If you don’t know that I’m a bit of a cyclist by now… well, I am. Time being at a premium, I don’t get to ride nearly as much during the week as I’d like to, but I do manage to get in at least one long ride every weekend. Spring, summer, fall, winter… if it’s Saturday or Sunday, I’m usually outside on my bike, putting in the miles and clearing my head. And while I am not a stickler or a snob when it comes to gear, I do know a good piece of apparel when I test one, which is why I want to bring up American cycling tech startup Strava and Swiss cycling apparel Cuore’s co-branded partnership today.
Below: The Strava app on my phone. Part training/performance tracking app, part GPS/route finder, part social network.
But first, this:
If you aren’t a cyclist, I want to point out a couple of pretty important things real quick:
1) There are only three points of contact between a rider and his/her bike: Your feet (where they interact with the pedals), your hands (where they interact with your handlebars), and your butt (where it interacts with your saddle).
2) These points of contact are pressure points. If you’re going to feel pain or discomfort during a ride, it’s more likely to be in one of those three points than anywhere else. So it’s very important that you minimize pressure and discomfort as much as possible at those three contact points.
As with any contact point, you have two opportunities to make things as comfortable as possible: On the instrument and on the user. So… you can make the bike as comfortable as possible, and you can make the rider’s gear as comfortable as possible. On the bike, this translates into vibration-dissipating materials (carbon fiber, gel inserts, etc.) and design (frame geometry, saddle design, etc.). On the rider, this translates into the same: carbon fiber soles, adjustable form-fitting shoes, pressure-point padded gloves, pressure-point padded bike shorts, and so on.
Moisture and temperature control are also big factors when it comes to rider gear. Cyclists sweat a lot (even in cold weather), so it’s super important for everything from your shoes to your helmet to offer the right amount of ventilation, shielding from the elements, and fast-drying materials. (You want to be as dry as possible at all times.)
Below: Hairpin #8 of 17 on Saluda, NC’s Green River Cove Rd climb. This particular turn jumps from a 7% grade (bottom right) to 14% (center of screen), warming you up for the climb’s steepest section (the approach to turn #10, which sports a leg-crushing 18% grade).
Now that you know the basics:
Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to try a lot of different rider gear made by the following brands: Hincapie Sportswear, Sugoi, Gore, Specialized, Pearl Izumi, Castelli and Nalini. I have yet to test out some of the newer players: Rapha, Twin Six, and some of the coolest boutique cycling apparel brands to emerge these past few years. (A few quick nods to a few of the amazing companies whose products I haven’t yet had the pleasure to test on the road: Black Sheep Cycling, La Passione, Attaquer, Café du Cycliste, Volero, Danny Shane, Tenspeed Hero, Brandt-Sorenson. Sorry if you’re a cycling apparel brand and I forgot to mention you here.) So… I’m not exactly an expert on every piece of cycling apparel ever made, but I’ve been around the block once or twice when it comes to this stuff.
Anyway. I recently scored a premium kit from the fine folks at Strava. I’ve been a fan of the Strava app for the past couple of years and had already purchased a number of their monthly challenge jerseys – when they were still made by Castelli, and since their recent switch to Cuore. I liked the jerseys (great fit, nice moisture transfer, cool features like an insulated zippered pocket for your phone) but until now, I hadn’t really had a chance to experience a full kit: jersey and shorts. Well, now I have, and the verdict is in: Cuore makes a mean kit, and with all due deference to Castelli’s top notch products, Strava was probably right to make the switch.
Caveat: Cuore’s race-level jerseys (Strava climbing challenge jerseys) provide better moisture transfer than the sport-level jerseys (Strava Premium kit and Fondo challenge jerseys). We’re talking about a difference of A and A+ in the summer though, but it’s worth noting all the same. Also worth noting: the sport level jerseys may be more appropriate for temperatures south of broiling, which means that although the climbing/race jersey is best for super hot days, the Premium jersey is actually more versatile, especially if you don’t live anywhere near the tropics.
Below: the climbing challenge jersey. Note the mesh-like construction.
What I really want to focus on though is the bib shorts, because this is where this kit, in my opinion, really shines, no matter what the weather is like in your neck of the woods.
Below: the premium kit. Note the more conventional main panel construction.
To be fair, I only know what I know. A product review can be limited by the reviewer’s lack of experience with competing products. I can’t for instance, compare Cuore’s bib shorts to Rapha’s bib shorts. I can only compare it to Sugoi, Hincapie, Specialized, etc. I’m not a professional reviewer for a cycling magazine. I don’t get free samples every few weeks. Having said that, Strava’s Premium Cuore kit is pretty phenomenal. From moisture transfer to comfort, I have to give it all two thumbs up… but the kit’s biggest win for me is fit. Especially in the leg.
I’ve noticed that Specialized bib shorts tend to be a little long for my femur, for some reason. The sticky band at the bottom of the leg (just above the knee) comes down too low. That isn’t an issue when my leg is bent, but when it’s straight (when the pedal is at its lowest point), the band flutters in the wind. It’s really annoying (and unsightly) to have the lower end of your shorts flapping over your knee. Hincapie bib shorts fit a lot better, but after about 20 washes, that same sticky band can start to curl up a little on the end, which isn’t super ideal either. None of that happens with the Cuore bib shorts as far as I can tell.
Below: A quick pause with the gang after our second climb of the day, on my first real ride in the kit.
I think one of the reasons is the Cuore band is a lot shorter, but it may also be the material. Whatever the reason, the bib shorts fit perfectly. It really does feel like a second skin, which highlights the garment’s comfort and performance against other major players. So… in the interest of keeping this short, I’ll just say this: My Cuore-made Premium Strava kit is by far the most comfortable cycling kit I’ve ever owned.
In the end, it’s the little things that can make all the difference.
Now, for the obvious question: Is it worth the money? It isn’t exactly on the low end of the scale. (It isn’t exactly at the high end of it either. Check out Rapha and Brandt-Sorenson if you’re in the mood for a little taste of sticker shock.) In the end, you get what you pay for. In this instance, I think you get exactly what you pay for: quality, performance, comfort and style. So… yes, if you plan on spending 3-6 hours in the saddle on a regular basis, I think it’s worth spending the extra $40-50 on being as comfortable as possible.
Below: one of Strava’s Adventure challenge jerseys (same construction as the premium jersey), which turns out to have a few matching subtle orange accents. (One of the cool things about the Strava gear is the company’s designers like to bake a lot of mixing and matching into their designs.) Note how the shorts cling perfectly to the leg.
Bonus: getting caught red-handed while setting up a shot with the GoPro before the rest of the crew catches up, because I’m a dork.
Click here to check out all of the Strava challenges you can join.
Click here to check out the kit I am talking about.
Click here to follow me on Strava, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Okay, that’s it for now. And yes, I know, this had absolutely nothing to do with marketeering or business strategery or the social internets… which is totally the point. It’s summer. Go outside and unplug a little. Know what I mean? (And if enjoying a good book is more your speed, I’ve got you covered. See below.)
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Until the new book comes out, if you want to help improve business through your digital programs, pick up a copy of Social Media ROI – Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in your Organization: The #1 Social Business desk reference for executives and digital managers.
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And if fiction is more your speed, check out The Nemesis Engines, Vol.1: The Peacemakers. Think Jules Verne meets H.G. Wells, with a World War I twist.