Of all the cycling garments made I need to be honest and say that long sleeve jerseys are my least favorite. They hold plenty of promise, at least in terms of concept. Don a single garment to be worn over a base layer, no messing with arm warmers. They never work out that way, though.
First, sizing rarely works out. When I find the right length in the torso, the arms are either too long or, more common, too short. I tend to go on the smaller side for a more form-following fit. Even so, the sleeves are often baggy and end up flapping in the wind—unlike a good pair of arm warmers. So many of the ones I see lack a full zip, so should the day heat up unexpectedly, you can’t ventilate enough to keep from roasting. Yet another knock.
And then there’s the material. Most of the long sleeve jerseys I’ve worn that feature a brushed finish inside don’t really begin to breathe until you’re moving faster than 20 mph. That probably works for actual PROs whose base mile speed is undoubtedly several miles per hour above my own. Using the same material both front and back ensures that it won’t breathe adequately. I need a long sleeve jersey that will breathe once I’m moving faster than 15 or 16 miles per hour. Finding the right garment that allows you to strike that balance is more challenging than finding a Texas governor not on the take.
Enter the Assos iJ.tiburu. The iJ desgination stands for insulated jacket, but this is much closer in weight to a long-sleeve jersey, hence the comparison. New for 2011 (it replaces the elementOne), the tiburu is a piece I’ve been seeking since my first New England fall in 1989. Yeah, that far back.
The fit is, well, it’s an Assos fit, as you can tell from the photo (and I’m using their photo because it’s damn cool and does a better job of showing the piece than any photo I might shoot would). The fit of the tiburu is based on the Uno summer jersey. I wear a medium in Assos jerseys and jackets. The hem comes to my waist, maybe a centimeter below. The sleeves reach to my wrists, exactly. And while the jersey isn’t tight, it gives a non-flap fit so it won’t attract attention in the peloton. That, right there, is my biggest beef with loose clothing. In the peloton a long sleeve jersey or jacket that’s a size or two too large, or was given some just-in-case extra room, flaps around like a flag in a tornado and is distracting both to the eye and ear. As sure a mark of a Fred as there is.
Another mark of the Fred is the skirt. That is, the jersey purchased two sizes too large and ends up covering the rider’s butt. Sure it makes getting into the rear pockets easy, but it makes hooking the hem of the jersey on the nose of the saddle easier than getting wet in the ocean. Here’s the challenge though: I’ve worn a great many fleecy garments that sag over time. Not years, I mean in the course of a single ride. A jersey or jacket that fits at the start of the ride becomes a skirt three hours later. Not cool. One of the tiburu’s greatest features can’t be recognized on the rack or even in the first hour of riding. I’m not sure what constitutes the rear stabilizer panel design, but what I can tell you is that between the hem grippers and that stabilizer panel, the back of the jersey moves neither up nor down, no matter how long you’re out.
Naturally, the tiburu has all the details you’d expect from Assos. Three pockets rear plus a fourth zippered security pocket, and thanks to the stabilizer panel design, they are in the same place every time you reach back. Full-zip front. Big zipper pull to ventilate on the fly. Heavy-ish, somewhat breathable fleece, a material called RX, is used on the front of the arms and chest while the backs of the arms and the back of the garment receive a more breathable material, RXQ. You can think of RXQ as a cross between traditional waffle weaves and fleece, the combination of which results in what is arguably the fastest-wicking fleece I’ve ever worn. I put my belief to the test the last time I washed it. Twelve hours after I pulled it from the washer, I checked the garment hanging on the drying rack. It was fully dry.
Quick-dry is an absolute necessity, not just to keep you comfortable on the road, but because this is a $350 piece of gear, you’re going to want it to dry quickly so you can wear it frequently. I don’t know many riders who’ll buy two or three of these and stay married. If you happen to see someone with the full complement of black, white and red colorways, I bet they’re single.
I went with the red pictured here. Assos understands red the way Ferrari and some lipsticks understand red. It’s one of those colors you can get wrong. But notice, if you will, that the designs on the sleeves are not just simple black and white patterns but mirror image, reverse designs; the white blocks on the left sleeve become the black blocks on the right sleeve. It gives the tiburu an attractively asymmetric design without looking chaotic. Very PRO.
There are nights when I sit up and pray that Assos will start offering fully custom clothing. This is yet another example why.
For all the talk of electronic shifting at this year’s Interbike, the overwhelming winner was Shimano’s Ultegra group. My media contacts confessed a few weaknesses in the Dura-Ace system (such as the fact that it wasn’t 100 percent waterproof) and stressed that Ultegra Di2 corrected for any perceived issues, even if it was roughly one pound heavier.
It’s fair to ask how I define a winner. The answer is simple, really. Nearly every bike company of note had at least one bike spec’d with Ultegra Di2. From Bianchi to Specialized, the stuff was easy to find, which indicates it’s in real production. And despite its reported price tag, I happened to notice this bike below:
The German brand Focus is best known as the brand that Milram rode before the sun set on their sponsorship. What they are less known for is spec that kills at the bike’s given price point. This Cayo was equipped with Ultegra Di2.
Big fat hairy deal you say. Well, the bike has a suggested retail of $4300. I didn’t see a bike with Di2 carry a lower suggested retail while I was at the show. It’s possible that I missed something (I missed a lot, including—quite deliberately—the entire Taiwanese Pavillion), but almost every bike I saw that was spec’d with Ultegra Di2 had a suggested retail of $5000, so $4300 is a pretty big discount.
This Pashley display took the verisimilitude approach to marketing the brand. It caught me less for how evocative it was of the brand heritage than for its apparent authentic the appearance was. I found myself looking at details to judge just how correct they were. It was a fresh take on the use of booth space. Next year they should do a collaboration with Brooks. I’d pay an entry fee if they erected an English country manor inside the Sands Convention Center.
The best jersey I saw at Interbike. Full stop.
This is Mark Cavendish’s bike from the Tour de France, at least, it was his bike for those stages he raced following when he assumed leadership of the points competition. I see lots of bikes that were raced at the Tour, but this was interesting because unlike most bikes, it shed a little insight on the rider who raced it.
Cav’s Venge was interesting for the fact that he was actually running Dura-Ace Di2. You might be surprised how often I receive press releases about something a sponsored PRO is allegedly riding, only I don’t see it in any of the images of said rider I receive from John Pierce. Hmm. Cav’s bike featured the outboard shifters mounted high in the hooks of the bar and just protruding through the tape.
For all the talk we hear of Specialized lending its sponsored teams the genius of their in-house fit guru, Scott Holz (literally the best I’ve ever seen in action), it hasn’t been hard to guess that some riders reject objective knowledge in favor of old-school Euro fit stylings. Cav’s 52cm frame paired with this monster 14cm stem belongs in the hall of fame on Slam that Stem. Very PRO, though not particularly agile. It does, however, confirm something Chris D’Alusio told me he learned about Cavendish from riding with him: The rider does generates all his power and steering from below the waist.
Assos, in their inimitable Swiss style showed me a cornucopia of items I lusted for. Unfortunately, of the offerings I was most interested in (below) I never got a real look at.
I mean, what the hell is this? Why don’t I know more about it? I got sidetracked by a new offering I can’t discuss until mid-November; well, that and a gin and tonic.
I have friends racing cyclocross who obsess about tires the way stoner college friends of mine obsessed about the best strains of pot. Neither of those do it for me. Similarly, there’s no chance I’ll lose any sleep from thinking about what I’ll wear to a friend’s party. I’m not a slave to fashion. At least, not in the traditional sense.
In fact, where cycling is concerned, I’m a complete clotheshorse. I check weather forecasts less out of a sincere concern for the weather than to give me my starting coordinates for the next day’s choice of clothing and embrocation.
Will it start cold and stay cold? Or will it start cold but clear and warm rapidly? Will it be wet? Or will it become wet? Each variation gives me the opportunity to consider the best response and maybe wear a piece of gear I haven’t pulled out in a few weeks. The fact that my local climate will spend most of the year hovering between 50 and 70 degrees gives me ample opportunity to vary my wardrobe between short sleeves, arm warmers, long sleeves, light base layers, heavier base layers, knee warmers, all manner of embro and, occasionally, the thermal bib.
Last fall at Interbike I noticed the Mango top in the Nalini collection. Nalini is one of the best-respected Italian manufacturers of cycling clothing going. They’ve made more clothing for more teams over the years than I could cover in this review. To this day, they are the default selection for many Italian pro teams. Points for innovation aren’t often awarded to companies other than Assos and Castelli, but Nalini is a reliable source of fresh ideas—for instance, they produce both red and white leg warmers, but the trick there is that only the front panel is either red or white; the back, always-spatter panel is serviceable black.
With a suggested retail of $250, it’s not a cheap piece, but then specialty items never are. I’ll get to that, in a minute, though.
This is a spring-weight top. While windproof, it features no warming insulation. It’s good down into the low 50s for me, which would probably translate into the upper 40s for those of you in more northern climes who are more accustomed to riding in objectively cold temperatures. The back of the top is adequately breathable, which is to say, when I wore it on a rainy day my back was only wet from perspiration, not soaked from the downpour, but on hard rides it doesn’t turn into a greenhouse on the inside; a feeling uncomfortable enough for me that I’ve skipped weekend post-ride coffee sessions to get home to remove the offending piece.
The cut on this may be my single favorite among its many great features. There’s just enough room inside that I can choose how heavy a base layer I wear beneath it, but it’s cut slim. While the back of the Mango bunched up a bit in the photo above, once I was stretched out on the bike, the fit was form-following and the sleeves were slim enough they didn’t flap and just long enough to reach my gloves. Sizing on these is typically Euro; I wore the medium, the same size I would wear in tops from Castelli or Assos.
The Mango is a cyclist’s cabriolet. By that I mean you can remove the sleeves. For the record, Nalini calls this a jersey and while I suppose that’s technically accurate, it strikes me a a hybrid sort of product; not really a jersey and not really a jacket, but perfect for changeable days. I’ve seen a dozen or so variations on this theme and in each and every circumstance I disliked them because they always had some sort of collar-like flap of material to cover the zipper. That extra material, meant to conceal the jagged-edge appearance of the zipper would flap in the wind; no bueno. Alternatively, the zipper would stay exposed and would look as attractive as corn smut. You can see the black zipper just at the outer edge of the white trim. The contrast helps to hide the appearance of the zipper. Sharp.
The Mango takes an unusual approach in that concealed beneath the removable long sleeve is a short sleeve, turning the jacket into a wind-front jersey. The upsides to this are numerous. First, there is the fact that when you remove the sleeves, you are left with a garment that keeps its design-sense intact. You don’t get some mismatched jersey sleeve poking out, so there’s no chance for the green of a club jersey curdling the red of a good-looking vest. Admittedly, my review sample is black with white and red accents, which would be hard(er) to spoil, but I like that the appearance of the top can’t be disturbed by removing the sleeves.
What makes the Mango especially trick is the way you remove the sleeves. A small reflective tab, reachable over your shoulder opens the zipper. The red portion of the zipper features unusual teeth that can be pulled apart. It works well enough that you can do this on the fly, though it may not be as easy as pulling down arm warmers. I found the right sleeve to be easiest to remove and the left sleeve to require me to hold the zipper pull in place with my thumb and index finger while I pull the end of the zipper out with my other fingers. I suspect it would have operated a touch more simply if a left-handed version of the zipper existed.
While sitting around having coffee I’ve messed with the sleeves just to see if I could zip them back on without removing the top. The answer is yes, it is possible, but it was difficult enough that I was distracted from the conversation at hand. Maybe not one of my more sociable moments. I wouldn’t suggest trying it on the bike.
Of course, there is another option here and that is that simply pulling the zipper open part way on each sleeve can offer a noticeable jump in ventilation. I’m generally the last guy on a ride to push my arm warmers down, but I’ve pulled the zipper part-way open on a few occasions and found that to be a terrific way to regulate temperature. However, once I did this, the zipper was open for the duration. To re-zip the zipper, you have to completely undo the sleeve first, which is not a big deal post-ride.
For those among us whose identities aren’t completely vested in team kit, this is a terrific piece for spring or fall. I wish I’d had something like this for those nasty spring rides I suffered through in the Berkshires.
I can’t tell you where or how I first heard of Assos apparel. It was some time in the early 1990s. What I can tell you was what lodged in my memory of the conversation: the emphatic assertion that Assos was better than anything I’d ever tried. It was as if a friend told me, “Look, I know you think The Who are the greatest band ever, but these guys are 10 times better and once you hear them, you’ll agree. Just trust me on this.”
Eventually, I located a catalog and saw that they made bib knickers with a synthetic chamois. Holy cow. After some more searching I learned that the only remotely convenient way to order a set was through O’Neil’s Bike Shop in Worcester, Mass. I called, discussed sizing and trusted them when they said to go with large (I’d never owned a large anything in cycling apparel), gave them my credit card info after taking a painfully deep breath and waited all of two days for the knickers to arrive.
The bibs were cut from Roubaix Lycra, and as this was the early 1990s, they were the first bib anything I’d ever seen to use the material. The front of the bib was cut high to give your torso extra insulation and they included a short zipper to help you when you needed to answer the call of nature. The pad was unquestionably superior to anything else I’d ever rested my undercarriage on. The cut was cycling’s answer to Armani, just impeccable. They changed my fall and spring riding in New England.
I still wear them.
As great as Assos’ jerseys, jackets and other apparel are, they are known for their bibs the way Ferrari is known for fast. Honestly, though, because their stuff lasts so long, it had been a while since I tried any of the current models. I elected to go with the F.I. Mille S5 bibs because they are made for the long day.
I’ve worn a bunch of bibs in the last two years. Some have been good. Some have featured Lycra thinner than saran wrap. The first thing I noticed about the Milles was the weight of the Lycra. It was substantial, like it was made to last.
The pad is made by Cytech, purveyors of the Elastic Interface brand of pads. Rather than this being yet another off-the-shelf (though often wonderful) pads, the unit contained within the Mille bibs is unique to more than Assos; it’s unique to these bibs. The golf-ball dimples are intended to relieve pressure and speed moisture transfer away from your netherest of regions.
The key to the Mille’s mission as a bib for all-day riding is the density of the foam used in the pad. I can tell you it offers greater support without increased thickness compared to other bibs, but that assessment may still seem subjective. Instead, I’ll offer this: It takes the Mille bibs a full day longer to dry on the rack than any other bibs I own. However, the pad’s most important feature isn’t the dimpling or the density of the foam; rather it’s the fact that it is manufactured with a cupped shape.
I’ve tried bibs with an allegedly anatomic curve before and noticed no significant improvement over traditional flat-made chamois. The Mille pad amazed me with its ability to keep everything situated just so without giving a corset-like squeeze. According to Assos’ internal research, the pocket of the chamois decreases pressure on the gear by 20 percent. How they arrived at this quantification, I can’t say, but I can tell you the claim has legs.
Between the foam and the cover of the pad is a thin mesh panel sewn in place to decrease sideways stretch. This is meant to keep the pad in position on the sit bones; it is Assos’ observation that if a pad stretches too much your sit bones can wind up between the two densest portions of the foam, as if you were slipping into a toilet seat that is too large. This wouldn’t be necessary in some shorts, but they feel it’s needed in these due to the high stretch factor of the Lycra.
Stranger still is the fact that these bibs are cut from just four (4!) panels. There are bibs out in the world with so many panels, I’ve lost count. In talking with the folks at Assos they tell me that the key to the success of the Mille bibs is the orientation of the fabric panels so that they stretch in the directions the body requires. I’m told that their patterning is hell on efficient use of the material, but they manage to make it work by incorporating the scraps into items like gloves.
With only four panels, the subject of seams and how they are finished loses importance because the opportunity for irritation has been cut so drastically. The actual bib portion of the shorts is made from an exceptionally lightweight polyester with a waffle-type weave, again, for moisture movement away from the body.
For all those of you doubtful that you possess the kind of cyclist’s body ideal for which Assos clothing is typically cut, these bibs, I can assure you, offer virtually all cyclists a chance to go Swiss. They come in six sizes—small through TIR (which is what they put on the back of trucks in Europe to indicate wide loads). I wear large in Assos, Castelli and Panache, but medium in most American lines. Draw what comparisons you may.
While the bibs I reviewed were basic black and required no special treatment in the laundry—that is, nothing beyond the basics of cold, gentle, hang dry—they do come in other colors including blue, white and red. And let me tell you, there are lipsticks and Ferraris that wish their red was as lust-inducing as the red found in Assos garments.
I’ll admit that I had largely made up my mind about whether or not I liked the Mille bibs within four or five seconds of pulling the straps over my shoulders. The combination of support and comfort was unlike anything I’d ever felt. Five hours later when I got off the bike the undercarriage was two-hour happy.
The grippers on the Mille bibs are dots of silicone spaced approximately every 2cm around the leg band. I’ve never had trouble with grippers the way some of my friends have, but I suspect that some folks may find these more comfortable than some of the grippers out there. Or maybe not; it’s impossible for me to say.
The reflective tags that protrude from the centerline seams at the front and back of each leg are well done and will certainly aid your visibility to alert drivers. But probably only the alert ones.
Assos takes a lot of guff for making products that are (to some) incomprehensibly expensive. Last fall at Interbike I had the opportunity to talk to some of Assos’ higher-ups. The message was loud and clear. They are driven to make the very best clothing they can. If it costs more, so be it. COO Carl Bergman told me that he works long hours and doesn’t get to ride as much as he’d like. When he gets on the bike, he wants every minute to count; he wants an exceptional experience.
“This is our passion,” he told me. I got the impression that he’d leave the bike industry rather than compromise on principles.
To help convey the belief that these aren’t just another pair of bibs, Assos takes an unusual approach in packaging them. They come in a box (okay, big deal), but in that box the buyer also receives a washing bag, laundry soap and a container of Assos’ beloved chamois cream. Think of the purchase as a starter kit rather than just a pair of bibs. There’s no doubt that paying $260 for a pair of bibs is a lot of money, but I think they do an admirable job of conveying the idea that you’re getting your nickels’-worth.
Consider for a moment my tale of the bib knickers. Suppose for a moment that you purchase a pair of Assos bibs and they last five seasons. How many other bibs do you own that have lasted that long? I expect that with reasonable care they will last even longer than that. Amortized over the life of the garment, $260 isn’t such a bad investment. My last pair of Voler bibs may have cost 25 percent of what the Mille bibs do, but they didn’t really even hold up a full season. C’est la vie.
My one criticism of this garment? It’s actually a criticism of Assos as a whole. Their naming conventions are arcane to the point of lacking meaning. I’ve got a graduate degree—in English!—and until their staff identifies a piece by name, I swear I don’t know what to call it. This is where they ought to take a page from BMW’s playbook. Their model numbers do a face-value service to identifying the rank of the vehicle within their line.
My personal experience with the Mille bibs is that they are as close to flawless as I’ve experienced. There’s no question they are superior to anything else I’ve worn.
Of course, such a positive review leaves RKP open to the criticism that Assos in effect purchased this review by virtue of the fact that they advertise on the blog. As I’m sensitive to any and all criticism the blog receives, I can say I don’t need the hassle that comes with selling editorial. I have been paid to write glowing copy for a fair number of manufacturers; in each and every case, I was a hired gun and as such, my name wasn’t attached. I believe in what Assos creates and I believe in their quest to continually outdo themselves.
When I get to the end of my life, I may not have enjoyed driving a Ferrari, tasted Chateau d’Yquem or finished a Grand Tour, but I can say I got to log miles in Assos clothing. That’s more relevant to my personal bucket list.
The concept store business model takes a certain amount of heat from cycling enthusiasts. On the one hand, they tend to be beautiful stores. Merchandise is well-displayed, everything is clearly priced and their stock is often relatively consistent (i.e. they tend to keep your favorite tire in stock). Of course, the critical view is that they are homogenized, expensive and squeeze out any line that is remotely competitive with the primary line, be it Trek, Specialized or Giant.
Cynergy Cycles is a Specialized Concept Store in Santa Monica, California. In an attempt to help break the perception that a Specialized Concept Store has very little that isn’t Specialized, they invited customers and representatives of a few of their European lines to come and mingle one evening. As I’m a fan of anything a shop can do to break up the business-as-usual approach, I made sure to drop by.
The Buru promises to be the only top you’ll need on a moderately cool day.
Handlebar Coffee Roasters is a new line of coffee and café in Santa Barbara.
The owners are former PROs Kim Anderson who won the Route de France in 2009 and Aaron Olson who won stages of the Tours of Ireland and Poland among other achievements. Both are alums of Bob Stapleton’s High Road (previously T-Mobile) formation. They are genuinely charming folks with a real passion for coffee.
Some years back I came across a set of bib shorts made from Roubaix Lycra. Back then, Giordana was the only company I knew was producing such a garment. Before I encountered them I thought that Roubaix Lycra was strictly the province of arm, leg and knee warmers, tights and knickers. It would be a few years before I saw long-sleeve skinsuits made of the stuff for ‘cross racers.
My introduction to them was accompanied by the same exuberant Aha! I experienced when someone first showed me Tegaderm. It was a product utterly useless for most of the year, but when you needed it, nothing else would do, and I knew when you wanted such a device.
Bibs such as these were intended for days that get described as atrocious, nasty and epic. These bibs are what you pair with embrocations of such heat that a shower eight hours after application is still uncomfortable. In short, if you need an embro marked “nuclear,” then you deserve shorts made from something that offers greater insulation than 8-ounce Lycra can.
What became of that first pair I encountered, I don’t know. One winter day I went digging in a box of seldom-used winter stuff and they had vaporized. I missed them the way you miss certain heavy metal albums: almost never, but occasionally, nothing else suits the mood (or conditions).
At Interbike I learned about the Castelli Claudio bib shorts. These are one of a handful of thermal bibs on the market; naturally, Assos does a pair as well. They are cut from Castelli’s Nanoflex fabric, which is used in the company’s best tights, knickers and warmers. Nanoflex is a thermal Lycra coasted with tiny (nano—get it?) silicone fibers that makes the fabric unusually water repellant. I didn’t appreciate just how water repellant it was until I saw some water dumped on the material when it was cupped in someone’s hand and the water just rolled around on the fabric without soaking in. You could say that Nanoflex is Roubaix Lycra for the 21st century.
The bibs are cut from a polyester mesh so that your torso doesn’t get overheated and moisture is wicked away quickly. These bibs are equipped with Castelli’s KISS3 pad, which, while not the company’s top-of-the-line pad is honestly better than most companies’ best pads. The leg grippers are industry-standard silicone ones that are completely ineffective on a properly embro’d leg, not that I mind.
I log the vast majority of my winter miles in the morning when there’s not a lot of light. Even so, I don’t usually tend to get too excited about reflective accents, but I do think it was pretty bright to make the reflective spots on the back of the bibs actual tags that protrude from seams on the hips so they can be seen from more angles than just directly behind the rider.
I used to pull out the set of thermal bibs I had any time conditions turned both cold and wet. I’m not a fan of soaked knee warmers, Philippe Gilbert at Lombardy notwithstanding. I referred to the combination of those bibs with a hot embrocation as the secret weapon.
It would be easy to reject special-purpose bibs if they ran $300. The Claudio bibs are only $129, affordable enough to be worth adding to your winter wardrobe.
While I haven’t had a chance to try these bibs in truly cold temperatures, I frequently used my previous set down into the 40s. Castelli says these are appropriate for temps between 50 and 64 degrees, but I suspect you’ll find them handy in even cooler conditions.
We all need a secret weapon. Staying comfortable is mine.
I’ve been to a number of trade shows in different industries. Interbike is the only trade show that I ever liked other than NAMM, the trade show for the music instrument industry. Interbike is also the most crowded trade show I have ever attended. The show floor can be a truly confusing thing to behold. On a couple of occasions I managed to get turned around enough that I got lost and those events shocked me because I think of the layout of the Sands Convention Center as enjoying a very straightforward layout. I felt like I’d gotten lost in my own neighborhood. And as a small aside, I don’t mind admitting that I used the Powerbar and Clif booths as pit stops to keep me fueled during what has traditionally been a no-lunch day. It used to be the two booths were well-placed on the with one rather to the left of the primary entrance and the other dead ahead of the main entrance, but this year they were positioned very close together. I found myself oddly irritated by the move.
It’s a noisy affair and by Friday everyone is hoarse; some of the more enthusiastic marketing types are hoarse by the end of the first day. Keeping your body in working order demands terrific walking shoes, a bag that can hold a drink bottle (I’m sorry, but walking around the show with a Camelbak is the domain of the eternally single sock-and-sandal set) and lip balm.
The new Serotta Meivici AE is the market’s first bike that combines modular monocoque construction with custom geometry. It’s rather difficult to overstate just how significant this step is. There’s not a single lug to be found in the frame, giving the frame better ride quality and vastly superior aerodynamics. Built in eight sections, the pieces are co-molded in jigs to complete the frame. The Meivici AE ushers in a stunning new era in custom frame building.
The Zipp 404 carbon clincher is probably the best all-around wheel on the market, and even if it’s not, it is very likely the most coveted wheel on the market, which it deserves to be. The more time engineers spend testing products in the wind tunnel, the more they learn just how important aerodynamics are. The upshot is that in many instances aerodynamics a highly aero wheel will make a bigger difference in performance than will a super-light wheel.
The Zipp 808 is now available in a carbon clincher as well. The big surprise here is that with the new improvements to it including the Firecrest rim shape and Zed Tech, the wheel’s center of balance is very close to the hub, making it amazingly stable in a crosswind. This wheel is no longer restricted to windless days, or necessarily paired with a front 404 in breezy conditions. The only question I have is if these things would allow me to get away from the pack rather than just drag them around for a bit. Maybe I should train more instead. No, I need these, too.
The Assos airJack 851 answers the question of what happens when you cross Assos’ world-class materials, cut and design with FIM Superbike styling. Okay, so it’s a question maybe only they asked, but if there was a better-looking jacket at the show, it was within six feet of this one. I could see myself wearing this out just to make a style statement.
The iJ.haBu5 is a new jacket from Assos, but rather than getting caught in trying to say all that, just call it the Habu. It’s designed for late fall to early winter conditions, which is to say that for those of us not fortunate enough to live in Switzerland, it will carry you through most of the winter with only a single layer beneath it. And yes, that’s an iPhone in a lightweight mesh pocket on the right arm. So what’s it doing there? Assos doesn’t encourage people to ride with earbuds; you won’t find buttonholes in pockets to run your earbud cable. However, this pocket will allow you to slip your iPhone in and select music then listen to it on the iPhone’s speakers. Alternately, you could keep your pet vole in it.
Nalini showed off an impressive new jacket with built-in balaclava for days when you have trouble getting anyone to join you on the ride. If things warm up, just push the balaclava down and keep going. Better still is what the sleeves do.
The sleeves pull away thanks to this special zipper. Pull on the tab and the zipper pulls apart and you can pull the sleeves off and—voila!—you’re wearing a vest. I suspect that in really dry desert and mountain climates this jacket would kill.
Contracts to produce Grand Tour leader jerseys are highly sought-after. Nalini took no small pride in the fact they produced all three leader’s jerseys this year.
There’s been a creeping trend in the PRO peloton over the last couple of seasons that mystifies me as much as the enduring attraction for Brittney Spears. PRO teams have been wearing baggy wind breakers and vests featuring solid colors with the team’s sponsor logos silkscreened (silkscreened?!) in white on the nylon tent fabric.
I cut my teeth watching Spring Classics that when contested in rain would show the colors of the peloton muted beneath a layer of clear PVC. For all that the average rain cape isn’t—breathable, well fitting, long lasting, sophisticated in construction—it always had a certain elegant function to me. Teams were unmistakable in their rain capes, but the foggy window look that the rain cape provided told you that conditions weren’t just cold, they were seriously rainy. After all, PROs don’t put a rain cape on for drizzle. If a PRO has a rain cape on, Noah is framing a boat.
Aside from looking strictly amateur (they could just as easily say “Billy’s Carburetors” as “Rock Racing”) the number of dark blue and black vests in the peloton at some races can make it downright difficult to tell the riders apart. Not really that big a deal in the grand scheme, though.
Of course, there’s another point to consider: The average rain cape is as comfortable as a Hefty trash bag, as flexible as granite and as wet inside as it is on the outside. It does at least offer the improvement of shielding you from the wind while making sure that if you’re going to be wet, at least you’re warm.
My first rain cape featured a zipper that rusted immediately following its first use in appropriately inclement conditions. Thereafter, each time I donned garment, a red dust flew into the air. Eventually, the creases that formed in the PVC cracked, increasing the garment’s breathability, if dramatically cutting its weatherproof functionality. The experience was kinda like noticing all the afternoon light streaming into your kitchen after the outside wall collapses.
The sensible thing to do in rainy conditions is to ride a bicycle with fenders. It’s like eating your vegetables, separating your lights from your darks in the laundry or changing your car’s oil every 3000 miles. But we’re cyclists and if you’re reading this now, your connection to the sport isn’t about sensibility, its about emotion. Admit it: You like to go fast, but you don’t want to look like a teeny-bopper while you do it.
That’s where the Assos ClimaJet Breaker comes in. Now, we have some disclosure to get out of the way. The typical PVC rain cape runs somewhere between $20 and $40. The Assos ClimaJet Breaker is the world’s only rain cape that costs more than a good French dinner. It does, however, last considerably longer. I’ve never gotten more than two seasons of use out of a PVC rain cape, but after more than a year of use of the ClimaJet Breaker it displays exactly zero signs of wear. I might as well have just opened the packaging; I could hang this in a shop’s inventory.
A stay-fresh appearance has some appeal, but it’s not really a deal-closer among selling points. That a see-through fabric can be so supple is, however, a real shocker. It’s as if Assos discovered see-through steel. That suppleness gives the piece two key qualities. First, it’s the only rain cape I’ve come across that’s as easy to pack in a jersey pocket as a vest. Second, using a soft material allows it to more closely follow your form and because it was cut by Assos, rather than Joe’s Burlap Sack Outlet, the fit is practically bespoke.
Allow me a little aside: I’ve met a great many riders who graduated from the entry-level clothing we typically purchase as newbie cyclists to club clothing made by any of the myriad custom producers and among the tallest of them I hear (and see) a consistent fault. The long-sleeve items consistently feature sleeves that are too short. It’s as if they were the jersey (or jacket) answer to knickers. If you are among those who’ve had this problem, I can tell you you’ll never end up with wrist tan at the end of a long day spent on the hoods. If the sleeves of this—or any other—Assos garment don’t reach your wrists it can only mean one thing: You’re a giraffe.
(I’m using their photo of the ClimaJet Breaker on a model because he looks the part more than I do and this thing isn’t easy to shoot. Casper is more easily caught on film.)
And that’s the thing about Assos. We all gasp at the price, but in every other regard, the clothing is nearly without peer. It is a correct reponse to any clothing issue you’ve ever had—not the only correct response, mind you, but one that can never go wrong, like showing up to a dinner party with a bottle of Pinot and a bottle of Chardonnay. Assos garments never fit properly until you’re in the saddle and then they fit perfectly. The materials often seem like underkill until you’re out riding and you discover an hour into your pedaling that you couldn’t be more comfortable.
Almost all rain capes feature a long hem that, thanks to the stiffish PVC, ends up trailing behind you like tail on a kite. The ClimaJet Breaker is both different and not. It’s different in that it does feature a long hem, but the previously mentioned suppleness of the fabric means that if you don’t have a caboose like a watermelon, it can protect said caboose from rooster-tailing spray with one little downward tug.
The zipper is small and fine, helping the garment retain its terrific fit, now matter what position you’re in. It is, however, small enough to be a challenge to try to zip up on the fly after pulling it from your pocket. I don’t know too many riders who actually put jackets or vests on while rolling any more, so maybe that’s not much of an issue.
The standard joke about rain capes is how, despite side vent panels, you end up as wet inside as it is outside. While true, that inside moisture can be 20 or more degrees warmer than what’s falling, and that difference is key to comfort. Under hard riding moisture will build up some inside the ClimaJet Breaker even though it has side mesh panels, but it is far more breathable than versions made from PVC. At moderate efforts it breathes well enough to end up no more damp inside than a standard vest. Amazingly, in dry conditions—say it stops raining and the sun comes out—the fabric contains an active membrane that expands in the presence of water and contracts to open pores in dry conditions. On a sunny day it is roughly as breathable as a standard wind breaker, and that’s significant because it makes this rain cape more than just a rain cape.
And that’s not something you’ll ever say about a PVC rain cape.
Cycling provides all the big lessons in life: humility, pride, greed, discipline, grappling with ego, and learning what your will is and when to apply it and how to apply it.
It has been said often, to the point of being cliché that if anything is worth doing, it is worth doing well. Perhaps it is also worthy to consider it this way, when we take on a commitment, it merits doing with all your will and all the might that lies within. For the most part I believe we do this. For example, when we look at commitments to profession, we consider the obligations involved. When we look at having children and a family, we regard the time it will take and weigh within the balance its value. When we look at little things like what we eat, we take into account fine details. However, all too often and interestingly, this same truth does not necessarily hold true for cycling, something held so near and dear to us.
One reason I believe we become removed from a true consideration of the discipline of cycling is partly due to something inherent to the bike itself, we generally start when we are children. When I started cycling more than 30 years ago, I thought so very little about it. It seemed so natural to ride. I knew nothing else; after all, I was just 8 years old at the time. It was love at first ride—and every—ride. Then as I grew up, I thought no more about it. It was my freedom and it gave me a sense of the world around me. Everything about the bike was given to me, so expense meant nothing. But, just a few years later this would all change.
As a college freshman, now riding a Peugeot which I hand picked, I then bought a few items at a time, being constrained by the budget of a college freshman. Then a new wife, new family, and the price I could afford at this time meant pursuing good deals, slightly used items and basement deals on the side that fueled my infatuation. And the fact remains that I never really considered the cost of my pursuit nor the sacrifice of being a cyclist. I bought only based on the cost, and only cheap. My clothing at the time was to be abhorred, my shoes were disgusting, my helmet simply atrocious. I had no sense of style not to mention dedication to the sport, and admittedly, most of my riding compatriots were the same. But this one thing was true, we sometimes would witness an occasional rider who rode among us that instantly drew some respect; simply by the gear he chose, it stated without hesitation that he was a cyclist. They were committed cyclists and we would joke amongst ourselves and ask ‘how much that must have run him?’
Then I bought my first Giordana bib shorts, and instantly recognized that there really was something different about them. After my first century in them, and no ‘monkey butt’, I swore I was never going back. Then my first Assos jersey, then my first good helmet and similarly my experience was equally impressive of the simplicity for which it flawlessly performed the task it was designed for. I then stepped up a level w/the grouppo, moving from downtube shifting to an STi grouppo, which seemed like a leap of faith. Despite my hesitations, I was impressed with the new grouppo’s function. I regretted not getting it sooner. Each time then that I donned that jersey, each time I threw a leg over the bike and slipped through the gears I was reminded why I bought the ‘better’ quality item.
One would think I would have matured by this time, and that this experience would bring about an appreciation for the discipline of cycling for which I admired. But it did not. I was still yet at a neophyte’s level. I still had no sense of sacrifice. For me, the sport was like a girl I had once dated—and liked—but never would fully commit to. I was holding back for some reason. I truly believe we appreciate a little more those items in our lives that we sacrifice for and entirely commit to. Each time we use those items, we remember their value to us. And because for years I would scout out ‘good deals’ and would only bargain for goodies, I lacked an appreciation for the true value of something I held dearly. Cycling was the girlfriend waiting for me to grow up.
Then just a couple of years ago, I had a total mindset change. This was prompted after something I took notice of, and it hit me with the subtlety of a gorilla wielding sledge-hammer across my forehead. I commute nearly every day and as you know, gas a couple of years ago was very expensive. The price of gas was nearly $4 per gallon. Commuting by bike was becoming quite popular as a very economic way to go back and forth to work, and because of that ‘cost savings’ I saved perhaps a few hundred dollars that summer, no doubt. Nearly everyday as I conducted business, people would say ‘boy, you sure must save a lot riding by bike’. I responded affirmatively, that indeed it did. Then it hit me, is that why I ride? Am I a cyclist to only save money? Is that the purpose of cycling? I ride all the time and nearly everyday, but commuting simply brought this out for me, should it even save me money?
Then I started thinking, and I started to ask myself very fundamental questions. Have I counted the cost of my discipleship to cycling? Do I sacrifice? Do I return to cycling the respect it deserves or is it a cheap date I am on? I asked myself, have I truly counted what must be forfeited for the love of my life, or have I only calculated in the arbitrary value of dollars what a price tag reads? I found this to hold a critical difference. I was then logically led to ask what I would do if cycling asked of me far more to ride than even driving a car, what if it was 10 times as expensive? Would I still be a cyclist?
Well, answering in the affirmative, I then had to make a change in my attitude and my entire frame of mind. I had to stop dealing with cycling like I had in the past and I had to throw out my cheap date attitude. I started truly pouring myself out when it was about the bike, thus recognizing the true value it holds in my life. I stopped looking at the price of everything I bought and I began simply working to the ends of obtaining what I need to cycle. I buy the best I can because my girl deserves it.
Plain black shorts went out of style for me somewhere between 1992 and 1995. I can’t recall the specific season, but by the time Miguel Indurain stood on the winner’s dais on the Champs Elysees in 1995, I had weeded every last pair of plain black shorts from my cycling wardrobe. By that Sunday in late July, all of my shorts were bibs and had sublimated panels in them.
I didn’t wake up one day with a grudge against black shorts. I was simply following my nose. I was by no means hip, but in my effort to emulate the fastest guys I rode with, among the many lessons I filed away, one note I took to myself was that fast guys have so many old pairs of sublimated team shorts that they have no black shorts in their wardrobe. To me, it was like being so rich that your daily driver was a Porsche 928.
And so I tossed anything that didn’t make a bolder statement than who manufactured the shorts. I tossed everything without bibs. Once, when a friend who didn’t race asked me why all my shorts advertised for someone, even companies that weren’t current sponsors of my team, I responded, “If they were ever willing to support cycling, even if for only a year, I’m still willing to support them today.”
It’s an answer in which I still believe.
For more than 10 years, there was only one pair of bibs that were exempt from this rule. As you can guess, they were the single pair of Assos bibs I owned. (Well, to be honest, I also had a pair of Assos bib knickers that I would press into service during bumper seasons, but because I never wore them during the same time of year, it wasn’t like I had two sets of black shorts in rotation at the same time.)
For more than 10 years I didn’t think anyone other than Assos was making a pair of bibs so noteworthy as to merit consideration if they lacked a sublimated panel bearing the name of a team. Perhaps it had something to do with my desire to be a part of a community, that to be part of a team meant I knew the secret handshake. Part of it certainly was related to my racing; fast guys are on teams and I was still trying to prove I was fast.
At some point comfort and fit became an acceptable alternative to the cool unity of the team bibs, kinda like the Snuggie for the cycling set.
When I got word that SmartWool was producing merino wool bib shorts just before Interbike, I was very curious and asked to review a pair right away. My first question concerned fit and support. I wanted to know if they’d offer the support and fit I’ve come to expect from other bibs. Those of you who have experience with wool shorts of yesteryear will recall that most of them had so much stretch that you couldn’t really claim they offered support for much of anything, not your junk or your muscles.
The Flagstaff bibs are literally what I’ve been waiting to see someone release ever since wool jerseys began making a comeback in current product lines, rather than just second-hand stores. The fit is terrific, with proportions between the caboose and upper thighs matched well to the shape of the avid—not PRO—cyclist. Further, they don’t stretch out over the course of the ride the way my merino jerseys do. As it turns out, getting home with a garment three inches longer than when I left isn’t my favorite.
To achieve the fit and support they do, SmartWool did cheat a bit. Wool only makes up 39 percent of the short fabric; 45 percent is nylon and 16 percent is elastic. In the bib, wool comprises 96 percent of the weave while the final four percent is elastic. But the story doesn’t end there; the weave used in the short is designed so that only wool touches your skin except for the grippers. Modern look outside, old-school feel inside.
These bibs receive other updates as compared to the old-style wool shorts. They feature an eight-panel design and flatlock seems for a form-following and less binding fit. Silicon gripper elastic keeps the cuff in place and if you’re the sort who doesn’t like the feel of gripper elastic against your skin and perfers to fold it up, the elastic features the SmartWool logo oriented upside down so others can get clued in to your choice.
The pad comes from high-end manufacturer Cytech and features—what else?—a merino cover. I’ve become a big fan of Cytech pads; they are to four-hour comfort what butter is to French cooking.
Perhaps my favorite feature of the shorts is how they have proven to be just a tad warmer than my other bibs. I’ve worn them on several recent morning when temperatures have dipped low enough in the early morning for me to summon all manner of thermal gear. Those black bibs pair perfectly with black leg warmers and a thermal jacket to which the matching bibs wore out years ago.
Available in four sizes, S-XL. Suggested retail is $150.