See, I wrote this, then I edited it. Then I came back to the beginning because, it seemed to me, that this reads like a love letter to some cycling clothing. Perhaps it is, perhaps that’s what I meant to write. I wondered whether it was even a review or whether you’d read it as such. So yes, it’s a tribute. A tribute to three pieces of cycling clothing that I own and that I love. That doesn’t mean that the other stuff I write about is any less worthy of my love, or yours. It may be that in the years to come I’ll write a love letter to some of them. And if this is a tribute do remember that these garments work for me and the type of riding I do. I’m pretty confident that they should work for you but we are all different.
Anyway, that’s a really long title. It would be even longer if I put the proper descriptions in, as I’ve done below. For Assos ones they’re not really all that bad. Numbers and letters, a description of the conditions of use and, umm, Falkenzahn. I’m pretty sure it means Falcon tooth or the tooth like protrusion on a Falcon’s beak. Anyway, it’s a gilet and I have absolutely no idea what connection is being made by the use of that term. So let’s tag that one under bonkers. But, hey, at least it’s not Assos Gilet, that would be far too boring.
So, the trinity. A mid condition jersey, a gilet, some 3/4’s. I got to wondering, if I could keep three items of cycle clothing what would they be? Would it be these? Are they perfection? Well, let’s have a look at each of them. All of this is owned by me.
Assos tk.607 S5 bib knickers
Sorry, they’re discontinued, but please don’t think this is a pointless review. Far from it. They are still fairly easy to find, depending on your size. They have been replaced by the Tiburu and I’ll talk a bit about them later.
So, bib knickers. They are a polarising thing. Some people swear by them and some think that they are neither one thing or another. I fall into the former camp. Indeed, I can get by in the winter most days with 3/4 length and, to a very large extent, they carry over well into the summer months. They key to a good pair is thermal management. In theory it shouldn’t be possible to wear something that will protect you at zero when the outside temps are 20 degrees. But some manufacturers have found a way to ensure that you can use them in as many conditions as is possible.
That said, Assos themselves used to market two pairs of bib knicks. The more snappily titled tk.434_s5 were the “spring version,” essentially Mille bibs with longer legs and slightly more insulation on the knees. The tk.607_S5, pictured above, are a more heavyweight offering with more substantial insulation. Then there was a tk.607 bibshort which you could partner with knee warmers to turn them into, well, bib knicks. The 434 got discontinued a little while back or, it seems, stock ran out of those well before the 607. My experience of them was that they were lovely, but, really, bib shorts and knee warmers were just as successful. The 607 stuck around for a lot longer. That range has now been replaced by the Tiburu bib shorts and bib knicks. There’s no “lighter” option.
So, why are these good? Well, of course, they really should be given that the RRP was around £180. Yes, you read that right. And, of course, I didn’t pay that, always look for the deals kids. Don’t forget though that Assos kit really does last forever and they offer a free repair service. I’ve used that service myself. I came off in a CX race wearing some Assos Mille shorts (I did think I should have been wearing something cheaper). Took out a big hole in them. Sent them back to the Assos HQ in London (they run things themselves now) and back they came in a week, duly repaired. Essentially they took a run of lycra, cut the old section out and added the new one in. It wasn’t as good as new. It was repaired. But in operation it was as good as new and unless I showed you, you’d never have known.
So, on these the usual s5 pad is all present and correct. It’s a good one, perhaps not the best one any more, but it’s a versatile one and suits my bottom just fine. You can see that the inside of these knicks is fleecy, roubaix even. Fleece is perhaps underselling it, it’s an Assos proprietary fabric, two of them in fact, though you may not be able to discern a difference at this distance. It’s that fleece that is really at the heart of why these work so well.
There is absolutely not wind proofing here and no water resistance. Yet I’ve used these at below freezing. I’ve used them in the rain. I’ve used them at 20 degrees. And in each of those conditions I’ve never once thought that I should be wearing something else. Now, that’s not to say that wearing bib shorts is not better at 20. Or that wearing tights is not better at freezing. But it’s just that you can do all those things in these and not have to worry. In the UK, they’re a great option to have, particularly when, as I do, you set out for work in the damp or cold at 6.30 am and return in the heat of the afternoon or early evening.
So, in the picture below you can see that there are two types of panel here. The more traditional looking lycra and a patterned fabric. The traditional looking one is fleece backed and placed in the less prone to weather areas. The patterned fabric is placed at the leading edges and at the back of the knees. It’s that 3d structure that provides the warmth and insulation. Is it overkill? Others manage with “fleece” but perhaps its the nature of the fabric here that makes them so versatile.
The leg grippers are a very traditional elastic band sewn onto end. A few rubber grippers are inside. It’s old school. It was high tech once I suppose. Thing is, of all the terminations on any bib I’ve ever worn they remain, so far, my favourite. They’re Goldilocks; for me they fit just right. Whilst I have no experience of how they fit others I’d say that they’re sufficiently elastic to fit around whatever type of legs you have.
The area at the back of the knees is a separate panel rather than being one piece of lycra and I’ve always found that they sit where you position them. No slipping, no bunching. They just work. They work in all conditions. You’d never know you were wearing them. They last forever. But they’re not cheap. You could buy others for less. The Castelli Sorpasso are about £50 less. And they’re nice. But not as nice, and certainly not as robust.
When the tk.607 were released they were class leading. And they stayed that way for an awful long time. Right until Assos replaced them with the Tiburu. If the reports about those are true then they take the lead. I hope to be able to try some in due course. Those bibs above are 2 years old. Washed without any real care (though always at 40 degrees), rarely in the supplied wash bag, dried in the airing cupboard. I’ve never really taken obsessive care with them. They still look like that. No pulled seams, no wear, nothing. On a £ per wear basis they cost me pennies. They are wonderful things.
But, if they’re the second favourite thing I’ve ever owned, let me tell you about the first.
Assos IJ.Intermediate S7 windproof long sleeve jersey
Or intermediate jersey for short. If you know Assos, you know the intermediate. The old one was great. But it was a little S&M. The new one is sharp, clean and modern looking. It’s been out for a few years now and I really don’t think it’s aged. It’s not classic cycling clothing, Assos don’t really do that, indeed, it’s very Assos. But I think that the design stands up well. Though, perhaps, the ALS symbols are not for everyone.
You can get it in three colours. All that actually varies is the inside of the sleeve, side and back section. The black front is present on all of them. Personally this is my favourite colour. It’s pretty good for being seen. It’s absolutely terrible if you don’t ride on dry roads or don’t have mudguards, though the black or red one is much better in that regard. You need to take some care washing it as you might turn it a different colour, that’s white for you. Don’t get oil on it as it might be difficult to remove. Be nice to it. This doesn’t sound good so far.
What is it? Well, it’s a niche. It’s not really something that anyone else makes. Yes, people make windproof long sleeve jerseys but not like this. The only windproof bit is the front. The rest? Well, the rest is something that you might find on a long sleeve summer jersey. It’s insubstantial, lightweight, insignificant. Gore make something like it, but their version has windproof arms. Rapha’s winter “jersey” is similar in that it has windproof front and no windproof arms but it’s an all together more “jackety” option. Assos recommend their Habu jacket (full wind proofing) for the poor days.
On every conceivable level this should not work and should not exist. Strip away that front and you’re left with something that cannot possibly protect you from the elements. In fact, strip away the front and you’re almost left with a Mille long sleeve, which is for summer days. And, what if you flip the temperature to a summer day? Isn’t that black bit at the front going to make you too hot? How can something that isn’t one thing or another work across a wide variety of temperatures? It’s a quandary.
And yet I adore it unequivocally and without measure. It’s hard to explain why save that, for me, and the riding I do, it is perfect. And, regardless of what conditions it should or should not work in, it’s range is fantastic. This week alone I’ve used it with a vest base layer at 10 degrees in fierce winds. I’ve used it to try and beat my long time average speed (home) at a temperate (and still) 18 degrees. In the past I’ve used it with a long sleeve base layer at 2 degrees. It fits perfectly, the design flourishes are actually useful. It’s actually devoted to function. There’s even a little loop tag on the arm. For ages I wondered what it was. I couldn’t see any good reason for it to be an earphone wire run. And then I twigged it. It was for holding your sunglasses temporarily, genius.
The front panel is utterly windproof. It’s a proprietary fabric that Assos call stratagon airblock ultra. It works, nothing gets in, not even through the zip. It’s very light and quite stretchy so getting a good fit is a piece of cake.
Away from the airblock are the other fabrics. The leading edge is smoothed off and the inside arm/side is a more patterned fabric. In use it seems to offer thermal properties. Assos actually describe this as RX “fleece.” If it is it’s on a micro level. I’d not recommend cycling at zero with no base layer. That would be silly. But in spring temps you can do away with one and remain relatively warm. Crucially, if it does warm up it lets your heat out. If anything could be said to possess magical properties it is this. The inner is their VX.121 material for “light insulation.”
Once again the arm grippers are pretty old tech. One might even call them loose! Yet, they are my favourite arm grippers ever. Weird eh? It all just fits together really well. Ok the lettering is probably a bit garish but no one really sees it when you’re wearing it.
Round the back and you have some reflectives, 3 pockets, a zipped one and a lot of white! This one’s pretty good at keeping you seen on the roads. That central Assos strip is actually quite wipe clean. The zippers are, of course, first rate.
Nice little features continue to abound like this insert behind the neck section which provides a bit more wind proofing at the collar area. You can also see the backing of the windproof section here, it’s a ribbed vertical structure that stretches readily then springs back. Because of the structure behind the wind proofing there’s an element of thermal insulation here as well.
It’s the most comfortable thing I’ve ever worn though a few other pieces of kit run it close. It does tug a bit when you stand up, but that’s deliberate and it goes away on the bike. It’s as light as some summer jerseys but it protects you from the elements very well. You do need to work with it, figure out what base layer for example. You can open it when climbing and it still sits nicely.
Sometimes you can’t explain why a piece of cycling kit is as it is. Arguably this defies logic and categorisation. But the acid test is how good it is in use. While I’d never wear this in the rain I reckon that it would suffice on 90% of the other days. It’s utterly versatile and when partnered with the 607 you have kit that will get you through so many days of cycling in the UK. love it and I refuse to apologise for my love for it.
It’s an “insulator gilet.” Who does that? I mean, there are windproof ones, waterproof ones. There are ones that do insulate because they are a bit like your duvet. But no, Assos make, in essence, a knitted gilet. No weather proofing, at, all. So, there you are, freezing cold winter’s day, why the hell would you choose this? How on earth can it work?
The front is made from yet another Assos proprietary fabric, RXQ specifically. Ignore any perfections in the photo above as I’d had it folded in the drawer. The upper portion is a heavier fabric and the lower a little lighter. That might seem counter intuitive in some ways but it’s fine. You do need a lot on the chest and it’s likely that, when in a tuck, your belly is out of the way. But you need to see the inside to get an idea of what’s going on here.
This is the inner layer. It runs the entire length of the waffled outer section and it’s loose. By that I mean that it’s allowed to move and flex. It’s a second layer inside and traps the heat. So, whilst the front of the jersey eschews any form of wind proofing it just keeps you toasty.
The back is thermal as well. Again, like the S7 intermediate, there are three pockets, a zipped one and reflectives. It’s actually a quite substantial affair back here and, central spine aside, not dissimilar to the Assos Habu jacket sans sleeves.
There are also some reflective panels on the shoulder sections round the front.
This piece if part of the Assos Advanced Layering System (ALS). So, the theory is that you can partner it with another of the ALS products, such as the Intermediate, and get something seamless. Collars should be the same height, ditto the waist. The zips should line up etc. See for yourself as to whether it works. If I didn’t tell you that was a gilet and jersey you’d probably never really see it. Everything is cut in the same way and these pieces fit each other like the figurative glove.
The Falkenzahn has another party piece as well. Assos say that you can wear it with just a base layer (short sleeve) as a “warm jersey.” Or you can use it underneath something like the Habu to give you more insulation. And you can, because it’s a thermal jersey and feels brilliant when next to the skin. Also the cut, whilst very racy indeed, means that it fits well over something but disappears equally well under something. I can’t think of any other vest that does that.
With the combination above, and a suitable long sleeve under the Evo, you can get down to some pretty low temperatures. Now, clearly, they need to continue as, if the mercury rises, there’s no way of stowing this gilet at all. It’s far too big for that. It is something that you go out in and come home in. And you might wonder why therefore. Why choose this over a windproof jacket? Why over a heavyweight jersey? I think that’s a fair point. One argument would be that it protects the core and allows your arms to let some heat out to keep you temperate. And you don’t have to partner it with an intermediate at all. Arguably the best combo here is with a short sleeve jersey and some arm warmers. Assos jersey and warmers, naturally, to maintain that blended design ethic. No, I only say wear it with the intermediate as if you have that piece, why not?
It’s possibly one of the more niche offerings from Assos though certainly not in the league of the Rally Trekking jersey that I’ve recently reviewed. I guess you could call it marmite. But, even if you do that, give it some respect. It’s not often this level of thought goes into cycling kit. It’s not often that something is perfection even if you might think that its usage is limited. Perhaps, if we were to run that train of argument then it cannot ever be perfect. But that argument applies to so many garments.
I love these three pieces. I love them because they work. I love them because there’s a passion in them. That the passion comes from exhaustive R&D and over engineering is besides the point, it’s still passion. It’s still a search for being the absolute best possible thing. Whether it is an important question. Whether it’s better than what else is out there is the most important question. I’ll leave those unanswered because it doesn’t really matter. This is a love letter, not an affair.