Women’s cycling kits tested and reviewed – Part 1
This is part one of two. Read part two –featuring dhb, Pearl Izumi, Ten Speed Hero and Machines for Freedom– here.
The sun’s out in the Northern Hemisphere, which means it’s time to break out the hottest kits and work on those hard-earned tan lines.
I had the pleasure of testing some of the best kits on the market and reviewed them each by style, comfort and fit.
About the tester:
- 1,65m and 60ish kg (all muscle and cookies!)
- Bike commuter and Cat 1/Grade A racer
- I ride my bike(s) everyday, rain or shine. From bike commuting to road races to playing in the dirt, my gear gets put through the wringer.
Kits reviewed (in alphabetical order by brand):
- “Snow” short-sleeve jersey and knicks, medium. (A$280 on sale)
A small, Melbourne-based company, Fondo is setting out to inspire women to perform on their bikes by “developing a range of women’s cycling apparel that is comfortable, high quality and stylish.”
They’ve partnered with an Italian manufacturer to provide highly technical materials while a design team makes the edgy kits stand out.
Fit: Made from high wicking and high compression lycra, the Fondo kits are “race cut”, meaning they were designed to fit snugly. Fondo claims the tight fit makes the kit “more comfortable and supportive but also super flattering.”
Being a good 10 centimeters shorter and surely a bigger cookie-consumer than their model, the high compression lycra was far from flattering on me.
Comfort: While not very flattering (on me) and a tad too tight for my liking, the kit is pretty comfortable. Sturdy and largely seamless, the highly technical fabric is unlike other fabrics I have tried. The jersey feels good on and the band around the waist kept the jersey in place. I also liked the longer sleeve length and three large back pockets — too many manufacturers give women’s jerseys only two pockets!
On the knicks, the bib straps are wide and grippy and connect seamlessly to the shorts. The laser-cut elastic bands do a great job in keeping the shorts from creeping up. The premium Italian-made chamois is very comfortable, even on longer rides.
Style: Fondo’s edgy designs are definitely eye catching, and I wanted very badly to like and rock their kit. I received the snowflake design, which looks an awful lot like a winter sweater. Individually, the jersey or shorts (paired with a solid colored bibs or jersey) look fun, but together it’s just a bit much for me. It’s well worth checking out their other designs — the GEO in particular, though.
Bonus points!: The kit came with matching nail polish!
Known world-wide for their high-end products, Rapha hardly needs an introduction. Considered by many as the Prada of cycling wear, Rapha products are worn by just about every titanium bike- riding, espresso-sipping weekend warrior who’s got money to spend.
They’re easy to critique as “elitist” but once you try their products, you quickly realize you really do get what you pay for — and this case, that’s a lot.
Fit: Whether you’re out training, doing sportifs or everyday rides, this kit is made to do it all.
With a relatively relaxed, club-like cut, the jersey is tailored slightly narrower at the waist and wider at the hip, and has a pretty loose and stretchy fit overall. The jersey also features a drawcord for easy adjustment on the go.
The bibs fit true to size, albeit with less compression than most bibs shorts. The legs feature a wide gripper that is knitted directly into the main fabric and do a good job keeping the pants from creeping up. The bib section zips up to the top of the chest, covering almost the entire torso. Unusual at first, it’s quite comfortable and eliminates the need for a baselayer on warm days.
Comfort: Made from 79% polyester and 21% Elastane, I had no idea bibs could be so incredibly soft! Between the chafe-eliminating flatlock stitching, women’s specific chamois and super soft fabric, these bibs are the most comfortable bottoms I have ever worn. I would prefer a bit more compression throughout the shorts for they are not the most flattering bibs on the market and sag a little over time but they certainly are some of the most comfortable.
Made from a merino wool blend, the jersey is mid-weight, breathable and again, very soft. It’s a good, versatile layer for most of the year, though I bit too thick for days above 27 degrees.
To me, good apparel becomes invisible when riding. You barely notice it’s there and this jersey and bibs do exactly that. You forget what you’re wearing and can simply focus on the ride.
Style: While the designs tend to be well…”classic” — black bottoms, colored top — the attention to detail is superb. Zip guards, pump sleeve, product stories, cable eyelets, reinforced pockets and style elements– it’s these details that set Rapha apart.
I also tested Rapha’s high performance line: Souplesse.
Made for those looking to ride hard in warm temperatures, the Souplesse line features highly technical fabric in an “aero” (a.k.a snug) fit. The fabric is lightweight, thin and breathable but far less soft than the classic collection. The bib portion of the shorts are straps rather than the more elaborate full torso zip of the Classic, meant to be most comfortable in the ‘race’ position and to “accommodate different bust sizes and body types.”
Despite being black, the bibs shorts stay cool thanks to a finish called coldblack®, which is a highly technical dye that reflects the sun’s rays.
Being marketed as a more race-y fit, I was afraid the sizing was going to be off but the kit fits similar to other Rapha products.
Not hot: Teal, blue and green are popular colors this season but unfortunately, the lighter colors tend to show sweat easily. Rapha’s teal and blue jerseys are no exception so be prepared to ride around with sweaty armpits.
Search and State
- SA-1 riding jersey, black, medium. ($140 USD)
When launching their new (and first) women’s line, Search and State was quick to reach out to Ella, confident that their products are among the world’s best performance apparel despite them being just a small brand. Small, and filled with NYC-pride, Search and State designs and manufactures their apparel in Midtown Manhattan, the home of New York City’s original garment district.
“We work here because you could search the whole world and be hard-pressed to find better talent and craftsmanship for garment making than in New York City,” they state.
Additionally, the apparel is built entirely of USA-produced fabric.
Currently, Search and States carries only three pieces in their women’s line: a jacket, a short sleeve jersey and arm warmers. And they’re limited to two colors: black and white. Going with a timeless, less-is-more approach, the apparel certainly has an understated look. But right out of the packaging, upon first touch, you’ll notice the quality fabric and detailed manufacturing that went into this jersey.
Fit: The S1-A riding jersey is advertised as being a slim fit that’s “comfortable and non-restrictive while being worn close to the body.” I’d describe it more like a club fit, certainly roomier than most high-end jerseys on the market, and the sturdy zipper and extra fabric bunched up while in the (road) riding position. With that said, it is an overall flattering fit that will suit wearers of a range of ages and riding styles.
Comfort: While the S1-A jersey doesn’t provide any compression or second-skin feel, the fabric is comfortable on the bare skin and breathes very well. Despite it being black, the jersey felt light and airy and keeps quite cool. The rubber gripper on the hem keeps the jersey in place, and the three rear pockets hold plenty of gear.
Style: At first glance, the S1-A jersey may look like a simple, black jersey yet its quality is evident in the classic tailoring and discreet branding. Also, upon a closer look, you’ll notice that the jersey is actually two-toned. It has a perforated texture with a slightly lighter shade showing through. Almost like carbon.
All in all, this is classy jersey that will stand both the test of heavy use and time.
- Women’s SL Drirelease Merino jersey, emerald green, small. ($130 USD)
- Women’s SL Pro Bib Shorts with hookup, black, medium. ($180 USD)
A leader in the bike industry, Specialized certainly isn’t new to having a women’s apparel line. But this year, they’re branching out and mixing it up by offering two brand-new items to their performance line: a merino wool jersey and bib shorts designed to make nature breaks easier. The latter, especially, is a welcomed development.
Joining less than a handful of brands that are developing a potty-break bib — the idea is still so new, it doesn’t even have a proper name yet — Specialized came up with their own solution to help women drop trou: a magnetic clip.
While at first glance, the bib straps looks like any regular bibs, there is actually a magnetic clasp in the back, allowing the rider to undo the bibs and pull down the shorts without needing to unzip a jersey or jacket. When you’re done, you simply pull the end back together and let the magnet snap them back in place.
Specialized’s adoption of merino wool is also neat to see as wool tends to wick moisture, prevent odors and is softer than most man-made fabrics.
Hookup bibs: Many people have asked me this but no, I barely even noticed the clasp. Until I commuted with a backpack on, that is. Given that the clasp sits on your spine, carrying a backpack is not recommended. For all other riding though, the clasp was practically non-existent. Size-wise I got caught in between two sizes. The small were too tight and the mediums definitely too loose.
Jersey: The jersey is a flattering, form-fitting cut, ready for aggressive riding.
Bibs: The bibs are made of a light, breathable material with mesh straps — a high performance bib that stays cool even when temperatures rise. They feature wide, fold-over silicone bands at the legs which do a good job at keeping the pants in place without causing the dreaded sausage look. The engineered Body Geometry chamois are purposely minimalist for the SL line, but perhaps a bit too minimalist for longer days in the saddle.
Jersey: The merino jersey feels like a super soft second skin. It moves around easily with you whether you’re hunched over in the drops, jumping over roots or punching the air in victory.
Style: Solid colors, soft materials and wool: it seems like classic cycling wear is making a comeback. Flashiness is taking a backseat while understated and classy are coming to the forefront. Specialized’s black hookup bibs paired with the solid, pastel colored jersey certainly has a classic look, and it’s nice to see minimal branding on these items. The reflective stripe down the center of the back is a nice touch, too.
Not hot: As with the Rapha jerseys, the lighter colorways tend to show sweat more easily. The emerald green Specialized Drirelease merino jersey is especially bad. I wore it on a fairly warm mountain bike ride and after a 45-minute climb, it wasn’t an attractive sight. It did dry quickly though.
Also reviewed: Women’s Grail long finger gloves, small, indigo. ($40 USD)
Designed to protect sensitive nerves and reduce numbness and fatigue, the Grail gloves featurs a small Equalizer™ gel pad in the center of the palm. The pad is said to absorb some pressure while being small enough to maintain grip and handlebar feel.
Tested on road and mountain bike rides, these minimalist long finger gloves fit snug and provided a surprising amount of comfort given how thin they are. The supple synthetic leather on the inside provides plenty of grip and the outside is made of a soft, breathable high stretch fabric with an extra surface on the thumb to wipe off sweat. They’re also touch screen compatible, a must-have feature for anyone wanting to ‘gram their epic bike adventures.
If you visit Velocio’s website, they’re very clear about not being a women’s brand. Instead, they prefer to be seen as a “let’s-look-at-this-differently brand,” aiming to defy expectations and make clothing with every detail carefully considered.
With that said, they do women’s apparel really well.
And along with Giro, Velocio was among the first to start experimenting with the potty-break bibs (as also mentioned in the Specialized review above).
Too many women forgo the support and comfort of bib shorts due to the hassle of mid-ride bathroom breaks, and with the new Superfly bibs, Velocio is saying “no more!”
Velocio’s easy-on/easy-off solution comes in the form of a zipper and stretchy razor back bib straps. You can keep the zipper closed for regular dressing and undressing but when nature calls, simply unzip, squat and pull down the shorts. No helmet, jersey or jacket removal required,
The Superfly: More than a potty-break bib, the Superfly is designed for performance. They’re meant to provide compressive muscular support, and thus it’s a snugh fit. The wide Velocio leg band keeps the shorts in place, and the upper bib section is made of a stretch mesh front panel and razor straps in the back.
The Breton jersey: Made for hot weather riding, the ultra-light Breton jersey fits more relaxed than the other jerseys in Velocio’s line; yet, I’d still call it a pretty slim fit.
Bibs shorts: Tight in all the right places, the Superfly is very comfortable. And while visible, the zipper is hardly noticeable on the skin at all.
Jersey: Made from ultralight, highly technical and stretchy fabric, the Breton jersey feels unlike any material I have ever worn. It’s cool and soft to touch, and features high breathability for great warm weather riding performance. It’s so thin however, that the unsupported pockets are quickly weighed down and at times, when riding over bumps, I expected the pockets’ contents to come flying out.
Style: Yes, the zipper is visible and tends to spark conversation, but from comments I heard while I was wearing them, these bib shorts are some of the most flattering bibs I have worn. Zipper or not, I’ll take it!
I love the bright green of the Breton jersey. It’s a fresh, spring-like color that really stands out. The small reflective elements and the asymmetrical bands around the arms are a nice touch, too.
Also reviewed: Mid-jacket 2.0, pop red, medium. ($229 USD)
With its windproof panels, super Roubaix fabric and high visibility, the Mid-Jacket was was designed as a lightweight alternative to a heavy thermal jacket. Great for layering, this item has quickly become my everyday riding jacket. It breathes well yet offers a great layer of protection against the morning chill, wind and even the occasional spring rain. In additional to its functionality, I love the color — highly visible yet fashionable.
The only downside however is that the fabric snags and wears easily. After a couple commuting trips, the contact spots where my backpack straps sat faded and roughened.
I very much enjoyed tested some of the best kits on the market. Bottom line? Women have never had so many fantastic choices. Which is your favourite?