Castelli Sorpasso Bibtights

I am prone to hyperbole. You may have got that from some of my reviews but, honestly, those products where I am prone to that kind of outburst are the top of the tree. There may be some hyperbole here because I believe that the Sorpasso bibtights are supernaturally good. They’re also, as tends to happen every February or so, ridiculously cheap for a premium product. Head over to Merlin Cycles and these £140 rrp tights are a spectacular bargain at £79.99. Look, I know that’s still a lot of money and, anecdotally, I know of 4 other users who’ve crashed wearing theirs this winter so they might be cursed as well, but it is a bloody great price for a pair of bibtights. I guess you don’t need to read on, but read on you should.

Oddly, Sorpasso means overtaking. I was surprised by that. I guess the implication is that you’ll be going faster wearing these, the unfair advantage. You might be, because you won’t be at all worried about being cold.

The Sorpasso range is pretty straightforward. There’s a biblong, some bib knickers and a windproof version. In terms of temps the non wind versions are good for 0 to 15 degrees and the wind version -4 to 8 degrees. Sizing is typically Italian, so I need an XL in these at 5ft 10 and 80kg or so. Mine are the blacked out version with very little branding other than some little Scorpione round the back. Castelli rate these as mid range in terms of being windproof, a little lower for waterproofing and almost at the top for thermal insulation and breathability. The windproof version is, obviously, for colder days and if you want waterproofing then go nano. There’s a Polare if you cycle regularly in the deep cold. The thing is, I don’t think any of them are really all that necessary if you cycle mostly in the dry.

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The most important feature of any short or tight is the pad and in this case the  Progetto X2 Air pad. There are lots of different layers and density going on, a bit of articulation at the rear and the coverage is pretty extensive as well. It’s a great pad, one of the best, bigly. As I finish off this piece I’ve just spent 3 hours in the saddle with zero effect on my ‘regions’ at all. I’ve done 8 hour stints on the same pad in the Aero Race with no adverse effects either. If you want an endurance pad, then this is a great one. I’ve not yet had any stitching come apart and longevity would seem to be very good. Castelli are quite interesting in that they only have a few pads, the X2 in the expensive versions and the Kiss in the cheaper ones. The latter is ok but, personally, I don’t get on with it as well as other mode budget pads.

The Progetto is one of the drier pads as well. Because the outer is independent of the inner it wicks considerably better than a lot of other pads out there. That’s useful in the summer, clearly. But if you spend a lot of time in the saddle in winter it means you don’t get damp and you don’t get cold.

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But it’s the roubaix lining of the tights that really makes them work. Castelli have deployed two types of fleecy lining. The black sections are Thermoflex, the red sections Thermoflex Core Due. It’s the red sections that provide the ‘additional warmth’. There’s a slight ‘flaw’ as well in that the red sections show through the tights a bit when you’re pedalling. It’s a weird effect but it is what it is. In the absence of an electron microscope I’ll take Castelli’s word for it that the Thermoflex Code due consists of hollow fibres but I totally accept that hollow fibres are better at retaining heat. These punch considerably above their significant lightness in the warmth stakes.

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The bib section is pretty lovely as well. There are two big wide grippers that weigh next to nothing and a nice bit of mesh at the rear. All very sensible and straightforward. There’s no lack of comfort in the shoulder areas. They are an all day tight.

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One of the criticisms of the Sorpasso might be that they’re made of a plethora of panels. Generally that’s to be avoided from a comfort and longevity point of view. I have to say that I can’t feel any appreciable difference in the multi panel approach. Actually, that’s not correct, they’re supremely comfortable and I’ll get to that in a bit. There’s no extra seam marks left on your legs after a ride, no irritation at all. The extra panels are needed to pull of the two fleece approach. It also allows Castelli to make that central black strip (below the Castelli above) in a multitude of colours to match your kit including a reflective version. I stuck to black as it’s the new black and goes with everything.

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The bottom section is taken care of by a zipper rather than a foot loop. The ankle gripper is a nice tight fitting elastic band with some internal grip. It doesn’t shift at all during the ride. There are reflectives up the back of the calves which is actually a pretty good place for them as your movement on the pedals makes them more noticeable. Of course, if you put overshoes on you will lose much, if not all, of that reflective. So be sure that there’s some on the overshoe as well if you can. If I can be critical it’s that these are not as well endowed in the reflective area as the Lusso Nitelife range.

I’ve been using the Sorpasso range for a few years now. I holed a pair last year when I hit some ice so I’ve been waiting for them to drop in price to get some more. Actually, as I alluded to earlier, quite a few people I know have holed theirs in poor conditions. There are a few things to note. Castelli doesn’t have a crash replacement or repair service. That’s not ideal given that these are within shouting distance of comparable Assos products. But perhaps the most important question is why people are crashing when wearing these? It’s not fate. It’s just that they’re really bloody excellent at low temperatures and, so, being bought and worn more often.

In fact they’re better, IMO, below freezing than just about any other tight I own. That’s unusual. There’s no windproofing. There’s no DWR treatment. So, if it’s cold and wet these may not be ideal. Indeed, if it’s cold get the Lusso or Parentini Shark. But in the dry cold, there’s little to equal them in my view. For something so light, and these are the lightest bibtights I own, that’s pretty impressive.

It’s hard to justify paying £150 for a pair of super light bibtights and, if you were to pick them up in store, you might find that lightness off putting. It suggests a lack of ability. Don’t be fooled by that. They’re excellent. And, for £79.99, they’re a bit of a bargain at the moment.

Assos iJ.bonKa.6 Cento fit jacket

What’s your view on climate change? Because, you know, in certain countries you may never need to wear this jacket. Indeed, if it lasts as long as I think it will, then even the Swiss may not be able to make use of it. The last proper winter down ‘sarf is fast becoming a decent memory and, as I write this, the number of days I’ve been able to wear this is in single figures. But those were cold days and very windy ones. If you’re reading this in Scotland or Northern England, this may well be the thing for you. You Europeans, yes. Us in the shandy drinking south of the UK, perhaps not so much. Anyhow, on with the review.

I’ve spelt all of that title correctly including the full stops and randomly capitalised letters. I blame Apple for that stuff. I can’t blame them for bonkers (sic) naming conventions though. The Bonka (and that’s how I’m spelling it) is arguably, on price alone, the world’s greatest winter cycling jacket. Is it bonkers good? Bonkers expensive? Or both? At an RRP of £330 can it ever be remotely justified?

The Bonka has been knocking around for a few years now, it was actually first released around 2011. What’s remarkable is that it still looks modern (in a way only Assos can pull off). A few details have been refreshed to keep it up to date. It replaced, at least in that the others were discontinued, the venerable Airjack 851 and Fugujack jackets. Assos don’t claim this as a direct replacement. I do. Both were superb jackets. Indeed, if you can find either of them at a reasonable price now they continue to push the boundaries. Arguably the 851 Airjack belongs in the pantheon of iconic winter jackets. As much an art form as a piece of cycle clothing. And the Fugujack? An Airjack on steroids. Suitable for only the very coldest of days. There’s no escaping the S&M look though. I had an Orange backed 851 and it was a very wonderful thing.

One of the (many) things that Assos do well is theatre. Even the lowliest of jerseys comes in a presentation wallet, the shorts in slip boxes and the Bonka in full on grand opening presentation mode. It’s not just a box, it’s a display containing all of the pertinent information about the product. This is no plastic bag. It’s an attention to detail that’s probably pretty cheap to pull off but elevates the product above its (chiefly Italian and British) competitors. You pay for it, naturally. Theatre is good.

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The Bonka comes in two types of fit, the Cento (tested here) is for the more svelte athlete and the Mille for the larger bodied one. Many years ago I ordered the (XL) Mille and had to return it for the Cento in XL. That made me happy as, clearly, I am svelte (insert smiley). You get a more race fit with the Cento. At 39″ chest it’s spot on on me. I’d suggest it’s good for a maximum of 40-40.5 chest. I’ve not tried the L in Mille but I do think it’s worth trying them all on to get the right fit. The Mille seems to be in very short supply now so I wonder whether it’s being phased out.

The range comes in 4 different colours, each varying only the front colour. The red, pictured here, is my favourite. Then there’s a blue (not available in Cento) black and white Personally, I’d avoid the latter. It’s just one more white thing to keep clean and this is winter. There’s a 5th ‘colour’ as well, the Profblack version (only available in Cento). It’s all black losing the sleeve design but gaining a few subtle changes. I have to say that the current obsession with black from Assos and Rapha (to name a few) is a tad unsettling but it’s all about giving more choice. Visibility aside, it’s as good looking a black jacket as it’s possible to be.

20170210_100731A colleague once remarked to me that she thought that the sleeve contrast was very effective, she’d been following me in a car. I think that’s a fair point, the contrast of the shapes is something that catches the eye. The front zip is reflective as well. The front section is all ‘windstopper’ but, as you’d imagine, it’s all Assos’ own work consisting of a variety of proprietary fabrics. Assos described it as follows:

The iJ.bonKa.6 features 32 pattern pieces, 6 different textiles and 13 components. ASSOS technology TwinDeckFoiling in the chest and upper arm sections is a labor-intensive double-layer construction, a combination of strataGonUltra airBlock textile outside and RXQ fabric inside. Why? More effective insulation, better contouring fit. The chest and elbow areas feature an additional, in-between wind protection layer. – Inside the collar area, the iJ.bonKa.6 features an additional, ergonomically shaped inner layer.

I don’t propose to use Assos’s technical terms for each of their proprietary fabrics in this review but if you’d like to read about their claims for each of them then click here.

Being a windstopper type fabric it is also very water resistant. There’s no overt mention of a DWR treatment but the panels behave as if they’ve been treated in that manner, mostly. The red front, side panels and back arm sections all see rain run straight off. The patterned front of the arms tend to soak up water. I’ve no idea whether that’s because they are not treated or just the nature of the fabric. It does limit this to damp rather than wet conditions. That said, on my previous version, it laughed in the face of snow, hail and pestilence. I’m becoming a little undecided about full on water protection. If it’s that cold and that wet that you require something quite so hardcore you may want to stay inside. So I’m coming round to the idea that something warm that deals with some water is good. The Mossa.2 achieves that with aplomb, ditto the Castelli Alpha jacket. The Ale PRR range, yes to the warmth, no to the water. The Bonka is somewhere in between.

The cuffs are properly terminated and snug. There’s just enough space to squeeze a glove into the arm rather than over it if that’s what you want to do. There’s nothing awfully technical about the waist section other than the nature of Assos’ own fabric which is superbly stretchy. Silicone grippers keep everything in place around the back section.

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You may be able to make out some indentations in the arm section above showing through. Most of the time I’d just show you what the inner fleece section of a winter jacket looks like. But not here. To appreciate how Assos achieve this warmth and the tech that goes into it you really need to see this thing inside out. Voila. I should add that if you ever forget what it’s made of you only have to look at the back label and the instruction booklet that runs down the inside of the zip (seriously).

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The front panels are, in effect, double lined. Windstopper and thermal. They allow independent movement of each part. The dimpled approach of the sides, arms and shoulder sections lead hugely effective insulation. The inner arms a different material. And the back is a more jersey like material. This is not a full shell. That might surprise you, the approach taken by just about everyone else is that only a full shell will work in the harshest conditions. But Assos don’t take the approach that everyone else takes. Not only is this spectacularly warm, it’s also breathable. That said, when wearing the most heavyweight base layers I did notice a little bit of moisture build up in the arm section which is the only section where (two materials aside) it’s arguably all round shell. Where the Bonka succeeds over other jackets is that breathability. Snug, warm, protective, temperate.

You’ll also spy, top middle, the integrated neck/face warmer. It’s a neat touch.

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Round the back we lose the colour entirely. There’s still some contrast with the white shoulders but it’s all black round here on all versions. That’s in contrast to the ij.habu5 jacket which goes all black at the front and takes the colour round the back. There are a plethora of pockets here, two bigger sides ones, a smaller middle and two zipped ones. Only the bottom strip is reflective.

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You can see how all the various fabrics fit together here from the windstopper type in the shoulders to the more meshy roubaix type fabric in the back. The stitching here is Assos’ ‘rear stabilizer pattern design.’ I can’t say whether that structure is better than no stitching but can say that the back of this jersey works perfectly.

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Warm? You bet. Assos say you can wear this at 0 degrees. I say you can wear it below that if you use a suitable base layer. A Craft wool one will do the job or you can get Assos’ own winter base layer. If you want to move up the temps slightly then a thinner base will still offer considerable protection. But don’t imagine that there’s much to be gained in wearing this above 6 degrees or so. It’s too warm for that. Yes, it breathes well. But that’s not what it’s for. It’s for the days when you need full bibtights, overshoes, gloves over gloves, the works. Is it warmer than the Mossa.2? They’re very similar overall. But it’s that breathability that clinches it for me.

Damp weather? Yeah, it’ll do that as well. Most of it, including the non windstopper parts, will shun rain effectively. But the front facing aspects of the sleeves don’t fare as well. So this isn’t as good as the Castelli Alpha/Espresso or Parentini Mossa.2 in that regard.

Crash? Yeah, they do that as well. So if you crash within a year of purchase then, if you can, they will repair it. I’ve used that when I came off in a CX race. Put a big hole in my Mille bibshorts. Off they went, they came back about 2 weeks later fully repaired. Not as good as new, it was the insertion of part of a new panel, but perfectly usable and not even noticeable unless you point it out. If you do find a defect with a product then Assos ask no questions. I’ve owned a lot of their kit. I have never, once, found a defect with any of it. I cannot say that about any other manufacturer I’m afraid.

But, let’s get down to it, £330. What did you expect? You’ll have read my review of the world’s most expensive cycling jersey. The only surprise, in this case, is that it’s not even more. And that’s a hell of a price. It’s two Castelli Espresso jackets. Well, that’s not fair, the Bonka is easy to find at £270, and that’s only a £100 more than the Espresso (review of that coming soon). It’s actually only a tenner apart from the Castelli Elemento 2 7X air. But, you know, there are many out there with £50 winter jackets that they swear by. It’s resolutely not worth buying now. Winter’s over guys, perhaps a cold shot in the next few weeks but it’s not the investment to be making now. Keep an eye on it though, I reckon you’ll see bargains by March and some stellar reductions come April. I’ve seen them drop under £200. Buy it in Spring, stick it in the loft till December. Stay off the pies.

My view is that this is a labour of love. It’s the best balanced between warmth and breathability. It’s good in the damp but not as good as others. It is the best fit and it’s easily the best made. It should be, given the price. It’s probably not necessary to own this in the UK now, you’ll be lucky to get more than 2 weeks out of it a year. But, let’s put it this way, it’ll still be as good as new in 2030…………….if we’re still here because, you know, uranium……bad things……

Castelli Potenza Long Sleeve Jersey

Did you ever wonder how we got to where we did with cycling gear? With proprietary fabrics, special windstoppers, impressive linings, DWR treatment, that sort of thing? Did you ever stop and think, hang on, I walk the kids to school in this fleece and it really does the job? No, well I did and it seems I’m not alone. Rapha have gone to town on insulating their Brevet gear. It’s not full on North Face nuptse gilet yet. But it’s a ‘we know it works’ approach to cycling gear. Cafe du Cycliste have something that resembles a puffa jacket, with a roubaix back. There’s a little shift in perception taking place. Things that are proven off the bike may well work on it.

And that’s where the Potenza comes in because it’s practically a fleece. A really clever fleece but a fleece nevertheless. In truth that’s what a lot of roubaix jerseys set out to be. A close weave on the outside with a mini fleece backing on the inside. But the Potenza takes that further. It’s a fleece supplied to Castelli by Polartec, who know a thing or two about making fleeces. We’ve already seen them supply less fleecy materials to the cycling market in the Rapha Pro Team training and softshell jackets.

Castelli, prone to the occasional bout of hyperbole regarding their products say that “We hesitate to call this a jersey because it’s unlike any jersey you’ve ever tried. We think it introduces an entirely new class of product.” They have form for that, see the Gabba and the Alpha. And, in relation to those two items, their claims are justified. I don’t think there’s a better light windstopper than the Alpha. I do think there are better foul weather pieces than the Gabba. But, to be fair, they started it all. Have Castelli invented something that everyone will be doing in the future?

The Potenza is made almost entirely from Polartec Power Stretch. The theory is that it’s warm without being stifling and that it’s breathable without losing that element of windblocking. Yet it does without any fancy windstopper fabric relying only on the close knit weave of the fabric. In that respect it’s at least evolutionary if not revolutionary.

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It’s a vibrant looking thing, this is the Surf Blue colourway, but it’s also available in grey and ‘mirage’ if you don’t want something quite so poppy. In terms of sizing it’s a slight oddity. I opted for an XL but it’s definitely a little looser than the equivalent Alpha jersey and much bigger than the Perfetto short sleeve. I reckon I could get away with a large if I wanted a super racy fit. But it’s fine. The body is fairly tightly cut, the arms a little looser and have a good length. You could wear it without a base layer if you wanted to but wearing a lighter long sleeve one will probably get the best out of it.

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The collar (and cuffs, which I’ll get to in a moment) match and deploy a new design from Castelli. No fleece backed material here, just a polyamide/elastane stretchy fabric. It’s comfortable and does block the wind. There’s a chest pocket, if you need it and a very high quality zip provided by YKK.

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The wrists employ a crosswrap design where the rear section is open to allow a better fit. Again, these are very comfortable. You can see the grid pattern on the outside of the fleece quite clearly in the photos above.

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And while the fabric isn’t waterproof per se, it has received a pretty effective DWR coating. You can see the effect in these photos. In the second one the water has run straight off. It’s therefore good for light showers and in my experience shrugged off even heavier rain. Obviously the DWR won’t last forever but, for now, you can easily wear this out in damp conditions. You don’t have to make a choice between windstopper, rainjacket or roubaix jersey. If it’s only going to be damp, take this. To that extent, yes, we’re into a new niche or a new product category.

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Waist duties are taken up by a giant elastic band with the welcome addition of a mostly all round reflective strip. It’s properly sized (unlike the Perfetto) and very comfortable. Indeed, the sizing is quite ‘take the kids to school fleece’ like. Perhaps with that bit more ‘race fit on the bike’ but certainly more utilitarian than your standard roubaix jersey.

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The lining of the Polartec fabric is, well, very fleecy indeed. But it’s all a very lightweight package. But lightweight doesn’t mean any lack of warmth.

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Round the back we have 3 standard sized pockets, one zipped side pocket and a few more reflective bits and pieces. It all adds up to a fairly comprehensive package.

RRP is a pretty steep £175. But it’s on sale practically everywhere for £99-£110. Still a lot of money, but is it worth it?

It’s been a good time for testing. Damp, cold, milder and windy. So very windy. I’ve partnered it with a succession of base layers ranging from the wooly colder Craft warm to the lighter Craft windstopper and a new Funkier one as well (review of that one coming soon). It responds well to the different heat levels generated by each and it pretty adaptable in terms of temperatures. Interestingly Castelli say this is a 10-17 degree (C) jersey. In some ways that’s an odd statement of intent. There’s no need for a thermal jersey, arguably, at 17 degrees. But for a ride of 10 degrees starting out it’s good to know it can be comfortable up to higher temps.

However, Castelli Cafe (the direct sale arm of UK importer Saddleback) say knock 5 degrees off that range in flat contradiction to Castelli’s own claims. And, I have to say, that they’re right. This is more usable at lower temps down to 5 (or even below) and up to 12 with a base layer. Swap out for a short sleeve or sleeveless base and those upper temps are very achievable as well.

Despite there being no windproofing it’s better than most roubaix jerseys in keeping the wind off you and just as breathable. The DWR treatment laughs in the face of all but the heaviest shower and, of course, it dries very quickly indeed.

Technology is moving apace. We’re seeing new membranes and new approaches to age old problems on a very regular basis. The Potenza is, arguably, an old approach to an age old problem. How do you regulate and keep comfortable. I like it, I like it a lot. I’m not sure that £175 is an easy sell given that other options can be as effective even if they do things in a different way. The Alpha is a great jacket though perhaps not quite as warm or breathable. A thermal jersey and gilet may be more practical on certain days. But the Potenza is a hell of an all rounder.

At £100 I think it’s a much easier sell. It blurs the boundaries between a jersey and jacket and creates a proper 3 season piece. I’m not necessarily sure that we’ll see a glut of other products aping it in the manner in which everyone aped the Gabba. But there are subtle signals that other solutions to cold and damp weather are being looked at. That’s no bad thing.

It’s all about that base : Craft part 2, the base layers

I’ve added some specific links below but there are some great savings on some of these at Prendas at the moment (aka fastest shippers on the internet). So have a browse by clicking here 

Scandinavian base layers again. It’s a given they’re going to be good. But how good? There’s so much base layer choice out there now and a whole lot of competition. But I was impressed with the Craft gear I reviewed in Part 1. So I had high hopes for their base layers in part 2.

Much of those high hopes was based on the fact that, like in Part 1, I’ve owned a specific Craft piece for a very long time. It’s the first base layer tested below and the one pictured in the header above (well the older model). It’s been washed and worn hundreds of times and is still if not as good as new, pretty darn close to it. Longevity is a given with Craft.

Oh, and, you know I said Craft made a lot of hats? Well they make a load more base layers. Tops, bottoms, every season. There is something for literally every occasion. Indeed, at least one of these base layers will be going skiing with me next year. Whatever you do, Craft has something for you. It doesn’t stop at the cold days either, it does get warm out there and they’ve cracked that one as well. And if you think they’re ‘just’ an accessories firm you’d be wrong there. It’s a mind blowingly comprehensive range full stop. But, let’s get back to the base layers.

Craft Active Extreme (Windstopper) long sleeve base layer

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This is one of Craft’s ‘smaller sized’ base layers or racier if you like. I take a medium in most things but, perhaps it’s just that it’s an older model, an XL in this. Much of that is because while base layers are stretchy the Gore windstopper front panel isn’t as stretchy as the rest of it. I could probably get away with a large though but for now I’ll stick with what I have.

In terms of construction it’s two fold, a knitted/woven polyester base layer with the extra addition of a gore windstopper front. It doesn’t replace the knitted polyester but sits on top of it. So at the front you have a double layer of protection. It’s the same windstopper as in the Craft beanie in part 1. It’s incredibly light and that’s its forte really. The temperature range of it is exceptional, but back to that in a moment.

It’s also worth noting that you can buy this model in both long and short sleeve versions. Indeed, the short sleeve version really can transform a summer jersey into something much more spring or autumn like with the addition of some arm warmers. Prendas often get a load of those in so it’s worth keeping your eye out.

In use the fit of the active extreme is a racy one and it’s easy to get a proper form hugging fit. Because of the nature of the knit with all the lines and ridges it really does hold warmth very well. It’s also exceptionally light and breathable. I’ve never had even a damp patch on the majority of this base layer. All save for the front. That part does pick up a little moisture because it’s essentially a portable windproof. It’s to be expected. But it dries very quickly indeed and, of course, it’s busy doing the job of keeping the wind out. If you add this inside an existing windstopper then you get double protection. Add it to a thermal jersey and you make a windstopper jacket.

It’s that front panel that really turns a great base layer into a super product. I’ve worn this under winter jackets, spring jackets, summer jerseys. I’ve used it in cyclocross under a short sleeved jersey for that bit more warmth. I’ve run in it, chucked it on under other layers when out walking. It’s ultra versatile, utterly effective and comfortable. You can wear it at zero under a full on winter jacket, but for those conditions I’d read on, but you can easily use this from 5 degrees even up to 20 degrees (given the right pairing). The sheer longevity of it in my wardrobe is testament to just how good it is.

The RRP on this base layer is generally around £45. Shop around and you can get it for around £30 or perhaps a little lower. The short sleeve is cheaper again. Just get one, it’s one of the best investments you can make.

Click here to buy the 2.0 version

There’s also a non windproof short sleeve version on bargain price at Prendas at the moment.

Craft Wool Comfort base layer

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Click here to buy

Sometimes you need something that’s just a little bit warmer. That’s where the Wool Comfort base layer comes in. It’s a wool blend so 57% wool with the rest being made up by polyamide, elastane and polyester. As you can see from the stock pic above it isn’t just about sticking it all together. There’s a lot of ribbing and construction of different elements going on.

The sizing on the Comfort range is more generous and I only needed a medium in this for a form/relaxed fit. There’s still plenty of figure hugging with stretch coming from the elastane. It’s also quite generous in terms of length which is often something that is a little lacking in many base layers. If you’re taller this is going to be better for you. If you’re shorter that extra length isn’t problematic, it just adds some potential versatility. Tuck the extra into your bibtights or fold a little up and protect your back and kidneys. The choice is yours. The arms are also generous in length but there’s no need for any doubling up or ruffling there.

In terms of absolute warmth this is up there with the very best and at least the equal of the Helly Hansen ‘warm flow’ base layer that I tested a few weeks ago. At least equal if not that little bit warmer actually. And, I have to say, in terms of its contact against the skin a little more comfortable. This is a base layer that you really can wear all day with no irritation. That’s why I’ll be taking it skiing. Despite it being a heavier base layer than the Active Extreme it continues to breathe and wick very well.

In terms of temperature range this is one for the coldest days. There’s nothing to be gained from wearing it on warmer ones as, breathable and wicking as it is, it’s just not designed for them. But partner this with a suitably heavy weight jacket (and there are plenty of those being reviewed soon) and you can stay out all day in even freezing temps.

RRP on this one is £45 and, in my view, that’s exceptional value for a mostly wool base layer. You may even be able to shave a few quid off that with some judicious googling. Impressive. Very impressive.

Craft Active Extreme 2.0 Long Sleeve Base layer

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Sometimes it’s not that cold. Or you don’t really need windstopper. You just want something that is nicer next to your skin than your jersey on its own and which regulates your body temperature. That’s where the Active Extreme LS comes in.

This one is essentially a 100% polyester base layer branded Coolmax Pro. But the mesh(ier) inserts on the arms add a bit of elastane for a bit more stretch. Indeed, there’s no stretch per se in the majority of the base layer so getting the right size is important. Once again I was fine with the medium here (39″ chest). This is a slightly racier fit that the wool layer above. That makes sense as it’s not necessary to have that length (etc) on the coldest days. That suggests that there’s some variation in sizing within the brand but, in terms of an approach to how certain base layers work, that’s not really surprising.

This is a very effective wicker of moisture indeed. It’s superbly comfortable and those inserts in the armpits really do add that bit more comfort where needed. They are a lovely touch. I should add here that, on the three long sleeve versions tested, I’ve always been a really big fan of Craft collar sections. They really do get it ‘just right’ in terms of height and fit. That’s carried across each of the base layers on review here.

RRP is £36 but, again, shopping around can see you get them a little cheaper. If white isn’t your thing then Prendas have some pretty good deals out there at the moment. Again, for me, that’s a very good price for a base layer that will do the job as good as anything else out there.

Craft Coolmesh Superlight sleeveless

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Sometimes it’s really warm. But, it’s still a very good idea to wear a base layer just to help with the transport of moisture. What we have here is, essentially, a string vest. A super advanced, ultra effective string vest. Fabian has worn this, and Jens. So it comes with a pro seal of approval.

This is 95% polyester and 5% elastane. It’s therefore super stretchy and race fit. Once again I opted for the medium and this one is the snuggest of all. But then, it’s supposed to be as it’s going to be worn under your racy summer jersey.

Now, I haven’t really tested this yet. It’s trying to snow as I write this. I doubt I will get round to testing it very soon, but it’s worth chucking it in here because it’s quite easy to compare to similar products that I own to see how they stack up. I’ve a bonkers expensive Assos one which has a knitted feel about it. It’s great. It’s also £70 worth. This one is £28 and, once again, Always Riding would be a great place to purchase. It comes in white or black. It feels as good as the Rapha pro team base layer (which has very similar fabric composition). I’ve no doubt that it will perform exceptionally well.

And there we are. 4 very different base layers from one brilliant company. I’ve been wearing one of them for many years, so we know they’ll last. The RRP on each is actually below many of their competitors and if you can grab a few deals then they become stellar value. Apart from the need to find your size there’s absolutely nothing to fault here, nothing at all. It’s not often that you can say that. Each of these is designed to last for years. Each of them is super comfortable, good value and does what it says on the tin. Tidy stuff indeed.

Apeman A70 Action Camera (HD, Wifi, LCD screen) : a Go Pro slayer?

Click here to buy for £59.99

Cameras. There’s not actually much to choose from in terms of their differences. If they work and record footage that you’re happy with that is surely most of what matters. Whether you WANT a camera is, of course, one of the more interesting questions. If you just want to record the odd thing, take it underwater on holiday or, for the more hardcore, show how you nail that gnarly downhill then great. But, I suspect, most buyers are joining that section of society that records their commute. And, why not? We’re not vigilantes, how can having evidence of the happening of a thing be a vigilante action? And with the actions of the West Midlands Police and latterly other police forces there’s a much better chance that your video will be accepted as actual evidence in relation to an allegation. But, there’s a risk. A risk that having that camera on your bike makes you more likely to be looking for trouble, more likely to seek righteous confrontation. Whatever. Don’t be too obsessive about it.

Though what you need isn’t really complicated, what you can buy certainly can be. £25 on ebay will get you something from China that will arrive in a few weeks. £400 the latest Go Pro. But choose also from Garmin, Sony, Kitvision, Muvi and the plethora of brands which, basically, all look the same.

In the Apeman A70 you’re more or less looking at a Go Pro Hero 4 (Silver) shorn of its front screen. It is, if we’re being respectful, at least a Go Pro clone or more harshly, a rip off. But then their cloning is our gain as long as what we’re getting is a good camera. And look at that price. £60. You can do away with the Wifi and get the A70 for £45. Or add 4k on the A80 and get one for £99. Consider that your equivalent Go Pro is £150 to £400 and these look like a bit of a bargain. Assuming that they perform, of course.

So, specs, well. It’s 1080p at 30fps or 720p/WVGA etc. That’s not earth shattering. Move up to the 4k model and you gain 60fps recording modes on the 1080/720p modes and 24fps on 4k. Depending on your view of frame rate it might be a price worth paying. Selecting these higher options will fill up a memory card far more quickly.

But this model is no slouch, so let’s take a look at the features you get as standard.

Product Features
Water-resistant casing
Two detachable batteries
12-MegaPixel CMOS HD 170° wide-angle lens
Micro SD support up to 32GB (128GB on the 4k version)
Multiple video recording formats: 1080P 720P WVGA
Multiple photo shooting modes: Single shot, Snapper

Specifications
Lens: 170 degree + HD wide-angle lens
Video Format: MOV
Compressed Format of Videos: H.264
Resolution of Photos: 12M / 8M / 5M
USB Interface: USB2.0
Power Source Interface: 5V/1A
Battery Capacity: 900mAh
Recording Time: 90 minutes (per battery)
Charging Time: About 3hours
Dimension: 59.27x 41.13 x 29.28

Package Contents
APEMAN Sport Action Camera
Specialized Portable Package
Battery(900mAh)
Waterproof Case
Bicycle Stand, Base 1, Base 2, Clip, Fixed Base
Switch Support 1, witch Support 2, Switch Support 3
Adapter:Helmet Base , Bandage, Ribbon, 3M Adhesive Tape
Wire Rope, Data Wire, Manual, Wiper

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It’s a pretty comprehensive package. There’s a tidy storage case to keep everything together. And, whatever your sport, there should be some sort of holder there to mount your camera. All except cycling. That’s not fair perhaps. Most cameras come with this sort of mount. And they are, in my view, rubbish. For a start you need to install the main part on the bars, and fitting isn’t always possible due to oversize bars. Then you need to attach another connector to right angle it before then installing the camera. It’s a ball ache. So, whenever you buy a cam, you instantly head out and buy this sort of thing. It makes installation easier, you get the camera out of the way of the bars, sorted. What looks like a very useful set of accessories is devalued a little by this common omission.

And if you want to dabble into the wider range of water sports etc, then hop over to Amazon, spend fifteen quid or so and you can buy an array of floats and additional attachments for all sorts of things. Interestingly Go Pro seem to be going off in a more square direction now so these ‘clones’ and the original Go Pro cams are really the only ones that use this sort of housing. There are already ‘clones’ which ape (sic) the look of the new Go Pro session cameras as well.

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The housing is suitably robust. The mechanism has a slide release lever which pops the cover open which is a better design than the original Go Pro case in my view. Being waterproof it kills the sound stone dead so, on non rainy days, you will need an open skeleton case and that, once again, costs more. This sounds negative. It’s not, if you’re a cyclist you really do need a better mount and an open face case.

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I’ve used an upright camera mount of this type. That makes it all rather upright. If you use the out front mount you can angle it down and get the camera under or level with the bars.

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The camera itself is an unremarkable square. A power button to turn on and cycle through the modes. An ‘ok’ button to record. Buttons down the side to control menu functions and an SD and charging slot. The battery lives underneath and is released by opening a small door.

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It’s all rather straightforward. Menu functions are controlled by a series of button presses.

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Then, there’s the App. The recommended one is Final Cam and, to be honest, it just isn’t very good. Crude, clunky but it does let you monitor what the camera sees and change settings. You can transfer files, but, more of that later. Other apps should work with it but, again, most are rubbish. But, are they all rather beside the point? You see, I’m not actually all that interested in WiFi transfer or remote setup when I have an LCD screen. I’m more inclined to take out the SD card, select the physical files and format. And in terms of setup using the LCD screen is a breeze once you get used to it. So, I’m not really sure that, for me, given my proximity to a PC most of the time, I really want the Wifi. I could therefore take the hit and get the £45 version which only really does away with Wifi but keeps the LCD screen. But, the thing is, you just get more stuff with the £59 one including a spare battery and, once you add another battery, you may as well get the A70 in the first place.

There are a plethora of settings that aren’t really worth exhausting but, in terms of what’s important, you get full 1080p HD recording at 30fps, cyclic record, a fairly good (but not great) anti shake system and a few other bits and pieces. Cyclic record lets you chunk up the files into 10 minute (or lower) segments. As the memory card fills it will start to overwrite the older files first. That’s a non issue on any reasonable ride as the recording capacity of a 32gb card is around 5 hours which is 3 hours longer than the two batteries will last. Bear in mind that’s the largest size card that’s supported, the A80 (4k) will take a 128gb card. With 32gb cards coming in at a tenner now, carrying a spare is also a non issue. Battery charging takes about 3 hours and progress is indicated on the screen. The first time I used it, it indicated full. On each subsequent occasion the progress bar continues to cycle so I did find that aspect temperamental. Stick a timer on and wait 3 hours, I guess.

If you’re remotely interested the extension created by the file is a quicktime compatible .mov file. The code is h.264 and the sound is recorded in linear PCM. So opening a file on my Mac defaults to Quicktime but, of course, it will play on other players such as VLC and uploading to youtube does not require prior conversion.

None of this is remotely all that important. All that matters is the quality of the footage and, in that respect, I have been a bit unlucky with the weather. So, here is some footage on some of the more grim recent days in crappy light.

It’s pretty good and, in my experience of my old Go Pro (which you can find by clicking through to my channel above) at least comparable. Indeed, my thoughts are that it handles road surfaces a little better with slightly less pixelation. I’m hoping for some brighter, sunnier days to test it a little more in due course. Do also bear in mind that there’s an inevitable drop in quality when uploaded to youtube as well. You’ll also note that the sound is dreadful and, in my view, slightly below the Go Pro in that regard. If you do get cut up then you have to shout very loud indeed to recite the registration plate. Again, an open case would take care of this but introduce inevitable wind noise.

So, better than a Go Pro? Yes and No. There are definitely rough edges here in terms of the App and things like battery charging. In terms of the OS that works as well as any other camera I’ve tried. Quality is good, it certainly compares in that respect and, if you forego Wifi and the App, you pay as little as £45. I still think that the £60 version is the better one due to the presence of that spare battery. You will need an SD card or so. So your total investment with mounts is going to be £80 or so, just under half the cost of the cheapest Go Pro to which you will still need to add some stuff. That one will record 1440p mind. But then the £90 Apeman will do 4k.

It’s a good camera at the price. The image quality is good but there are effects when panning and at speed. As a record for safety purposes it’s excellent, as a record of treasured memories it’s probably slightly less successful. That said, the quality when standing still is not far off my Galaxy S7 and, when moving, it’s more adept at capturing detail. In comparing my Go Pro Hero 3 footage I’d say that they come out fairly equal overall. And, in the end, it boils down to that choice. If you want a good performing cheap camera this works very well. If you want the best, buy the best, but do be prepared to pay for it.

EDIT: Turns out there is a skeleton case, of sorts, so I’ve rigged it up ready for some dry action tomorrow. I’ll let you know how it goes and post some better footage in better audio conditions.

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I headed out to take some more footage. The Apeman likes daylight, it likes sun. It’s ok in flat light. It doesn’t like sunset at all mind as is evident in the second video below. It’s also rubbish in the dark (most of them are though). So those to me are the limitations. As you can (hear) see the skeleton case makes the audio much much better.

 

Craft, Part 1: the accessories

Craft hail from Sweden. They’ve not been around as long as their Norwegian competitors Helly Hansen but, well, let’s just say they hit the ground running (and cycling, skiing, generally being really fit). And, like HH, these Scandinavian guys know something about keeping us warm. They know about keeping us cool as well so we’ll probably be looking at some of the summer range in due course. But, for now, it’s cold. And, as I write this, may be about to get a whole lot colder.

In terms of durability and longevity I already have two Craft pieces in my wardrobe, a windstopper extreme base layer and a windstopper beanie. The review of the new version of that follows below. I don’t remember how old they are because they are very old. Probably 5 years, maybe 6. And they are still, virtually, as good as new. In part 2 we’ll be looking at no less than 4 base layers. But, for now, some gloves, overshoes and the one of the most witchcraft of hats.

Craft Siberia Gloves

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Well now, that’s a bold claim. Not winter, not freeze, Siberia. And that’s quite a lot to live up to. The Siberian glove is, clearly, one of Craft’s warmer gloves. If the traditional 5 finger approach leaves you cold, both meta and physically, then there are lobster designs which offer even more protection. The lumo gloves on test here are also available in black.

Sizing is similar to other brands I’ve tried, perhaps slightly on the snugger size. This size L is stated to be for 10 inch palms. Fine on me at 9.5 inches or so but, if you’re at the upper echelons, as usual, size up. They’re obviously a very noticeable pair of gloves and, as you’ll see a little later, pretty good at night as well. Because of their colour they can pick up a little bit of road dirt but they wash very well.

In terms of what they are made of, well you can see the description Ventair X Wind above. That’s Craft’s own windproof and waterproof outer. The inner is a standard fleece lining. The wrists are taken care of by a properly sized velcro fastener. There’s a large section of terry towelling on the thumb to wipe stuff away and both the thumb and forefinger have inserts to allow you to operate a phone without taking them off.

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Flip them over and you’ve got a series of silicon dots and stripes to help you keep hold of your bars. You’ll notice that there’s no actual padding here. In practice I’ve not felt that they were any less comfortable than other similar gloves as a result.

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They make pretty effective indicators as well with numerous reflective inserts.

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The RRP is £40 and that compares very favourably to other premium brands. Shop around and you should be able to take a bit more off that.

I’ve been using them in quite varied conditions from sub zero, to milder and damp/wet conditions. So I’ve been able to get quite a good handle on whether they perform and whether they can really be Siberian gloves. Well, they certainly live up to their windproof and waterproof description. In relation to the latter the caveat is that when you stitch something like this together there will, eventually, be ingress. But they really do shun water very effectively. They’re utterly windproof, of course.

In terms of comfort they’re as good as anything else I’ve tried, padding or not. It’s still easy to control lever and brakes, there’s no sensation of any restriction at all.

And so, the perennial question. How cold do they go? Well, look, there’s a bit of hyperbole in their name. But they do put up a very good fight. I always default to lobsters where the temperature will sustain itself below zero because I don’t have brilliant circulation in my hands. But I’ve been happy with these at -2 for up to an hour and a half and zero degrees for rides of much longer. So while they may not be Siberian they are most definitely useful. There is some dampness after long periods of time, inevitably really, but there are no issues that I found with difficulty in getting them off or the lining folding itself out. They dry quickly on a radiator in any event.

So, if you’re looking for a very reasonably priced pair of gloves that you know will last, that will keep you warm and dry, these really do need to be on your list.

If you want something even colder then check out these Craft Lobster mitts from our good friends at Prendas

Craft Shelter Bootie

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The shelter bootie is a mid weight neoprene and ventair x upper designed to protect you from the cold and rain. I’ll caveat all of that, as I usually do, and remind you that the big hole at the top does mean that rain will, eventually, seep in. That’s an overshoe problem and not a Craft one.

Overshoe science isn’t all that advanced, it’s pretty much a case of what you see is what you get. A waterproof upper with, usually, a fleece lining. And that’s the case here. In terms of size that’s a large on top of a pair of Shimano XC70 MTB shoes. The shoes are a 45 and large equates to 43-45. The XC70 are a bit racy so I’ve also been using them on my slightly more chunky XC50N. The fit is still the same as above.

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What you’ve got here is a fairly thin upper with a 3/4 length zip up the back. There’s a velcro strap at the bottom to make getting everything on that little bit easier and to provide a little more adjustment. The front toe section is reinforced neoprene and looks like it will withstand just about anything.

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And, once more, a tidy smattering of reflective material all over. You can also see the velcro strap at the top which provides a bit more adjustability.

In terms of how overshoes work, well, there are variations. Sometimes the really tight fit ones fail to provide total warmth because their closeness to the shoe conducts heat away. Those with a bit of space can provide a bit more insulation. It sounds counter intuitive but, in the case of these, I certainly found that to be true. The only issue I have is that they do run a little large, so these on a 45 are at the upper range of what I’d say fits well. I’d say you could probably get a 46 in there as well. If you are a 43 I’d say try the size down. You’ll still get that element of insulation.

In use they are very good. I’ve been using these in torrents of rain and deep cold. They’re as effective as anything else I’ve tried. They are spectacularly easy to keep clean with their wipe down finish and don’t really require washing very often on that basis. In terms of pricing they’re available around the £25 mark and that’s good value for something that works and is likely to be around longer than you. Just be careful with that sizing.

Craft Active Extreme Windstopper Hat

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The windstopper beanie is a ridiculously good product. My (previous version) old one has been the one constant in my wardrobe over the previous winters. Others have been good, some too bulky, but the Craft one, ever present. I don’t just use it for cycling either, I use it for everything. Running, walking, popping out to pick the kids up for school. It’s brilliant.

Craft make over a hundred hats. Let that sink in. You got a sport? Craft have a hat for that.

There is nothing to really talk about with this hat. There’s a panel of windstopper (G0re) up front. The rest a base layer material, slightly ridged for warmth. There are two sizes, s/m and l/xl. It’s uber stretchy so getting a good close fit is a piece of cake. It’s shaped so that you can get it where it needs to be including over your ears.

It weighs nothing. It packs up to nothing. It’s one of the most insignificant things you will ever picky up. And yet……

Yet, it’s a masterpiece. As I say, I’ve owned one for ages. It just works, right down to temperatures where it should not. And, shock, I’m a baldie. Nothing up there at all, no extra assistance for the hat. It should not be able to keep me cold at -5. Just shouldn’t work. But it does. And, not only does it work in the cold, it works right up there into the teens as well. It breathes, it keeps the rain off and evaporates it quickly, it almost never needs drying. It’s almost certainly possessed. I’ve tried thicker options. They compete on warmth but nothing competes on the sheer form factor of this hat. You absolutely need one. It’s that good.

And that’s part 1. Craft really do know what they’re doing for your extremities. And there are a raft of other gloves, overshoes and hats to deal with all conditions and all preferences. In part 2 we’ll be looking at some of their base layers. It’s no surprise that they do that really really well.