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Black Sheep is an Australian company based on the Gold Coast in Queensland. While the name owes its inspiration to a number of post-ride coffees, the company draws on its passion for cycling and experience in garment development to motivate and inform its clothing designs.
Part of Black Sheep’s manifesto proclaims: “No longer should there be a gap between what you wear on your bike and what you wear off it. We want you to ride bikes but look good doing it.” But there is more to Black Sheep’s clothing than looks alone. Each piece of clothing is constructed to contend with the demands of high intensity riding by using what the company considers are the finest materials from around the world.
Black Sheep’s catalogue comprises clothing for men and women and is divided into two broad collections. Essentials is a perpetual collection of versatile garments that work well in a variety of conditions with simple styling that reflects the pragmatic nature of this collection. By contrast, the Limited collection is far more adventurous and is constantly evolving with a new ‘season’ of designs every few months. There is no option to buy individual pieces from this collection though, just kits (short-sleeve jersey with matching bibshorts) that have been purpose-built to contend with hot weather.
The choice of fabrics is critical to the performance of Black Sheep’s Limited kits. The jersey is constructed from four different fabrics including warp-knitted fabrics from Italy that have a very low weight, offer substantial breathability, and can contend with high levels of sweat production.
The front panels and shoulders of the jersey use a very light polyester/spandex blend called “Light Asteroid” that releases heat very quickly while extra breathability is added under the arms with Black Sheep’s Open Cell mesh. The back and side panels are constructed from a loose polyester weave that borders on a fine mesh. The jersey is finished with a full-length zipper, three rear pockets, and elastic (with silicone dots) at the waist.
The seat of the Limited bibshorts uses a heavy fabric called “CorePower”, chosen primarily for its abrasion resistance to ensure that they are hard wearing. In contrast, the straps are constructed from a light elastic material—not mesh—that has a silicone backing to keep them in place with extra support from a mesh panel at the back.
A fabric called “Power Cuff” is used to wrap the thighs and provide compression for the muscles while a broad band of elastic with silicone backing for the hem. Black Sheep tested a variety of options for the padding of these shorts, settling on a dense elastic formula that was the best performer for long rides (i.e. five hours or more).
As mentioned above, Black Sheep’s Limited kit is only available as a combination of a matching jersey and bibshorts with a choice of seven sizes (XXS-XXL) for men and women. Each new season comprises four exclusive designs (two for men and two for women) but short production runs limits availability. Season four sold out recently but season five is due to be released November 1. For more information, visit Black Sheep Cycling.
I expect most riders will judge Black Sheep’s Limited kit on the appeal of its styling but to do so is to underestimate how much effort has gone into the design and construction of each garment. The jersey in particular is incredibly soft and welcoming in a way that transcends what is printed on the fabric.
I’ve already mentioned Black Sheep’s devotion to training and racing, which means the jersey and bibshorts are designed to suit a lean, athletic physique. That isn’t to say that the fit is unforgiving. The jersey is surprisingly stretchy, but it hugs the body rather than hanging from it. There is also a reasonable amount of stretch in the shorts, though the fit around the thighs is quite firm, which is to be expected for a compression fabric.
One of the things that stood out for me is design of the straps. The fabric is the lightest I’ve ever seen used for straps. While it was prone to twisting and folding over itself as I was pulling on the shorts, it was barely detectable on the skin. Hours later, I remained completely unaware of the straps while the shorts continued to fit perfectly.
While I didn’t get a chance to try out this kit in the heat of summer, I expect it will work well in hot conditions. The jersey always felt light and breezy on my skin while the shorts provided a firm and supportive fit without ever being constrictive. I’ve no complaint about the padding either, which was still comfortable after four hours in the saddle.
At $350 for a jersey and bibshorts, Black Sheep’s Limited kit sits at the upper end of the market but the calibre of the materials and the quality of the fit should satisfy the expectations of racers and performance-oriented riders. Better yet, there’s a story behind every design: in this instance, the kit provided for review featured Black Sheep’s Blue Cheviot design from season three, which takes its name from a breed of sheep that originated in the hills along the English-Scottish border.