It used to be that if you wanted high-quality cycling apparel, your choices were limited to a select group of mostly Italian companies: Assos, Castelli, Giordana, Nalini. Those sewing houses are still around and cranking out excellent gear. But in recent years, as fabrics have become more widely available and technologies easier to access, the field has exploded with small manufacturers making excellent kit. That has heralded bolder styles, too. Presenting four killer road kits I’ll be riding in all summer.
Babici Nishikigoi Jersey ($190)
When it comes to looking good—and standing out on the bike—I’ve found no gear as refined and beautiful as the stuff from this Aussie brand. The Nishikigoi is as beautiful as a kimono, yet it doesn’t sacrifice any performance. The body material is an extremely lightweight, meshy textile (sun-protection base layer recommended) for the hottest days, with even more gossamer mesh on the side panels for ultimate breathability. The sleeves are nice and long, and the laser-cut silicone waist and arm bands keep it all in place. There’s even a waterproof zip pocket out back that easily fits an iPhone and wallet. Jersey sizing is trim, so it may be worth stepping up one size if you’re not into the racer cut. The complementary Finito Knicks ($245) are just as polished, with a nicely contoured fit, mesh back, and an excellent, seamless pad. I especially like the elastic leg grippers, which somehow hold firm without sticky, sweaty silicone.
Bottom Line: The ultimate hot-weather kit that perfectly blends form and function. I almost wish I’d never found Babici, as now I want to collect all of their gorgeous styles.
Attaquer Core Jersey ($170)
This is another Aussie entry, and based on the wild patterns and complete kits, they do like their garish Down Under. Truth be told, it’s refreshing to see some fun and playful patterns and styles (check out the Limited Edition kits), though these won’t be for everyone. Nor are they simply a fashion statement, as the top is constructed from a fabric that’s dimpled for cooling but still thick and stretchy enough to hold its structure, with an even breezier material out back. The silicone gripper at the waist works fine, and though there’s no gripper on the arms, the length and cut ensured that I’ve had no problems with them riding up. I love the full-mesh uppers on the bibs I’ve been trying, though these shorts’ lack of availability point to the one difficulty with the company. It’s cool that they make small batches and limit production; but that means it can be difficult to find the same product for very long.
Bottom Line: The bold graphics (some might call them obnoxious patterns) are a welcome change in a sometimes staid market, but you best be fast or confident (or both) to pull them off.
Q36.5 Jersey Short Sleeve L1 ($240)
Having written about this top-shelf apparel company when it was launched by the ex-lead R&D engineer at Assos, I won’t belabor the details. However, I’ve been riding in this kit for nearly a year, and it is, without question, the highest-performing apparel I own. The patterning is so refined and the fabrics so gauzy and comfortable, that wearing the kit is as close as I have (and ever will) come to riding in nothing at all. It works, too: I feel cooler in Q36.5 equipment (the name alludes to the Celsius temperature of the human body, and the company’s goal to keep you at that optimal level as you exert) than in anything I’ve tried. The widely variable-thickness chamois in the Salopette L1 Essential ($360) is a revelation, too, as it’s surprisingly comfortable for its comparatively thin depth. Personally, I like the digi-Hawaiian graphic, but even the solids look Italian sharp.
Bottom Line: More gear than apparel, Q36.5 is what I choose for really long days on the bike and when performance matters. And yes, you pay for the privilege.
POC Fondo Light Jersey ($140)
The Swedish helmet and snow-sports manufacturer launched into cycling apparel two seasons ago with their high-vis AVIP gear, which I liked, and the new Fondo line brings a similar spare styling to a broader market with lower prices and more generous cuts. The Fondo Light uses a diaphanous mesh fabric to cut the heat, plus other strategically placed fabrics, including a silky mesh under the arms and stretchy, soft neck and cuffs. It’s not an exceptionally elastic or form-fitting piece, which may appeal to some riders and not others. The drop-waist is laser-cut, and elasticized out back to keep it all in place. Overall, it’s a reasonably basic jersey, albeit with the ever-important full zip, and one that looks and feels great. The Multi D Short ($180) also offers solid value and some nice high-end touches, including plush, laser-cut mesh bibs and a reflective panel at the base of the back for excellent after-hours visibility. The four-panel fit and multi-density pad isn’t as elegant or comfortable as the bibs from Babici or Q36.5, but they’re fine for two to three hours in the saddle, and cost a fair bit less.
Bottom Line: A great everyday kit with a fuller cut and pleasing, understated style.