Cycling Shootout: Five New Road Kits
After thousands of miles on the bike this summer, we’ve settled on our favorite new cycling apparel
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CAPO GS-13 JERSEY ($200) and BIB SHORT ($250)
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The trio of fabrics in the GS-13 jersey, with stretch panels in the shoulders, soft mesh in the body, and super lightweight carbon mesh under the arms, combine for a snug, performance fit. The stretch in the shoulders, in particular, adds lots of comfort, though the jersey seems to be cut upright rather than in a riding position, so the front midsection bunches a bit when you tuck.
The sleeves are nice and long, as we like them, but they could use a little gripper at the end to stop them from riding up. The zipper is full-length, as with every jersey in this review—this is a must for adequate ventilation and fit. And while there is plenty of space in the three pockets, placement is so high that reaching into them on the bike can be a challenge.
The laser-cut straps on the bibs lie flat and are easy on the skin in spite of the structure. The tailoring is race cut, and the mix of fabrics is highly compressive. Note: This is one of the trimmest-fitting kits we’ve tried, so if you’re not comfortable in super tight, it might be worth going up one size from normal. The one-inch wide silicone grippers at the legs are the grabbiest we’ve ever encountered, which we mostly liked, though if you’re not careful the friction of pulling on the legs can cause seams to split. When a seam in the thigh of the first bibs opened a bit, Capo quickly remedied the issue with a new pair.
We’re not generally fans of the yellow jacket color scheme, but Capo has done an awesome job of making a high-vis kit that still looks great. Overall, this kit was one of our favorites of the year, though the detailing (jersey cut, sleeves, pockets, etc.) needs to be a bit more refined to justify the price.
Bottom Line: Best choice for club rides, though we wish it were cheaper.
CASTELLI CLIMBER’S JERSEY ($130) and INFERNO BIB SHORT ($250)
This lightweight kit is built for the hottest conditions, and it definitely kept us cool even when the withering New Mexico sun was softening the asphalt. The body material is a similar eyelet mesh to the underarms in the Capo GS-13, which makes for outstanding wicking. The Velocity Mesh in the shoulders is comfy and formfitting, and the gripper material at the caps (the same used in the bibs) keeps everything in place. But while the cut is beautiful and the jersey is plenty cool, the mesh material is rougher than we’d like and can chafe a little on long days.
The bibs are also sewn from lightweight materials for breathability, and, as with most Castelli lowers, the fit is top-notch. The Progetto X2 chamois is almost seamless and one of the most comfortable and durable on the market save the offerings from Assos. However, though these bibs fit well and were indeed cool, we would probably opt for the seamless straps and softer fabric on the inner thighs used in Castelli’s BodyPaint Bib Shorts.
Styling is the primary drawback: The graphics aren’t bold enough to make a statement but aren’t staid enough to blend in, and we therefore avoided it unless it was very hot. Finally, because the fabrics are so lightweight, it’s imperative to wear sunblock with this kit or suffer a spotty, mesh-patterned sunburn, as we did more than once.
Bottom Line: Terrific for hot days, but could use some refinement.
SPECIALIZED SL PRO JERSEY ($150) and BIB SHORT ($175)
The Morgan Hill, California, bike giant revamped their apparel program last winter, and the SL Pro is the top of the line. We were skeptical at first, but many training and racing miles later we’re convinced. The jersey is racer-inspired for no bunching or flopping, though the cut is generous so you may need to size down to get a trim fit. Venting is good thanks to a full mesh back and sides, while the front panel is built from a silky, soft stretch fabric that feels great on the skin. Best of all, Specialized has incorporated sun protection into the entire apparel line, with SPF 30 in the jersey and 50 in the bibs.
We’re always suspicious of new chamois designs, but the Pro SL is surprisingly good, with very low bulk up front where you don’t need it and laser-cut construction in the seat to avoid seams. It isn’t as comfortable for endurance riding as, say, the chamois from Assos or Castelli, but it works darn well, especially for mid-length or shorter rides. Fit is otherwise solid, too, with much of the bib’s body cut from compressive stretch fabric and comfortable mesh straps. The biggest complaint is with the fold-over leg cuffs, which feel a bit bulky because of the double-up material and could use more silicone grippers to hold them in place.
We came to like the alternating black and white color caps on the arms and legs of our red team jersey, but the brazen logo treatment may be a turnoff to some. In that case, the black colorway is easy on the eyes but still has a bit of Tron styling. Overall, this is a great makeover to Specialized’s apparel line, which is starting to live up to the company’s excellent bike standards.
Bottom Line: A true road racer’s kit for shorter days on the bike. Size down.
RAPHA PRO TEAM JERSEY ($210) and BIB SHORT ($260)
This might just be the most comfortable new kit we tried all year. Unlike many of Rapha’s more voluminous wool offerings, the jersey is cut slim and intended to be worn skin tight. But whereas other form-fitting jerseys bind or constrict, the high-stretch body fabric of the Pro Team Jersey makes you all but forget it’s there. And no detail has gone unconsidered, including extra soft and stretchy collar and cuffs, mesh side panels for excellent ventilation, and a media slot with cable routings built into one of the three back pockets.
The chamois is one of the thickest we’ve seen. It felt so much like an overstuffed diaper when we first put on the bibs that we nearly took them off in disgust without ever riding. Good thing we persisted: These shorts are quite comfortable in the saddle, especially for long days, though they might be a bit much for those who prefer more road feel. Even the mesh bib straps feel better than most, softer and yet somehow still more structured. Our single complaint was with the elastic grippers, which didn’t always keep the legs in place and also seemed a touch coarse compared to the rest of the refined finishes.
As for the looks, nobody can outdo Rapha, which manages to assert real style and beauty with utmost the utmost simplicity. This is gear for cyclists who want to make a statement without lurid colors and brash logos. (Hell, they’ve even made chartreuse look good. Though it took a bit of searching to find the right tester for the gray and pink colorway.) And while it’s true that it can feel a bit galling to spend on a kit as much as you’d drop on a set of training wheels, the good news is that construction is beautiful and the apparel should last and last.
Bottom Line: A beautiful, high-function riding kit for all occasions—especially since you can only afford one.
TWIN SIX THE STANDARD JERSEY ($110) and BIB SHORT ($125)
Having made its name with snappy graphics and relatively inexpensive designs, this Minneapolis-based company is trying to edge into the premium market with the low-key, high-feature Standard line. Unlike every other jersey in this review, the Standard uses just one fabric, a polyester microfiber, throughout.
It’s softer and more breathable than any of the company’s other fabrics, and it kept us surprisingly cool (even in the black) on toasty days. Fit is more generous than other race-oriented kits, so The Standard trends toward comfort not aero. And since there are no gripper cuffs, the short sleeves just fall easily, like a T-shirt. Other than the Specialized Pro SL, this is the only jersey with UPF protection (28).
The bibs are equally unassuming, with eight-panel flat-seam construction and black as the only color option. Unlike on the jersey, we missed having gripper elastic or silicone at the legs to keep everything in place, though the wide leg band was refreshingly soft. And though the Italian-made chamois was nothing extraordinary, it is certainly nicer than most inserts on bibs at this price range. We’ve never really loved Twin Six shorts or bibs, but given their high value-to-cost ratio, these could easily become standbys for training.
Okay, we get that there are times when you don’t want to look like a teched-out bike geek, and The Standard, which comes in plain black, gray, and white only, is perfect for such occasions. But the truth is that the primary reason we buy Twin Six is for the playful graphics and sense of humor. So while we fully acknowledge that many people may love the new-look, plain-Jane Standard, we’ll stick with our Argyle and Speedy Amsterdam, thank you very much.
The Bottom Line: Everything you need and nothing you don’t in a hardworking, reasonably priced kit. But we miss the fun graphics.