The long-sleeve jersey is an item that wasn’t represented in my wardrobe for a great many years. There was a simple reason why: Fit. Most of them fit me like a burlap sack. Now, a burlap sack is fine if you plan to take 50 pounds of potatoes to the farmer’s market, but even for a cyclist who was only marginally picky about fit, that wasn’t sufficient.
So I gave up on them for … we’ll call it 10 years. It might have been 12, but who’s counting?
Were it not for Assos and Rapha, I’d never have bothered to tune back in. Patterning has come a long way, meaning fit isn’t the haphazard affair it once was. In the past, if the arms were long enough then the torso was too long. But if the torso was the right length, then the arms were too short. And don’t get me started on the windsock arms and baggy chest. In every case, if the arms were form-fitting then they were at least two inches too short.
They were, in short, fit disasters.
Road Holland intrigued me when I first learned of them last year. An American company with American production working with Merino wool/polyester blends. It wasn’t so long ago that because Merino wool blend jerseys didn’t have the fuzzy look of a Cashmere sweater were considered second-rate. Well, Rapha single-handedly took care of that. The question on my mind was if the difference in price between a Road Holland jersey would be negligible enough to make the savings over a jersey from Rapha seem like a savings rather than a step down in quality. After all, Road Holland has done nothing so much as set Rapha in its cross-hairs with its line of jerseys. Road Holland is a significantly smaller company than Rapha and while they would probably prefer not to be compared so directly with their overseas competitor, it’s impossible to look at a Road Holland jersey and have it recall any of a number of Rapha jerseys I’ve seen and worn.
For everyone who has complained about the pricing on Rapha’s clothing, Road Holland is a step in the right direction. Because they are an American company, shoppers don’t get hit with the onerous exchange rate of the pound sterling to the dollar, which I suspect accounts for much of the disparity between merely being premium products and being outrageous, pocket-emptying affairs. To the detriment of Rapha’s $220 Long Sleeve Jersey, Road Holland’s Arnhem Jersey, at only $150, seems like a bargain.
To reiterate, I don’t normally review a product in comparison to another, but the reference point here between the Rapha Long Sleeve Jersey and the Arnhem is so obvious as to be unavoidable. While I can say—after checking the patterning—the Arnhem is not based on the Rapha jersey, the cut and fit are so similar one could be forgiven for thinking one was a copy of the other. The fit is first-rate. It’s not as aggressive and form-following a fit as the Assos iJ.intermediate that I just reviewed, so in that regard it may be more to some riders’ liking.
The Rapha Long Sleeve Jersey is heavier-weight jersey, though not by a significant amount. It’s based on a material that is a 48/52 percent Merino wool/polyester blend, whereas the Arnhem is based on a 39/61 Merino/poly blend. I’d like to surmise that the overall difference in garment weight is attributable to the difference in the amount of Merino in the respective garments, but I’ve learned just enough about the milling of fabric to know that’s not the case, which means that the weight of the material used in each jersey was more deliberate.
Ultimately, the Arnhem is a jersey for a slightly warmer day, making it perfect for those cool, damp mornings here (that’s actually redundant—all mornings in the South Bay are damp). The lighter-weight fabric does a better job of shedding moisture so that you don’t arrive home from a ride feeling wet and smelling like a sheep.
Road Holland jerseys take a notably different tack on their approach to pockets, something that’s worth taking a moment to discuss. Yes, they use a traditional three-pocket design, with the two side pockets cut at a slight angle to improve access. There’s also a fourth, zippered, pocket for valuables. What’s unusual about Road Holland jerseys (this applies to the short-sleeve jerseys as well) is the distribution of space. The two side pockets are cut rather massively. There’s room enough for six-hours-worth of food because the middle pocket is cut deliberately narrow. It’s only wide enough for a cell phone or electronic music player. It also features a buttonhole to pass the cable for the ear buds inside your jersey. It’s a feature that gets no use from me on the road, but off-road is another story. Unfortunately, the center pocket is cut on such a restrictive scale that if you put your phone in a case of any real heft—think Otterbox and the like—you won’t be able to get it in the pocket. My iPhone 4 wears a fairly slim case and I have to push it into the pocket because the fit is so snug. They might have overdone a pretty good idea.
The workmanship of the jersey is very high, based on my inspection. Will it last as long as my Rapha jersey? I plan to find out; I hope so. My Carolina Blue jersey (Tarheels, anyone?) recalls the the blue of the Belgian national team, a color I loved seeing on Eddy Merckx. In keeping with the Dutch theme of the company, the jersey sports several orange highlights, including the silicone gripper in the rear hem, the embroidered reflector on the left pocket and the orange zipper for the security pocket. These are offset by white accent stripes down the sleeves, giving the jersey a simple and elegant look. I appreciate that the company is pretty up-front about their design philosophy. They write on their web site: “So if you’re looking for skin-tight, dye-sublimated cheap polyester with lightning bolts, cereal box characters, and team sponsor logos, you won’t find them here.”
Better yet is the fact that they aren’t trying to out-hip you. Also from their site: “What you will find are friendly down-to-earth people with a love for top-notch materials, always in style designs with fun accents, and flattering cuts that make you look good on and off the bike, whether you are a male, a female, a whip thin racer, or a Clydesdale.” Refreshingly different.
It’s funny to me that the biggest gripe I have with Road Holland is that they don’t make bibs [update: they actually released their first pair recently], so any time I wear one of their jerseys I have to give some thought to just which pair of bibs I ought to wear with this; to don a pair from Assos or Rapha seems perfect some days, sacrilegious on others. I can’t make up my mind. That suggests the problem, like most, is all in my head.
Before this summer, Road Holland was a brand completely unknown to me. I’m still trying to recall the circumstances where I first heard of the line. What little I do remember is that I was away from home and that I liked the jersey enough that I remarked on it to the rider who was wearing it. There are good reasons for all these details; they aren’t just random bits that obscure an otherwise easy-to-follow narrative. First is that Road Holland is a really new brand. And second is that their designs have a simple, elegant look that is worth remembering.
Then there’s third. There’s always third. Third is that in a market where everything peddled to us has inflated in retail price, often by hundreds of percent over the last 10 years, Road Holland has gone and done the unthinkable. They’ve released a premium product in terms of look, feel and construction, but minus the premium price. The jersey shown above (I’m using their photography because mine can’t seem to do it justice) is their Utrecht and while I’ll get into all the details that have me loving this garment, here’s the bit that puts this jersey beyond all reproach: It retails for $120.
The look and feel of this jersey is highly reminiscent of Rapha. There’s just no way to dance around the fact that Road Holland is going squarely after the English company’s customer with their jerseys—and yes, so far, all Road Holland offers are jerseys. The Utrecht is a spring-weight jersey, so while it’s a short-sleeve cut, it’s meant for slightly cooler temps; think 70 rather than 85. Much of that owes to the composition of the fabric, which is a polyester (61 percent)/Merino (39 percent) blend. It’s enough Merino that at the end of a really hard ride I smell like a wet dog, but am, I can assure you, far more comfortable. The eight-inch zipper may seem short, out-of-keeping even with a jersey like this, but given the material’s weight, it makes perfect sense; this isn’t a jersey meant for a day where you need a full-zip design you can throw open on a climb.
Road Holland sent me a small to wear. The cut was less aggressive than some jerseys I’ve worn lately. I’d describe it as form-following; unlike some less race-oriented pieces I’ve run across, this didn’t go bell-bottom at the hem of the jersey. It is still meant for a relatively fit cycling. My only issues with the fit of the jersey were the length and the collar. I really prefer a slightly shorter length—that hem was mighty close to my chamois and that always gives me concern about catching the jersey on the nose of the saddle as I sit down. This could easily be cut a centimeter or two shorter without losing the ability to reach the pockets. And the collar seemed to be a bit high given the weight of the material; perhaps I was just more aware of it because I’m so accustomed to collars that are less than half as thick, but a slight taper to the front of the collar might be nice.
It would be easy to write off the jersey as just a knock-off of another brand were it not for the touches that make the garment memorable, even beyond the material and the attention-grabbing orange. The embroidered logo is a classy touch, but one that adds zero function. However, the way they deal with the pockets is even more notable. The two outside pockets are cut on slants to ease access and the are both larger than normal to give you extra carrying capacity for food, arm warmers and that sort of thing. So where did the extra capacity come from? The center pocket. It’s cut fairly narrow, just wide enough to slip in a cell phone. My iPhone in its protective case and snack-size Ziplock baggie (is anyone buying these things for actual snacks?) was a snug fit; there was no chance the phone would slip out if I dropped into a full tuck.
Knowing that a great many riders also wear ear buds to listen to music while riding, the middle pocket features a button hole to run your ear bud wire inside the jersey. And for riders who really can’t risk losing anything from a pocket, there’s a fourth, zippered, security pocket which is big enough to hold a key or credit card; a small flap keeps the pull from catching on anything and white ticking gives it a bit of visual pop. The pockets are graced with a small reflective trim to keep you visible.
A silicone gripper keeps the hem in place and it reflects the orange and white color palette of the rest of the jersey. And just above the gripper on the left pocket the full Road Holland logo is embroidered. Other color choices for the Utrecht include a dark blue with orange and white accents and black with orange and white accents.
This would be where the cynical reader jumps to the conclusion that to get all this quality the jersey must be sourced in Asia in some sweatshop where children labor while shackled to boat anchors and are paid in Ramen noodles. Surprise, surprise, the jerseys are made in Miami.
I’ve gone over and over this thing, looking for an example where they cut some corner, took the easy way out or in any way presented substandard work. I’ve yet to find it. If this thing isn’t worth $120, I don’t know what is.