Best Cycling Kit of the Year – 2008

Best Cycling Kit and Gear 2008

The mile markers tick over on yet another calendar year. Time to reflect on the kit and gear that got me through 2008 in comfort, safety and style. Here's the best of it.

November's 30 Days of Rapha series left no doubt as to my loyalties. The Perren Street Trust extended their lead with a host of new products and improvements to the everyday essentials that set the brand apart. And the essentials start with the Bib Shorts and ¾ Bib Shorts, my first choice for the business end of cycling whatever the weather, whatever the distance. The Cytech pad's simplicity belies its efficiency. The shorts are laundered after every ride and they continue to look and perform like new. I've not made a better investment in kit than this pair.

Next to the bibs, I wear a base layer everyday and while I've got some very nice multi-season pieces from Campagnolo, I keep coming back to the merits of merino wool. This fall Rapha introduced a heavier, long-sleeve variant called the Fixed Base Layer. It's been a constant companion in the cool air ever since. Tip: wear it inside out with the finished side next to your skin, no one's going to see it anyway. You'll thank me.

In 2008 Rapha refined a number of pieces, none more dramatically than the Stowaway Jacket which delivered on the breathable promise the original couldn't quite keep. It's featherweight and quiet. No excuse not to bring it (or the Summer Gilet) along for the big descents in all but the hottest months. It's one of my favorite pieces.

Speaking of jackets. I broke with my all-black religion and made my Chinese in-laws happy by ordering Rapha's Lightweight Softshell in red last fall. It turned out to be a brilliant call. I guess somewhere in the primitive corner of my brain, the place that worries about such things, I have the occasional misgiving about riding around in dark colored kit. The red jacket is a stylish answer to those visibility fears. I particularly like the asymmetrical zipper and the tailored fit throughout. I've taken to wearing the jacket with a pair of red Oakley Factory gloves. At $20 these full-fingered gloves could be the best value in cycling gloves on the planet.

Panache cyclewear broke the Rapha shut out with its Eleven Jersey. Even lighter than Rapha's LW jerseys, the fit is airy, soft perfection. Panache founder Don Powell reports the first season went better than expected. The contacts made at Interbike are paying dividends and new ideas are taking shape for 2009, among them Don's promise to give something back to young riders. The Houndstooth Cycling Team is that something.

With the paint still fresh on the Panache brand, it's admirable that Don is taking the time to get this initiative underway. More established brands bide their time with this kind of involvement, if they get involved at all. Panache is making an investment in cycling's future a day-one priority. So when can we buy a patron's version of the Houndstooth Team jersey?

Best Cycling Kit Brands 2008

My 100-125 mile-a-week commuting routine depends on a few pieces of gear that have to do the job day-in and day-out. The Giro Ionos helmet is so light I've actually left the house wearing the Rapha Winter hat sans helmet... thinking I had Giro on. The retention system works beautifully one handed, with gloves, whether loosening or tightening the fit. My Oakley Radar Pitch sunglasses clip into the front vents perfectly when they're not performing their primary duty.

The Radars help me see what's coming, Dinotte's LED lights watch my back. I run a tail combination solid red/flashing amber from a single battery mounted on the top tube. At dawn or dusk the Dinottes keep me safe from my blind and inattentive enemies. I should add they get a little help from a couple of Knog Beetles: one clipped to the shoulder strap of the ever-present Rapha Fixed Backpack (flashing white); the second clipped to the back of the Ionos (flashing red). I'd consider flares and chafe if I could.

The tied & soldered Pave wheels (Record hubs, DT Swiss RR 1.1 rims, DT Competition spokes) I picked up from Competitive Cyclist last May continue to spin as true as the day I got them. They're not currently on the Competitive site, but I hope they'll be back in stock come Spring. In the tire department I've got Continental to thank for hundreds of trouble-free miles in all conditions, the current set of Continental GP4000S have gone months and 1500 miles without a flat. The small circular wear indicators have almost had it which is a shame because I feel tires are at their best in the last third of their usable lives.

I'm happy to report I put more than twice as many miles on the Enigma Eulogy as the Audi S4 last year. In all likelihood the Audi will be going back to the dealership when the lease is up – the Enigma however is a keeper.

Finally, I suppose this 2008 round up wouldn't be complete if I didn't highlight a couple of failures. It will come as no surprise that Garmin's Connect Service slipped yet another deadline to deliver legacy support for the Edge 305 (they are now over 1 year late... 1 year). In what has to be the most humorous excuse for progress ever issued by a development team, they actually listed the installation of a hard drive as an accomplishment. I kid you not.

In the shoe department, my silver Lake MX400 shoes lost both rubber heels due to an adhesive malfunction. Thankfully I have the heels and plan to glue them back on the carbon soles. I'll probably peel the heels off my white MX400s and re-glue them while I'm at it. I'm amazed in this day and age that manufacturers still can't seem to find the right glue for the job. This spoiled my impression of an otherwise outstanding shoe.

I've listed links to all these products below. If you're looking for new kit/gear I think you'd be happy with any of these selections. Look for updates to the Kit Top 10 and Tab pages reflecting these choices.

Rapha Bib Shorts
Rapha ¾ Bib Shorts
Rapha Fixed Base Layer - Long Sleeve
Rapha Stowaway Jacket
Rapha Lightweight Softshell Jacket
Panache Eleven Jersey
Oakley Factory Gloves
Oakley Radar Pitch Sunglasses
Dinotte Tail Light
Knog Beetle LED lights
Continental GP4000S Tires
Rapha Fixed Backpack
Enigma Eulogy

30 Responses to Best Cycling Kit of the Year – 2008

  1. Sophrosune says:

    I originally came to your website because you were mentioned on the pages of BikeSnob during your 30 Days of Rapha marathon.

    I had long been an admirer from afar of the Rapha product line. But always I resisted temptation because of cost. But I think I was finally turned by your photos and your passion for the line.

    After I finally succumbed, it was a quick succession of purchases. Here is my total over the last two-and-a-half months:

    Gilet
    Winter Jersey
    Lightweight Jersey
    Classic Sportwool Jersey
    Winter Hat
    Socks 3-pack
    Baselayer 3-pack
    3/4 Bib Shorts

    And on order a Lightweight Softshell (Red, on your recommendation).

    Now, for the most part I am extremely happy with the products, and in most cases I got them on sale. I would like to say I especially like the winter hat and the winter jersey.

    But the 3/4 bib shorts have been disappointing. After just the second wash, the material started pilling at the front of the thigh. I contacted the online retailer I bought them from, and while they were helpful, it wasn’t quite clear if I returned them whether I would get a replacement…they would have to see (and then Rapha would have to see).

    I knew it was going to be a lengthy process, but faced with the prospect of a long, time consuming process that may not end with a replacement, I just decided against it. After all it was just a matter of appearance rather than performance.

    I would also like to point out that sizing can be a tricky matter, especially if you are ordering products from the previous season as I did with the Lightweight Jersey. I discovered too late that the size runs smaller than the other jerseys. Granted, the differing sizing chart was on the website, but you really need to be on your guard. Plus, the process of exchanging the jersey took a month. I am sorry, but closing for the holidays just doesn’t cut it as an excuse.

    I add all of my experiences here because this site has really become a forum for the Rapha brand, and almost exclusively to promote it. I thought that for those, like myself previously, who come to this site to learn more about Rapha, they might want to get some information that may provide some balance to your experiences.

    • Dexter,

      I’m glad your experience with Rapha clothing has been mostly positive. Sorry to hear things didn’t go so well with the ¾ Bibs. I’m assuming the piling is happening on the roubaix fabric inside. After a year of washing my pair does have a little piling in the legs but it’s not irritating in any way (and I’m incredibly fussy about stuff like that). I routinely wash my shorts inside out but put them in a delicates’ laundry bag if they’re in with anything else. Lately I’ve decided it’s better to wash them right side out, which should help minimize piling. If you’re still not happy, I can pass on your email to Slate Olson, Rapha GM. As you’ve started building a good wardrobe of Rapha kit, I’m sure he’d be happy to look at the problem.

      Your absolutely right about the sizing discrepancies of the past. My friend Brendan can attest to that when he picked up a long sleeve jersey on sale last fall. It took a week for the circulation to return to his upper body. Rapha definitely worked hard to standardize sizing in 2008 and everything I’ve purchased from new stock is consistent. The only exception I’ve noted is the Summer Gilet. While I now fit into Large in all Rapha Jackets, I still need an XL in the Gilet.

      It’s important that quality issues surface and so I’m happy you wrote in. I’m not always full of praise, see my comments on the original Stowaway or more recently the disappointing Softshell gloves.

  2. Jeff says:

    So if you had to choose one bib for year-round riding, would you go with shorts or the knickers?

    • Hi Jeff,
      Depends on where you live and ride I suppose. Assuming you get a decent summer with some very hot days conventional thinking would suggest the regular bibs were the way to go. In the spring and fall you can always add a pair of knee warmers and come really cold weather you can layer a pair of tights (sans chamois) over top. That said I think I’ll give the ¾ bibs a try one day this summer and see if they truly are too warm. I like the additional support and warmth on my knees, I’m just thinking the mid-calf tan lines might look even stranger than the ones I have now.

      ::M

  3. Sophrosune says:

    Oddly enough, the piling has occurred on the outside of the 3/4 bib shorts, not on the inside. I wash them inside out, at 30 degrees, on a delicate cycle, and without fabric softener. I do wash them with other pieces of cycling apparel, so I may look into using a laundry bag–to at least minimize the damage that has already occurred.

    I deal with the UK offices since I live in Europe, so while your offer to present my issue to Slate Olsen is appreciated, it probably is not the best way to address the problem.

    Honestly, using your site as a forum for issues like this is probably the best satisfaction that I’ll get. Thanks.

  4. Re: Mr. Olson… Of course, I was assuming you were on this side of the pond. I think the laundry bag will help. I’m really careful when I put anything else in machine (even Rapha stuff) that zippers are zipped and anything that might catch is turned inside out. I feel guilty at times, like when I pay the water bill, about running “loads” with one or two pieces.

    Let me know how you like the red jacket and if the problem with the knickers worsens.

    ::M

  5. Jeff says:

    Hmmm…Good call on the tan lines. I’ve been debating over which pair of Rapha bibs to get, but I think the shorts are they way to go. Have you tried out Rapha knee warmers?

  6. I do have the knee warmers and they look just like the bottom of the knickers with the white branded patch. In general I find that knee warmers tend to move around a bit (loosen) in the course of a long ride. If they don’t then the silicon grippers at the top are uncomfortably snug. The Rapha Knee warmers work as well as the other pairs I own… and they look better. Your call.

  7. Jeff says:

    Thanks man! I’ll keep that in mind. Your rave reviews of Rapha has definetly kept my gear lust towards the brand alive and well. Now only if you had any tips on getting the price down! Thanks again!

  8. BR says:

    As mentioned above I did have to return the long sleeve jersey that I found in the Clearance section. I measured the XXL they sent to me and I came up with 39″ of material including the side panels and they mistakenly call the XXL out at 46″. The sizing chart link points to a list as follows.
    L 38” – 42”
    XL 42” – 46”
    XXL 46” plus

    Rapha has a great product line and they know that people like me will keep a well made cycling garment for 5-8-10 years. It’s painful to drop $150 on a jersey but I know that over time I will need to replace less of my gear. We have all had bargain items that last 2 seasons and fall apart or lose all of their value over a brief period. I have found value in the Hincapie line of bib shorts. I have 2 pair and I wore them 3-4 days per week between April-Oct on a 22 mile per day commute. They run $130 each and they make a 3XL size which fits me very well. I have never worn a Rapha bib short or knicker set but I assume the quality is as high as the jersey and vest that I have. Did I just admit to wearing knickers? !!

  9. Scott says:

    Just to add to anyone’s choices; I don’t own 3/4 bibs (living in the tropics), but I regularly wear Bibs + Rapha Kneewarmers all winter with no issues. They are warm and the fit I find A+. Just another opinion.

    Michael, do you like the last 1/3rd of tyre wear because of the weight saving? Come on, I know its the reason. Haha.

    Scott

    • Scott,

      You got me, it’s the 5g saving! Actually I like that last period for a number of reasons. The tire is very supple by that point (notice how easy it is to change a flat) and whether it’s bad luck or bad manufacturing some tires just fail early. The ones that get to the 1500 mile mark have paid their dues. Maybe I’m just imagining it but I find the bike tracks, corners better.

      When I retire the set I’ll weigh them and compare with new.

  10. Chris says:

    How did your Oakley gloves turn out…I have a pair and I’ve found them terrible. Also, you really should ride the SLC-SL more*** and the Audi S4 is such an awesome car how could you ever return it???

    -chris robinson

    ***I race so I’m obligated to tell you this

  11. Chris,

    I’m loving my Oakley gloves (pipe and factory). Great price, perfect fit, no problems so far. Which model do you have?

    I know I feel guilty just looking at the SLC-SL these days. I’m not giving it a fair shot. I’m thinking of having it rebuilt from scratch, the Record drivetrain has just never performed like its counterpart on the Enigma. It probably deserves to be raced by better legs than mine.

    Yeah the S4 is something.

  12. RaphaAddict says:

    Hi,

    I’ve been collecting Rapha Gear for about a year now, and am likewise very impressed. I’m just about the pull the trigger on the Softshell Gilet and am wondering if you have any comments on fit or function. In your pics it looks like you got a fairly large one. Is it the same size as your “summer” gilet?

    thanks again for your wonderful site.

    mp

  13. Patrick says:

    I second what most people here are saying – your posts on rapha have lead to rapha sales. It’s pretty evident. I purchased the pack with the jersey, arm warmers and hat. The hat is nice, still a hat, or cap, but somewhat fashionable. It’s currently too cold for the arm warmers, but in new england we wear them in the fall and spring – so it will be soon. The jersey was somewhat of a disappointment. To loose in the core and I cinch the drawstrings almost as far as possible.

    With that said, I ordered a lightweight soft-shell and am eager to try it out. It’s going to be in the 40s this weekend, so I might try it out tomorrow. I hope it’s better than the jersey and I need a new 40s to low 50s long sleeve jersey.

    Good work.

  14. mp,

    The Softshell Gilet is a great piece. Good eyes, mine is an XL. As I noted in reply to another message about Rapha sizing, the gilet seems to fit a little smaller than Rapha’s jackets. I probably could squeeze into a large, but the XL is comfortable with enough room for me to layer it over any jersey (winter) or jacket. My summer Gilet is an XL as well, but it’s the 2007 model, not the new fabric from last summer.

    I will say that I’m surprised I’ve not worn the Softshell Gilet as much as I thought I would. I’d attribute that to the run of warm weather we’ve been having this “winter” and the fact I now have so many nice Rapha jackets to wear. If it was colder I’m sure I’d have layered up with it more. It’s beautifully made and because of the heavier weight it’s going to last forever.

    ::M

  15. PJ says:

    Hi,
    I am trying to decide what size jacket to order — I’m tall (6’2″) and lanky (39″ chest). The Rapha size chart doesn’t tell you much — it’s all based on chest measurement. I am worried if I order a Large that the sleeves will be too short.
    Thanks for any advice!

    • PJ,

      Here are a few measurements that may help you. My Rapha Large jackets measure 27″ from the peak of the shoulder to the cuff and 23.25″ from the underarm seam to the cuff. My first Rapha jacket was a Classic Softshell, size XL and it’s 24″ from underam seam to cuff.

      Check out Continental rider, Kansas’ profile page, he’s 6″1″
      or Ryan’s profile page, he’s 6’2″

      Hope this helps you.

  16. PJ says:

    Thank you, that’s very helpful!

  17. Josh Chan says:

    Can I fit a pair of shoes, jeans, shirt in the Rapha fixed backpack?

    • Josh,

      Yes, depending on the size and type of shoes. Anything above the ankle would be problematic. I’ve had dress shoes, shirt and trousers in mine many times. Rapha is planning to have a larger backpack in the lineup this Spring I believe.

      ::M

  18. Josh Chan says:

    lol, I prob can’t afford the bigger one. and I like the fixed pack cause of its slim look. I might have to not wear boots when I commute. I’ll have to see what the larger pack looks like and costs. Thanks for the info dude, your site rocks.

  19. Jerry S says:

    Hi Michael,
    I was turned on to your amazing website by Tim C, with whom I recently rode the Rapha Redwoods Ride. Simply brilliant stuff. Thank you for making me extremely unproductive at work the past week. :)
    I am planning to pick up a paire of the Rapha Fixed Short, but have a question on color and sizing. In Day 25 of your 30 days series, are you wearing the black or slate blue color shorts?
    I am a size 33 waist. Would you recommend the 32 or 34 in the shorts. Is the sizing true or does it run a little big?
    Thanks again for a fantastic site.
    Jerry

    • Jerry,

      I was happy to be shooting Stage 2 that day, but definitely disappointed to miss the the Redwoods Ride fun.
      My fixed shorts are black. I’d go with the 34 for a couple of reasons. First, I’ve dropped some weight and though my waist is 34½ I feel completely comfortable in the 36″ shorts I got 18 months ago. Second, you want to comfortable and it’s likely you’ll tuck one or two layers into the shorts. Either way let me know how your choice works out.

      ::M

  20. Jerry S says:

    Michael,
    Thanks for the input, I appreciate it. Will let you know how it works out.
    Cheers,
    Jerry

  21. Jerry S says:

    Hi Michael,
    Happy Friday. I just received the Fixed Jacket (size L) and it fits perfectly over one other layer. If I go with 2 layers, it may be a bit snug. I’m happy with the size choice as the XL may be too big. I am 6’1″, 185lbs. It is very stylish and feels pretty warm. It may end up being more of an off-the-bike item for me. I’ll probably only wear it for short rides.
    I also received the Fixed Shorts (size 34, black) and they are the right size. I really like them as well and may pick up another pair before the sale ends on Sunday.
    Cheers,
    Jerry

    • Glad the sizes worked out Jerry. I’ve worn the Fixed Jacket a couple of times on the bike (commuting) but its constantly worn going out and about on foot or in the car.
      I should get another pair of the shorts now that you mention it.

  22. Tim G says:

    Great site. Enjoyed your 30 Days of Rapha feature very much. Your reviews and experiences helped me decide to invest in some Rapha gear.

    I do have one thing I’m hoping you can help me thing re: Rapha sizing, specifically their 3/4 Bib Shorts.You wear a size large(?) in the 3/4s. How far below the knee do the shorts go? I normally wear a size medium in their regular bib shorts (I’m 5’8″, 160lbs., 30″ inseam) and they are long (similar to Pearlizumi). I’d like the 3/4s to go to at least mid-calf so I’m not sure wether I should go up to a large in the 3/4s to get extra length or stick with size medium. The pictures of you in the shorts look like they go to about mid-calf. Any help would be appreciated.

    Thanks,
    Tim

    • Tim,

      We’re basically the same height, same inseam you’re just a wee bit lighter than I am (20 lbs). If I were you I’d stick with the mediums, I’m sure the ¾s will sit mid-calf if the medium Rapha bibs you already own are comfortable. I find there’s about an inch of play in how I wear the knickers, depending on how much I hike them up. Great for the knees on cool spring mornings.

      ::M