By Cycle EXIF’s Technical Editor, Richard Gearing: Kit is a critical part of this wonderful sport of ours, but there is so much choice out there it is often tricky to know where to start. It is something we buy early on in our love affair when we basically pick up the first jersey and bibs we like the look of, blissfully unaware that there are (apparently) ‘rules’ we should adhere to when it comes to what we wear and how we wear it.
As the love of cycling deepens and awareness grows we begin to find kits that better suit our style, personality, taste and type of riding. But with so much choice out there; and with most of the kits available being off-the-peg stuff that anyone else could be wearing the same thing; how do you find something truly unique?
Eleven Vélo have been working in merino for over fifteen years. They have always only used the very best merino they can and have worked tirelessly to create kit that works; particularly focusing on the details that wools get a bad rep for – sagging jersey pockets for one.
What of that uniqueness, though? That’s where the ability to design your own Eleven kit comes in. Not only can you choose the merino colour for certain panels via their website ordering system, you can also now add in graphic panels to certain areas – like on the sleeve and leg trim and the jersey pockets on the kit produced for this review.
Add in the fact that merino can be worn repeatedly without smelling bad and its appeal broadens even more. Bikepackers can plan to carry less kit using merino. Commuters can wear merino kit for a few days without offending their colleagues when they arrive to the office or when they change to leave at the end of the day. Racers using trips to visit friends or family as an opportunity to sneak in some extra training kilometres can arrive without fear of sitting in a sweaty funk; or can pack less if their stop is overnight. I’m inclined to wash my kit after every ride so this is less essential to me, but I can see why it could be beneficial to many.
So how does it really perform, particularly for someone who usually only wears cycling kit produced from synthetic materials? It has to be said, comfort-wise it is absolutely top notch. Against the skin it is lovely and soft with no hint of annoyance or itchiness. Despite feeling thicker than lycra, the temperature regulation is fantastic – it’ll help keep you warmer in cooler temperatures and will perfectly regulate your temperature at hotter times. It’ll even avoid you getting cold on a wet ride, which, for some, is invaluable. Perhaps most notably, I found the jersey to be more comfortable and better performing than any other ‘SmartWool’ jersey I have worn previously; which is perhaps merino’s most direct competition in the cycling scene.
There are details on the jersey that I thought I would dislike, but have actually come to be thankful for. For example the neck of the jersey is a little higher than most of my other kits – whilst I thought I would find this too hot, it helped take the chill off of on early morning starts whilst also providing extra protection when the sun did start blazing. The longer sleeve style helps in both of these respects too.
As for those sagging pockets, Eleven have got this absolutely nailed. Sagging is completely eliminated – and I say that as someone who doesn’t use a saddle bag and can be prone to loading up my jersey pockets. The work that Eleven Vélo have done to get this right is a testament to their focus on the fine details.
The bibs are produced with a combination of lycra and merino for a ‘best of both worlds’ approach. This results in a fit that has both give and compression – and all topped off with a high-end pad to allow for hours in the saddle in perfect comfort. The leg of the bib is finished with an merino band encasing an elastic strip for a fit that avoids being tight.
Personally I prefer bib straps to be tighter and wider on the shoulders and for the straps to run up the front of my torso. I found the Eleven bib straps to be quite narrow and slightly long for the size, therefore sitting fairly loosely on my shoulders. The straps are also quite wide apart meaning they run up the sides of my torso. This is almost as personal as saddle choice, though, so take this with a pinch of salt – it doesn’t make for discomfort in the bib fit so I raise this purely as a point of difference. Of course the offset and benefit of the wider spaced straps is that there is no excess material across your chest for even better temperature regulation in warmer temperatures.
The fit and finish of the Eleven kit is superb and it has the feel of being quality kit that will last a long time. My only real gripes are minor – those being that the lack of silicone leg gripper occasionally results in movement of the shorts on my thigh (although the lack of this stickier grip might even be a benefit to those who don’t shave their legs); and that I found the lower ‘zip garage’ on the jersey to be more of an annoyance than a benefit; particularly on hot days where riding no-handed to zip a jersey up would be made more challenging.
A final point worth noting is that the quality of merino being used should not be overlooked. Cheaper merino is available, but you get what you pay for; and Eleven will only ever use the best merino they can get hold of. Even many of the ‘bigger brand’ folk who produce with merino for warmers and base layers only use cheaper merino, which dilutes many of the benefits of using it in the first place.
When you order from Eleven you will get clear guidance on the expected lead time of your garment. Updates will be sent when your items move through each step; from order received, to material cutting, to being sewn, to your order being dispatched. After sales service is something Eleven pride themselves on. They have a crash replacement policy and garment repair service and, if any errors occur in you following the instructions for measuring to order, there is a heavily discounted ‘recut’ service to ensure your replacement item doesn’t sting as much the second time around – although Eleven do their best to ensure the instructions for this are crystal clear; and are happy to field questions if anyone is unsure of anything during this process.
Not all kits are created equal. Not all kit has to be lycra. Take a leap of faith and give some wool a try – not only will you be pleasantly surprised (and nice and comfortable), but you will also be wearing a kit that is yours and yours alone.