I’m not one to be particularly fussy about the kit I’m wearing. We all have our preferences, but once I find one I like, I tend to wear it and not think about it much. Last winter, though, when I was working on the article about winter clothing, I had the chance to ride in the Rapha Pro Team Insulated Bib Shorts. Riding in Rapha gear was an eye opener and sent me on a bit of a journey to see what else was out there. For the last nine months or so, I’ve been exploring some of the many great brands that exist somewhat below the radar. When it comes to cycling gear kit designs, there is an incredible diversity of players.
All the big brands have their gear, but if you look beyond that, you can find tons of small businesses making really fantastic products. In the end, I distilled the many options down to four that I wanted to talk about; Deathrow Velo, Ornot, Roka, and La Passione. The only threads that really connect these four are that they are not big brands, and that they make really fantastic gear. In fact, what I found is that while these are all summer kits designed for going fast, there are actually quite a lot of subtle differences. I’ve started to think of it as different flavours. They are all ice cream, if you’ll allow the analogy, but the flavour varies a bit.
The first kit I want to talk about is from a company called Ornot. They are based in San Francisco and do all of their manufacturing in the US. In their own words, they are “devoted to minimal design, domestic manufacturing, and having a good time on the bike” and I would say that ethos definitely comes through in their kit.
I took a look at the Safety Orange Jersey, the Bib Shorts 3.0, and the Safety Orange socks. This is, at least to my eye, the most stylish of the kits I looked at. This summer I headed back to the city I spent many years in, Los Angeles. Los Angeles is absolutely an image conscious city, and when I was deciding which kit to take, this is the one I went with. I did around sixty miles in the Hollywood Hills, and I think I saw three other people wearing Ornot gear. Not only is this the most stylish of the kits, it’s also the most well known. It’s the only one I’ve ever seen anyone wearing, although still not all that often, and I’ve seen it in more than one promo video for other bike industry gear. It’s not just a stylish kit, though, it also performs really well.
I like to look at socks as part of the whole, when I can, because I think socks really set the tone for how a manufacturer is going to handle the rest of the kit. Ornot nails it with the socks. The perfect height, not too tight but just tight enough, great designs, and the perfect thickness.
I also really love their bibs. You’ll notice on their site that they mention they run a bit small. For me, I was able to wear my normal size, but they are definitely tight. The fabric used is noticeably on the thick side, so that helps give more of a compression feeling versus just being overly tight. This chamois is very good, although, I would say it’s somewhat less technical than others in this group. It has fewer panels and a more uniform thickness, and I don’t find it terribly comfortable when paired with the current saddle I’m running, which is un-padded carbon. I did find it plenty comfortable when paired with a more traditional race saddle, so you’ll have to decide if that critique applies to you or not.
Moving on to the jersey: “This jersey is “race fit”, so it’s not baggy, but it’s not too tight either, thanks to the material stretch.” I’d say that’s a perfect description. Despite all of the kits I looked at being race fit, Ornot seems to have found a really interesting balance where their jersey isn’t overly tight but is still form fitting. I’d say while it’s still a race fit, their jersey is the most relaxed in this group.
There were a couple of things I didn’t love about the jersey. First, it’s the one that rides up the most. I find myself pulling this one down quite a bit. I also always really like having a zippered pocket, for keys and cash, and Ornot doesn’t have that feature. At $125 for the jersey, it’s a good price, but I’d like to see the extra pocket. They do handle the sleeves really well, though. They never ride up or really even call attention to themselves, and I like that they end with a crease of folded material versus some kits that just end with an unfinished edge. The bibshorts are priced at $165, the socks are $15, and, as I mentioned, the jersey runs $125. Premium prices but not the most expensive out there.
Next, I took a look at La Passione Yellow Square Summer Jersey, Classic Black Summer Bib Shorts, and the matching Checked Yellow Socks. La Passione is an Italian company that sells direct to consumers all around the world. I found them both surprisingly affordable while also very high quality. They also have a distinct style, which I very much appreciate, and are a bit racier than Ornot.
As with the Ornot kit, I started with the socks, and again, I’m a fan. They are ever so slightly longer, but I really appreciate the extra padding they have under the toes. As you move up to the bib shorts, things start to get really interesting.
The fabrics are very unique and feels a bit like a mesh. The leg length is perhaps a bit longer than what I’d consider ideal, but it’s subtle, and I appreciate the balance they’ve struck between keeping the legs from riding up and being so overly sticky that it’s difficult to get them positioned in a comfortable way. The chamois comes forward a bit farther, and I really appreciate it when spending long periods on the drops. I absolutely love their bibs, and of the group, these bibs are probably my favourite.
The jersey also presents fabrics with a somewhat unusual feel. It is very smooth, and while it seems somewhat thick initially, it actually breathes incredibly well and holds its own on a hot day. A jersey zipper is typically a place I’m let down, but the La Passione zipper is a high quality piece that’s easy to get started and easy to grab when you need it. I do find the neck a bit tight, and although I somewhat like a high, tight, neckline on jerseys, I think it’s worth noting. Like Ornot, La Passione uses silicone on the front of the jersey as well as the back. I find anytime that is done, no matter how well it works, it’s better without the gripper on the front edge. Jerseys always work themselves up, but if you leave the silicone off the front, it allows them to come back down.
Despite the silicone on the front, the La Passionne jersey does a better job staying down than the Ornot jersey. Like the Ornot, the La Passione jersey is also missing a zippered pocket, so another mark against it. Ordering from La Passione does present some complications, at least in the US, because it’s not super easy to return things if you get the size wrong. Shipping takes a while, and there are very specific instructions to deal with customs. The size guide on their site is spot on, though, so just make sure you pay attention, and you won’t have to send anything back. The jersey runs $77, the bib shorts are $106, and the socks are $13. That’s an incredible bargain and absolutely unheard of with the quality they offer.
We continue to get even more racy as we move to the next company, ROKA. ROKA is a company with a background in triathlon, and aero is where they focus. Every little detail of the ROKA kit is considered from an aero point of view, and while I can’t windtunnel test it, I’d venture it’s as close to a skin suit as you’ll find while still wearing separate bibs and jersey. There is no seam or change of fabric at the bottom edge of the leg where the silicone gripper is, making for a smooth transition from skin to fabric. The legs will not move at all. If anything, it’s such a solid grip that it can be somewhat difficult to get situated, initially.
The chamois doesn’t extend as far forward as the La Passion, however, it does extend a bit farther down the inside of the thigh. I’m not sure I see an advantage to this, but as long as you are careful to get the bibs pulled all the way up, it’s also not an issue. I will say I prefer a slightly thicker chamois, and I find this one superbly comfortable.
But the jersey is the piece of this kit that really shines. It fits perfectly, and it’s got all the features you’d want. There is a zippered pocket, as well as a hole, so that you can route headphones inside the jersey. The sleeves end with just a single piece of fabric and no seam. I’m sure this is an aero feature, however, it seems like it could make it less durable over time. In the months I’ve been wearing it, there has been no issue, so perhaps I am being overly cautious. Another nod to aero that ends up being a bit of a pain is the zipper. It’s designed in such a way as to be completely hidden from the wind, however, it means it’s difficult to get started.
Overall, though, despite one or two small things that emphasise aero over usability, this is the kit I reach for the most. It fits me just perfectly, I love the way it feels, it has great features on the jersey, and it doesn’t ride up. I think a big piece of what makes it so great is that ROKA offers tall sizing. I’m really thin but exactly average height. The option of tall allows me to go down a size for a better fit. The ROKA jersey runs $175, and the bib shorts run $200.
The last company I’d like to talk about is Deathrow Velo. They are a very small US based company that has one very cool trick up their sleeve. They offer custom designs with no minimum. Let your imagination go wild, this is your moment to design exactly the kit you want and order only one if that’s all you need. I’ve worked with Deathrow Velo quite a bit over the last few years. They supply the kits to the team I ride with, but this was my opportunity to try out a different quality level of what they offer.
Not only can you design the graphics on the kit, but you can also endlessly customise the way the pieces are actually built. There are a variety of different seam styles, options for the types of chamois, the way the silicon grippers are built, the type of fabric, and you can add a zippered pocket or reflective add-ons. I really can’t emphasise enough, the incredible level of customisability. It’s not only that the kits are incredibly customisable that’s great, though. The owner of Deathrow Velo is one of the nicest and most helpful men I’ve yet to encounter in this wonderful industry. He provides a level of customer service that is really above and beyond even the best of the best.
As far as the actual kit, it’s really fantastic, and the prices are great as well. The pieces I looked at for this review are the Champion level jersey with Italian fabrics, Italian bands and cuffs, and the bibs are the Champion level with Italian MITI lycra, Italian band and Elastic Interface Italian pad. In the past, I’ve also ridden with the Pearl level jersey using wicking breathable fabric and Platinum level bibs with DRV lycra, Italian band, and TMF Italian pad. The upgraded fabric is really quite fantastic and is similar to other high end kits in this discussion. It’s smoother against your skin and does a better job in the heat.
The lower end fabric is slightly better at resisting snags, but you’ll have to be careful with any jersey if you want to avoid snags. Regardless of which fabric you end up choosing, though, what I’d recommend is you not skimp on the power bands. What it amounts to on the jersey is that there is no silicone gripper in the front and a large band in the back. The jersey never moves. You literally never have to pull this jersey down, and it’s got the zippered pocket I very much appreciate, fantastic fabrics, and a pretty good zipper, too.
The bibs are also great, although, I find myself grabbing for this chamois more often on shorter, harder, rides than the longer endurance rides. It’s a thinner type of chamois that really excels when I’m going to be moving around on the saddle a lot. The high end options I tested for this article will run you $110 for the jersey and $137 for the bibs and take 8-10 weeks from the time you order until delivery. You do have to be mindful of Chinese New Year, though, as the factory will shut down, and because Deathrow Velo is the small guy ordering from a big factory you get fantastic quality for the price, but you also aren’t first in line when the factory starts back up. It can take a bit longer to get your order depending on when Chinese New Year falls in relation to your order.
The bottom line is that there are a lot of great options for kits out there. Personally, though, I like to find something a little less common, and I prefer things that are visually arresting without a big wordmark across the chest. Even within those preferences, though, there are plenty of options out there. So many, in fact, it can feel a bit dizzying. I set out to find a few of the lesser known options and shine a spotlight on how great they are. No matter which one of these great companies you decide speaks to you, you’ll be in good hands and getting a quality product. I have slight preferences for one feature or the other, but the truth is, these are all quality items that fit great and will work as well for 20 miles as they will for 150 miles.
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