“It’s like, how much more black could this be? And the answer is none. None more black.”
Nigel Tufnell. Spinal Tap.
The recent news that Cannondale’s new 2014 kit design will be a mainly black affair has been greeted by cycling’s fashion watchers with barely more than a raised eyebrow. ‘Copying Sky’ is the main criticism that most can muster and, given that nearly all pro teams are seeking to reproduce the British team’s training programmes or marginal gains techniques in some shape or form, that in itself is hardly a withering accusation. But, after years of what has often amounted to an arms race of garishness, is there more to this latest rejection of what has been termed elsewhere as ‘Euro Gaud’ than simply aping the most successful team around?
Colour Me Bad.
On one level Cannondale’s rejection of bright colour is an obvious way of turning their back on the team’s most recent incarnation as Liquigas. Constrained by the corporate colours of the Italian energy company, the team’s lime green kit was up there with the lurid pink of Lampre and the Day-glo yellow of ViniFantini for eye-watering loudness. Indeed, some lesser Italian races – when the finishes were often contested between multiple members of these three teams – were such a visceral assault on the eyes that they should really have carried some kind of warning for viewers of a sensitive disposition.
The marketing blurb describing the new Slipstream jerseys from Howies say that they have differing knit patterns across the seamless panels which make up the form-fitting torso and sleeves, giving invisible ventilation where it’s most needed. I put the theory to the test by taking the long sleeve version out on a really hot summer day…
‘Seamless circular knit technology.’ ‘Contoured panelling.’ ‘Second skin fit.’ For a company like Howies, who have built their business on a simple but informed style of product communication, this seems a little jarring at first. Here the technical information part is laid on pretty thickly. It’s as if they feel that this first foray into cycle wear needs a new, serious voice. Certainly they have decided that cycle wear needs a more serious visual direction too, and have chosen a manifestly minimalist approach to colour, pattern and graphics for the Slipstream jerseys. For me, that is a big plus point, and it was the look of the jersey rather than the science behind its construction which first grabbed my attention. That and the fact it has my name written on it.. I’ve always had an affection for Howies because of this but must admit I have have lost some interest in the brand of late. Too much similar product. Too much reliance on email marketing. This however caught my eye and, after checking around for some sizing information, I bought a long-sleeved version in Medium.
Fit-wise, they are dead right when they say it’s ‘form-fitting’. I’m 6′ tall and 62kg so I’m no heavyweight but when I first unwrapped the jersey I thought there was no way it would be big enough to get round my skinny frame. Off the bike the jersey feels tight everywhere – like how I imagine a skinsuit would feel – and is pretty constricting, but once underway it was hard to feel the jersey at all and I would rate it as one of the most comfortable I’ve ever worn on that basis alone. I personally would benefit from an extra half inch of length in the sleeves and most people would probably want a slightly longer back panel but at least the inherent clinginess of the material meant that the jersey didn’t ride up too much.
And so out to Kent, the sunshine and some hills. I did have some concerns about wearing an all black, long-sleeve top on what was shaping up to be a hot summer day. Even on cooler early starts I’m often rolling up sleeves or whipping off arm-warmers within a couple of miles so I knew I’d be giving the much vaunted ventilation areas a big test. There are five of these areas; a long stripe down the leading edge of each arm, one under each armpit, and a larger area on the reverse tapering down from the shoulders. These are nigh-on invisible to the eye but which reveal a more open weave when stretched over the body. And they are very effective – my arms and back could feel them working as the day worn on and the temperatures inside and out rose rapidly. The sleeves stayed firmly unrolled all day. Chest cooling is handled with the less technical solution of a full length zip but they’ve thought about this enough to give it a short cord to make usage a whole lot less fiddly than some of my other jerseys (Rapha, take note please). The stretchiness of the material prevents the zip getting started when fully done up – I needed both hands to do this – but whipping it up and down from collarbone to diaphragm and back again as the inclines and declines required was brilliantly easy.
And what of the jersey pockets? The two open pockets either side and the zipped one in the middle are all as tight and fitted as the rest of the jersey so you need to travel light. I could fit a gilet into one of the side pockets fairly easily but would have to spend quite some time by the roadside scrunching a more robust rain jacket into a suitable size to get it to fit. Fine for the short sleeve version maybe but not ideal for a long sleeve which is likely to be used in all conditions. Making the two side pockets a bit wider and the middle one narrower could solve the problem as the ratio seemed a little off given that the centre pocket is designated as the phone, keys and cash pocket but swallows these with loads of room to spare whilst not being able to be easily used for much else because of the zip.
I got through my 60 miles without boiling from the inside and was really happy with the £59 (£49 for short sleeve) spent. Currently Howies’ cycle specific range is limited to just a few pieces (long and short sleeve jerseys, men’s and women’s bib-shorts and MTB shorts) and just the one colour option. Surely based on this more is coming. Just please not too much Howies. Keep on keeping it simple..
-will do a wet weather update in due course-