Sportful like to emphasise that they partner with a professional cycling team (Tinkoff-Saxo Bank) and who can blame them - it helps them to develop their top-end cycle clothing because those pro cyclists certainly rack up the miles and are very demanding of their kit.
The R&D collection is their latest offering and its development was headed by Sportful's race performance director, Andrea Peron. He used to race for Tinkoff-Saxo Bank so as a former pro he understands the needs of professional cyclists, and he used this experience to introduce some interesting new features in the latest jersey and bib shorts from Sportful.
Called the R&D collection and comprising the short sleeve jersey and bib shorts reviewed here, what sets them apart from the company's other cycle clothing offerings are their really clean construction with minimal panels and seams, a body hugging 'aero' fit and mesh sleeves and leg openings designed to eliminate the irritation that silicone gripper tape can cause.
Sportful R&D bib shorts (£130)
Let's start with the bib shorts. Hidden away inside is the same top-notch TC Ppo insert Sportful use in other shorts. This is a good thing, I've found it one of the most comfortable padded inserts of the many shorts I've tested over the years.
It's a multi-density design, the thickness of padding ranging from 9 to 13mm, with a perforated and dimpled texture. What that means is simply more padding where you need it most, and less bulk where you don't. The seamless construction helps to eliminate the potential for chafing. You won't find it uncomfortable even if you're spending the entire day in the saddle.
This insert is built into a new nine-panel short made from Sensitive Power and Fit fabric. The panels are shaped and cut in such a way that, like the jersey, there is absolutely no restriction on your full range of movement. The panels are all flat-lock stitched together. Like most Sportful clothing, the fit is on the small side so you're advised to have a good look at the sizing guide.
The most distinctive feature of these shorts is at the leg openings, a 'raw edge' and novel 'double step down leg opening' design, using Air Mesh fabric over Lycra. What they've attempted to achieve here, and succeeded, is a leg opening that offers good fit with no irritation or discomfort that can be caused by traditional silicone tape lined elasticated hems.
It might look a bit over engineered, but it really works, and is supremely comfortable. The most noticeable thing is that you simply don't feel the shorts hugging your legs. The shorts don't ride up when you're cycling, instead the openings remain steadfastly in place.
However, I'm not convinced the mesh part of the double leg opening is anything other than an aesthetic link to the mesh sleeves used on the jersey. Admittedly, the jersey and shorts do look good when when together, part of the reason they've been reviewed together here.
Sportful R&D short sleeve jersey (£100)
The jersey is manufactured using a combination of Zero-G, a light 100% polyester microfiber fabric, Dry Pro Lite and Sensitive Fit materials, with flat-lock stitching used throughout. The cut of the jersey is very tight, producing a very fitted jersey that is more like a second skin than most jerseys. The jersey sits flat on the skin over the entire torso and especially around the shoulders and back, promoting good aerodynamics.
Yet the shape of the panels and the fabrics used means that it sits flush without any any restriction of your freedom of movement. It doesn't feel tight around the arms or shoulders, in fact you really don't notice the jersey in these areas. You could say the same of many other good top-end jerseys, but the R&D jersey is clearly a step ahead in the fit and comfort departments. Still, there's no where to hide that extra slice of cake in this jersey.
Sleeves are finished with wide flush fitting Air Mesh cuffs, with an angled cut. The fabric here is so light that you don't really notice the sleeves on your arm at all, and the lack of a traditional stitched hem really promotes excellent comfort. They're a generous length too, as is the trend with modern cycling jerseys.
Performance in hot weather is very good. The material is very breathable and stays dry even when copious amounts of sweat are being generated. Further ventilation comes in the form of mesh panels located at the back and extended around the lower front area. There are two areas of dotted mesh on the front but their contribution is less noticeable.
The full-length YKK Vision zip is covered with a strip of fabric that enhances the look of the jersey. It's a very sleek and understated design; other colour combinations are available, but it's a more subdued palette than Sportful's other garments. The only niggle with the zip is that is doesn't sit flat on the body, instead it has a slightly rippled shape that is the only blemish on an otherwise excellent jersey.
You get three rear pockets in a 'flat' design with very minimal stitching and no hem lining the openings, helping to reduce bulk. The pockets are lined with reflective tape which is a very nice addition. The pockets are easy to locate when you're riding and reaching into for a gel or bar, and they're large enough to take a typical day's worth of food, tools and spare clothing.
Usually a waist band will be elasticated or lined with silicone gripper tape to keep it properly in place. Instead Sportful have simply bonded a thin strip of fabric, less stretchy than the main body fabric, into the waistband and it works well.
The most noticeable benefit of the design features in this jersey is that it almost feels like you're not wearing it at all. It's impressively breathable and fast drying, it's a good aero fit and everything about it is really well thought out. There are some nice details that really stand it out from many other jerseys, yet it costs a good deal less than many brand's top-end offerings, though £100 is still a lot of money. It probably won't be long before Sportful introduce some of these features on their more affordable garments.
There are seven sizes to choose from so everyone should be covered, but because of the close fit I'd recommend trying it on before parting with your money. There are also three colour options, black/red pictured here or black/grey and black/yellow fluoro.
I've been using this jersey and bib shorts combination a lot recently, including some riding in Tenerife and Majorca to test the hot weather capability, and racing and time trialling back in the UK. The performance makes it a real standout combo, most pertinently the excellent fit which is closer than just about any other clothing I've tried, without the typical comfort drawbacks. It's no wonder it's the clothing I reach for over any over before a ride. And if the prices are a bit steep, it's worth shopping around because I've seen them cheaper at a couple of shops, making it a bit of a bargain considering the level of design and performance.
Incredibly comfortable and close fitting shorts and jersey pairing with some really nice details
road.cc test report
Make and model: Sportful R&D bib shorts and jersey
Size tested: medium/small, black
Tell us what the product is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
From the Research and Development center at Sportful comes a new way of looking at a jersey.
Every little detail has been obsessed over to make a jersey that is first and foremost a technically advanced bit of riding kit.
But what sets it apart is the incredibly clean construction technique where seams disappear into sophisticated lines.
The advanced R&D process brings futuristic comfort that combines new construction techniques in the new Sensitive Power fabric and raw cut mesh leg ending, along with an advanced 9 panel anatomic fit and our Tour de France tested BodyFit Pro bib straps and TC pro chamois. New innovation combines with proven technologies for the future in bibshorts.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Sensitive® for excellent fit and wicking
Stretch mesh no-sew sleeve endings
Laser cut vent holes with mesh backing
DryPro Lite for extra breathability & pocket support
Reflective pocket outline
No-sew hem & pocket elastic
Anatomic shoulder construction
Full length YKK® Vislon zipper with no-sew flap
Raw cut edges means no annoying elastic
Extreme cycling position anatomic cut
TC Pro seat pad - up to 13mm of padding
BodyFit Pro bib construction
Sensitive® Power for excellent compression and breathability
Double step down leg opening holds short in place but you hardly feel it
Excellent construction provides class-leading performance and comfort.
Brilliant performance in all conditions and situations, hard to find fault with.
I thought the mesh panels might struggle in the long-term but they have been just fine, and the clothing has been through dozens of wash cycles with no negative impact.
Fantastic comfort, but the sizing is on the small side.
Are these expensive? Well, they're cheaper than anything similar from Castelli, Assos or Rapha, and the level of design and performance offered by the jersey and shorts surpasses anything from those brands, which makes them a bit of a bargain.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Very well indeed.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Potential aero gains from the close fit, the impressive comfort, details that make them really nice to ride in.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
The rippled zip is a bit of a blemish.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes.
Would you consider buying the product? Yes.
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes.
About the tester
I usually ride: My best bike is:
I've been riding for: 10-20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, time trialling, cyclo cross, commuting, touring, mtb,