Vélobici is a small company that designs and makes cycle wear in the UK. Chris Puttnam and his partner, Tara Love, grew up in knitwear factories, their fathers both running some of the last generation of British mills to produce domestically before it all went to Asia. They started Vélobici a few short years ago, driven by a desire to make stylish cycling clothes, but also to do it locally, to be part of the resurgence of British manufacturing.
Chris told me, by email, “We are very proud of the fact that all we produce is manufactured within a 20 mile radius of our homeland. And the performance fabric, including the Van-Dapper is knitted in Nottingham 25 miles from us. As a kid, I just enjoyed the whole environment of the factories and the girls fussing over you, fond memories. So when we created this thing it was always going to be produced in the UK.”
This particular review came about because Vélobici were advertising with us, which is how I became aware of them in the first place, and after looking at their clothing and hearing some of their story, I requested a kit to try out. Two things piqued my curiosity, 1) the slick, muted style of their clothing, and 2) just what the quality difference might be between their garments, produced in the UK, and other cycling clothing, produced in the Far East.
It should be clear. Vélobici did not request a review.
So a few weeks after I made initial contact, with New England still in the throes of winter, a package arrived. First impressions were very good. Pulling the bibs from the padded mailer, I was immediately struck by their weight and softness. Even coming out of a flat package, tossed and trampled in the international mail, they sprung immediately into shape, as if I’d just taken them off.
Turning to the jersey, I immediately discovered the two zippered, water-proof pockets, one at each hip, and thought, “Huh, those will be handy.” Of course, the top had the same heft and texture, too. It was cold the day the Van-Dapper arrived, but I layered it into my ensemble for the next morning’s ride, anxious to see if it was as nice as it seemed. I have worn it, on average, twice a week for the last 6 months, and it is the first kit I reach for unless the day promises to be scorchingly hot. More on that in a bit.
Vélobici’s design aesthetic is not so much retro, as it might appear at first, but rather minimalist. Their designer, Tara, clearly has the confidence that the garments speak for themselves more than any logo might. The Van-Dapper features some tasteful, sublimated logos, subtle fabric effects, on the legs of the bib and across the back of the jersey, and a small crest on the chest. Otherwise, it is stealth itself, all black with a single yellow accent across the rear pocket line and in a small notch at the top of the zipper.
I really appreciate a brand that doesn’t feel compelled to scream its logo at you from half-a-mile away. You won’t feel like a billboard in this kit, and you can mix and match it with any other clothing you like.
It is a functional garment as well, the meryl/lycra blend offers UVA and UVB protection. The full zip has that small yellow guard at the top to prevent chafing. The fully-lined collar makes it snug but comfortable at the neck. The piping is reflective, and in addition to the standard three vertical pockets, the jersey also features those two readily-accessible, zippered, water-proof pockets, one to keep your phone dry, one for cash, allowing you to forgo the classic phone in a baggie pre-ride prep. Finally, the jersey has a handy swatch of cloth beneath the hem for cleaning glasses.
All of these small things make the Van-Dapper the easiest kit to ride in that I own. The level of functionality easily surpasses the standard jersey fare. Vélobici have thought through the business of daily riding and offered solutions where most of us had simply accepted adaptations to other kits. The upshot is that I prep less and remain more comfortable during the ride when I am in the Van-Dapper.
I like this kit best for rides in the middle temperature ranges. It is not as light as some others, but its luxurious comfort make it perfect on its own for any ride with an average temp between 50-70F. Sleeves and legs have seamless silicone grippers that play well with warmers, too, so it layers up to extend its use into winter quite nicely.
Some will take issue with it’s non-race cut. It doesn’t purport to offer aerodynamic advantages, but it is as comfortable and attractive a kit as I’ve ridden in.
The Van-Dapper set (bib and jersey) is well-made, under-stated, classic and durable. It has not faded under my heavy use, nor wilted under my less-than-on-label washing regimen. Take it from its package, hold it up, feel its weight, its softness. The differences between this and most of what’s out there are palpable, and hold up over time and use. At $360 (£230) the Van-Dapper set is as affordable (or not) as any high-end kit, but to my mind offers much more in functionality and quality.
Get it at Vélobici on-line.
A new season means new kit. Depending on a few factors such as when you finalize sponsors, when your race season starts and how proficient your team’s leadership is at herding cats to get the order in, and of course, how long your clothing company really takes to get the clothing made, you may be receiving your new uniform anywhere from January to April.
Often times, I can barely remember what I ordered, how many bibs, jerseys—did I order a new vest this year—clothing orders vary when, unlike the PROs, you pay your own way.
The arrival of a new kit is one of those events like Christmas or seeing the UPS driver—the anticipation can leave you salivating like a dog who has just heard the can opener. No matter who the manufacturer is, when I tear the bag open on each piece there is a smell that emerges, part men’s department, part fabric softener, that excites my brain the way movie previews did when I was 12.
No matter what hour of the day it is and whether I’ve ridden that day or now, I have to try on my new duds. It always starts the same way: I tell myself I’m not going to try it all on, that I’ll just check out the gloves or arm warmers (don’t ask why), but soon enough, I’m in the bedroom undressing so I can see how everything fits.
And whether I’m alone or not, the very next move is mugging for the mirror. I check the fit of the bibs, the drape of the jersey over my shoulders, its length, the length of the arm warmers, the color matching of the colored Lycra to the sublimated Lycra. I even check how low the jersey falls over the butt panel.
I confess: I don’t preen this much when wearing my tuxedo.
Naturally, I can’t wear the kit out on a ride too soon. Whether I’m headed for a recovery ride on my own or out to join the biggest of the local group rides, I’m decked out in the full ensemble. And it is upon exiting my driveway that I’m reminded of something I forget each and every blasted year. New bibs are slippery on a saddle. Sitting on the saddle in new bibs is like trying to run barefoot on an ice rink.
That may be the key to my favorite part of new clothing. I’m happiest when the look is still new enough to be fresh in the peloton, but the bibs have enough wear to stay put in the saddle, which is to say when my new clothing isn’t brand new, but almost new.