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by Matt Wikstrom
May 24, 2016
Photography by Matt Wikstrom
Wool may seem like an old-fashioned material for cycling garments, but Eleven vélo believes that Superfine Merino has a lot to offer cyclists and has devoted much of its catalogue to the use of the wool.
Eleven vélo is based in Sydney, Australia and has been working with Superfine Merino since 2001. A large part of their current catalogue now takes advantage of the woolly material and according to Eleven vélo, the benefits are many: moisture management, temperature control, breathability, odour resistance, shape retention, plus there is the distinctive soft feel of the material.
Eleven vélo is a socially responsible company that strives to minimise its carbon footprint by using local sources of Merino (Australia and New Zealand) in conjunction with local processing (Victoria, Australia) and manufacture (Sydney, Australia). Rather than hold stock, Eleven vélo sews on demand, batching customer orders to improve the efficiency of production.
The system also allows Eleven vélo to offer a variety of bespoke services that apply to the design and fit of each garment. Buyers essentially create the garments they want by picking out the colours for each panel of fabric. Not all colour choices are available for every panel, but there is enormous scope for designing a distinctive jersey with matching shorts.
According to Eleven vélo, their stock garments will suit around 90% of riders, so most buyers won’t need to customise the fit. For those riders with unusual proportions though, Eleven vélo can modify different aspects of their jerseys and shorts (e.g. jersey length, arm or leg length) for a small upcharge (AU$5-10/US$4-8) for each modification.
At present, there are three road jerseys and two bibshorts in Eleven vélo’s catalogue. Each jersey (Pro, Classic-r, Super Domestique) is made from pure Superfine Merino and features a full-length zipper at the front and three pockets at the rear with an “anti-sag” design. The Pro is designed as a race-day jersey, the Classic-r has a longer body with a straight-cut hem, and the Super Domestique is a race-oriented design that can be used for everyday riding.
Eleven vélo’s Premium Race bibshorts utilise 95% Merino/5% Spandex for the outer leg panels and brace and Supplex Lycra for the inner leg panels. The company’s other bibshorts, the Pivot, also makes use of Merino/Spandex for the brace but Supplex Lycra is used for all leg panels to provide extra compression. Both shorts use padding made by Elastic Interface that has been designed for several hours in the saddle.
Eleven vélo uses so-called “true-sizing” for all their garments, where the number assigned to any given size relates directly to the measurement for the chest or waist. Thus, a size 34 jersey will suit riders with a 34-inch chest. For those riders that fall in between sizes, Eleven vélo recommends sizing up rather than down since their garments don’t offer much stretch.
For this review, Eleven vélo not only supplied a Pro jersey and Premium Race bibshorts, they gave me the opportunity to go through the entire ordering process, starting with designing the two garments. The company’s website is quite intuitive in this regard, guiding buyers through each step of the ordering process.
It’s worth noting that Eleven vélo’s fabrics aren’t particularly saturated, so some colours (e.g. orange and gulf blue) weren’t quite as rich as what was displayed on the screen during the ordering process. Similarly, white fabric was coloured more like off-white and much less vibrant than the whites that can be created with synthetic fabrics.
I followed Eleven vélo’s size guide when placing my order with excellent results. As promised, Eleven vélo’s fabrics offer much less stretch than other brands that use synthetics, so it is worth adhering to the company’s directions on sizing.
One thing shoppers may notice as they peruse Eleven vélo’s website is that there is a countdown timer associated with each garment, which relates to the deadline for the company’s next order cycle. Once an order is placed, buyers receive a notification at every step of the process (pipeline, cutting, sewing, packing and shipping). Eleven vélo aims to dispatch all orders within two weeks but production times vary according to volume. In this instance, the garments were dispatched four weeks after the order was placed.
The first thing I noticed about the jersey and bibshorts as I unpacked them was that they were a little heavier than synthetic equivalents (e.g. the jersey weighed 200g versus 150g for a synthetic jersey) but once I was wearing them, they felt incredibly light on the skin.
Part of this magic can be attributed to the qualities of Merino but it also speaks volumes on Eleven vélo’s tailoring. Their sizing brings the fabric as close as possible to the skin without ever having to constrict it in any way, and the result is barely there.
Prickling is a common complaint for wool, however Superfine Merino comprises fibre diameters (15-20µm) that are much less likely to produce prickle. As such, the majority of riders are unlikely to be troubled by prickling while wearing Eleven vélo’s kit unless they are particularly susceptible to it. I fall into this latter category and noticed some mild prickling during the review period that was most obvious at the beginning of each ride.
I used this kit on very hot summer days when I remained quite comfortable for a few hours, though the jersey didn’t seem to offer the same kind of airflow as a synthetic jersey with mesh panels. When I found myself wishing for more airflow, I simply opened the zipper and the problem was solved.
A passing shower left the jersey wet on one occasion and it was very slow to dry — perfect for keeping the body cool in warmer weather — but would it be a problem in cooler weather? According to Eleven vélo, wool fibres will retain body warmth when needed — even when wet — so they believe that their jerseys are a better choice for wet weather than synthetics.
Eleven vélo’s Premium Race bibshorts were very easy to wear and a good choice for all-day touring. I was never distracted by leg hems that were too tight or by panels that provided too much compression. I did have some trouble with the padding though — it started to get uncomfortable after a few hours — but after chatting with Eleven vélo, it seems as if I would have been better served by a going down a size for the shorts.
There is a lot to appreciate about Superfine Merino and Eleven vélo’s jersey and bibshorts. The quality of the fit and the feel of the fabric are unique and really needs to be experienced to be understood entirely. That Eleven vélo gives every customer the tools to customise the colour and design of each garment adds significantly to the value of each, as does the option for bespoke modifications.
For more information, visit Eleven vélo.
RRP: Pro jersey, AU$145/US$103; Classic-r jersey, AU$130/US$93; Super domestique jersey, AU$130/US$93; Premium race bibs, AU$189/US$135; Pivot bibs, AU$178/US$127