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by Matt Wikstrom
October 7, 2015
Photography by Matt Wikstrom
Sportful began with a bright orange ski-suit in 1972 and has grown to produce a wide range of apparel for a variety of outdoor activities. The company has been making cycling apparel since 1985 and in this review, CTech editor Matt Wikstrom takes a look at a few garments from their 2015 spring/summer collection.
The story behind Sportful began in 1946 when Olindo and Irma Cremonese established Manifattura Valcismon in the foothills of the Dolomites. The couple were intent on building a successful family business, starting with wool—sheering, carding and spinning—before turning to underwear in the ‘60s.
Manifattura Valcismon started producing ski-suits under the Sportful name in 1973. Giordano Cremonese—Olinda and Irma’s son—launched the venture after he was inspired to create a suit from new acrylic materials to contend with the demanding conditions of a local cross-country ski race.
Sportful entered the cycling market in 1985, and found favour with professional teams such as Ceramiche Ariostea, MOG-Bianchi and Mapei, as well as the Italian national team. Sportful’s commitment to professional cycling has continued ever since, with the company currently serving as the clothing sponsor for Tinkoff-Saxo.
Interestingly, Manifattura Valcismon owns another cycling apparel brand in Castelli. The company acquired Castelli in the late-‘90s after the brand was struggling to remain solvent. To their credit, the Cremonese family (Giordana’s children have been working in the business since 1995) managed to resurrect Castelli while nurturing Sportful at the same time.
The success of Manifattura Valcismon can be attributed, at least in part, to its willingness to collaborate with professional cycling teams to develop and refine its cycling apparel. There is no real competition between Sportful and Castelli though—the same office houses the two brands and there is a lot of cross-pollination of ideas and materials.
Sportful’s current catalogue contains jerseys, shorts, tights, jackets, base layers and accessories predominantly for men, but there is also a range of garments for women and children. In addition, two broad seasons are recognised, spring/summer and autumn/winter.
Sportful’s 2015 spring/summer clothing is divided into three categories: the R&D range comprises Sportful’s most technical garments that have been designed to be as light, breathable and aerodynamic as possible; the BodyFit range occupies a next tier but still serves as standard issue for Tinkoff-Saxo riders; and the Performance range makes extra allowance for comfort while retaining some features from the higher tiers.
For this review, I take a look a two jerseys and a pair of bibshorts from Sportful’s BodyFit range along with one jersey from the Performance range. I also try out a short sleeve weatherproof yop from Sportful’s Fiandre range.
There are two BodyFit Pro jerseys, designated Team and Race, and according to Sportful, Tinkoff-Saxo riders make regular use of both jerseys. The Team jersey was originally designed as a training garment but its heavier weight found favour with the team for early season races. The Race jersey is made from lighter fabrics to contend with the kind of warm weather that defines the Grand Tours.
The Team jersey is made from two fabrics, Dry Pro and Kontatto. Sportful describes Dry Pro as “an extremely aerodynamic structured fabric” that is soft to touch and offers plenty of stretch and breathability. Made from 100% polyester, it is used front and back for the lower two-thirds of the Team jersey.
Kontatto is used for the upper-third of the Team jersey. It is a lightweight microfiber fabric with a smooth face that is also very stretchy, which helps the jersey closely follow the contours of the arms and shoulders. Kontatto is also very effective at wicking moisture away from the skin to keep the rider cool when they are most active.
The Race jersey makes use of Dry Pro Lite for the lower two-thirds of the garment, and as the name suggests, it’s a lighter version of Dry Pro. The upper third of the jersey is made from Air Mesh, which is designed for maximum airflow, and while it borders on transparency, still manages a UV rating of 10.
Sportful used wind tunnel testing to guide their choice of fabrics for the BodyFit jerseys, discovering that Air Mesh also afforded reproducible energy savings. “I don’t want to give too much away on our protocol,” said Steve Smith, Sportful’s brand manager, “other to say that it was on multiple Tinkoff-Saxo riders on road bikes pedalling approximately 250 watts in the ‘breakaway position’ (hands on hoods, forearms parallel to ground, head in position to see up the road).”
All of the testing was comparative, so rather than determine an absolute value for the aerodynamic drag of a garment, Sportful was able to judge the relative performance of different garments and fabrics, including several from their competitors. The results showed that a rider could save up to 20W at 50km/hr, and now the company has turned its attention to team time trials.
Both BodyFit Pro jerseys are equipped with a full-length zipper at the front and three pockets at the rear. There is an elastic waistline lined with a silicone strip while the sleeves have a raw edge (Race) or a simple hem (Team).
I found both jerseys were surprisingly stretchy, but also very close fitting, hugging all of the contours of my torso. The Race jersey was marginally firmer, so I remained aware of the fabric clinging to arms and shoulders while the Team jersey seemed to disappear within moments of zipping it up.
The Air Mesh that is used for the upper third of the Race jersey is very effective, so it was noticeably cooler (especially over the shoulders) than the Team jersey. The latter was well suited to spring temperatures (up to 25°C) and a better choice for early starts when the temperature is still low.
The BodyFit jerseys have reasonably long sleeves; when coupled with the close fit, they reminded me of a TT suit and put me into a more aggressive frame of mind. Slender racers should find plenty of appeal in these jerseys, where the sizing is on par with many other brands (a size medium suited me well, no need to go up or down a size). In contrast, riders with heavier physiques may find the BodyFit jerseys too snug to call comfortable.
The BodyFit Pro Team and Race jerseys are available in seven sizes (XS-3XL) and three colours (blue with white shoulders, teal with black shoulders, and black with red highlights). The Team jersey has a recommended retail price of $120 while the Race jersey costs $150. Both jerseys are also part of Sportful’s Tinkoff-Saxo collection as well as their custom kit program (see below).
There are two models of bibshorts in the BodyFit range, the technical BodyFit Pro bibshort LTD, and the modest BodyFit Classic bibshorts. The latter eschews a few technical features to concentrate on those that are truly important, namely the quality of the fit and comfort.
The Classic and LTD shorts use the same Aeroflow Compress fabric to wrap the thighs. The material is designed for optimal muscle compression and the surface is dimpled with the hope of improved aerodynamics. “We designed them with what should in theory give us a fast short,” said Steve Smith, “but in reality the improvements we’ve measured in the wind tunnel are within the ‘noise’ or confidence interval that we expect from the wind tunnel. So if they’re saving anything it’s in the range of just a couple of watts.”
The Classic Bibshorts use Sportful’s BodyFit Pro padding, which the company describes as its “most comfortable long distance pad.” The legs are finished with a broad elastic band backed with tiny silicone dots while standard mesh is used for the straps and back panel of the shorts.
I was immediately at home in the BodyFit Classic shorts. The fabric is quite stretchy, so the shorts are easy to pull on and they slide into place without any effort. There is some noticeable compression for the thighs while the leg elastics are very forgiving. The straps are stretchy too and sat easily on my shoulders. Some riders may find extra allure in a more technical design but these shorts achieve a sure and comfortable fit without the added expense.
The padding is perhaps the most impressive feature of the shorts because it manages to provide a level of plush comfort that is well out of proportion for the amount foam that is used. Indeed, after four hours of riding, there was no indication that the plush sensation was going to subside.
My only complaint with these shorts concerns the tag with washing instructions. It is massive (8 x 5cm) and sewn into the seam over the left hip at the back of the shorts, just out of reach. The tag always managed to sit uncomfortably on my skin but I was reluctant to cut it off, lest it create a sharp edge that was more uncomfortable. I’d prefer to see the washing instructions printed directly on the fabric.
BodyFit Classic bibshorts are available in seven sizes (XS-3XL) and four colours (black with white, green, blue or orange stitching) with a recommended retail price of $145. These shorts are also part of Sportful’s Tinkoff-Saxo collection and their custom kit program (see below).
Sportful’s Performance jerseys are defined by a relaxed fit. Compared to the BodyFit Pro jerseys, the sleeves are shorter and the waistline longer, but they still have a full-length zipper at the front, three pockets at the rear, and an elastic waist backed with a silicone strip.
The Italia IT jersey celebrates Sportful’s national pride. There’s a bold banner, front and back, the tricolore, and a choice between electric blue, to emulate the national team, or black. Dry Pro fabric is used front and rear (like the Team jersey above) while there are mesh panels at the sides to provide extra airflow to keep the body cool.
The Italia IT jersey is very easy to wear. The fabric was light on my skin and well suited to spring conditions while the relaxed fit will accommodate a much wider range of body shapes than the BodyFit Pro jerseys. Overall, the Italia IT jersey is a fine choice for cyclist with a strong affiliation for Italy.
The Italia IT jersey available in seven sizes (XS-3XL) and two colours (black and electric blue) with a recommended retail price of $100.
Sportful’s Fiandre range encompasses a variety of weatherproof garments (shorts, tights, vests and jackets) that have been designed for racing. As such, they provide a close, performance-oriented fit and anticipate a reasonably high level of activity from the rider.
There are three Fiandre Light NoRain tops in Sportful’s current catalogue: a vest, a long-sleeve top, and a short-sleeve top. The front panels of each garment are made from Windshield to keep the wind off the chest, while the back panel is made from Sportful’s NoRain Light fabric. NoRain Light is, as the name suggests, water-resistant; it’s also light, breathable and offers plenty of stretch.
Each Fiandre Light NoRain garment has a full-length zipper at the front and another zipper at the rear for accessing jersey pockets. Both zippers have protective flaps and there are a few reflective strips at the rear of the jacket.
The Fiandre Light NoRain short-sleeve fits a lot like a jersey, though the sleeves, neck and waistline are all a little longer. The design is reminiscent of Castelli’s Gabba though this version is a lighter weight and better suited to warmer temperatures.
I found this jacket provided excellent protection against the wind on cool mornings and I used it in the same way as a vest. It was less effective against the wet, though. A shower was enough to overwhelm the jacket and soak the jersey underneath, however I remained warm and comfortable for the rest of the ride.
Finally, the Fiandre Light NoRain short-sleeve packs down into a reasonably small bundle such that I was able to stow it in a jersey pocket after the day warmed up.
Fiandre Light NoRain garments are available in seven sizes (XS-3XL) and two colours (black and yellow) with a recommended retail price of $150 for the vest, $160 for the short-sleeve top, and $170 for the long-sleeve top.
Sportful offers custom printing for a large number of their garments including the majority of their BodyFit Pro catalogue. There is a 10-piece minimum order for any particular garment and an eight-week turnaround from final confirmation of the artwork.
Prices range $85-103 for jerseys and $91-128 for bibshorts. In addition, there is a one-off setup fee of $180 for each design. For more information and a quote, visit Sportful Australia.
With thirty years of experience and ongoing input from professional cyclists, it’s not surprising that Sportful’s cycling apparel is highly refined. Every garment reviewed here exhibited high quality construction and offered a very comfortable fit. The BodyFit Pro garments in particular exhibited some exceptional features that will be appreciated by any racer.
Sportful’s stock styling is simple and understated but buyers looking to make a stronger statement can opt for Tinkoff-Saxo livery, or, custom printing. The latter offers arguably much more value in terms of personalisation but will require more time and effort than choosing a stock design from Sportful’s catalogue. Either way, Sportful’s pricing remains relatively modest for high end race-specific apparel.