In the mid-to-late 1990s, non-custom cycling clothing mostly sucked. I don’t think I’m insulting anyone or letting out any family secrets. Factor out Assos and you were left with a handful of pieces from Giordana and Pearl Izumi worth owning. Etxe Ondo, Nalini and Santini, while All very fine manufacturers, were nearly impossible to find unless you were on vacation in Europe and the Castelli stuff that was available in the U.S. was mostly entry-level, just a few octane higher than garbage.
On those occasions that the stuff where the garments themselves were made with notable quality, they failed in the looks department with all the assured regularity of new cars from Oldsmobile. It’s hard to imagine that another company on the planet has worked harder to avoid making consumers smile at their new products than Oldsmobile, though the Yugo does come to mind.
Lines like Giordana and Castelli were plagued with the misfortune of employing designers who lacked an understanding of cycling fashion, graphic design or even modern art. A rudimentary facility for any of those would have been helpful. Alas. Sometimes the stuff was so ugly I was unwilling to wear it, no matter how nice the jersey or bibs were made or fit.
As it turns out, treating a jersey like a canvas for an artist to put a picture on, isn’t exactly a look cyclists go for. So when I encountered Sugoi in ’96, they made an impression for the simple reason that their designs took such a fresh approach. Around this time, one of their jerseys was a particular favorite of mine. Called the Big Kahuna, it featured a Hawaiian print with King Kamehameha as well as a hula girl in a repeating pattern. It’s hard (if not impossible) to convey playful style in text, but it did something at a distance that was appealing: It looked like an abstract design that might appear on recreational clothing. The upshot is that it worked both close-up and at a distance, something that most century jerseys and the like fail at.
As much as I liked Sugoi stuff, there were some issues. The jerseys were cut for casual riders. Even the small jerseys were like floppy T-shirts on me. And the bib shorts were cut for hipsters—they had no ass. Fitting me into a pair of their bibs required a bunch of extra tugging.
Since then, Sugoi has evolved continuously. Sure, the company was sold and is part of Dorel, Cannondale’s parent, but the real import of that is the way it gave the company additional resources in design, materials and construction.
Lately, I’ve been wearing the RSE bibs and jersey. While I’ve kept an eye on the evolution of Sugoi, there was a time when the stuff didn’t have any style and didn’t look like the fit had improved. Dear reader, those days are gone. There are a number of companies that have elected to forego graphic design to give a garment its look and instead use a combination of different fabrics and creative patterning in order to create a stylish look that remains true to the garment’s function. Assos has been doing this for years. So has Giordana. Capo and Castelli are making terrific examples as well. The point here isn’t that companies have given up on sublimation; you’ll still find sublimated touches on many pieces, but the top pieces for many of these companies are relying less on sublimation than creative design to create a simple, yet stylish, look.
Honestly, I can’t recall the last time someone introduced a more completely white jersey than this that didn’t have the look of a plain, white T-shirt. My general reaction to solid white jerseys is to think that Fruit of the Loom does the look better. But not this time.
I should make clear the jersey isn’t completely white; there are two sets of hatching just above the breast on the front. Additionally, the lower hem of the jersey and the cuffs of the sleeves are grippers sublimated black with the Sugoi logo. They’re cut from the same material. The front of the jersey is cut primarily from Sugoi’s Revo material, a nylon and spandex blend that offers more stretch than polyester, which makes it more suitable to a form-following fit. The back of the jersey, the backs of the sleeves and two small accent spots on the front of the jersey are all cut from Sugoi’s Revoflex material, which is a highly breathable mesh meant to wick moisture away from the body and allow it to evaporate quickly thanks to the waffle pattern of the material.
The surprise here is the the jersey has an understated look without looking plain-Jane.
There’s nothing really ground-breaking in its features. It’s got a full zipper, three pockets in back with a fourth, zippered, security pocket and is cut so that it follows the contours of a reasonably fit cyclist. It’s probably not cut slim enough for the Garmin team, but the medium works well on me.
There are two ways that these pro-fit jerseys go wrong, on the occasions the manufacturer didn’t get them right. The first is that the spandex content can be too high, making them ultra-stretchy, so that even in the appropriate size they end up feeling clingy. There’s a big difference between form-following and clingy. Think of the former as a hug and the latter as a needy girlfriend (or boyfriend). The second mistake some manufacturers will make is to cut the jersey too long. I’m not my former six-foot self. I’ve lost an inch due to spinal compression over the years, and as a result, I’ve run across some jerseys that are an inch or two too long; the hem ends up sitting on my butt, not at my waist, which is how these jerseys ought to be cut. With the RSE, I’m pleased to say Sugoi got the fit right.
Silicone is incorporated into the weave on the grippers, and because the hem and cuffs are each several centimeters long, and the grippers go the entire circumference of the sleeves and the jersey, once you put this jersey on, it doesn’t ride up on you. I like that.
What I like a bit less is that the Revo fabric seems to have a penchant for picking up any dye that bleeds off another garment. I’m in the process of riding some other new stuff from a competitor to Sugoi and some neon yellow dye bled into the RSE jersey. I’m not entirely sure where to place more of the fault, with the bleeder or the bleedee. This occurred in the hour after the laundry finished and before I hung it up. It’s been a while since I’ve encountered this issue. I’ll note that there were predominantly white jerseys from both Primal and Assos in the wash and they didn’t pick up any of the dye.
If I can get it out, I’ll let you know.
The dye issue aside, this is a terrific jersey. I like it much more than I expected. Is it worth $180? Yeah. I’ve encountered jerseys that were more expensive that delivered less. Plus, when I look at jerseys that run half as much, they seem to deliver less than half as much. Finally, for anyone who would like not to look like a billboard for someone else’s stuff, this is as low-key a look as you’ll find. Seriously, Sugoi deserves some praise for placing how you might want to look ahead of their branding considerations.
Next up, the RSE bibs.