Aldi's intermittent offerings of startlingly cheap cycling kit have a steady following from budget-conscious riders, including quite a few road.cc readers. On Thursday, I sharpened my elbows for the 8am start at Cambridge's Aldi store to try and pick up a bargain.
The headline offer of £16 Merino baselayers (both tops and bottoms) certainly drew a crowd, with Cambridge commuters diving into the baskets to find the appropriate size. Given that top-brand Merino baselayers can cost over £50, the fuss wasn’t surprising.A quick fondle of the fabric and scrutiny of the stitching revealed the quality to be surprisingly good.
The women’s merinos were available in grey with pink stitching, with the men’s equivalent in black with blue stitching. I was concerned that the women’s top looked a bit short in the body, but once it was on this proved not to be the case. It’s not cycling-specific, so there is no additional length in the back to cover up if you are stretching out over the drops.
The baselayers are 100% merino wool and were reasonably soft next to my skin. The fabric was noticeably thinner than my Vulpine T shirt, which I use as outerwear, but not far off the quality of my Icebreaker baselayer. The top was cut more generously than the equivalent Icebreaker, with around an additional 2in width at the chest and waist and overall 1in wider at the arms. Billed as a 16-18, its cut reflected high street sizing rather than cycling sizing where a 14 is seen as 'large'. The stitching was of a good quality and the garment information was heat-sealed on rather than on additional tags; I have high hopes for this top being a good value everyday commuter baselayer. I’d advise buying a size smaller than your usual cycling kit, and if you are a whippet shape, the XS may still hang off you as the cut is quite generous.
After trashing the laces in a couple of pairs of Cons and being assured proper cycling shoes were a good idea, £20 saw me picking up my first pair ever. From three styles available, I chose the grey with pink trim (to match the merino which I now realise as underwear will never be seen), which had laces and a velcro strap. They were very 'trainer' like in appearance, a good thing as I don't want to look like a cyclist when I step away from my bike, and are compatible with SPD Shimano clipless pedals as well as having removable insoles.
Again the quality seemed to be higher than the price tag would suggest. The soles have a good stiffness to them and rise up over the toe and heel areas. There are tags to assist with pulling them on and off and there is a reasonable amount of padding around the heel.
In preparation for the winter I picked up some arm warmers which at £6.99 for those or the leg warmers really stood out in terms of quality and price. The brushed-fleece lined lycra was genuinely lovely to put on, and in black with silver reflective detailing they were unobtrusive enough to fit with most of my other kit. The basic silicone strip at the top of the arm did what it needed to do and stayed in place easily.
I found that the £4.99 under helmet cap did not extend to cover my ears but the winter gloves were a bargain at the same price – padded, anti-slip, with velcro at the wrists for adjustment.
Other bits and bobs I picked up included spoke reflectors and a bike stand – all slightly cheaper than available elsewhere for no apparent difference in quality.
There were also bright reflective waterproof jackets for £20. The choice of neon yellow or pink didn't appeal to me but several other riders were trying them out for size. With reflective aspects and a dropped back to keep the rain off your bottom they were certainly cycle-specific, as were the winter softshell jackets. These had a brushed fleecy inner and a water/windproof outer, alongside back pockets, reflective details and dropped hem with a silicone strip. If hadn't been for the colourways left on the shelf I would have nabbed one of them too.
Overall impressions are very good. There is no point comparing this to high-end brands who spend time and money on exquisite tailoring, and you won't know about the conditions of manufacture, but simply looking at price vs quality Aldi comes out as a winner.
The throng in Aldi were generally impressed too. Leisure cyclist Alan Browning thought the gear on offer was “Good value.” If there was a problem it was with Aldi’s in-store merchandising.
The German chain’s cheerful ‘pile it high & sell it cheap’ policy made life hard for commuter cyclist Thomas Sanders. He said: “There are some useful things but they are hard to find because they are buried under each other.”