Looking the Part

Kick Top

I’m fundamentally a form-follows-function person. That’s not to say that I think that clothing, buildings and home furnishings all need to be austere to the point of Bauhausian sterility, but I think that style should never trump substance. Having said that, I accept the reality that such an outlook makes me a candidate for both the worst home decorator and least romantic male of the 21st century, even though it’s early in this 100-year span.

That preference is borne of a hopelessly strategic approach to most dimensions of my life. Practically, that has translated to an affinity for technical fibers (including wool). Show me two jackets; if one of them, thanks to the use of a special fabrics, happens to be both lighter and warmer, I’m inclined to go with it, even if it doesn’t look quite as workaday.  On the contrary, many years ago, when I was living in New England, I realized that I enjoyed having people note my preference for specialized garments. I didn’t really care what they thought of my choice; back then I just like that they noticed I wasn’t wearing some cotton coat that would lose it’s ability to keep you warm or dry the moment it started raining or snowing, and during the cold months of the fall, winter and spring, that could happen a couple of times each week.

That said, there are plenty of people who try to use their outerwear to project something they are not. I’m thinking of lawyers with Carhartt barn coats and urban yuppies who’ve never seen a ski left, let alone a mountain, decorated in the finest down from The North Face. My urge is to make a statement more authentic, not less so. And while anyone is entitled to wear what they want, I appreciate pieces that confirm I’m active. That means my outerwear  is cut for my cyclist’s physique and I prefer items that offer as much warmth as possible while simultaneously throwing overboard the homogenized style of Old Navy. In short, I like pieces that don’t necessarily scream “cyclist” while still conveying that my wardrobe didn’t come from Macy’s. RKP T-shirts are handy in this regard, but they aren’t all that warm.

There are two pieces in my wardrobe I’ve decided are worth mentioning; one, a piece from Giro’s New Road line, is a recent addition, while the other has been a part of my cool weather rotation for a couple of years. That piece is the Assos DB.4 kickTop. Again with the crazy names. Around the house, when I can’t find it, I just refer to it as my Assos pullover, to which my wife will respond, “Your black one?”

Compared to a couple of similar (though cotton-constructed) pullovers I have from Ralph Lauren, the DB.4 kickTop is lighter, warmer and includes two zippered pockets. Both zip to the neck in the event of a chill breeze. Unlike the pullovers from Ralph Lauren, the Assos device won’t wrinkle, packs into a backpack like a dime in a pocket and in the event of rain dries as quickly as a toddler’s tears.

The bad news is that Assos has decided not to carry this piece in the U.S. anymore. You can still find some around, but it’s not easy. Ah, the power of Google.


Giro has been adding new pieces to its apparel line and easily my favorite piece from the fall line is the new Soft Shell Jacket. It’s cut from medium-weight polyester (304 gm/m²), which makes it heavy enough to keep you comfortable down into the 40s yet light enough that I never overheated in around-town trips and could jam it in a small bag when traveling. Despite the fact that it is cut from polyester, the jacket doesn’t have that shiny finish that makes you look like a square. Part of its ability to help regulate temperature comes via two small chest zips that open vents right at your collarbones. Given how small they are I wondered just how much they could do; I was surprised to realize that they offered just enough ventilation to keep me from breaking a sweat when chasing Mini-Shred around the neighborhood.

Inside the jacket, it’s got two chest pockets big enough for a pair of sunglasses in their case, while there are two zippered pockets for hands or keys. There is a fifth pocket at the small of the back, zippered on both sized with the capacity to carry a loaf of bread or a couple of water bottles, it’s that big. I didn’t discover it until reading about the jacket’s features because it was so well cut that it is completely concealed when not in use. Kinda makes it the perfect jacket for riding to a party without worrying about how to bring a bottle of wine.

To keep the jacket form fitting both on and off the bike, it is cut with raglan sleeves. While the zipper starts at the center of the bottom hem, but then sweeps to the right at the neck to keep soft fabric at your chin. When zipped up, this feature is terrific, but when the jacket is unzipped, there are times when the collar will rub against my chin and it can be hard to keep it out of the way. The cuffs stretch to keep the wind from running up the sleeves while elasticized drawstrings at the hem allow you to gather the jacket around you a bit more when riding.

The Giro Soft Shell Jacket goes for $250 and comes in five sizes (S-XXL). It comes in but one color, dark heather gray, which has proven to be as versatile as gray flannel. Noteworthy is how Giro positions its return policy alongside the garment’s features. In a sense, their commitment to your satisfaction could be said to be one of the jacket’s features. I just can’t imagine anyone returning one of these things. Wearing this both on and off the bike is a chance to wear a garment that suits me and my lifestyle.


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  1. Aaron

    This brings up, for me, the deeply philosophical question: Who gets to decide what fashion is? You? Me? The industry? I’m not sure the proper answer beyond if it feels good and fits the weather, wear it. I find myself grabbing the same garments all the time, while half my wardrobe goes un-donned. Perhaps I should pitch 50% of my “collection,” to make room for more bib knickers, which it always seems like I just ran out of my last clean kit, and it’s the one I wanted to ride in this morning. Of course, if you ask the spouse, my sense of fashion could use a blood transfusion from some one half my age…. Bottom. If it feels good, wear it.

    1. Author

      Aaron: I think fashion is a crowd-sourced function and isn’t something I tend to pay a lot of attention to. I watch style to a greater degree and style is always personal. Every now and then I see something I want to incorporate into mine. The industry both sets and chases fashion, depending on just which company you watch. If it works for you, I think you’re winning.

  2. Bobby

    Curious why you’ve never taken the time to profile Swrve which is right in your own backyard.

    They pretty much created the “fashionable cycling apparel” market with the first cycling specific jeans and have been getting their deigns and styles poached by Rapha, Levis, and now Giro ever since.

    1. Author

      Bobby: If you consider the army of editors that Bicycling has and the fact that I’ve got exceedingly limited assistance on the product review front, you’ll have part of your answer; we simply don’t review as much as Bicycling or Cyclingnews because there are both fewer people working on reviews and the fact that ours are more in-depth and take longer to do. Another part of the answer is just because they are in Los Angeles doesn’t mean we have an automatic in with them. Yet another part of the answer is that I try to focus more of my efforts on those lines that are still available through brick-and-mortars, and while Swrve may be in some, I’ve yet to see them in any of the shops I visit. And for good measure, I can also add that it’s a two-way street; they’ve yet to show any interest in us, either.

      Wsquared: I save debunking for things that are patently false, like unicorns and Wall Street job creators. I don’t think anyone needs to “like” Giro’s new line, but it’s hard to claim that the line isn’t well made or lacks any useful pieces. My personal take is that RBA has given favorable reviews to some products far more lacking in quality and forethought. Each to his own.

  3. Tim

    I usually go for two distinct entities – fashion, which is what you see on the cat-walk and will change at least once a year, and style, which is a far more personal thing which in theory is timeless.

  4. Wsquared

    Zap’s rant/column in the November “Road Bike Action” mag pretty much encapsulates my own thoughts debunking Giro’s “New Road” line & on cycling fashion in general. As far as I can see, it’s not on the RBA web site, so you’ll have to find a print copy. I wouldn’t presume to summarize it here, but it’s worth a read. One of his best in recent years.

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