Kit Critic: The best clothing of the year
Here are my favorites pieces from 2021 and the best matching kit overall.
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“The best of the best of the best, sir. With honors.” —Will Smith, Men in Black
As I head into 2022, I can’t help but look back on the kits I most enjoyed testing in 2021. These are the kits that make me feel fast even when I’m ten pounds overweight and just waking from a tryptophan-induced coma, and that lasted through a season without being destroyed by my abusive laundry habits.
These pieces really raised the bar in cut or quality or both. Here are my favorites, in seven categories.
Best short sleeve jersey: Biehler Technical
The aero gripper sleeve, the low collar, and the angular shapes of the mesh panels give the jersey design a sharp edge, but it’s the cut that I love about this fit. Of the jerseys I tested this year, the Biehler Technical (shown above) has the most aggressive cut: short in the torso and long in the sleeve, shaped like a human instead of a cereal box for those sweet aero gains. The bibs were functional but not remarkably special (and the gripper hem aged terribly), but the jersey takes the crown for the best cut.
Best Standard Bibs: Giordana NX-G
The proprietary graduated compression fabric and one panel-per-leg construction makes the NX-G bibs as supportive as Spanx, holding everything right where it needs to be. Sitting on the chamois is like sleeping on a brand new memory foam pillow – comfortable and easy. The material is high in nylon in a tight weave that resists snags and wear. It’s always a good thing to wonder if the chamois will flatten out before the fabric wears transparent, and that’s the case with these hard wearing bibs. Looks like these bibs will be good for years to come.
Best Long Sleeve Jersey: Ornot Grid Thermal Jersey
Ornot’s material gives me the same comfortable, secure feeling as long-johns (the thermal underwear normally worn under regular clothes). The Grid holds more heat than long-johns or even traditional lycra-blend long-sleeve thermals while using Bluesign fabrics (materials made via sustainable production methods). It’s soft but still feels like outerwear, and – my favorite feature – it has long enough sleeves to leave no wrist gap between glove cuff and jersey. It is the perfect jersey layer for autumn through to spring.
Best Jacket: Ornot Magic Shell
The Polartec NeoShell fabric is magical. Heavy enough to retain heat but light enough to roll into the size of a water bottle; water-resistant enough to keep me dry in light rain, while still breathable enough to avoid feeling like I’m riding in a sauna. The double zipper is also welcome. The Magic Shell is the perfect outer layer for rides with big changes in temperature or precipitation.
Best Women’s Bibs: Velocio Concept Bibs
Velocio Concept’s stretchy shoulder strap and stretchy waist section make it the easiest to use, easiest to stay up drop-tail bib design of the many I’ve tested over the years. It avoids the sag of halter bibs, the fuss of rear clasps, and the fear inherent in zippers. It may keep the leg band, where modern cuts like their Luxe model eschew the separate gripper panel, but it also gets rid of the mesh upper panel that, while stabilizing, can shift uncomfortably during nature breaks. The Concept’s tough but soft materials added to the clever shoulder strap construction give these the top title for women’s bibs.
Best Vest: Ostroy Floral Not Sorry
If the ride is too hot for the Magic Shell, I reach for this vest. It sports three rear pockets and the double zipper I strongly prefer on kit outer layers. Rather than being thin and packable, the WinTex fabric is heavy for colder days on the bike, with perforations on the back panel to let heat escape. Because of the three pockets, I’ve worn it to turn a thick base layer into a cycling jersey of sorts, in addition to using it for long cold days on the bike over a thermal jersey, doubling my storage to six pockets. Plus the fun print keeps things light.
Best Matching Kit Overall: Giordana FRC Pro
Used for the Outside and the VeloNews official kits, the Giordana FRC Pro is also used by WorldTour teams. High-quality Lycras in a well-designed standard bib configuration with wide leg gripper panels and a top-of-the-line chamois make up the century-ready bibs. Up top, aero sleeves, a drop tail, and a standard collar on a body-hugging jersey with three standard and one zippered pocket make for a long-race ready fit. It’s the breathability, quick-dry, and easy-wash materials that make me love it even more. It’s one of those great all-around cycling kits that is a strong contender for the one summer kit to rule them all – the kit I would bring on a warm-weather trip if I could only bring just one, and my favorite full kit this year.