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The off-season is an ideal time for triathletes to hit up a spin class, switch out a tri bike for a road or mountain bike, or, in the warmer climates, tackle a winter criterium. The off-season also provides a chance to test out new clothing and gear.
For women cyclists, this task can be daunting. In a field largely dominated by male designers, cycling kits are often uncomfortable and unattractive. In response to women’s disdain for “shrink it and pink it,” several companies have taken on the challenge of creating the perfect women-specific kit, including several female-owned businesses. Eight Triathlete.com readers, ranging from new rider to pro triathlete, rode a combined 2,335 miles in female-specific kits from popular cycling gear companies. Their reviews:
BEST FOR: Crit Chicks
A staple in the cycling community, Louis Garneau has long been known for high-quality gear. The brand’s Course kit ($179 jersey, $199 shorts) was a favorite of testers, especially serious riders who hit up the crit and velodrome circuit in the off-season.
What our testers said: “This was something I would race in. It felt amazing—form-fitting without feeling like a stuffed sausage. The fit was so smooth, sleek and truly felt unlike any cycling kit I’ve ever worn before.”
“I like that on an 80-mile ride, I was still comfortable. Coming from a background of wearing tri shorts with very little padding, it was a huge change and for short rides was slightly uncomfortable. However, the longer I rode, the better it felt.”
Fit: If you’re used to standard cycling and tri shorts, the race-length sleeves and 9.5-inch inseam of the LG shorts will feel long. Though some testers were apprehensive about the length at first, most grew to appreciate having the compression on their thighs.
Feel: This jersey features “burn out” regions on the back, chest and torso to help keep the rider cool. The use of Colorblack technology also means the kit will transition well to the warmer riding months. With wide waistbands and laser-cut seams, the shorts lay flat and avoid a “muffin top” effect.
Ride: The chamois is very firm and supportive, even at the end of long rides, when most chamois start to compress. A split at the rear of the chamois is bridged with mesh fabric for extra ventilation.
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BEST FOR: Spin City Girls
For those hitting spin class in the winter months, SOAS kits ($170 tri kit) allow for a comfortable and cool experience. Retro and girly, SOAS owners Kebby Holden and Steph Tobin strive to create an ideal women’s specific fit.
What our testers said: “Holy cow! I fell in love with how this kit fit me from the moment I put it on. The shorts and tank fit me perfectly, and the built-in sports bra had enough support I could run without doubling up.”
Fit: An elastic-free yoga-style waistband plus wide leg openings made for a comfortable, pinch-free ride. A long-length top lays flat against the torso without bunching. The fit seems to work for women of all shapes and sizes, appeasing both a petite tester with wide hips and a tall, lithe tester.
Feel: The materials used for the SOAS kit aren’t flashy, but they are comfortable and breathable—perfect for long trainer rides and spin class in the off-season, and as a race kit in the summer months. When stretched, the kit doesn’t hold its color well—wearing a correct size eliminates this issue.
Ride: SOAS uses a standard fleece tri chamois. As one tester remarked, thick seams are used to stitch the chamois in place; however, they are not located in areas that would cause chafing.
Eye-catching and edgy, Betty Designs ($119 jersey, $99 shorts) plays up the co-existence of strong and feminine with unexpected graphic pairings, like butterflies with a skull and crossbones. The designs are then printed on Squadra cycling kits.
What our testers said: “The overall look of the kit had the connotation of a woman who was tough and not there to mess around.”
“I like the combination of colors used. It was not a kit that would stand out from miles away, but when close the kit was very intricate. I liked the tapered band at the bottom of the shorts because it was very comfortable and flattering.”
Fit: The jersey fits well for most women; the arms aren’t too tight, which can be a concern. The shorts, however, have tight leg holes that squeeze girls with larger quads. Consider sizing up in the shorts.
Feel: Betty Designs uses a very stretchy material between the chamois and the waistband. Using a polyester fabric coated with titanium (known as Ti-Ex), the kit is lightweight and wicks moisture away very well.
Ride: The chamois is perfect for riders who prefer less material and/or something closer to a triathlon-specific chamois. Wide, with seams further removed from the edge of the padding, Betty Designs selected a chamois perfect for those who chafe easily.
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BEST FOR: Femme Fatales
A joint venture of entrepreneur Michele Landry and pro triathlete Hillary Biscay, Smashfest Queen launched in 2012 with triathlon and cycling kits ($119 each, jersey and shorts) as well as a casual-clothing line. Though the kits currently use Squadra, like Betty Designs, Smashfest Queen plans to begin manufacturing its own kits in 2013.
What our testers said: “I really liked the length of the shorts. They were not long like traditional shorts, which adds some femininity to cycling and shows off the strong thighs of women cyclists!”
“It feels girly, yet strong and I felt cool wearing the kit. Smashfest is another option for women to set themselves apart.”
Fit: Though the kit mostly fit our testers well, the elastic at the leg openings wasn’t stretchy enough for some testers, prompting a request for a larger size. Also, curvier testers were a bit self-conscious: “If the jersey was pulled down over the hips, it exaggerated them. This kit accentuated the hips and for women like me who were blessed with wide hips, it was not very complementary.”
Feel: Grippers at the bottom of the jersey ensure the kit stays in place, and two-way stretch allows for a comfortable, close fit. The material is thin and breathable, especially on the backside of the kit.
Ride: Though Smashfest Queen uses a different Squadra chamois than Betty Designs, the plush chamois was still wide and offered ideal anti-chafe properties. Testers enjoyed the chamois more on the road than on the trainer. The chamois was very comfortable riding in the aero position and was perfect for saddles with a wider nose.
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BEST FOR: Winter Warriors
A mainstay in cycling circles, Pearl Izumi has earned a reputation for producing quality gear for cyclists. Their Elite Thermal Tight ($125) and Softshell Jacket ($175) will keep riders warm, even on the coldest of mornings.
What our testers said:“I love the teal color—it’s very pretty. And the fit of the top was very flattering and warm without being stuffy or too thick.”
“The material in the tights and jersey was very warm and perfect for a cold morning. It retained just enough heat to keep me warm but not let me overheat.”
Fit: The tights have a close fit, yet still offer plenty of flexibility in the knee area. Zippers by the feet allow for ease in dressing and undressing, and the top features a full-length zipper and zippered back pockets for a comfortable, secure ride in the coldest conditions.
Feel: The top feels warm and soft against the skin while providing protection against the elements on cold-weather rides. However, sweat doesn’t evaporate quickly from the fleece lining, making stops a little chilly.
Ride: Though the tights received rave reviews for warmth, some testers deemed the line’s Elite 3D chamois “bulky,” as it didn’t flex well or fit the curves of a women’s undercarriage. Splurge on the higher-level Elite P.R.O. Tights ($200) for comfort.
San Francisco-based business Sheila Moon is as unique and funky as its hometown. The company’s cycling kits ($99 long-sleeve jersey, $89 shorts), which come in a variety of colorful designs, cater to serious cyclists as well as the unique subsets of the cycling world, including plus-sized riders and pregnant women.
What our testers said: “This kit was form-fitting and flattering at the same time. The material was much thicker, so I’d wear this on a cooler ride.”
“As a bike commuter, it’s nice to have something that looks presentable when I arrive at my office, before I have a chance to sneak into the bathroom and change into real clothes.”
Fit: Sheila Moon is generous with its sizing; sizes run large and the stretch is forgiving. It’s recommended that women order one size smaller than they’d buy in other manufacturer’s shorts. A wide waistband tapered into a “V” shape, as well as stretchy leg openings that don’t ride up make the fit a favorite of testers.
Feel: The Sheila Moon samples tested were so supple, it was hard to believe they were cut from technical fabric. Long-sleeve riding jerseys include thumbholes, a welcome addition during cold rides. If you’re not into bright colors and funky designs, the line also offers a more demure black-and-white kit.
Ride: The plush chamois held its shape and comfort well during rides up to 25 miles. Though not ideal for long training rides, the testers agreed they’d wear the kit for shorter commutes, especially on a road bike.