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.
It’s been an interesting year in the world of cycling. There have been some duels for the ages between larger-than-life figures. I decided to ask each of RKP’s contributors to pick their three favorite stories of the year. Some of their answers may surprise you.—Padraig
Lance Armstrong. No other figure in cycling has ever made headlines worldwide the way Lance Armstrong does. Whether it’s his battle to rid the world of cancer, the birth of a new son, doping charges or his battle of wits with Alberto Contador, Armstrong is a headline wherever he goes, whatever he does. He is also significant because no other figure has half the ability to polarize a group of cyclists as Armstrong. To some, he is a virtually convicted doper, to others he is a champion and figure of hope. No matter what you think of him, he has the ability to keep cycling in the mainstream worldwide, which, ultimately, is good for cycling.
The conviction of Dr. Thompson. That Dr. Christopher Thomas Thompson was even tried for one felony—let alone six—was a big success for cyclists everywhere. There were more opportunities for this case to go off the rails than can be counted, but some significant points were in the initial investigation, once the case was turned over to the district attorney and, of course, in Thompson’s cross examination. This case will be cited as a turning point in the recognition by the average person that cyclists are both vulnerable to the actions of malicious drivers and have a right to the road.
Doping. From Christian “cycling has changed” Prudhomme, to Danilo “the killer” DiLuca to the blood transfusion kits found among Astana’s medical supplies, one should draw the conclusion that some riders might be cleaner than in the past, but cycling, as a sport, has yet to shed the taint of doping. Prudhomme, the Tour de France director, made the ludicrous statement, “I recently confirmed that ‘there were no suspected cases’ (during the 2009 Tour de France). This means that the fight against doping progresses.” Astarloza’s positive proved his statement was both premature and dead wrong. If anyone should have been fired from the ASO, it shouldn’t have been Patrice Clerc, but rather Prudhomme for making such a reckless statement on behalf of such a storied institution.
The fire sale of Iron Horse bicycles to Dorel. Iron Horse wasn’t a prestigious brand, but it was long known as being a good value for new cyclists. Its descent into bankruptcy was an ugly, backbiting mess full of recrimination and charges of shady deals involving owner Cliff Weidberg and his son, who owned Randall Scott Cycles, a significant debtor to Iron Horse. Dorel (the parent for Cannondale, GT, Schwinn, Mongoose, Pacific, etc.) purchased Iron Horse for $5.2 million at auction, less than what Iron Horse’s three biggest secured creditors were owed, for a classic pennies-on-the-dollar deal. The sale left hanging dozens of unsecured creditors who were owed a combined $17 million as well as CIT Group for another $4 million, and made cycling’s biggest corporate colossus just a little bit bigger.
Lemond v. Trek. Just wait, the plus-size gal isn’t even on stage.
Contador and Schleck denying Armstrong an 8th TdF. When the Lance returned, so much of the American cycloratti was hoping he’d return to his throne, but personally, I was ready to move on. As the hype ramped up and up and up, through LA’s collar bone break, through the Giro and into the initial stages of the Tour, I was really wishing for the sport to move on. Not to be ungrateful for contributions made, but I was ready for some new legends to emerge. And they did.
Philippe Gilbert’s end of season wins. What I love about Gilbert is his incredible tactical sense and timing. This is a guy who beats riders head and shoulders stronger than he is, by keeping his wits about him and playing them against one another. Not a weak rider, Gilbert shows what racing might be like in the absence of race radios, when smart riders win as much as strong ones.
The emergence of Edvald Boasson-Hagen. While everyone was talking about Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador (myself included) another young rider was winning races (10) and taking the overall in smaller stage races like the Eneco Tour and the Tour of Britain. Boasson-Hagen is 22. He is exactly the sort of rider that today’s top guns should be wary of, because he’s going to get better.
USA Bike industry ignores its mounting inventory crisis for an entire year (repercussions will impact retail pricing and corporate profits until 2012). If you ever had any doubts as to whether bike companies know what they’re doing, well, here’s your answer.
Lemond v Trek: no matter which way it ends up (short of an out-of-court-plus-gag-order settlement), this story still has the potential to become the biggest scandal in US cycling history. It’s also the #1 story the cycling press wishes would just go away: no matter how—or even if—they report it, it’s a lose-lose for them.
American public starts to figure out that bikes are actually a lot of fun (and practical transportation, too). This is THE biggest sea-change in public attitudes about cycling since That Skinny Blonde Kid won some race over in France 33 years ago … although sometimes I liked it better when we were just a bunch of geeks and outcasts instead of too-cool-for-school fashion mavens in skinny jeans and ironic t-shirts.
Bonus: Mavic’s parent company (Amer Sports) puts it up for sale, can’t find buyer, de-lists it, fires its own President. You know the economy’s bad when no one wants a highly regarded company with the lion’s share of a long-term lucrative market.
Contador’s Tour win as part of the Bizarro World of Team Astana. I know of no other time in cycling history when, after the designated team leader takes the Yellow Jersey, the team manager wanted to put on sackcloth and ashes. The psychological war Bruyneel and Armstrong waged against Contador remains about the oddest thing I ever saw in cycling.
The death duel between Di Luca and Menchov in the Giro. While I watched it, I tried to forget Di Luca’s past doping offenses (he made sure I was reminded later…) and watched 2 superb athletes fight until neither had a watt left. Menchov’s crash in the final time trial made even the race’s last moments exciting. His poor performance in the Tour showed he had gone truly deep in the Giro.
Grand Tour VAMs. Both the Giro and the Tour had some spectacularly high VAMs (average rate of vertical ascent in a climb). There was one day in the Tour that saw the Tour climbing speed record Bjarne Riis set on the Hautacam in 1996 eclipsed.
Bonus: And the UCI says they are getting a good handle on doping. I’ve got some good ocean-front land here in Arkansas for anyone who believes that. I believe we lost ground during 2009 in the hunt for a clean sport.
Contador wins second Tour de France. The lead up to the race was more drama than MTV’s “The Hill” leading up to prom night. Every day there were hints that all the indicators being tossed out by Astana that “all is well” and “we are all behind our leader” and “Contador is our GC leader.” It was something everyone who listened and watched knew was slick talk and that there was 2 GC riders on the team, neither submitting to the other in reality. To see the dynamics play out was something that kept us all tuned daily for the month of July. I personally cannot wait ‘til 2010′s TdF!!
Fabian Cancellara SMOKES TT world championship. Fabian is a statesman for cycling and in my opinion one of the peloton’s classiest riders. He can be many things, but his TT skills are phenomenal and his lead up to the World TT championship brought us to anticipate a performance, which he delivered in jaw-dropping fashion.
Devolder repeats at Tour of Flanders. I love all the Classics, but I love the Spring Classics especially. Seeing Cav win Milan San Remo was incredible, to see Boonen win Paris-Roubaix was great, to see Schleck win Leige was sweet as well, but to see the Belgian Devolder repeat his win at Tour of Flanders held a meaning that goes to the very core of this race, to his pedigree, which makes him a national hero yet again, and brings this one to the top for me.
Notables: Team Columbia HTC should have an honorable mention notably as they really pulled off greatness in light of adversity, despite the other teams riding senslessly against them at times (Hincapie’s maillot jaune loss in TdF), they stuck it out and perhaps had the team of the year.
Trek and Greg LeMond have been ordered by the judge presiding over their case to hold a settlement conference in a last-ditch effort to avoid going to trial. U.S. magistrate judge Janie Mayeron ordered that the two parties to meet at a St. Paul, Minnesota, courthouse on January 28 for the purpose of perhaps negotiating a settlement.
As a prelude to the meeting, counsels for both parties are to meet on or before January 18 for a “full and frank discussion of settlement.”
However, if Trek and LeMond do not come to a settlement at the settlement conference, each attorney is required to submit a confidential letter to the judge. In it the attorneys must each give a progress report including outstanding issues and analyze their case’s merits and weaknesses.
While the roots of the conflict began with LeMond criticizing Lance Armstrong’s association with Dr. Michele Ferarri, a known proponent of EPO use for cycling, for business purposes, the conflict began when Trek informed LeMond that it would not renew its 13-year licensing agreement with him when it expires in 2010. LeMond filed suit on March 20 claiming that Trek had promoted Armstrong ahead of his brand and asked the court, essentially, to require Trek to continue to make and promote LeMond bicycles. On April 8, Trek sued to sever all ties with LeMond.
Trek cited multiple reasons for severing the relationship including dilution of the LeMond brand name due to mass-merchant line of parts bearing the LeMond name. And while there has been wide-spread belief that the brand never sold well, industry statistics show LeMond was the fifth largest road bike line in the U.S. in 1999.
Whether the case settles out of court seems to be up to LeMond and what his greatest priority is. If protecting his brand and his income is his greatest priority, then the case will get settled behind closed doors; terms of the settlement are likely never to be known. If LeMond’s greater desire is to attempt to expose Lance Armstrong as sporting fraud, then this case is bound for a jury and the fireworks will be considerable.
LeMond’s choice may be pivotal. Should he pursue an open trial, the number of companies will to do business with him will shrink considerably. Certainly any players that consider themselves risk-averse would shy away from any association.
An out-of-court settlement would end the mudslinging and let LeMond get back to his mission of marketing a line of bicycles bearing his name. The business climate has changed significantly for the bike industry since LeMond negotiated his deal with Trek in 1995. The market consolidation taking place then has largely dried up. However, there is one notable exception.
Dorel, the parent company for Pacific Cycle and Cycling Sports Group, is the cockroach that ate Cincinatti of the bike industry. Dorel’s cycling brands include Mongoose, Schwinn, GT, Cannondale, Pacific, Roadmaster, Dyno and Sugoi.
And they are still buying. Recent purchases have included Australian distributor Gemini Bicycles as well as UK distributor Hot Wheels and Circle Bikes. Dorel also acquired the Iron Horse at auction for a measly $5.2 million following the bike brand’s demise amid multiple lawsuits and finger-pointing. Oak trees aren’t a shady as the deals made to try to keep the brand operational.
If LeMond were to go quietly, it wouldn’t take a science fiction author to imagine a deal with Dorel that could place the LeMond name in the mass market, the sporting goods chains or the IBD before the end of 2010.