There are levels to the cycling “kit game.” A piece of cycling kit that is well-made of decent materials will rank mid-level. To achieve the top-level status, a piece of kit both needs to be thoughtful and functional in design and also have elements of visual artistry.
Functional design is easier to find than kit that offers visual artistry; it’s almost impossible to find cycling kits that excel in function and form, and also appearance.
Also read: The best clothing of the year
If a piece of kit is missing one of these features listed below, the item is not automatically garbage, but it’s just not at the very top level of the kit game. I have ridden in pieces that are missing one of these things; whatever feature is missing I usually discover I need it at least once during the ride.
Here’s how I rank, from least important to most important, the top 10 criteria I use when shopping for cycling kit:
10. Bib uppers should be the same color as the bib. If the upper has a pattern– great! But the overall color of the bib upper should match the bib, rather than be plain white. The straps can be white, but not the bib panels below the straps. I admit this is pure vanity, but seeing the white of a bib upper exposed when a rider is bent over the bars is one step above seeing bare skin. Seeing any white panels makes it seem like the kit doesn’t fit correctly, even when everything else about the kit feels and looks great.
9. Jersey torsos that are shorter or angled lean closer to race-cut even for models considered “relaxed” or “club cut.” I’m not saying jerseys that are already short, like Biehler for example, should get shorter. I think something like the length of the Giordana FR-C Pro is about right. This is anatomically shaped and hits the hip but isn’t too long. Nor am I saying all riders are going to need the same torso length. Note that a jersey with a shorter torso makes legs look longer and butts look higher. Jerseys that are shorter or feature angled torsos also sit tighter at the waist and avoid sagging when storing heavy things in the pockets of the jersey.
8. Cap brims with visual design are what most people will see of the cap while on the bike. That real estate could be better used in so many cases. It doesn’t necessarily need to be loud, but when it’s just a plain solid color this seems like a missed opportunity. In some cases, buyers can’t even see a picture of the underside of the brim when a cap is being sold online. This is related to number 6, below.
7. Cap sweatbands should match the cap color. The edge of a cap brim band sometimes pokes out when the brim is folded upward, and a white sweatband looks cheap. Worse yet: If the sweatband is just a cheap, itchy, bleached poly strip instead of a soft absorptive sweatband.
6. Cap brim length should be shorter than a baseball cap.?Brims that are too long limit visibility when in the drops. While a cap brim could be worn flipped up, this defeats one of the purposes of the cap which is to shield the rider’s eyes from sun or rain. When wearing a cap flipped it would be nice if: see numbers 7 and 8, above.
5. A pocket security solution to keep valuables (particularly slippery ones, like phones) from bouncing out on rough roads. My newest Spexcel thermal jacket employs silicone on the inside of the pocket; Assos uses a stretchy mesh in an accent color on their Dyora RS and UMA GT lines; Isadore makes a jersey with pockets that zip completely closed. Whatever the solution, returning home with everything you had when you left — except your snacks — is a must.
4. Wide leg-gripper bands at the minimum are a must, and no separate leg band at all is preferred. This avoids discomfort and the dreaded “sausage-leg effect.” Shorts with the narrow silicone leg band are common in “starter outfit” cycling kit. I personally avoid shorts with this detail because the silicone doesn’t breathe. After wearing the solid silicone band shorts all day in the heat, I found my skin beneath the silicone was gray. Grippers needn’t strangle my leg like tourniquets; they need only to keep the shorts from riding up.
3. A high waist — and drop-tail design for women’s shorts — or stretchy straps and front panels for men’s kit ranks high on the list of must-haves. This design avoids any possible gap between the bib and jersey zipper when off the bike and also avoids showing off the back of the bib upper when in the drops on the bike. Some people may hate the compressive feel of high-waisted bibs, so the design should be cut high and also comfortable. A solution for design for a comfortable fit is possibly angling the weft of the leg panels to create a “V,” or adding mesh above the waist, between the straps, and over the stomach to alleviate some pressure but still cover skin.
2. Short jersey sleeves should be reasonably tight and long, hitting between just above the elbow, and well below the deltoid. The sleeves should lay against the skin and not gap or ripple. The flapping of loose sleeves on a descent is a sign of fit issues, indicative of a cheap, polyester, club-cut t-shirt. Short sleeve length should hide the drumstick-thin meat that are cyclists’ underutilized forearms. While I kid about this, I think long and tight sleeves for warm weather jerseys will keep arm warmers and short-sleeved base layers — if worn — tucked away during shoulder seasons. It’s nice to have texture and even cuffs on the sleeves on a jersey to avoid displaying the top edges of arm warmers if they are being worn.
1. A double zipper is the number one feature that top-tier outerwear must-have, especially if the outerwear has no rear pockets. Wind vests, shells, and jackets with and without pockets should all have a double zipper. Without a double zipper, unzipping a jersey to reach pockets means totally opening the vest (flipping the bottom half up is the alternative, but looks weird and is uncomfortable). Also, venting with one zipper results in a parachute effect. If you feel like you’re skydiving on the bike, the kit is wrong for the wind. I paid for a vest without a double zipper this year; the purchase was for charity.
Did I miss anything? Let your voices be heard. You can message me on my Kit Critic Instagram account.