The worst things about the best cycling apparel
Rounding up what you need to know before buying kits from Universal Colours, OrNot, Velocio, Mission Workshop, and more.
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It’s the end of the year, and for many of us that is enough of an excuse to buy all the cycling gear we’ve been staring at for months. But not every piece of cycling apparel will work for every rider, and even then it’s rare to find a perfect item. Take a look through this list and see if we conceptually agree on the worst (and best) things about the best cycling apparel I’ve tried so far.
- no double zipper
- Packs into its own zip pocket
- Material is visually mesmerizing
The cut of the Spectrum Gilet isn’t as flattering as Universal Colours‘ insulated gilet simply because the fabric at the lower hem is gathered, and since it has no significant pockets it requires a jersey underneath, bibs with pockets, hip bag, or other on-bike storage options. And, with no double zipper, if I go with a jersey, I have to flip the vest up or unzip it to access the pockets. To everyone who hates double zippers, get this vest — I hear it’s a culture preference, perhaps someone outside of the U.S. can confirm. Next iteration, please God let it have double zippers.
But now that we are past warm weather, once my pockets are organized I have no need to vent — the vest stays closed 90 percent of the ride — so I build entire kits around this vest. It’s windproof and DWR coated for water resistance but the light mesh back makes it the perfect windbreaker layer when the kit insulation is already ideal. Light reflective accents add visibility for rides into dusk. It’s an effective item of clothing made of a 56 percent polyester, 44 percent woven iridescent ripstop material rarely seen in cycling gear.
Pro tip: Quick shoutout to Cycling Fashion Week for this advice — beware of putting a pocket pump or other hard protruding objects in your jersey pocket under any tight vest or jacket: I would be livid if the pump protruding from my pocket rubbed a shiny spot in the back of my outerwear. Mount your pump on your frame to spare vests and jackets from abuse.
Also read: The worst things about the best road helmets
AltoSphere Ultralight Jacket
- Only comes in black
- Warmth to weight ratio
- Sleeve cuffs
- Double zipper
There’s really nothing overtly bad about the Mission Workshop AltoSphere Ultralight Jacket, it deserved the shoutout as THE ABSOLUTE BEST windbreaker I own. The double-layer wicking and wind-blocking fabric has the weight, packability, and texture of a windbreaker, with the warmth of a jacket. Expect to see materials like this popping up. My Castelli has the perfect cuffs but no double zippers and is thin; my Pearl Izumi is an antique with no double zippers and fits like a garbage bag; my Assos has the perfect mesh back but short sleeves; and the Eliel is almost right with the double zip and decent cuffs, but the mesh back is already showing snags and it’s not as warm as the Altosphere.
The Altosphere’s two-layer fabric is called ZeroWind and lives up to its name. BIO-WR ecologically safe waterproof treatment helps seal out water without taping the seams and sealing in sweat. With a thermal long sleeve, a vest, and this jacket, (plus tights/warmers and the right shoe covers) I can get through most ride days in NYC.
Pro tip: look for a windbreaker with a double zipper and relaxed cuffs to make using the garment on-bike easier.
- Branding peels over time
- Drop tail
- Eco-conscious long lasting knit
Everything about the Velocio Concept Bibs is great but the material for the logos. Besides the reflective branding peeling, which is unfortunate but seems impossible to avoid, the text is large. It goes against the subtlety that seems to be a Velocio brand hallmark, and it makes the bibs harder to match with other kit.
Functionally, they are fantastic, and they look great worn with any other Velocio kit, which has minimal branding. Unfortunately, the price is high even with eco-conscious fabric. Compare it to the UC Chromas at $209, which are also made with post-consumer waste fabric in a Bluesign-approved factory, but are nylon. Over $300 for knit bibs seems insane, no matter how nice the knit.
Pro tip: Wash in cold, lay flat out of the sun to dry to minimize the peel. Avoid harsh detergents and the dryer altogether.
No Trainer Winter Tights
- Not drop tail
- No Chamois means they last longer
- Reflective iron on tougher than others
- Reflective zipper stitching at ankle
The Ostroy No Trainer Winter Bibs shouldn’t be as rare of a product as they are. I have a few drop tail thermal bibs with chamois, but if I didn’t and I were buying an item I’d choose these. If these were drop tail — all the more important in winter when shedding top layers is torture – there would be no reason to buy any other tights to ride through NYC winters. Fuzzy on the inside, tough reflective detailing on the outside, and zip-ankle, these are a must-have for outdoor winter riders because they extend the use of all other bibs. Say goodbye to the thigh- gap of a slippery leg warmer forever, and get twice the use out of this winter garment since you can wear them over any bibs you choose. And technically, again since they don’t have a chamois, they could be worn for anything where warm, tight leggings are needed. Without a chamois, they last twice as long; there’s no need to worry about the pad degrading over time.
Pro tip: these go over winter bib tights too, if the size is right, and without bibs over or under other non cycling things — it is a versatile piece of thermal gear.
Long sleeve jersey
- No idea how the sausage is made / if it’s environmentally responsible or safe
- All items are copies, stolen intellectual property
Would you trust me if everything on this list cost a small fortune? Maybe, but it wouldn’t be honest. The truth is most people don’t care where you got your fancy cycling shirt unless it’s really very fancy. Spexcel makes a basic solid colored jersey. Unless the materials are uniquely high quality (like OrNot’s grid thermal) or the print is fantastic (like Ostroy’s hand-drawn Omloop), I’m hard pressed to pay over a hundred for an item with more limited usage than a short sleeve, and that may not fit my long arms. This particular jersey has appropriately long sleeves to prevent the dreaded wrist gap between sleeve and glove. The stitching seems solid, but beware of tearing the zipper pocket.
Pro tip: Unique design, development, rental space, shipping, and labor, not to mention advertising, all cost money, and Spexcel gets the benefit of the original company’s effort and expenditure by copying existing designs. So if you want original gear with a more traceable environmental record delivered to your door in less than two weeks, don’t buy this.
Grid Thermal Jersey
- No zip pocket
- Plush Bluesign material
- Long sleeves
- Coziness factor 10/10
The OrNot Grid Thermal Jersey has got to be my favorite sub-60 degree Fahrenheit long sleeve. It’s thick, but not stiff like wind resistant fabric, warm but breathable, and made responsibly. The loft of the internal fleece of the fabric wicks and retains heat. Plus it feels as cozy as a hug from a Care Bear. With OrNot’s help, I got a men’s XS instead of a women’s small so the sleeves are blessedly long enough but it still hugs my body (I have a 23-inch sleeve, 27 waist 35 bust). The only thing it’s missing is a zip pocket, but I’m not sure it’s needed since by the time it’s cool enough to wear this I probably also have on a vest or windbreaker with a small zip pocket. The three standard pockets are as soft as the rest of the jersey so the shapes stored in them are easy to decipher, but they fit a lot of gear.
Pro tip: go by the measurement of the item, not the gender of the garment. Since I have long arms, a men’s or unisex garment is more likely to fit in the sleeve than women’s kit. As long as the torso isn’t unduly baggy, I’ll go that route.
Echelon All Conditions Ride Pouch
- No key hook/loop
- 4 pockets in a tiny bag
- Waterproof or featherweight
- Sustainably made and packaged
The only bad thing about the Fierce Hazel Echelon is that it doesn’t have a key loop. I just wish one of the Little side pulls doubled as a key loop — it means my keys wouldn’t take up valuable space within the bag, and they’d be securely attached to something.
But, packed correctly with my keys on the bottom, the Echelon gets the most use out of the two larger ride wallets (I use the card wallet as my everyday carry). If you want to zip your phone inside a wallet to protect it from moisture during a ride, the Ultra Fierce bag is ideal (and has a key clip). If you don’t, and just need something for emergency supplies and cash, then the Echelon is perfect. It even has a little slip pocket specially designed for tampons (never get caught without one), but which fits tire levers nicely as well. And of course the card wallet fits into both. All the gear and packing materials are made from deadstock, fabric from larger orders that would otherwise go to a landfill.
Pro tip: Cashiers don’t like to handle mysteriously damp money, or cards that are slick to the touch. Your phone also won’t respond well if it’s slippery with sweat. Sure, a nonbiodegradable plastic sandwich bag will work fine to show everything you’re carrying to the whole group ride and the cashier, and keep your stuff dry until it develops a hole, but the Fierce Hazel bags are sustainable and versatile.
North Street Bags
Pioneer 12 Hip Pack
- Zipper pockets make it harder to open one handed
- Multiple uses (waist, crossbody, handlebar bag)
- Buy it for life
Ever tried to yank a zipper open with one hand while riding? It’s less easy than lifting a flap, which is why many hip/ fanny packs opt for a flap design. However, zippers may be troubling to use one handed, but they don’t destroy gloves like velcro.
On the other hand, the zippers make the North Street Pioneer 12 the perfect hip bag for travel: the clamshell zipper opens fully to allow the bag to lay flat, and compression straps make it easy to attach to other bags. A plethora of pockets and separators make this a handy dopp kit or ditty bag, or a great bikepacking bag, where organization makes life easier. There are 9- and 8-inch versions of this bag as well, even a Limited edition 8-inch pure hip pack version made of reclaimed cycling event banners from SRAM and Life Time.
Pro tip: put all the bike attachment accessories in one of the zipper pockets so you have them when you need them.