Last week our Bike of the Year Awards showcased the best bikes we tested in 2014, now it's time to turn our attention to the best products. Later this week we'll look at upgrades for your bike. Today we're focusing on the best cycle clothing and accessories we tested last year, from base layers to tights, helmets to bags and more. Read on...
Belgian company Vermarc are probably a new name to most people in the UK but they've been around for a while and supply professional teams Lotto-Belisol and Quick Step, so they know what it takes to satifsy riders who demand the the most from their kit. These MARE bib shorts get everything just right, the shape and placement of the various panels that contribute to the construction, and the use of five fabrics, makes for a very well fitted bib short. The padded insert is hugely comfortable, with a waffle texture - how very Belgian - that fits well and wicks sweat away well too.
If you’re commuting to work or college by bike, you’ll probably need a bag to transport your belongings. The Timbuk2 Q Backpack could be just what you're after. It is a pleasure to use, with a good fit and it stays comfortable even when loaded up. It’ll take a laptop, the the main compartment is big enough to fit your lunch and change of clothes and even a bit of shopping - it's also just the right shape to help you get the maximum amount in to the space available. On top of that there are lots of smaller pockets for organising your stuff too so you don't have to ratch around in the bottom of the bag for keys, pens and the like.
What the Endura Xtract jacket offers is great versatility, because it’s a very lightweight waterproof and windproof jacket that can fit into a jersey pocket when not needed, and quickly pulled into service when the weather takes a turn for the worse. The fabric is thin and breathable, it’s well fitted with an athletic cut but with enough space for several layers underneath.
B’Twin’s 3 Shoe Covers don’t cost a lot but deliver just what you want from overshoe, they keep the rain and wind out and fit well. You can use them with either road or mountain bike shoes, and a reinforced section on the toe ensures good durability.
Clothing brand Vulpine have come a long way in just a couple of years, and the Original Rain Jacket is a fine example of why. It’s available for both men and women, the women’s version won our tester over with ability to deal with the rain, thanks to the Epic Cotton material, with proper female-specific tailoring and the fact that is looks as good off the bike as on it. So it's a jacket you can get plenty of wear of out, just as well because it's not cheap. On the other hand you definitely get what you pay for here in terms of quality, utility and style.
Welsh clothing brand howies have been knocking out some really good clothing in recent years, and the Cadence is a fine long sleeve top, ideal on its own on warmer rides or a mid-layer when it’s colder and windier. It fits really well, there are three pockets and a zipped pocket, the brand is subtle and unobtrusive. It ticks the boxes for a spring cycling top.
Read the review (currently out of stock, howies say they will have more in February)
The B'Twin 7 membrane tights are the French brand's top-of-the-range tights and for the money you get a top performer, with a decent level of insulation and good winter protection. The padded insert is comfortable with a multiple density foam, 15mm at the back and 9mm at the front. The tights are nicely finished with good attention to detail that you don’t always see at this price.
Made from a Super Roubaix lycra, the Galibier Roubaix Vision Gloves are good for between 8 and 15 degrees, which covers the majority of typical British winter temperatures. A close fit keeps them feeling tight, despite the lack of padding they’re comfortable on the handlebars. At the price the quality is highly commendable, with tidy stretching and no loose threads during testing.
Wiggle’s inhouse clothing brand dhb came out with another well priced corker with the Momentum Roubaix Long Sleeve Jersey. It’s warm for winter riding with an exceptionally good fit, snug and sporty. The mid-weight polyester fleece material is good down to about 7 degrees. A simple, inexpensive, well designed and good fitting jersey.
When it’s bucketing down with rain, you need a top quality waterproof jacket. The Madison Men's Road Race Apex jacket is that, completely preventing water penetration even on a 200km Audax, with good fit an attention to detail, including a couple of vents to help avoid overheating.
If you don’t want to let the rain stop you riding, but want to do your best to keep dry, you could do worse than invest in the Showers Pass eVent cycling cap. Fits and looks just like a traditional cotton cycling cap, but the three-layer eVent fabric is completely waterproof so keeping your hair dry, and it’s impressively breathable so you won’t get a hot head.
The Café du Cycliste Madeleine Women's Gilet is a top performer gilet that looks really stylish in an understated way, with a subtle grey check pattern and pink thread running through it. It blocks the wind, there’s a high collar and lycra hems at the sleeves and waist, a rear access slot allows you to get at your jersey pockets underneath, and it all folds down into a very compact and light package when you don’t need it on.
The Abus Mount-x Children's Helmet is a high-end option which stands out from the pack. Fit is critical with a helmet and here the Abus really scores well, with the Zoomlite adjuster dial making it easy to get a secure and comfortable fit. There’s a handy four LED light on the retention cradle giving out a surprising amount of illumination, it’s a nice safety feature. It offers good ventilation too, with 15 vents.
Combining high quality lenses with a frameless design means uninhibited peripheral vision, making them ideal for cycling. Lenses can easily be changed with the arms pivoting up to release the lens, and you get a choice of lens tints to suit different conditions. An adjustable nosepiece, comfortable fit on the temples and a hard case to keep them in when not being used makes the Pivlocks a good choice.
Combatting the typical British winter conditions is all about layers, and layering starts with a base layer. The Craft Active Extreme Crewneck baselayer has consistently shown to be a top performer with great sweat wicking properties. It’s comfortable too with a nice fit around the shoulders, arms and neck.
Sometimes the conditions don’t call for full-on overshoes, and in these sort of conditions these Caratti Neoprene Windproof Toe Warmers are just the job. The 3mm neoprene provides good warmth and wind protection, they’re easy to fit and fit well, and at a tenner they’re a bargain.
The Pella Mortirolo Short Sleeve Cycling Jersey is really well made with a Coolmax fabric going a stellar job of pulling moisture away from the skin keep you cool and dry in hot weather. It’s a smart looking thing, and that matters in a jersey, and there are the regulation three rear pockets, a full-length front zipper and a slim cut with a generous sizing.
For those times when you don’t want, or need, to cycle in figure-hugging lycra, Vulpine’s smart Cotton Rain Trousers are ideally suited. They’re well made and really well thought through and work well on the bike, and look just like normal trousers off the bike, for those times when you want to ride to the office and not have to get changed. They’re made from a water resistant Epic Cotton, and they’re constructed with some really nice details, plenty of pockets and buttoned tabs on the chainside ankle. A well made pair of do-it-all trousers that'll keep you dry, while looking stylish on and off the bike. If you want women's trousers, the Velocity Women's Cycling Trousers are worth a look.
Kask’s latest helmet, the Protone, is very comfortable, well ventilated and highly adjustable helmet. It was developed with Team Sky with aerodynamics in mind (aero is all the rage these days) and, if Kask’s claims are to be believed, the Protone has the lowest drag coefficients of any ventilated helmet.
The latest version of Rapha’s Lightweight Bib Shorts might command a hefty price tag, but they are impressively light and cooler on hot days, with sun protection when basking in the sun. Understated branding with the unique left band available in a number of colours, and very nice attention to detail, including the comfortable leg openings. The pad is exceptionally comfortable. Excellent, comfortable bib shorts for long, hot days of summer riding.
David worked on the road.cc tech team from 2012-2020. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds, and you can now find him over on his own YouTube channel David Arthur - Just Ride Bikes.