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by Anne-Marije Rook
June 9, 2016
Photography by Etienne van Rensburg, Anne-Marije Rook
WOMEN'S CYCLING BROUGHT TO YOU BY ORBEA
It’s finally sunny and temperatures are warming up. This means it’s that fun time of year when we celebrate #NewKitDay and show off our new threads at the weekend group ride. We tried and reviewed a bunch of kit to help inform you before your next purchase.
About the tester:
Bontrager is one of those brands that keeps surprising me. First is was their race-ready Meraj shoes, then their Ajna saddle –which after thousands of miles continues to be my main saddle — and now it’s their extensive line of soft goods. Understated and perhaps under-advertised, Bontrager has stepped up its apparel game in a big way these past few years, and thanks to research and feedback from its various racing teams, the results are quite impressive.
Whether you’re a short-shorts and tanktop wearer or prefer bibshorts and a short sleeve jersey, Bontrager has set out to meet every woman’s needs.
The Meraj Bib Shorts:
Bontrager’s nature break solution comes in the form of adjustable bibs straps and a high waist that provides good compression while riding yet can be pulled down when nature calls without having to undress.
The Meraj collection is Bontrager’s top-of-the-line, “luxury” collection made for the avid cyclist and long, hard days in the saddle.
The Meraj Bib Short is Bontrager’s version of a nature break bib to allow women riders to easily go to the bathroom without having to take off all their layers. While some brands use zippers, halter tops, clasps or bra hooks, Bontrager’s solution comes in the form of adjustable bibs straps and a high waist that provides good compression while riding yet can be pulled down when nature calls.
At first glance, it was not obvious that these bibs were made to accommodate nature breaks, which aesthetically is a good thing, but it did take some at-home testing before I understood how these were meant to be used. Once figured out though, it does the job well albeit not as easily as some other ‘potty break’ bibs on the market.
Thanks to a multi-panel construction and a pinchless gripper legband, the bib shorts have a flattering fit. Performance oriented, the bib shorts feature mild compression and a 7.5 inch inseam. Despite being solid black, I found that the thin material kept it cool.
A redesigned chamois:
A different chamois for different riding styles.
The 2016 Meraj Spring and Summer line features a redesigned chamois. Called the “inform BioDynamic chamois,” Bontrager spent a lot of time and resources on making a gender specific chamois with special attention paid to natural curvature and bone structure of the female body.
Attributes of the chamois include increased pad width at the back and the front of the chamois, a pre-shaped and seamless construction to eliminate potential friction, and something Bontrager calls “Comfort Relief Zone or CRZ” which basically means that the pad has varied foam density at specific zones to ease pressure on soft tissue.
The end result is a comfortable chamois that allows you to ride problem-free for hours at a time.
The good: Comfortable chamois, flattering fit, nature break option.
The bad: Fabric seems a bit too thin for durability. I’d prefer the bib straps to be a bit wider, legs creep up a little while riding.
The (bib-less) shorts and knickers:
Bontrager offers significantly more short options than bib shorts. Personally, I only wear bib shorts because I find them to be more comfortable. There’s no tight waistband or the dreaded “muffin top”, they stay in place, and generally provide more coverage and compression. Especially now that nature break bibs are becoming more common, I see little argument to not wear bib shorts.
With that said, I did find Bontrager’s line of bib-less shorts to be surprisingly comfortable. The use of a wide “yoga style” band prevents the dreaded muffin top and does an adequate job at keeping the shorts in place.
The Meraj shorts offer the same quality features as the bib shorts mentioned above, including the compression, pinchless grippers and comfortable chamois. Unlike the bib shorts, the shorts are available in three distinct colorways, including the starry blue design pictured.
Out of the items received, however, the Sonic 8″ shorts and Vella Knicker stood out. I like longer inseams and while the Sonic shorts come with a different chamois and slightly less compression than the Meraj, the 8″ leg length and wide waistband make this a very comfortable pair of shorts for shorter or indoor riding sessions. Plus, the solid navy colour is very trendy right now.
Similarly, the Vella Knicker features a wide waistband, that powder blue colour and a flattering fit. While most knickers use a thick or fleece-lined fabric, the Vella Knicker is made of a thin lycra material that breathes well and offers enough warmth for those cooler morning or spring days when winter knickers or thick leg warmers are too much.
The good: Wide waistband for comfort and muffin top – free performance. Good length options. Colour options.
The bad: Shorts do sag a bit.
Between the Meraj and Vella product lines, Bontrager offers a sleeve-length to everyone’s taste — all in the same colourway options so you can mix and match.
As the top-of-the-line item, the Meraj jersey has the longest sleeve and the most performance-oriented, on-the-bike fit with a drop tail, full zipper and powerband gripper at the bottom hem. The jersey is made up of a variety of materials and while the core fabric felt a bit thick at first, the mesh underarm and side panels do a good job improving the airflow to keep you cool.
From there, the sleeves and zipper length get shorter until you’re left with a tank top. The Vella Tank, however, is much more than your average tank top. Featuring a built-in sports bra, three good pockets, moisture wicking materials, a drop tail and silicone gripper, you’re going to be ride ready no matter where your day takes you.
The good: Lots of variety to meet every woman’s preference. Three decently sized pockets. Performance oriented.
The bad: Light colours (baby blue in this case) stain easily and show sweat.
Pro-level hot weather kit or all day merino comfort?
When we reviewed these kits a year ago, Specialized had just launched its nature break solution: a magnetic clip on the rear bib strap to allow quick bib removal when nature calls without having to remove the jersey. The item appears to have been so popular that you cannot get any bib shorts in their performance line without them.
Adding the clasp compromises very little in terms of compression and fit of the high-performance bib shorts. The clasp is mostly unnoticeable, unless you’re carrying a backpack, which I wouldn’t recommend.
As Specialized’s top-of-the-line items, the SL Pro kit is highly technical and performance ready with multi-panel construction, a mix of fabrics and Body Geometry engineered chamois.
Similar to last year’s model, the SL Pro Bib is made of a super light, moisture-wicking fabric called VaporRize and Cold Fabric, which reduces surface temperatures on even the darkest fabrics. As such, combined with the SL Pro Jersey, it’s a great warm-weather item.
The thin fabric makes the kit very comfortable and barely noticeable. However, it also offers little compression and therefore little firming qualities. Also, like last year, I am caught in between two sizes. I feel self conscious in the small bibs but the medium is a tad too loose.
Different from last year is the slightly altered fold-over leg cuff. While the nicely wide bands continue to successfully prevent the ‘sausage leg’ look, the new gripper — dots versus last year’s strips — doesn’t quite prevent the legs from creeping up a little. This is especially apparent in the “Shorty Short” version which –with a 6.5″ inseam versus a 9″ inseam on the regular bibs– is already rather short to begin with.
Additionally, the shorts feature an asymmetrical cut at the legs, which creates incompatibility with knee warmers and funky tan lines. But on a warm day, no knee warmers are needed anyway, and there are few kits as comfortable as the SL Pro when temperatures start to rise.
The good: Comfortable and super light weight. Good chamois. Great for warm weather riding. HookUp clasp works well. Competitively priced for a top-of-the-line item. Good colourway options. UV 50+ protection.
The bad: The Shorty Shorts are really short. Asymmetrical cut not compatible with knee warmers. Little to no compression.
The Specialized SL Pro jersey is one of my favourite warm-weather jerseys. The ultra-light fabric keeps you cool while the panel construction is done in a very flattering way. Specialized also offers lots of fun colourways ranging from race-y to highly feminine.
The sleeve length is average with a nicely wide band at the bottom. The hem of the jersey features a thin silicone gripper to keep it in place and as such, the jersey fits almost like a second skin.
The jersey features three open back pockets as well as one reinforced, zippered pocket for your valuables. There is also an audio port for your headphones/race radio. The only issue is that the back pockets are made of the same thin and stretchy fabric as the rest of the jersey and offers little security for loose items like a handpump that will come flying out when bunny-hopping a curb.
The good: Comfortable and super light weight. Great for warm weather riding. Competitively priced for a top-of-the-line item. Good colourway options. UV 50+ protection.
The bad: Pocket fabric is too thin.
It was neat to see Specialized’s adoption of merino wool last year as wool naturally regulates temperature well, wicks moisture, prevents odors and is softer than most man-made fabrics. Plus the solid pastel colours and minimal branding makes for a very classy, timeless look. Other than the colour offering, not much has changed about this jersey since last year, and that’s a good thing.
With its second-skin like fit, three pockets and subtle reflective accents, the DriRrelease jerseys combines all of the performance features of the SL line with the classic look and soft feel of merino wool.
My only gripe is with the colour offerings. The grey and light blue look and feel great until you start sweating. Pit stains, boob sweat, lower back sweat – the jersey shows everything, which isn’t great when you walk into a coffee shop after the ride.
The good: Classy, timeless look. Super soft and comfortable merino wool. Good pocket options. UV 30 protection.
The bad: Light colours stain easily and show sweat.
After receiving Velocio’s first Superfly pee-break bibs last year, I became an instant fan of Velocio’s products and every item since — from their rain jackets to the Superfly 2.0 — has not disappointed.
The new spring/summer arrivals are no different. While at first glance the yellow-and-blue scheme of the ES kit felt a bit too reminiscent of IKEA –and all the screaming kids, endless maze and food smells associated with it –, the bold colours are actually quite nice. It’s high-viz without being loud, it’s classy yet modern and most importantly, it’s so comfortable.
An updated version of the previously reviewed Breton jersey, the women’s ES jersey features that same ultra-light and soft fabric, second-skin snug fit and low-collar design.
Made from a mix of Denier Gradient polyester and ultra-light perforated side panels, the ES jersey is so light, it almost disappears. As a result, you have complete freedom of movement.
As with Velocio’s other products, the quality is apparent in the details like the YKK Camlock zipper that lays flat in just about every riding position; a re-enforced zippered pocket for valuables, and subtle reflective logos and trim details for visibility.
The only problem with the ultra-thin material and snug fit, is that everything is visible — your bra straps, your HR monitor, and every cookie you should not have eaten.
The good: Super lightweight. Super comfortable. Unique colourways.
The bad: Pockets are easily weighed down and don’t offer much security for items like a handpump or multi tool. A luxury brand comes with a luxury price tag.
Gilet, vest or body-warmer –it’s a quintessential part of the cycling kit that goes by many names. A good vest is a must have for all early morning starts, chilly spring and fall rides, and hill-top finishes. It is, however, also one of those items that you probably have too many of because you’re either still searching for the ‘perfect one’ or you just like a matching vest for all your different kits.
Velocio’s women’s wind vest is of heavier weight and more substance than most wind vests, and thus offers more warmth and utility.
Features include a 5 cm collar, subtle reflective details, three generous pockets, a silicone gripper to keep the vest in place, and a two-way zipper. The side panels and front are fully wind proof while a stretch mesh back helps regulate temperature.
Specifically designed around women in a cycling position, the vest features a very nice tailored fit. I found the vest to be true to size and quite warm – perfect for spring riding but perhaps too warm for summer hill rides where you pack a vest for the descend only.
The good: Warmer and more utilitarian than most vests with pockets and a heavier weight fabric. Two-way zipper. Lovely, bright colour options.
The bad: Heavier than most wind vests means it’s also bulkier. A luxury brand comes with a luxury price tag.
I’m a big fan of the two-way zipper for easy rear pocket access or temperature control.
Whereas the ES jersey becomes nearly invisible, the ES Bib Short does the opposite. Made of high quality Italian fabric, the bib shorts are longer than most on the market and offers quite a bit of compression. Therefore, the fit is quite snug, but that’s a good thing because it’s tight in all the right places for muscle support with the bonus of a flattering, slimming look. The legs feature a wide, lightweight band with micro gripper to keep everything in place without causing the dreaded ‘sausage leg’ look.
A race-inspired product, the ES Bib Short is slightly lighter than their other bib shorts and features reconfigured seams and a new chamois. The pad feels denser than the Superfly but still as comfortable. Like their other bib models, the front bib covers most of the torso and features seamless microfiber upper straps.
The fit, the colours, the all-day comfort — these combined attributes quickly made the ES Bib Short my new favourite pair of bibs because from the moment I put them on, I feel good and I feel like riding. Hard.
The good: Longer inseam. Good compression and fit. Comfortable wide, seamless bib straps.
The bad: A luxury brand comes with a luxury price tag.