve your riding experience.
You support us and save yourself money and time by buying through the links to stores we’ve picked for their low prices and high customer satisfaction. Some of these stores pay us a commission when you buy there after clicking on these links. Thank you.
ASSOS EQUIPE EVO – JUST WHEN YOU THOUGH IT COULDN’T GET BETTER
For me, Assos is an enigma. I don’t know how they do it and why I should pay so much for it but their cycling kit is a step above everyone else’s and I’m willing to pay more for it.
How and why they name their kit the way they do is also a mystery. I find it somewhere between quirky and a bit frustrating that Assos, let alone the stores they sell it use slightly different names for the same pieces of kit, especially when I’m trying to review it for you. Anyway, I’ve gotten over it. Assos kit is more than worth it to do so.
The T Equipe Evo bib shorts are new for 2018 and if possible, given my recommendation of the Assos Cento bibs below and the Tiburu bibs in my review of fall and early spring kit, are as good as any pair of bibs I’ve ever worn. Maybe better.
They are lighter and the pad is thinner than the Cento’s though no less comfortable as I learned when I tested them on a century ride with nearly 8000 feet/2400 meters of climbing on a humid 80F/27C day.
The pad has small a couple dozen 2mm holes punched in the part that surrounds your privates that actually provides ventilation on hot days keeping you fresh rather than getting all shriveled up. The Centos use the unpadded “cuckoo’s nest” (Assos’ name, not mine) that gives you more freedom but perhaps gives that part of you a little less support. Both work but the Equipe Evo seems to keep your privates both cool and a bit more connected.
Both use the floating pad design where the pad is sewn to the bibs mostly in the front and back and is free to move with you where your bottom meets the chamois. And both work for slim hipped, small bottom riders like me and those with wider, fuller seats.
The stretch/compression is uniform throughout your quads, not just along the roughly 40mm/1.5 inch grippers as is the case with so many other bib shorts. This is perhaps due to the single seam leg or the material. For whatever reason, it really feels like the shorts are supporting your quads, IT bands, and hamstrings up to your glutes without interruption between them, same as you want your own muscles to work together.
I also like the solid, stretchy, understated 45mm/1.75 inch black straps that keep the low cut center panel and the perforated back panel that narrows as it comes up between your shoulders there without you hardly noticing. When you need to take a pee, the straps stretch effortlessly and the access is unimpeded. It probably also helps that the front panel of these bibs is lower cut than most, running a couple fingers wide below my belly button.
The material Assos uses in all of their cycling kits is one of the company’s hallmarks. I don’t know or much care what makes it different, but you notice it for sure. In addition to the stretch and compression I mentioned before, it’s breathable and soft. Almost too soft. While it seems I can slide back and forward in the saddle when I get in or out of aero position just a bit more easily with the material in these bibs, I also find I almost have to adjust my mindset when I get on the saddle so I don’t feel like my rear is in danger of sliding off.
There is a bit more color choice in these Equipe Evo bibs than others from Assos. You can get them blacked out, with a 40mm, 1.5 inch tall Assos logo on a leg and hip, or the logos with a grey or Suisse red right leg gripper. Shocking, right?
All fun aside, these are an incredibly well-performing pair of bib shorts. With a list at a price (USD$219/£150/€170) a good deal less than the Cento (USD$299/£205/€242) and only a little more or less than the top-of-the-line performance bibs from Ale, Castelli, Endura, Exte Ondo, Sportful, Mavic, and others, it’s hard to pass them up.
I’d probably reach for the Cento bibs when I know the route I’ll be doing is on a little rougher roads and might benefit from a slightly thicker pad. Otherwise, the performance and price of the Equipe Evo put them at the top of my bib drawer alongside the Cento.
(Note Assos also sells the T.Equipe_S7. That is the predecessor of the one I’ve reviewed here called the T Equipe Evo.)
Assos kit typically isn’t discounted in local bike shops and if you buy them online, they geo-restrict the sales of their authorized dealers. This means you need to buy them from an authorized North American online store if you live in the US or Canada and a UK or European one if you reside there or in Australia or New Zealand.
Here are the links to the Equipe Evo pages at online stores that customers rate highest for satisfaction and are authorized to carry the T Equipe Evo: US/CA Competitive Cyclist, UK/EU Wiggle, Chain Reaction.
I’d never really been into Assos short sleeve jerseys before. Unlike their all-black bib shorts (until this year) their “SS” jerseys seemed a bit showy with the Assos logo and branding being central to the look. At the very same time the black-out “stealth” look was dominating bikes and wheels and other gear it seemed Assos was reviving some kind of 1980s loud logo fashion styling.
That all changed a few seasons ago with Asso going almost 180 degrees in the other direction. The latest line seems to have found a decent middle ground, at least in this fashion impaired reviewer’s eyes. Solid basic black, white, yellow or red torsos colors with some interesting accents on one sleeve. Let’s give it a try I said to myself.
As I was myself evolving, I selected the Evo companion to the Equip Evo bib shorts, the SS.equipeJersey_evo8 in a bright yellow front (for safety) with a predominantly white back, yellow along the shoulders and black back pockets. They do the same jersey in black, sky blue, Suisse red, and white.
Each of these jerseys has a distinguishing left sleeve with a black on white or perhaps white on black M.C Escher-like depiction of to the Assos logo. It is different and artistic without being showy.
The jersey is definitely a slim cut and probably intended for those who race or spend a lot of time in an aero position. It’s got a second skin fit without being restrictive and has a low cut neck. The feel of it syncs up well with the Equipe Evo bib shorts.
I found it exceptionally breathable even on the hottest days. The front and back of the jersey have different patterned perforated fabric. Again, I don’t how they do it but this is one of the most breathable jerseys I’ve worn. That’s really helpful on a warm day. On a cooler one, I’m anxious to get warmed up when I first go out with this jersey on or need to remind myself to put a base layer on.
The sleeves reach to your mid-biceps and the elastic bands at the ends of them hold the jersey in place quite well.
The waist grippers, sturdier and taller in the back, stretchier and more form fitting in the front are separated by 2″ wide 4″ tall elastic sections that hold in your love handles if you’ve got em. I found the front stretch bands rolled over at times and the rear pulled up a bit. I’m sure Assos had something in mind with their different sections in the waistband. It didn’t work great for me.
Even though I do try to spend a lot of time in an arms bent aero position, not being a racer nor the most flexible guy around, it took me a while to get used to the low cut neck. I sometimes found the top of the zipper resting in the hollow of my neck below my Adam’s Apple, mostly when I was sitting up. (It’s a racing jersey dummy!) After a few hundred miles in the jersey, I got used to the feel of it and the zipper top rested comfortably just in the V between my collar bones.
If I raced in hot weather, this would probably be a go-to jersey for me.
ASSOS T.cento_s7 – THE BIBS YOU REACH FOR WHEN IT’S TIME TO DO YOUR BEST
How much more would you be willing to pay for the one pair of bibs you always want to wear? That’s the essential, perhaps even existential question you need to answer to decide whether you buy or pass on the Assos Cento bibs.
Focus just on the performance for a moment and forget the brand and price. I’ll come back to that.
I don’t know how they pull it off but the cut of the Cento bib shorts works well for both slim and standard hip width riders. While I’ve got slim width hips, I compared notes riding alongside several standard width riders who also wear the Centos and swear they are cut for them. Perhaps it’s because the stretch is so uniform and seem to wrap around your legs as well as it does up and down them. Or, perhaps it’s because there’s only one seam on each leg, something I’ve not seen any other bib short pull off.
You feel compression throughout your legs. Not too much but certainly enough to know you’re quads and hammies are well supported. At the same time, they breathe extremely well even on the hottest days. It makes for very comfortable and fresh feeling legs throughout a long ride. My legs seemed to tire less, a real plus when you are turning those cranks for hours in a summer century or fondo ride, a couple of which I did in the Cento during the test period.
The grippers are simple and ample with just narrow dashes of silicone running along the center strip. I don’t feel a great difference in the amount of compression between the legs and the grippers and certainly no tighter grip, and yet the bibs stay comfortably in place.
The shoulder straps are thin, moderately wide, elastic, firm, comfortable with just the right amount of stretch. Some bib shorts use straps with breathable, jersey-like material with a stretchy border sewn to them. Others are narrow or stiff or looser, all seemingly trying to distinguish themselves in some fashion. These look simple, almost a design afterthought, but in my experience, they just work and work well.
Perhaps Assos saved the design flash for the Cento chamois, a real difference maker for these bibs. The pad is thicker than most and floats or moves with you in the most sensitive section where you come in contact with the saddle between your butt and your junk. They accomplish this by not sewing that chamois section to the leg panels, so the chamois stays with you rather than your underside sliding back and forth across it.
The chamois, with a just-wide-enough pad in the middle, runs long enough past your sit bones in the back to still pad you if you sit up on your saddle or at a coffee shop. It also gives you an ample and soft pocket up front to cradle your jewels and surrounds that pocket with a thin layer of padding that extends the chamois nearly to your waist.
All in, the chamois provides remarkable and unmatched comfort.
While Assos often looks like they are making a fashion statement with their jerseys and jackets, these bib shorts, despite being as good as they are, look almost anonymous. They are all black with only a toenail sized, hardly visible logo on them. The Cento, as with most of the men’s spring bibs, have a pinstripe thin, white band around the bottom of the left leg gripper. The look seems like the flip side of their jerseys and jackets, almost as if you are free to adopt the identity of whatever brand, club or event jersey you choose to wear with these bib shorts.
The price? Yeah, the Cento is expensive. No getting around it. Is it worth the extra 100 or so dollars, pounds, euros over a top pair of Castelli or Gore or Craft or ____ (fill in the blank with your top performing endurance bib shorts)? I think so but everyone has to make their own choice.
It’s pretty easy to spend that amount extra (or several times that) for a better groupset or wheelset or power meter or another key piece of gear. A great pair of bib shorts certainly ranks up there with other things you can buy to improve the performance, comfort and overall enjoyment you can get from your ride. And since I find these the best of all of the bib shorts I’ve tried alongside the newer Equipe Evo with its slightly thinner pad, they are one of the pieces of kit I’ll look for when it’s time to suit up for the biggest rides I’ll do.
ALE R-EV1 MASTER BIBS AND STRADA JERSEY – DECENT PERFORMANCE AND A DISTINCTIVE LOOK
It seems that the leading cycling kit brands have gone with more muted jersey designs and colors the last couple years. For 2018 I saw olive greens, slate greys, darker reds and blues, a lot of black, few accents and fewer patterns. When I looked at the lines of a couple major brands, I typed “boring” into my spreadsheet and didn’t order anything to review. I didn’t think anyone would buy it no matter how good it was because it looked so drab.
Yes, a few of the mostly smaller brands have done some interesting pattern jerseys of late. They are different and refreshing compared to what you see normally. But they are more the kind of jersey you bring out once in a while for a special occasion than as part of your regular rotation.
And then, there is Ale. This relatively new brand but longtime manufacturer for others seems to have established its identity by being LOUD LOUD LOUD LOUD.
Bright colors, aggressive patterns, neon, camo, starburst, leopard spots, animal and flower prints, you name it, they do it. Bibs that are equally bold and coordinated. Oh, and the brand name ALE in big bold letters across the front and back of jerseys, down the side of bib legs and the logo on shoulders and sleeves and leg grippers and seemingly anywhere else there is space.
Talk about standing out. The boldest logo jerseys you could find on pros or at your local benefit ride couldn’t hold a candle to what ALE is up to.
I turned away the first couple years thinking no one would buy their kit because it was so loud. No one I wanted to ride with anyway.
The last year or so they seemed to have turned down the bright lights a bit. I checked into them a bit and found out that as a manufacturer for large brands like Giordana (no longer) and Craft, a bunch of smaller ones like Vermac, and kit for clubs, they made a large number of different models that ranged from performance to value to, well, crap.
I sorted through what they offered, checked with stores and users, and ordered up a coordinated kit that, while louder than most of what I wear, seemed to be representative of their current, somewhat lowered volume level and was in the performance end of their range.
I’ve been pleasantly surprised. Based on the kit I wore, albeit a small sample of everything they make, Ale’s top-of-the-line stuff is on par with some of the well-known if not the top brands. And their style offers something different. It’s definitely slim cut kit and runs on the small side but if you are fit and trim, you can stay with your regular size.
I picked out the R-EV1 Master bibs because it had their top “double ergo” chamois. I’ve heard less than favorable things about their other pads. They do make an R-EV1 jersey which would be the coordinated one but it looked like I would be a rolling billboard for the company. I instead went with the similar level PRR Strada that to me looked like they matched well with the bibs and would alert cars to my presence without stopping traffic. You be the judge.
The bibs are really the star of this kit. They fit like a glove with tall grippers that range from 50mm/2 inches to 100mm/4 inches as you go toward the outside of your leg. The pad feels as thick as most of the rest and comes up high enough in the front to give you protection and far enough up your backside to still cushion you when you sit up.
There’s a nice waffle pattern to the bib which breaks up the contact and the middle, thicker hourglass section of the pad is bordered in the narrowest section by thinner “wings” or pad sections that extend out to your inner leg. Sometimes wings or a pad that is just too wide can chafe your legs. I didn’t find that in these bibs and I think the wings are there more for safety than for any real function.
The insides of the straps have thin silicone gripper like material laid out in tiny squares that hold the straps in place. It’s something I’ve never seen before but it works. They hold well enough to keep the bottoms up yet stretch easily enough to allow you to pull the soft, meshed center (and side) panels that reach up to belly button height down for access when you need to take a front-side bio break.
The bibs and jersey aren’t the most breathable cycling kit I’ve ever worn. I found them comfortable for cooler spring and summer days in the 60s and low 70s but not much more beyond that. If you’ve got cycling kit that breathes really well on hot days but is a bit too breathable if there is a breeze blowing or on a cooler day, this Ale kit is a good complement.
The jersey has a couple of interesting features – extra fabric on either side of the baffled zipper bottom at the waistband seemingly there to help you pull the jersey down. It also has wide arm grippers but the sleeves run short of your biceps hump which makes them feel short for me.
You can pick up the Ale R-EV1 Master bib shorts by clicking this link to Wiggle and the Strada jersey at this link to Wiggle. If you are interested in some of the other more colorful Ale cycling kit, click this link to Wiggle as they have one of the widest selection of Ale kit I’ve seen online.
CASTELLI AERO RACE – GREAT FIT AND COMFORT THAT MAKES YOU FEEL SUPER
If there were ever a kit that made me feel like I’d stepped into a phone booth (ask your parents) and jumped out feeling like Superman, the Castelli Free Aero Race Bibshorts and Aero Race Jersey would be it. They wrap and support you in stretchy, comfortable surroundings and show off your cyclist body contours in a way that would make the man of steel, and many made of mere mortal flesh, feel quite strong.
Along with this energizing fit and feel, to my eyes the Castelli kit looks very vibrant and stylish without being loud, mixing different shades of red or grey in the jerseys and adding white, grey, red or green accents in its bib stitching, grippers or leg panels. Of course, there’s also ample use of the Castelli scorpion logo throughout, perhaps their equivalent of the iconic Superman shield with the big red S on the yellow and red diamond-shaped field that adorned the Man of Steel’s huge chest. Ah, but I digress…
This is a kit for racers or riders who like to go fast over relatively short distances (30-50 miles). I rode it on many multi-hour rides very comfortably but did feel the added comfort of other kit made by Castelli suited ideally for endurance rides that I’ve reviewed below. Unless you are planning to go full gas during your ride and looking for every advantage you can find, you don’t need the low collar and near skinsuit fit this Aero Race kit provides that will save you a few watts.
Have you lost interest yet? Didn’t think so. I want every advantage I can find and some that others can’t just to keep up when going full gas. And, most of my rides don’t go longer than 50 miles; many are a lot shorter.
The cut is decidedly slim with the bib shorts reaching just above the waist in the front and well below the ribs to the outsides of the straps. This provides men easy access when you need a quick pee break without the need to remove your jersey and take down your straps. The straps themselves are made of a soft and breathable fine mesh yet with the kind of control of the bottoms that keep the chamois well in place as you move around on your bike. They do bunch a bit across the shoulders but it’s something I noticed when I took my jersey off rather than during the ride.
The bib shorts fit extremely well and are very comfortable. These bibs seem to have the right combination of panels with ample compression running up your inner thighs, close-fitting yet stretchy ones that run across your midsection and integrate the ample and comfortable chamois, with separate panels made of even more breathable materials that run from your hips down along the outsides of your legs.
The very comfortable yet stay-in-place grippers are about 70mm or 2½ inches tall, taking your bibs down to about a similar height above your knee. This makes the Castelli bibs longer than most, a length I prefer as it covers and supports nearly the full length of your lower hamstrings, IT bands and quad muscles.
In both the bibs and jersey, I always felt cool while underway on a hot summer day and the kit kept me dry even when I had worked pretty hard (and smelled pretty badly).
The jersey itself stretches flat across my upper body with few gaps. I do get a little flapping off my right shoulder only when I’m riding aero in the drops. Not sure why it’s just the right; perhaps more a function of my own anatomy (and 2x broken right collarbone) than the kit.
The grippers on the jersey, like those on the bibs, are longer down the arms, comfortable and a real positive difference maker for this kit. As with the bibs, the combination of panels used in the jersey seems to provide the right feel, a combination of stretch and breathability that is quite comfortable despite the way it hugs you.
Back pockets are regular sized, but the jersey collar is quite low in the front similar to what you would see in a one-piece time trial suit. This took me a little bit to get used to as all the other jerseys I’d ever worn before this one had higher collars. The collar height and jersey fit (and whole kit for that matter) say you’re not just out for a spin but rather you are a serious enthusiast. If you feel the part, wearing this kit will also make you look it and help you live it.
All in all, this kit is hard to beat. Maybe I’ll find another one that makes me feel like Batman leaping away from his pole but for now, I’m good riding around my cycling Metropolis wearing the Aero Race kit. The bib shorts and jersey really do work well together but would certainly work well individually.
It’s a higher priced kit but you’ll find that Castelli runs 20-25% off sales several times during the year. I’ve found the best selection of sizes, colors and prices currently for the Free Aero Race Bib Shorts at these links for Competitive Cyclist, Wiggle, Tredz 10% off w/code ITK10, Merlin and for the Aero Race Jersey by clicking on these to Competitive Cyclist, Chain Reaction Cycles, Wiggle, Tredz 10% off w/code ITK10, all stores that also get very high customer satisfaction reports from the independent rating services I use to recommend the best stores for you shop at (and the ones you stay away from). You can also get both by linking here to the Castelli site.
CASTELLI SUPERLEGGERA AND PREMIO – GREAT COMBINATION FOR LONG RIDES
While not a coordinated kit, both the Castelli RS Superleggera jersey and Premio bib shorts are well suited to work together or individually on multi-hour endurance rides on the hottest of days.
There are several highlights of this combination which I found unique and make a long ride on a great day even more enjoyable because you’re wearing this kit.
While I tell myself and you, my fellow enthusiasts, not to get hung up on the feel of the material, I can’t resist when it comes to this jersey. The Superleggera material feels as soft as silk while breathing and wicking as well as anything else I’ve ever worn on a summer day. The feel of that material against my skin, without a base layer on a hot day, almost makes me feel like I’m going out to a club for drinks at a beach resort with one of my favorite, super comfortable shirts on. The Superleggera, which translates to super lightweight, is definitely well named.
In addition to the feel, the jersey keeps its shape extremely well over the course of a long ride. It doesn’t pucker or sweat, it feels like the air conditioning is always on, and it moves well with me as I get in and out of my semi and full aero position for faster sections and pulls and when I get out of the saddle to stretch my legs.
The other unique feature of the Superleggera, at least relative to the jerseys I’ve reviewed for this post, are its pockets. When you want to pack your pockets with more food or a vest or other crap for a long ride, these pockets stretch down to accommodate your extra stuff rather than starting higher up on your back or being wider toward your sides as with other endurance jerseys. They reach over and rest on top of the material that is below where the pockets are sewn in and therefore don’t mess with the fit of the lower jersey and waistband. When they don’t need to stretch for your extra stuff, they sit in regular position, looking for all the world like normal pockets.
The Premio bib shorts also have some unique fit characteristics which I found worked well on those longer rides. First, the inseam or leg length is particularly long, an inch or two longer than most and fall within an inch or so of your knee when you are out pedaling on the bike.
Secondly, the compression you feel with the Premio bib shorts runs seemingly the full length of the legs rather than mostly at the grippers or not at all. With this full-length compression, there is no need for and no separate gripper strip around your lower quad. Third, the straps are such that they hold the back panel securely against your lower back, providing support to your muscles there, something I’ve never noticed in other bibs.
Likely to maintain that back panel support, the straps themselves are sturdy but not very stretchy. Just stretchy enough for a bio break, thanks to the low cut waist. While they are perfectly fine while underway, the straps aren’t terribly comfortable when you are walking around or sitting up on the bike or at a cafe as they feel a bit short. I’m probably average height for my waist size (5’10” and 31-32 inches), but if I were taller than average, the strap length and stretch might be a problem
While both the Premio and Aero Race bibs use the same chamois, I found the Premio pad didn’t come up as high as I would have liked in the front. While the Lycra or whatever the material is above chamois is perfectly comfortable, know that your peter rides against that material while you sack is tucked inside the chamois. It’s different but it works.
You can find the Superleggera jersey at the best prices from recommended stores by clicking these links to Competitive Cyclist, Chain Reaction Cycles, Wiggle, Tredz 10% off w/code ITK10 and the Premio by clicking on Competitive Cyclist, Wiggle, Chain Reaction Cycles. You can also get both by linking here to the Castelli site.
ENDURA PRO SL – A GREAT SUMMER ENDURANCE JERSEY FOR ALL WITH BIBS SIZED FOR STANDARD WIDTH RIDERS
Despite a name suggesting it might be designed for racers, the Endura Pro SL is well suited for endurance riding. Its deep jersey pockets, long bib short legs, and other features set it up nicely for long rides.
The FS260-Pro SL jersey is very breathable and wicks well. The tall collar makes you feel strapped in for the ride while still being quite comfortable. The zipper and jersey front lay pretty flat and the stretchy fabric yields no gaps no matter whether I’m riding aero in the drops or sitting up recovering from a long pull.
The jersey runs long and has a traditional gel elastic waistband that holds it down well. The sleeves, on the other hand, accomplish their gripping without the use of “grippers”. A stretchy elastic panel of material is sewn in from the top of the shoulders and runs the length of the upper arms, flat wrapping and holding your biceps. Under your arms and running down your sides is another panel that breathes well.
The bright red jersey I rode with is very visible, adding a bit of “high-viz” security along your ride. The rear pockets are deep enough to sink my hand into up to my wrist. This gives you all sorts of room to store food, a rain jacket or light vest, and other gear you might bring on long rides. It’s a jersey I now often reach for when I’m riding with one of my favorite regular black bib shorts on a hot day.
While the jersey’s cut and stretch will allow it to fit either a slim or standard shoulder width rider, the bib shorts are best on a rider with standard width hips. I tried them in both medium and small and my slim hips and skinny bottom couldn’t fill either of them up. To get a “full bottom” review, I passed the mediums over to my medium sized, standard hip width fellow rider and group leader David who, a couple years ago, did his own testing of a half dozen different bib shorts to select the ones he would ride on a 6 week, century-a-day tour from the west to east coast.
In the immortal Garth’s words and in light of those credentials, “I am not worthy” as a rider and perhaps a tester, but I continued to ride the small size and offer here my observations and then David’s evaluation.
Unique to Endura, when you order these bib shorts, you can specify the chamois width you want. They give you a table of saddle models and sizes with the corresponding chamois width size for their bib shorts that lines up the padding with your sit bones. That seems to make sense to me. In my case, for example, my bike fitter has me on the widest of the three options of the Specialized Romin Evo saddle (and it fits me very well) even though I’ve got narrow hips and a bony arse. So I ordered the wide version of the Endura Pro SL bib shorts in first the medium and then the small size.
It’s too bad that saddle width was the only chamois measurement that mattered. As I mentioned in the What Matters section above, chamois thickness, length and internal width also matter when they are outside the norm. In the case of the chamois on these Endura bib shorts, the padding doesn’t run past your sit bones. So if you ride sitting up or even in a moderately upright position much of the time, there’s no padding in the chamois to help you out.
Also, the padding extends further out in the center section of the chamois toward your inner legs than most any I’ve ever worn. It feels as if your inner leg or groin area has padding which, of course, you don’t need and can create a bit of rubbing which you don’t want. I’ve worn standard sized bibs before (e.g., Gore, Pearl Izumi) but not with such a wide inside pad.
David found the chamois fit and bib shorts’ stretchiness to be the best part of the bibs. He found they “fit like a glove” and felt no rubbing between his skin and the chamois, thus no chaffing.
It just goes to show how difficult it can be to try to offer a custom solution, as Endura is with their chamois width choices, and have it work so well for some and not for others. Perhaps realizing this or just bullish about their bib shorts, Endura offers what they call a “no quibble” exchange or refund within 90 days of when you buy them.
The straps are very supportive, stretch easily, lay comfortably and breathe well. There’s a nice elastic section that stretches across your stomach and gives those of us needing a bit more room a bit more room. It can make them a little warmer on a hot day, but that’s a tradeoff you have to consider.
The roughly 1 inch, 2.5-centimeter tall silicone leg grippers that sit in material panels roughly three times that height across the leg bottoms provides a largely unnoticeable feeling, which is a good thing considering the options of being loose or constricted.
You can find the Endura Pro SL jersey by clicking these links to Chain Reaction Cycles, Wiggle, Tredz 10% off w/code ITK10 and bib shorts at these links to Amazon, Chain Reaction Cycles, Wiggle, Tredz 10% off w/code ITK10, recommended stores that have the best prices on this kit.
SPORTFUL BODYFIT PRO – GOOD PERFORMANCE AND VALUE IN AN AERO KIT
The BodyFit Pro LTD Bib Short and Evo Jersey are meant for each other and for slim cut riders who want to race or just go fast.
The bibs combine two qualities I really like – a chamois pad second only to Assos and shorts that extend nearly the full length of my quads and hamstrings. While not as thick or wide as Sportful’s “Super Total Comfort” chamois reviewed below, it is thick enough and shaped anatomically right to give this enthusiast a very comfortable ride. It is waffled, which allows air to flow, and is high enough in the front and back to keep you together and cushioned no matter your riding position.
There a more seams and panels in these bib shorts than others but they seem to have a purpose. One type of stretchy, moderately compressive material goes around your legs reaching from just beyond your groin area, around your quads and up to your hips. Another runs from your midsection down, has the chamois sewn to it and then reaches up to your lower back.
Very different, and more effective than many bibs whose seams basically go up and down your legs.
They are also quite breathable, stretch easily while still providing no gaps or puckers. The 55mm, 2 1/3 inch tall grippers don’t compress any more than the main material in your leg but together they give you support across almost your entire upper legs. In the later third or so of longer rides when your legs start to tire, I welcome this consistent pressure from my bibs of the entire length of these muscles.
Wearing a base layer neutralizes two quite irritating experiences from the BodyFit Pro LTD Bib Short. Without one, I found the quite functional and breathable straps to be rough on the skin and the edges of the 35mm, 1 3/8 inch square bib size label that is bonded to the inside of shorts just above your crack to be downright painful at times.
So be sure to wear a base layer and you should really like these bib shorts. It will also help you enjoy the jersey too.
If it had a voice, the Bodyfit Pro Evo Jersey would scream “get aero” the moment you put it on. It’s a totally enveloping fit that stretches with you as you stretch out and get into the drops.
The sleeves cover your entire biceps, or at least my full chicken wings, and hold nicely with 50mm, 2″ wide stretchy, breathable band of material that has some nice accents.
While not to the Assos level, the whole jersey breathes well for that matter and is ideal for hot days. Put on a base layer otherwise; this jersey won’t keep you warm by itself on cooler spring or summer days.
There’s a no collar, low-cut neck that has a thin stretch hem on it that I found myself flattening from time to time and really can’t compete with where the zipper tension wants to take it. The waistband asserts its position a bit better but the thinner front band occasionally rolls over and the silicone encircled rear band rides up if don’t say aero.
With Bodyfit Pro kit and most of their other lines this year, Sportful is leading with blacks and grays, with thin white, red, yellow or orange mostly showing up in grippers and shoulders. It’s a distinct look and a good fit if you’ve gone stealth with your bike and wheels.
This is a good effort on the part of Sportful and while not quite to the same level as the other cycling kit in this performance group, its prices make it one of the better values among its competitors.
You can order up the BodyFit Pro LTD Bib Short through these links to Competitive Cyclist, Chain Reaction Cycles, Wiggle, Evans Cycles, and the Bodyfit Evo Jersey at Competitive Cyclist, Chain Reaction Cycles, Wiggle, Evans Cycles, stores the best prices on this kit and high customer satisfaction ratings.
SPORTFUL SUPER TOTAL COMFORT BIB SHORTS AND ITALIA CL JERSEY – GREAT COMFORT AND STYLE
“Super Total Comfort” is an over-the-top name for any piece of apparel but comes pretty close to describing my experience with Sportful’s bib short that uses that moniker. The chamois is the highlight. It has the sensation of being thin and light while seemingly covering every area you could possibly want to be padded. It never sticks or feels warm despite the temp and almost feels like it’s refreshing your skin rather than compressing it.
Physically, the chamois is as thick as the Assos Cento, the thickest pad I’ve worn under the sit bones. This cushioning makes a difference on long rides. It maintains that thickness directly under your perineum. Most other chamois save for Castelli either thin out or have no padding down this anatomical centerline. It’s a non-issue if your saddle is cut-out in this most sensitive of areas. If not, this bib shorts’ extra padding is quite helpful.
The chamois thins out as it goes back beyond your sit bones, outbound to your thighs and up past your privates. The entire chamois is dimpled, perhaps enabling the air that flows through the bib material to keep your bottom cool and the blood circulating.
A stretchy waistband runs below the belly button in the front, angles up along your sides toward your back, and reaches up to fully cover your lumbar and lower back muscles. This seems to combine a lot of things that I like – easy access in the front for the occasional readjustment or quick pee, keeping the love handles from overflowing along your sides, and good back support.
I even found a pocket in the back waistband. It’s too small for a cell phone, probably just right for a race radio, and a good place to put your car key fob or other small valuables that you absolutely can’t afford to lose.
The STC (what I hope they call it at Sportful to save time and the embarrassment of having to repeat Super Total Comfort several times a day) is cut and uses material stretchy enough to fit a slim rider like me and a standard size rider as well. The grippers compress well to keep the shorts in place while also giving you some leg support. The material used throughout is breathable even on the hottest days.
The only part of these bibs that aren’t supremely universally absolutely totally comfy are the straps. They are wide, stretchy and have lots of perforations to help them breathe but I found the material a little rough though, and it bunched at my shoulders. This certainly wasn’t enough to put me off these bibs and wasn’t an issue at all when I wore a base layer. It was only on the warmest of days when I didn’t that I wished the straps were a little softer.
The only other comfy enhancing suggestion would be to put a soft section in the front section of the chamois as some others have done.
Among the couple months of riding I did with this kit, I wore it for the Mt Greylock Century, a 100 mile, 10,000 foot/3000 meter day of climbing through the Berkshire mountains on a quite warm day. This was one of the toughest rides I did all summer but one I can’t wait to ride again next year. The bibs were a pleasure to wear, not something I could say about many bibs I’ve worn for hours grinding uphill.
Choosing the Sportful kit for this ride was not motivated by the bibs, though I was expecting the good outcome I described based on prior, shorter rides. Instead, it was the hope that the Maglia Rosa colored Sportful Italia CL jersey would help propel me along this Giro-like route to new heights (literally and figuratively) or at least make me feel like I was dressed for this mountainous occasion.
While not as light as the Endura FS260-Pro SL or Castelli RS Superleggera, the Italia CL breathes well on hot days. It has a little extra material where the sleeves and torso meet, allowing for a wider rider than slim Steve to fill it out but without making me feel like it’s too wide. I did find I had to pull the waist down a little more often than I do with other jerseys (and should have for the photo shoot) but, again, not so much as to be an issue.
The white zipper is solid, lies flat and has Italian green and red seams running astride it. The Italia badge and five gold stars on the front of the pink jersey give it a classic look and is a nod to the number of world and Olympic championships won by Italian athletes while wearing Sportful kit. The jersey comes similarly adorned in a bright Italian green or purplish blue to keep with the bold overall theme.
There’s more room in the pockets than you’ll find in a racing jersey but not as much as in some of the dedicated endurance ones I’ve worn for this review. For a well-supported century, I found there was certainly enough space for all that I needed to carry.
The regular price for the Italia CL jersey put it in the value kit category and discounts often available on this enitre kit make both pieces look even better. You can find the Sportful Super Total Comfort bib short at the best stores for the best prices by clicking through on these links to Competitive Cyclist, Wiggle, Chain Reaction Cycles and the Sportful Italia CL Jersey at these at Competitive Cyclist, Amazon, Wiggle, Chain Reaction Cycles.
VALUE AND CUSTOM CYCLING KIT
Click to go directly to reviews of each brand
In The Know Cycling supports you and your fellow enthusiasts by doing hours of independent and comparative analysis to find the best road cycling gear and kit to improve your riding experience.
You support us and save yourself money and time by buying through the links to stores we’ve picked for their low prices and high customer satisfaction. Some of these stores pay us a commission when you buy there after clicking on these links. Thank you.
CASTELLI ENDURANCE X2 BIB AND PODIO DOPPIO JERSEY – A DIFFERENT PRICE POINT AND CUT FOR THE BRAND
I’ve always seen Castelli as that slim, Italian cut, higher-end priced cycling kit. The reviews of the other Castelli kit in this post describe that experience both in a racing kit and one best for long, summer endurance rides.
When I selected the Endurance X2 bib shorts and Podio Doppio jersey I review below, I was looking to see what kind of performance Castelli offered at a value price point. Both pieces are intended for endurance riding and are well suited to each other in cut and styling.
Overall, I found this Castelli kit combination a slightly better performer than the other value and club or event cycling kit I review below or have evaluated in the past from other brands (but that I don’t include here because they are not in their current lines).
What I didn’t expect was that this would also be a standard cut kit, not the slim cut that Castelli has built its reputation on. Together with its value price, this makes it a very different Castelli kit, one that forced me to work even harder to ignore the Castelli scorpion logo that triggers so many expectations for me. You need to be a fit standard rider, however, to fully enjoy this kit
There’s clearly room in the X2s for bigger quads, fuller glutes, and a bigger seat than a slim cut rider like me. At the same time, the center panel doesn’t come up any further than the slim cut one, a full five fingers width below the belly button. So if you’ve got a gut to go with your bigger legs and seat, there’s nothing to hold you in.
The bibs use the same pad found in Castelli’s higher priced kit. I’ve always found this pad comfortable with the exception that it doesn’t extend back far enough to pad your derriere when you sit up. Maybe it’s my enthusiast’s snobbery but I wonder whether some riders who don’t see the benefit in spending on performance-level cycling kit may also be the same riders who ride more upright more during long rides. If so, this pad won’t work for them like it does for those in a more flexible riding position.
The material in the X2 feels coarser and stiffer than in the higher priced Free Aero Race and Premio bib shorts. Perhaps to make up for this, they cut in a roughly 40mm, 1.5 inch section of open weave fabric that runs from the middle of each leg back over your hip that breathes well.
The similarly wide grippers are there more to keep the legs in place than to offer compression for which there is little in these shorts. They grippers do seem to be cut for a slimmer rider than the way the rest of the bibs are. I actually found them tight in comparison to Castelli’s other bib grippers and think that a more standard cut guy might find them even more so.
The straps are nicely meshed and comfortable.
The Podio Doppio or double podium jersey is sharp (says my wife), soft and very breathable. The air flow is great on a sunny summer day and though I wore the black model, it never felt like the material was absorbing heat the way other black jerseys I’ve ridden do.
Along with the reflective tabs at the pocket bottoms that Castelli puts on all its jerseys, the Podio Doppio also has a white and red stripe running the length of the back that visibly contrasts with the black and gray stripes.
Like the X2 bibs, this is a standard cut with plenty of room across the chest and midsection for a bigger rider. The waistband is what I’ll call “passive.” It doesn’t have much stretch and freely moves with you. Castelli leaves a fair amount of material below the band in the rear for you to easily grab if you want to pull it down.
The neck collar is also loose with no stretch. It’s a totally different experience after riding one of the no collar aero jerseys like Castelli’s own Aero Race or an elastic collar on most others but it’s consistent with the relaxed vibe you feel wearing the Podio Doppio.
Although I probably should have given this kit up to my standard cut, medium size group leader David for a better review (and will probably have to if he reads this), I kind of enjoyed the freedom and comfort of what was, for Slim Steve, a looser jersey.
While I can’t see this being the jersey I’d want to throw on for a hard training or group ride, it would certainly be one I’d consider for a more laid back, long and hot day with no particular goal in mind other than enjoying myself on the bike.
Castelli is available at a lot of stores. You can find the Endurance X2 bib shorts at ones that also have high customer satisfaction ratings and are often running discounts on Castelli by clicking here to Competitive Cyclist, Chain Reaction Cycles, Wiggle, Merlin, Tredz 10% off w/code ITK10 and here to Competitive Cyclist, Chain Reaction Cycles, Wiggle, Evans Cycles, Tredz 10% off w/code ITK10 for the Podio Doppio jersey. You can also get both by linking here to the Castelli site.
dhb AERON SPEED – GOOD LOOKING AT A GREAT PRICE BUT NOT GREAT PERFORMING KIT
As the in-house clothing brand at the large online retailer Wiggle and Chain Reaction Cycles, dhb sells kit that’s a good deal less expensive than the well-known cycling clothing brands. The question for me was would dhb’s best summer jersey and bib short offer performance good enough to recommend to a fellow enthusiast at any price?
In short, the answer is no but, beyond the price advantage, there might be other reasons to have the dhb Aeron Speed Bib Shorts and Aeron Speed Short Sleeve Jersey in your summer kit drawer.
First and foremost, this kit has an attractive style that is quite different from most of the other kit I’ve seen. My own eyes tell me so but it’s been the number of people either close to me (like my wife) or that I don’t really know (like a server behind the counter at a café I stop at) that have, unprompted, told me they really liked the look of the kit.
The dhb is clearly a break from the standard colors or styles you see in most performance kit. While it’s not quite Rapha styling, it certainly is different and a nice change of pace from most of what you’ll wear.
The Aeron Speed kit is a standard cut. It’s probably somewhere between a standard and wider cut, likely to fit you best if you are a large framed rider or one that is 10kg/20lbs above your ideal riding weight but fine about being there.
As with the other kit I wore, I did order the right size and it fit my dimensions right. It’s just as a rider with a slim frame, there were a lot of gaps I don’t find in a slim cut kit.
You’ll find plenty of stretch in the bib panels though no compression to speak of. There’s also a lot of room and give in the midsection and inner thighs that would allow the kit to expand or contract as you do. Unlike most bibs, the front area between the straps is higher than that on the sides but the stretchy straps allow you to lower the panel to provide quick access for a bathroom or roadside break when needed.
I don’t find the bibs very comfortable. While plenty wide and long, the chamois felt a little thin. The material used in the shorts is the same throughout and has a stiffer, rougher and less breathable feel than others I’ve worn. The grippers work well in holding the shorts in place and are longer than most with good coverage of my leg muscles, but the edges started to fray a bit after a half dozen washes.
The jersey, with its nicely coordinating colors, seems as though it was otherwise designed by a different team. The sleeves are shorter than those on most jerseys, usually starting in the middle of my biceps and then sliding up as they have no grippers to hold them in place.
The material used in the jersey’s front and back is quite light and soft and really feels good against my skin. A different material is used in the jersey’s side panels that run from your waist, under your pits and out to your arms is very breathable. I only wish the bibs had the same comfortable and breathable panel design as the jersey.
All in all, a good looking kit that’s probably best for shorter, more casual riders than enthusiasts on a day that’s not too hot. While the colors of the kit I wore have been replaced, you can get the dhb Aeron Speed Bib Shorts and Aeron Speed Short Sleeve Jersey in some new designs through this link at Wiggle.
MAVIC COSMIC ELITE BIBS – A GREAT PAD IN A VALUE BIB FOR STANDARD CUT RIDERS
The Cosmic Elite bib shorts offer a lot for the full-sized rider. It has plenty of room in the legs and waist panels and stretches well to conform to your shape.
As with other Mavic bibs, the pad is one of its best features. It runs thick up the middle and under your sit bones. Good coverage continues in front, out to your groin area and behind you to keep you comfortable when you sit up.
The grippers are relatively narrow and they nor the leg panels offer much compression.
I found the mesh straps very comfortable and functional. They are wider than most, soft, and breathe well. The mesh broadens down your back and runs low enough to keep the air flowing nicely while still keeping the bottoms in place.
For the price and balanced performance, these Cosmic Elite bibs offer a good value. You can find them by clicking on these links to US/CA Competitive Cyclist, Amazon, UK/EU Wiggle, Chain Reaction Cycles, Tredz 10% off w/code ITK10.
REDWHITE THE BIB – A BASIC PAIR OF BIB SHORTS AT A GOOD PRICE
RedWhite, a brand I’d never heard of before doing this review, makes a few basic bibs with even more basic names including The BIB, The BIB (WMN), The RACE, The STEALTH, etc. Basic pretty much describes the performance I found wearing these bibs but the quality construction and relatively good price make it worth considering if your budget is limited.
There’s a good deal of stretch in these bibs so while a standard width rider would likely fill them up more than I did, they did fit my slimmer frame. That stretch assures continuous contact around your inner thighs, something you won’t always feel in bib shorts that don’t fit well either because the material doesn’t stretch well or the pad is too wide or stiff in the middle. The inseam length is also longer than most, providing good coverage further down your legs.
Perhaps because the RedWhite BIB is made of a material that conforms and stretches so well, it lacks the resistance to provide much compression. I didn’t feel resistance along my leg muscles or even at the grippers. The net result was a pair of bib shorts that didn’t move with me as I changed positions on the bike as well as most of the others. Indeed, I felt like I was sliding around in them.
The front straps are wide, sit comfortably and stretch well. The back panel also breathes well in the heat. The straps and back panel are seamed along the edges and attach to the shorts higher up than most, perhaps limiting their ability to help hold the shorts in place in favor of holding your midsection inside your bibs. Not a bad option if you welcome that kind of support but it shouldn’t come at the expense of keeping the shorts from sliding.
While The BIB looks well made and has held up well through multiple washes, there are more seams in these bib shorts than most and the stitching bumps up beyond the material it is holding together on both the outside and inside of the material in most cases.
Once in place, I found the RedWhite BIB breathed adequately and the chamois was comfortable. There’s a good deal of padding under the sit bones (though none further up your rear), a comfortable section to rest your perineum, and the front of the chamois reaches a good way and has a softer material cut-out for your shaft. It’s not the most comfortable pad of the group but is clearly The BIB’s strongest performance area.
HINCAPIE VELOCITY PLUS – A GOOD, BUT NOT PERFORMANCE LEVEL, CLUB KIT
If you belong to a cycling club, you’ll likely be wearing a kit with its logos on group rides. Since many enthusiasts buy a complete club kit as one of their first coordinated jersey and bib shorts combinations, I thought I’d evaluate a top of the line one to compare against some of the best kits you can buy at retail and that I’ve evaluated elsewhere in this post.
Hincapie is one of a handful of cycling clothing companies focused more on making kits for clubs and teams than for retail stores. My club offers riders Hincapie’s top performing Velocity Plus bibs and short sleeve jerseys. If you order a decent number of each (about 30 pieces), the prices run about $125 for the bibs and $100 for the jersey. The club I belong to ordered over 100 this year and that dropped the price about $20 each. That’s a good deal less than the list prices of many of the brand name kit.
The Velocity Plus is a standard cut kit, something I’d expect to suit the variety of riders you find in a group. For the slim framed me, this was only an issue across the rather generous chamois. However, my standard cut club teammates tell me that the chamois bunches up for them as well. The rest of the kit had enough stretch in it and was cut right so that no gaps developed.
This is also a summer and late spring/early fall “shoulder season” kit rather than a dedicated summer one. Since club rides happen during all but during the winter (and maybe I’m just ignoring those ride calls), I like the long season aspect of the kit. It doesn’t breathe as well as dedicated summer kits and will get a little warm in the full midday summer sun (or if you are working extra hard pulling out front a lot rather than enjoying the draft and lower watt output tucked away in the bunch). Like most groups, we’re usually out in the cooler early hours and back by late morning so getting overheated is seldom an issue in this kit unless you are pulling a lot.
The bibs swoop down below your belly button, stay below your ribs on the sides and stretch about halfway past your mid-calf and up from your knees. The straps are wide, lie flat and give you enough stretch to move where you want to go. They don’t hold your chamois in position as well as some of the better bibs but the chamois is larger than most and provides good coverage so it still feels good for those long 65 to 100-mile rides. The latest generation of grippers do the trick holding your shorts in place.
While not offering any compression panels, the Velocity Plus bibs and jersey stretch with you well and seems to be cut with a good knowledge a cyclist biomechanics. The fabric combinations they use also have a sensation of high quality – the right weight and level of elasticity without feeling restrictive. They’ve held up well in the washer for a couple years of at least 40 wash cycles per year.
The jersey has diamond mesh in the side panels and in a section that comes down from the width of your shoulders to the narrow small of your back. I especially like the cooling that panel brings when I’m in an aero position trying to close what seems like the re-occurring gap between me and the leaders charging away at the front. The collar is taller than most and doesn’t quite lay flat. Unless I’m racing for the line, I usually have the zipper down to aid in the summer cooling.
All in all the Hincapie Velocity Plus (available here) works well as a club kit but isn’t at the level of fit or material performance as a top summer kit.
PACTIMO ASCENT 3.0 – WELL FITTING, COMFORTABLE SUMMER EVENT JERSEY
As with Hincapie, Pactimo is another brand that makes custom cycling apparel for teams and events. For the last three years, I’ve ridden in their Ascent model jerseys for a 134 mile, 215 kilometer June ride from the Boston area and through 8100 feet, 2469 meters of mountains running through New Hampshire and Vermont called the B2VT (Battlefield to Vermont).
Since the pride associated with completing this ride increases, and pain decreases, the further I get from it, I also wear the jerseys from time to time during the summer.
For the 2017 ride, we (myself and another 900 or so sick b*st*rds) rode in the latest model Ascent called 3.0, a big improvement in fit and comfort over the earlier models. In the 80F+ temperature of this year’s ride, it breathed well, obviously a great asset for long summer rides anywhere but certainly in the mountains.
The current model fits me well as a slim but I could also see that it fit wider riders, of which there were more than a few in this ride. The jersey stretches and wrapped me up quite comfortably yet with extra room residing mostly between my pecs and pits, I could how could expand to fit a wider rider.
The jersey breathes quite well with a fair amount of air running through it. Unlike many jerseys that have more open mesh fabric in the side panels than the rest, this Pactimo has pin-point sized mesh hole fabric in the sides and front and slightly larger pen-point mesh holes in the back.
The zipper is modest and the pockets are only average sized despite the length of the ride it was chosen for. (Note to self: Don’t carry extra stuff that you have to tote uphill when there are plenty of rest stops and support cars en route!)
The sleeves run longer than most and have wide, comfortable grippers. The silicone elastic waistband holds the jersey in position well and the jersey lays more or less flat.
A more direct comparison to the best performance kit in this review would likely be Pactimo’s Summit line. But as endurance and charity events go, this is one of the best jerseys I’ve worn, good enough to keep in the rotation with my other top kit.
In club or event quantities, you can get the Ascent 3.0 for $80-85. You can also buy them individually or in smaller quantities for $100. You can see and order the Ascent Collection and other Pactimo gear at their site here.
SUMMER GLOVES AND BASE LAYER
Here are a couple of other kit favorites of mine that complement my summer cycling jersey and bib shorts. Time and priorities prevent me from doing a comprehensive write-up and while I wear others, these are my favorites.
Santini Gel Mania Summer Mitts – Since I began wrapping my bars with cushiony tape, I’ve found that heavily padded gloves aren’t necessary. I really like these lightly padded ones that also reach past my wrists and fit comfortable while holding in place with thin elastic grippers with mini silicon dots rather than velcro straps. They are light, inexpensive (around $30/£25/€30) and the backs come in high-viz green, red, royal blue, white, and black to match your kit. Available at best prices and great stores Amazon, eBay, Tredz 10% off w/code ITK10.
Castelli Seamless Baselayer – When the weather gets warmer, I always have this internal debate about whether or not to wear a base layer. While I tested all the jerseys in this post without one, I found this base layer from Castelli can provide good airflow between my jersey and core on hot days, cooling me further than the jersey alone. The base layer essentially raises the jersey away from your body just enough to allow air to pass between them.
This “seamless” baselayer (though it looks like it has seams) is tubular, extremely stretchy, form-fitting and slightly compressive. That last bit is a nice little adder, providing some welcome support to torso and back muscles in the same way some bibs provide them to the legs on long days in the saddle.
Castelli also makes a “Core Mesh” summer base layer that has seams (but looks like it doesn’t – crazy, right?) and isn’t quite as stretchy or form-fitting. It is more the feel of a regular base layer but offers no compression. I haven’t tried as I’ve been quite happy with the Seamless Baselayer. They both come in sleeveless and short sleeve options
* * * * *
Thank you for reading. Please let me know what you think of anything I’ve written or ask any questions you might have in the comment section below.
And please, let’s stay connected! If you sign up with the follow button below (it will pop up when you try to leave), you’ll get an e-mail letting you know when new posts come out. In the right-hand column, you can also sign up to get posts sent to your RSS reader or follow In The Know Cycling updates on Twitter and Facebook.
Thanks and enjoy your riding safely!
Related: The Best Spring and Fall Cycling Kit