We receive dozens of kits a year from a host of manufacturers. Much of it is fine, if unexceptional, and sees little more than a ride or two.
But there's also the good stuff—the apparel that feels great on the bike, helps us stay comfortable and pedaling longer, and keeps the elements at bay. This is the gear we recommend for long-term, everyday rotation. After thousands of miles of riding, here are a few of our summer favorites:
DeMarchi Corsa Jersey ($120) and Veloce Bibs ($230)
Best for: Group riding and looking good without breaking the bank.
This family-owned Italian brand might have the best-value cycling apparel at the moment. Its gear is on par with Assos and Castelli but at much lower prices. The jersey is built from a highly structured yet lightweight two-layer fabric that doesn't pull or pill, and it's nicely tailored for a trim but not skin-tight fit. An elastic band with silicone grippers in the rear keeps the top in place. Detailing is excellent for the price and includes a waterproof abdomen pocket with cable port for earphones and a locking slider for unzipping with just a quick yank on the lapel.
The bibs are made in the same factory as Assos products and have excellent panel ergonomics, a mesh back for cooling, and a three-way stretch chamois with memory foam that we found to be about as comfortable for long hauls as anything else on the market. The fabric also has Coldblack treatment, which reflects UV rays to prevent overheating and provides SPF 50-plus protection. Our only complaint: The silicone leg grippers started to ride up after about six months of hard use, but DeMarchi says the design has since been reinforced for additional grab.
Giordana EXO Short-Sleeve Jersey ($250) and Bib Shorts ($295)
Best for: Racers and anyone aspiring to be faster.
This high-tech line feels good on the bike and allegedly improves your riding performance. Carefully placed seams and compressive fit add muscle support and promote circulation. We can't say we noticed huge time gains or better recovery, but the super-trim fit feels fast and aero, and the medley of lightweight fabrics and meshes make the jersey one of the coolest we've tried in hot conditions despite the dark colors. The scoop neck and sleeves with elastic cuffs may look a little futuristic, but they feel great. Though we like the mesh rear pockets, we could do without the fabric over the top, which is ostensibly for aerodynamics but makes getting gear in and out a bit tricky.
With laser-cut perforated straps, a large open-mesh back, and a highly compressive body fabric, the bibs are sleek enough for racing but still plenty comfy. The body fabric is a proprietary Lycra blend that's both featherweight and supportive, and the cut is formfitting thanks to 16 individual panels. The legs have soft elastic bands lined with silicone that worked well to keep things in place. The chamois is dimpled for breathability and infused with aloe vera for its cooling and healing properties. It's also a fairly thick insert that worked best with hard saddles and for especially long days on the bike.
Specialized Atlas XC Pro Jersey ($98) and Shorts ($150)
Best for: Cross-country racers looking to ditch the tight-fitting look without sacrificing performance.
As part of the company's SWAT initiative—the Storage, Water, Air, and Tools program to create unique and convenient ways for bikers to carry gear—Specialized rolled out new mountain bike gear this year, including bib liner shorts with integrated pockets. Though the Atlas series is aimed at the cross-country and trail crowds, the flowing materials and baggy cuts are definitely more lifestyle than racer geek. The Atlas jersey's silky, synthetic, UV-protective fabric breathes well and feels cool against the skin even in brutal heat. We also love the nice details, such as the loop at the base of the half-zip for holstering sunglasses while you climb and the lens cleaner in the rear zip pocket.
The real genius of the system is the bib undershort, which has a trio of pockets built onto an attached flap as well as smaller pockets on top of both thighs. Specialized isn't the first to integrate pockets into liner shorts, but the flap design lets you stuff more things comfortably and makes the gear almost unnoticeable. I've carried a tube and patch kit, full water bottle, pump, and all my personal belongings, and I barely notice it's there. Thanks to these shorts, I now rarely wear a hydration pack on rides less than three hours. The overshorts are about knee length, but they're tailored enough that they don't flop around when pedaling. The chamois is equal to any top-level insert and has kept me comfy and chafe-free for rides as long as 10 hours.
Sugoi RSX Jersey ($100) and Suspension Shorts ($200)
Best for: Fast-and-light devotees who ride in the heat.
This kit has surprised us more than any other gear we've worn this year. The jersey looks plain, but it's tailored to be loosely comfortable without being annoyingly baggy. The proprietary IceFil fabric feels as luxurious as silk, and fibers that pull the moisture from your body work so well to cool you down that I've actually felt chilly from time to time on midsummer rides. One drawback: The gossamer Icefil isn't very durable and will rip easily if you scrape an errant branch or take a tumble.
The shorts are good, but they're not a home run like the jersey. The undershort bib is extremely comfy and has an excellent, high-quality, thick chamois perfect for long rides. The fabric in the overshorts is lightweight and won't restrict your movements, and the die-cut vents in front actually work. Although I liked the idea of the Boa ratchets at the waist for tightening, they impede the use of a pack, as does the rear zipper pocket at the top of the sacrum. Finally, though the shorts are cut short to prevent flapping, we'd prefer them a little longer so they'd look as good off the bike as they work on it.