Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Cycling Clothing Review - SKINS baselayer and Compression Knicks

I have to admit that I've worn out a lot of cycling clothing over the last 30-odd years. Sometimes - luckily - it's just been good old fashioned wear and tear. Less luckily I have managed to write-off valuable gear on even just the first or second ride, by the application of unintended deceleration. Memorably I wrote off a pair of shoes by the simple expedient of snagging the right-hand shoe on the large chainring - something I've done just once in over 250,000km of serious riding and never got near to doing again. I can't even work out how I managed to do it! The shoe simply ripped apart. Mind you bike riders are apt to do strange things when training at 04:30 in the morning. Like most riders I have also written-off a few jerseys and knicks by testing their ability to slide over asphalt and gravel.

Anyway, the nice people at SKINS (thanks Matt!) have given me a set of their compression gear to test and I'm keen to wear these out rather prosaically by actually keeping upright and not testing their road adhesion. Whilst I haven't paid for 'em they (ie SKINS) and I have agreed that I should be fair and honest and pull no punches in my assessment. So that's what I will do.

What I am testing right now (well not right this minute as I'm at the keyboard) is a C400 men's mesh tank baselayer undershirt (well I call it an undershirt, anyway) and a pair of C400 men's compression BIB shorts. I am hoping to get a sample jersey to test as well. The size is medium and it's a fine - if snug - fit on my 1.69m and overweight 73kg body. I like snug. I can't fault the undershirt at all (only the body underneath, frankly) and the BIB shorts (I really only wear the BIB style, it's the only way to fly) are well made and a good fit.

First impressions of the compression shorts (or knicks, if you prefer) are of something akin to the "Russian Rubber skinsuit circa 1980" feel - a sort of elastic "springiness" that almost helps bring the upper leg back up. It's a very slight effect but noticeable. I like it, it brings back good memories of when I was younger and fitter...

The 'compression' certainly leaves its mark on my pudgey body, though. There's a faint but visible reddish outline on my upper legs that becomes apparent only upon removal, post-ride. And no, it's not a rash or other skin irritation. It's also not uncomfortable at all and the mark disappears quickly - it was a surprise to see it, frankly. It's not like the sort of mark tight elastic leaves, rather a broader, wider fabric 'impression' that suggests surface blood flow. It may well be a sign of improved circulation - I can't be sure. The chamois is also comfy and I have had no issues with badly-placed seams or other possible pain-points. If anything after 3 short rides in this gear my incipient saddle sores have markedly improved; but again I can't be certain that's because of the SKINS product. It might be, though. The chamois in any case is broad and deep, ideal for my purposes, and caused no chafing or rubbing in any sensitive spots - unlike some brands.

Both products ooze quality and compare well with anything I've used in the past, be it a premium brand product or something quite cheap that I got for Christmas (in many ways the best knicks of all are free). I did think that the packaging is superb but tending towards overkill, however my 4 year old son has taken a liking to the boxes so perhaps they are re-usable after all ?

This is a long term test, and I'll post regularly on progress with both pics and data (I'm logging power, speed and heart rate and looking for improvements that can be attributed to clothing alone - a challenge I know but I have a standard protocol in place and my spreadsheet awaits my command).  To paraphrase the words of Eddy Merckx, all I have to do now is "ride lots", I guess.