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OPINION

Why is some cycling kit so expensive nowadays? The price of the shirt on your back

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There’s an abundance of trendy, very expensive cycling apparel brands around... but is it really worth it when compared to cheaper options?

If you have a social media feed such as Instagram and you’re into road cycling, you probably get bombarded with videos of ‘picture perfect’ influencers in very similar, but rather nice-looking kit on a daily basis.

These are usually accompanied by links to an ever-growing band of niche clothing brands; some you’ve probably heard of, some seem to be homespun, dropship enterprises.

In so many ways we’ve never had it so good when it comes to choices in our cycling kit… but in other ways you can’t help but feel the Michael is being taken a little in some cases.

It’s hard to believe that it was only in 2004 that Simon Mottram launched Rapha, which as the time very much threw the musette in the face of accepted tradition within the jaded yet bold world of Lycra-led cycling. When Rapha first appeared on the scene, it has to be said that they were met with a love-hate response from the ‘establishment’.

When a jersey went from costing £30 to over £100 and came made from merino wool in seemingly bland colours, I guess it was only natural that the old guard raised eyebrows, and few gave them much of a chance of surviving in the marketplace.

Oh how times change, and Rapha’s master plan (inline with the rise of the internet and globalisation) has not only changed the way cyclists perceive their kit – and the cost of it – it’s led to a whole new tidal wave of smaller high-end (or perhaps just high cost) brands seeking to follow their example. There’s little doubting that the profusion of such ‘cool kit’ and the bikes that have risen to financial challenge have changed the image of the sport.

The ‘up-valuing’ of cycling has also helped to attract a new demographic of people into the sport; those who would probably have quivered and broken into a sweat at thought of slipping into 80s dayglo Lycra, which is all good for cycling.

But… why does this kit cost so damn much, and is it justifiable in practical terms? Or is it merely a case buying an assumed brand name and paying way over the odds for it?

This is a tough one, as the cost of cycling overall has risen dramatically in recent years. As long as people keep buying into expensive kit that trend will continue, and if you can afford it and it that makes you happy, why not?!

Nowadays you can but a cheap jersey or even shorts for about £6 online from the Far East, pay £60 for an offering from a long-established brand, or double that for something khaki with a few big letters on it. Often all of these jerseys (or shorts) were made in the same region, as opposed to facilities owned by the brand.

There’s nothing wrong with this in some ways, as consumer demand has driven outsourcing for decades. Just about every designer clothing brand, or any other brand for that matter, outsources as opposed to manufactures.

Even some of the major premium European brands that proudly tout their national and established brand cred do not actually make anything but samples these days. It’s far more cost-effective for them to outsource production and to employ strict quality control. And it works, for them.

That said, there are still several clothing brands out there that do still manufacture, often those in the custom kit arena. Although this tends to make things more costly overall for them, they do benefit from stricter quality control and being able to implement technology and design changes much faster than others; yet on price these brands are often mid-range, thus offering excellent and practical value.

So, outside of the basic materials and labour costs, what is it that makes certain brands so much more expensive than others? Ironically it’s often the custom and larger, more established brands that put in the most work and investment when it comes to advances in materials and new technologies.

Look to the national teams here and you will often see who is producing cutting-edge kit. These teams generally prioritise medals over sponsorship, and as such they want the fastest and best available kit. This is especially so when it comes to track clothing, where fractions of seconds count.

Developing a speedsuit for a high-level national team can involve months of testing and development, material sourcing, patenting and the UCI regulation-bending that goes with that. This can mean hundreds of thousands goes into that speedsuit, which is why many touted Simon Yates’ speedsuit as costing £3,000, all of which does need to be earned back by the manufacturer.

Sponsorship and marketing is perhaps the biggest expense (outside of operating costs) of many brands, and supplying an average WorldTour team can mean around 5,000 items of various pieces of kit (including socks, gloves, hats etc) each year, plus the ever increasing financial commitments to a team, all of which have to be recouped.

As for the ‘designer’ kit makers, with some it’s much easier to see where they spend their marketing budgets, while many of the smaller brands have much more an influencer-led attack. This is a whole lot cheaper, and does at times make their costs harder to count.

Is this kit really that much better? In many cases boutique high-end cycling kit can be superb, but on the other hand I’ve personally not always found that to be true, and even between different seasons the quality can often differ. Although much of it is of better quality, and there’s more actual ‘design’ going on compared to ultra-cheap kit from the Far East, at times it’s hard to understand how that 20-fold price increase can be justified.

As for the mid-range and custom kit out there, it may not have that D&G or Gucci-like appeal, but it’s not hard to justify in terms of practical value. The great thing is that we now have far more choice, although I do struggle to understand the wildly differing price points when it comes to cycling clothing.

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18 comments

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matthewn5 | 1 year ago
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I buy almost all my kit - except bibs and socks - second hand on forums or Ebay. Many times, it's top level kit that has barely been used at all. The average is about 40% of new price. Some even better bargains. Very happy with that!

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matthewn5 replied to matthewn5 | 1 year ago
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Cycloid | 1 year ago
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A few years ago I was visiting a garment factory in Tunisia for my job.
The shop floor was about the size of a large B&Q. That day they were making football jerseys for. Newcastle United. All you could see was a sea of humbugs.
The cost of a jersey at the factory gate was about £8, they were retailing at £60+

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iSamurai | 1 year ago
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I've only been wearing my club kit over the last few years. They are really value for money. The top of the range jersey and bib shorts are around €50 and €60 respectively (the lower specced ones cost even less) and come from a supposedly good European brand. Accessories like arm/leg warmers are around €15 a pop. Since then I don't wear anything thing else because they're literally the cheapest kits I could buy (okay, aliexpress kits are not quite directly comparable but they're generally good nowadays) and I have enough sets to last for a week. I do recommend just joining a club and simply wear club kits, but also it's more fun to be in a team. Most of the time they look better than whatever's been marketed anyway.

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Flintshire Boy | 1 year ago
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.

What is a 'dropship enterprise'?

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mark1a replied to Flintshire Boy | 1 year ago
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Flintshire Boy wrote:

What is a 'dropship enterprise'?

I believe it's a business model where the seller does not hold any stock or have any manufacturing facility, they sell something, pass the order directly to the supplier who then fulfils on their behalf.

Or it's what you get if you buy Star Trek merch from AliExpress.

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Flintshire Boy replied to mark1a | 1 year ago
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Oh. Thanks for that. [Belatedly!]

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EM69 | 1 year ago
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I'm sure we all have our favourite brands regardless of cost and if a product fits well, feels comfortable and lasts cyclists will pay whatever. We cyclists are also very loyal to cycling specific brands, look at the money Adidas & Nike have put into cycling over the years but never quite cracked it.

 

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Secret_squirrel | 1 year ago
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Like many things price is not a good indicator of quality and a vast range of price brackets.  See BMW vs Ducati motorbikes for instance.

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Global Nomad | 1 year ago
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i just wanted to add that all cycling has done is catch up with other clothing over the last 15 years...actually the same reasoning applies to all products, supply and demand led, cost recovery and copying at the lower end, added margins due to brand strength at the other end. As well as the idea that there are anomolies at both ends of the market. 

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TheBillder replied to Global Nomad | 1 year ago
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Indeed, this has happened to many consumer prices. Who paid £200+ for a vacuum cleaner until James Dyson came along, persuaded us all that we had to and then wandered off to Singapore as Wiltshire wasn't profitable enough?

For cycling kit, my favourite stuff comes from Galibier, Decathlon and Primal (custom). I can't say I've benchmarked against the R word, but I don't need to as what I have is good enough and has been more durable than the single red scorpion brand item I have (I didn't care when the logo rubbed off but the fabric is wearing quickly too).

We have a choice of price point and should exercise it.

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Secret_squirrel replied to TheBillder | 1 year ago
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Whilst I like the example of Dyson its not entirely accurate - there were other premium hoover brands before Dyson.  Meile for example.

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TheBillder replied to Secret_squirrel | 1 year ago
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Somewhere I found (and can't find again) a stat about the average price paid pre and post Dyson. I think we went from £80 ish to double that. I'd guess that Miele sales also rose because their prices didn't seem quite so outlandish.

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Karl219 | 1 year ago
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To differentiate your product in a crowded market, you sponsor a team and develop their clothing, which costs a lot, including free kit to the team, so you charge more to ordinary consumers, who choose your product because the team uses it. This seems to be a self-perpetuating loop in which the naive or complicit consumer is the essential force to keep it moving.

I have a lovely ten-year old Giordana jersey, which is still in good nick, bought through my London club. Because the club was shrewd and well organised, they bought in bulk at a very reasonable price. Ah, reasonable prices... 

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mctrials23 | 1 year ago
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Its pretty simple. Good quality costs money, research and top designers cost money. Most of all though, there is an ever growing market of cash rich buyers who are willing to spend lots of money simply because they can. Most people aren't buying £10k bikes but enough people are to make it worth them making them. 

People also love to whinge that things are getting ever more expensive which is complete BS. You can get fantastic bikes for little money now that would blow even midrange bikes of 10 years ago out of the water for 1/3rd of the price. I can pay £30 for a set of decent enough bib shorts or I can pay £300. The fact there are £300 ones doesn't mean that bib shorts are expensive. 

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Jimmy Ray Will | 1 year ago
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I work in the industry and from what I know about the industry, I would not be comfortable purchasing a £6 jersey. 

Not just because of the quality of fabrics or build, but because of whatever other economies of scale that have been implemented to hit that price point. The main one being human resource. 

The challenge with these premium products is that, a bit like fuel, margins 'need' to be maintained. As you use ever more expensive fabrics, more intricate production technics, the base manufacturing cost increases. Assuming production is outside of the UK, base cost increases also mean increased duty payments. Manufacturers will then factor in a 'business operational cost' (typically a percentage of base cost) to be added on before retail margins are applied. 

In a long winded way, I'm saying that fairly small production cost increases can genuinely lead to fairly significant increases in retail pricing. 

That said, there is plenty of flagrant profiteering that goes on. I'm aware of a UK distributor that chose the retail price of a new helmet release based on nothing more than wanting to be£10 more expensive than the most expensive helmet currently on the market.   

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Karl219 replied to Jimmy Ray Will | 1 year ago
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Since so much of cycling apparel is produced in China, spending more is no guarantee of a supply chain that has high employee welfare standards, just a higher margin with more sophisticated marketing. In terms of ESG, producers are often weak on some of, or all three aspects. And the current oil price is going to drive prices even higher when hedging contracts come up for renewal.

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NPlus1Bikelights | 1 year ago
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I will happily buy the more "expensive" stuff. Below speedsuit: just laser cut, silky feel, race fits - comfortable, technical (ignore 4 way stretch marketing though) materials and quick drying.

Support local businesses who design jerseys where another UK business prints it. Attacus etc.

Don't impulse buy. Buy on sale. Buy 2021.  Then much less "expensive".

Take advantage of Le Col / other Strava rewards deals for clothing vouchers. Then less "expensive".

Several brands offer crash repair options. So slightly "expensive"  can means clothing for >5 years. Some brands are timeless.

 

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