Bontrager continues to improve upon and expand its women’s line of cycling clothing. I’m always pleased to see when high-end offerings get women’s-specific versions, such as the RXL Softshell Tight reviewed here, and versatility in investment pieces. Neither of the bottoms have built-in chamois, for example, making them endlessly useful through winter and allowing you to choose the right padding for each ride. Both of these pieces have comparable men’s versions, as well.
RXL Softshell Tight – $130
I was told when I started working here to expect inconsistent product review times. Some items could be written about right away—their virtues and flaws would be obvious. Then, there would be bicycles, gear and other items I would have to stick with for a while to figure out. These tights fall into the latter category.
I know, I know, they’re just pants. But they’re fancy pants.
The downside of this relationship is the fit. The RXL doesn’t stretch as much as I think “tights” should and I find them a tad short for ensuring warm ankles (I don’t have long legs). They’re too fitted around my cyclist thighs and too loose at my little waist. I can’t hoist them up enough to prevent the crotch from sagging and have caught the pants several times on various saddles.
That said, they might fit your body type just fine. Mine is apparently called “spoon,” which is like an hourglass figure but with a smaller chest. Anyway…
The upside of this relationship is everything else. The RXL Softshell Tight is a very nice product that, fit issues aside, I still wore the heck out of over the past couple of months and will continue to reach for on cold, snowy rides. They are pre-bent at the knees and have a nice rise in the rear to prevent gaping when bent over. The RXL tights are windproof, water resistant and lined with a light, cozy fleece (Profila Thermal fabric). As advertised, these thick and hearty pants kept me warm and dry on the most frigid of outings, including a multi-hour fat bike ride through spitting snowfall and temperatures in the low teens.
The ankle area of the tights is longer in the front. The shorter back of the ankle allows for unrestricted pedaling motion with cycling boots and the longer front means less cold air seeping through your laces, but I’d rather see an overall longer length.
The quality of the RXL Softshell Tight is impressive. They’re impeccably made and full of nice, little touches like a drawstring at the comfortable, yoga-pant-inspired waistband, ankle zippers and reflective detailing. My pair has been through the wash several times and so far, so good. I would also be perfectly happy wearing them hiking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
More info: bontrager.com
Race Thermal Tight – $90
The Race Thermal Tights were designed to be performance tights that remind the wearer of yoga pants. They are versatile for winter activities, both on the bike and off, as well as layering for winter warmth.
The Profila Thermal fabric is the same medium-thickness, smooth-faced, cozy fleece as the RXL tight, but without the windproofing front. The outer fabric of the tights feels particularly hearty. I think they would work better than a thin base layer tight for tramping around in thick, snaggy underbrush, should you find yourself on a rather adventurous outing. The tights also wick and breathe as advertised, preventing clamminess when you heat up too much on that hard road ride.
These tights offered me some of the same weird fit issues as discussed above, and I’ll confess that I heard some ripping noises in the waistband area the first time I put them on and had to yank them up over my thighs (but sizing up would have meant serious waist gaping). Again, I’m willing to concede that women with other body types won’t have this issue, but I like to think of tights as generally more stretchy and universally shaped enough enough that one-design-suits-most. Admittedly, because of the tight fit, I can’t comfortably get chamois liners under these tights, so I primarily wear them running and snowshoeing.
Speaking of the waistband, it’s wide and soft, but the comfort factor is interrupted by harsh, itchy seaming on either side near the hips. Because of that, I always make sure to have a long under shirt tucked in if I’m wearing them. This might be a problem with my pair, only, so try to find these at a Trek dealer to try out before purchasing.
More info: bontrager.com
Svelte London is a small cycling clothing brand that is a product of the Kickstarter generation and is focused on keeping its products European. Production of the company’s line for men and women started only this year and takes place in East London (jerseys), Italy (bibs) and Portgual (baselayers). They are also a part of the generation of more subtle, comfortable cycling clothing that focuses on a few, well-made pieces.
“The vision for Svelte is to create well-designed, minimalist clothing that is understatedly technical,” wrote Tom Barber of Svelte. “We are aiming at design-conscious but cost-sensitive consumers. We are aiming to make clothing that will last such that people can invest in a jersey that, thanks to its minimalist design and carefully chosen colour schemes, will be timeless.”
The Svelte Heritage jersey does indeed have a timeless appearance and has become my go-to cycling top whether I’m wearing it on its own or grabbing it as my baselayer on colder days. It has worked very well for road riding, mountain biking and simply running errands on two wheels. I’d gladly take it on a multi-day tour and re-wear it multiple times without washing.
The Heritage is made in London of a lightweight, performance Merino blend from Denmark, which is the star of the show. This Merino breathes and moves wonderfully while not itching in the slightest and not surrendering to body stench, either. I’m smitten with the fabric, which also has a startlingly rich look and feel that outshines many of my nice winter sweaters.
The jersey’s fit hits each of my personal preferences. It features a full-length zipper and a shaped, but not overly fitted, design that includes room in the hips and silicone grippers on the dropped tail without any constricting elastic (it won’t ride up on you). I’m rather small up top, in general, and found the “athletic” fit to be flattering without being restrictive.
The three main pockets are big, deep and strong (which I find to be rare on women’s jerseys) and the jersey’s overall length is far better than most in that it actually covers my belly button. A bonus pocket closed with a loop and button is nice for small items.
The Classic Bib Short is lovely and comfortable and features a fairly traditional design with flat seams and a small, reflective detail on the back. The chamois falls into a good middle ground without being too bulky or too thin, and I found the shorts plenty comfy on multi-hour rides. The bib straps don’t have any special ventilation nor do they unhook for faster bathroom breaks, but they are so soft and so light that I forgot they were there; they caused no uncomfortable chafing or sticking.
The rich navy blue color is beautiful, but I would love to see a future option that lacks the pink stripe. While a chic touch, the pink makes the shorts less versatile when trying to match other jerseys and I like to see versatility when it comes to high-quality investment pieces. I’d also like to see Svelte ditch the elastic silicone grippers on the legs, which can sometimes stick painfully to the skin on long, sweaty rides. They definitely work, but aren’t the most modern option.
The jersey and short each cost 90 British Pounds which, at the moment, is roughly $135 U.S. That could easily be considered steep, but I wouldn’t be surprised if these pieces hold up for quite a long time. (I accidentally fried them both in the dryer and they came out looking brand-new.)
Svelte ships to the U.S. and it only takes a few days. See more and order on their website.
I have been wearing Pearl Izumi cycling clothing for nearly two decades. It is straightforward stuff that holds up well over time, and the company offers many items at a more affordable price point than several of the smaller boutique brands. So I was more than happy to spend the fall riding around in the Sugar Thermal Tights and ELITE Thermal Hoody, two items that excel in cool temperatures.
ELITE Thermal Hoody – $120
If you’re not one to dig into reviews, I’ll summarize this one for you in one sentence: Since I received the ELITE Thermal Hoody a couple of months ago, I haven’t taken it off.
At first, this garment seems exceedingly minimal for its price tag. No side or chest pockets, no thumb holes (which is fine; I don’t like them, anyway) and no fancy mixing and matching of materials. What it does have is warmth without weight, incredible coziness and multi-sport versatility for those of you who are also runners, hikers, climbers, etc. Or, just wear it all winter around your uninsulated house at 5,600 feet, as I am also doing.
Layered under a windproof jacket, the ELITE Thermal Hoody is comfortable on the bike in a wide range of temperatures—down into the 30s for hard efforts on the road or trail and up into the 60s for cruising around.
The hoody is made of thermal fleece with a smooth outer face that has proven to be moisture-wicking, as claimed. The shoulders are reinforced with slightly thicker fabric and are so far holding up under my penchant for riding everywhere with a pack. The fitted hood is ponytail compatible and fits under a helmet, and the rear zippered pocket is extra large and deep. My only minor complaint is that the zipper pull is tiny and hard to find with gloved fingers.
This garment has a flattering fit that’s more designed for moving around in everyday life in that it’s not tailored for an aggressive, hunched-over cycling position. The length satisfies my long torso and long arms.
If, like me, you dislike anything pink, know that this hoody also comes in a pleasant green and reliable black. Retail is $120 and sizes range from XS to XXL.
Sugar Thermal Tights – $85
The Sugar Thermal Tights are soft, stretchy and just plain comfortable with no weird fit issues, and the six-panel anatomical construction means no seams to rub the inside of your thighs. The tights are on the longer side, which I appreciate. Though I have short-ish legs, I’d rather have a little spare fabric than cold ankles. Ankle zippers allow for venting on warm days. The wide waistband is soft and forgiving. My only (very minor) complaint is that the tights have a big tag in the back, rather than printing the garment info directly onto the fabric.
The Women’s Tour 3D Chamois is labeled as being for “enthusiast to intermediate riders” that ride one to five times per week. I found the chamois a little thin for my preferences of rock-hard saddles and longer rides. On the flip side, because the chamois isn’t diaper-thick, the tights fit nicely under a pair of soft shell pants for my winter fat biking adventures and don’t feel awkward when walking around a coffee shop after a ride.
The suggested temperature range of 55 to 65 degrees is just about right. I rode the Sugar Thermals down into the 40s on sunny days and felt chilly at first (the fabric is not windproof), but comfortable once my muscles warmed up. If you’re exerting yourself under the sun, I think you could move the temperature range toward the colder side about five to ten degrees.
The tights have a small reflective design on each calf and come in all black or black with a big, “screaming yellow” panel down the back of each leg. The panel’s placement isn’t the most flattering to the figure but slimming fashion is not the reason you buy high-viz clothing, now, is it?
The tights come in sizes XS to XXL and retail for $85.