For ages, Primal Wear’s clothing was produced in San Luis Obispo by Voler. Given how bad so many lines were in the mid to late 1990s, that was a pretty terrific thing. Relative to the competition, Voler stuff lasted longer and the fit was above average. But Voler’s competitive edge started to wane after 2005, and Primal grew to the point that they built their own factory in China and could start to dictate the quality of the clothing. These days, Primal’s designs are, shall we say, calmer, but their fit has never been better and the quality of the materials they use are such that they last for more than a season.
Last year I reviewed Primal Helix kit. With a retail of $300, it was just pricey enough that some commenters noted that if they were going to spend that much on a kit, they were going to do it with a brand better known for success at that price point. For the last six weeks, I’ve been wearing Primal’s Aro Evo kit, and wondering why the company doesn’t have more market share.
Let’s cut to the chase on this. The jersey goes for $100 and the bibs for $130; purchase them together and you get the kit for $207. I’ve ridden plenty of stuff from this price range in the last year and have avoided reviewing any of it because I just didn’t have anything positive to say. One kit fit me so poorly that my shoulders were chafed by the end of the ride. By comparison, had you told me the Aro Evo kit retailed for $300 or even $350, I would have been neither surprised, nor offended.
Here’s why: the materials are stout. Yeah, you can find kits featuring super-lightweight fabrics that are great on summer’s dog days. But that’s not most of the year for most of the world. So not only do we not need gossamer fibers for most of the year, what we need for most of the year won’t last said year if the jersey weighs less than a handkerchief. Ditto for the bibs.
When I first picked up the bibs I couldn’t help noticing the weight of the sublimated side panels. That’s no six-ounce lycra. If more of my racing kits had used materials like that, crash replacement wouldn’t have required such deep inventory for the teams with which I raced. The upshot is that the bibs provide a level of compression difficult to find at this price point.
The cut isn’t so aggressive that you need to have an eating disorder to wear the kit comfortably. As with most brands, I wear a medium in the bibs and a small in the jersey. Trust me, I’ve heard all the pear-shaped jokes. While according to their sizing guidelines, I’m squarely a medium in the bibs, I’m on the bubble for the jersey; my chest measurement puts me in a small, but my height qualifies me for medium. I like the length of the small jersey and the pockets are low enough that I can still reach into them for a gel while pedaling. Of note: the jersey is available in six sizes, S-XXXL, while the bibs come in five, S-XXL.
In a stroke that I’m surprised more brands haven’t pursued, not only did Primal flatlock all the seams, but they also chose to print all the sizing, composition and care info on the garment, and did away with the tags. Why are tags still so common on articles that are meant to be as comfortable as possible?
Primal uses traditional silicone grippers in the jersey hem and legs of the bibs. They are slim enough to do the job without the overkill of some grippers.
The E6 pad may not be a Cytech masterpiece, but it features four-way stretch and four different densities of foam. The pad uses a cover with carbon fibers and antimicrobrial treatment to reduce the opportunity for saddle sores or other ugly skin outcomes. Put another way, chamois cream is an option, not a requirement.
This particular kit is rather black and not really my first choice for road riding. As the weather has cooled I’ve worn it with a bright windbreaker or vest, but most often I’ve worn this kit on gravel rides where the thickness and density of the pad has been pretty welcome on rough roads. Despite the, uh, excess of black (I know plenty of people who will love that), the simple design is clean and easy on the eyes.
The realization I had a few rides in was how this is no more expensive than my last team kit was. This is way better than most team kits I ever purchased.
Final thought: Sometimes you get more than you pay for.