Cycling kit taking its cue from tailoring

Cycling kit that marries tailoring cuts and drapes with performance fabrics is pulling away from the Lycra-clad peloton, says Marc Abbott

Café du Cycliste Lucette gilet, £188
Café du Cycliste Lucette gilet, £188

It takes some courage and conviction for a former Tour de France racer to claim to be staging “a rebellion against the garish colours of the pro cycling peloton”. Yet that is part of ex-pro cyclist David Millar’s MO for his new cycling brand CHPT3. While a number of recreational riders might eagerly don the replica kit of their favourite professional team, or city cyclists be happy to slip into lurid Lycra for the commute, Millar’s intention with CHPT3 was instead to look to bespoke suiting and marry it with high‑tech performance fabrics. “Only a person who wears a Savile Row suit will recognise one on someone else,” says Millar. “It’s the same with CHPT3.”

Rapha cotton poplin shirt, £120
Rapha cotton poplin shirt, £120

Millar worked with tailor Timothy Everest’s chief cutter to finesse the finishes and cuts of many of the brand’s current collection. The navy or army-green Rocka jacket (short-sleeved £275; long-sleeved £290) is created in Gore Windstopper X-Lite fabric, which is windproof, water repellent and breathable, while its cut draws from both the fit of shooting jackets and the wraparound collar of biking jackets. Pleated shoulders add a boxy urban edge to the silhouette and a jetted pocket with a tab button resembles one that might be found inside a tailored jacket. The 1.81 base layer (£60), to be worn underneath, adds a pop of colour, like the secret flamboyant lining of a suit. “I knew from my own tailor that a good suit can outwardly allow you to toe the line, but fun can be had with the lining. It doesn’t have to be shown off, but it’s there if you want to display it. In tailoring terms, it’s what’s called the ‘reveal’,” says Millar.

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Elsewhere, the neck of the ultra-lightweight cotton 1.21 jersey (£200) features elegant button detailing that would be at home on a smart shirt, and the red K61 waterproof jacket (£320) has smart buttoned cuffs in contrast pale blue. Millar’s on-site description of the K61 reads: “Unlike traditional rain jackets it is tailored to fit, meaning that on the bike you won’t feel like you’re dragging a parachute, and if the weather is too atrocious you can also sit in a café and not look like you’ve been shipwrecked.”  

Pedal Ed cotton/nylon Saddle jacket, £215
Pedal Ed cotton/nylon Saddle jacket, £215

Millar is not alone. Other new boutique cycling labels, together with some established behemoth brands, are also taking up this refreshingly different approach, championing performance kit that unites cutting-edge technology with tailored cuts or classic menswear tropes. And this gear, designed to perform at its best under arduous conditions, is far from an exercise in style over substance.

DL Killer carbon-fibre Vito riding shoes, £500
DL Killer carbon-fibre Vito riding shoes, £500 | Image: Phil Crow

The founder of Nice-based Café du Cycliste, Rémi Clermont, echoes Millar’s desire to distance himself from the traditional approach to cycling apparel: “We try to make clothing in which our customers can remain themselves. All our products are performance-cycling garments, but the style inspiration does not necessarily come from the cycling world. We prefer to look at other fields – like traditional French fashion, which inspired our Breton jersey.” The Breton Claudette jersey (£160), made from a fine-grade merino/silk mix for optimum temperature regulation on the hardest days in the saddle, certainly has a distinct Gallic cool. The Lucette gilet (£188), meanwhile, takes its cue from more formal dress, combining a water-repellent three-layer softshell construction with rear detailing that evokes the diving hem of a waistcoat (not to mention a Gucci-inspired pattern that demands a double take). Café du Cycliste’s range stands out as one from which a rider can select statement pieces to add flair to their cycling wardrobe – a tactic Everest believes is key to translating personal style into on-the-bike sartorial poise. “Some people want to be a bit different and that’s refreshing,” he says. “Not everyone wants to follow the pack.” 

CHPT3 long-sleeved Rocka jacket, £290
CHPT3 long-sleeved Rocka jacket, £290

“Style on or off a bike is about having confidence in what you wear,” adds cycling aficionado Paul Smith. “Growing up, I had ambitions of becoming a professional cyclist. Back then, fabrics were much less advanced; I remember riding in a very nice wool-jersey tracksuit. Now, as with all aspects of making clothes, the variety of fabrics available is so much wider.” This season, Smith presents a brace of packable jackets for spring/summer 2018, making two menswear staples bike-ready. The quilted mac (£275) and Harrington jacket (£250) have considerable élan without sacrificing practicality. The Harrington features a water-resistant nylon shell with taped zipper and ventilation for breathability under furious pedalling conditions, while the showerproof mac is designed to support riders in more blustery conditions by virtue of a concealed, fire-red neck fastening reminiscent of CHPT3’s Rocka. Japanese firm Pedal Ed, founded in 2007 by Hideto Suzuki, also caters for the city rider with a packable jacket – the crease-resistant Saddle (£215), an Italian-made, windproof blazer cut specifically for city riding and treated with a water-repellent NanoSphere coating.

From top: PS Paul Smith Harrington jacket, £250. CHPT3 K61 waterproof jacket, £320. Rapha Shadow blazer, £400. Café du Cycliste Breton merino/silk Claudette jersey, £160
From top: PS Paul Smith Harrington jacket, £250. CHPT3 K61 waterproof jacket, £320. Rapha Shadow blazer, £400. Café du Cycliste Breton merino/silk Claudette jersey, £160

Style stalwart Rapha naturally has an eye on this corner of the market. This year, the purveyor of city riding chic has a cotton-poplin shirt (£120) in stretch performance fabric, while the black Shadow blazer (£400), with notch lapels, bears the hallmarks of a formal jacket, but benefits from a lightweight version of the brand’s high-tech woven and pre-shrunk, water-resistant yet breathable fabric – previously only used for performance kit. The aim for both is to transition from bike to boardroom. 

Quoc suede Derby riding shoes, from £120
Quoc suede Derby riding shoes, from £120

Footwear taking a step in a similar direction includes DL Killer’s Vito riding shoes (£500), which combine carbon fibre with classic design. Business partners Chris Puttnam and former professional cyclist Danilo Di Luca offer a heat-mouldable sole that fits to the foot, combined with formal lace-ups, and this season, a new gold houndstooth pattern across the upper. “The pied de poule [Italians favour the French ‘chicken’s foot’ description to ‘houndstooth’] is a timeless symbol of elegance,” says Di Luca. “We are trying to bring fashion, style and culture to your riding feet.” 

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Away from the open road and back on the city street, Quoc’s Derby riding shoes (from £120) take the traditionally open-laced footwear design and add a water-repellent suede upper, cleat attachments concealed in the sole, and a reflective band down the back seam.

These designers, cut from a different cloth to the makers of yore, are steadily transforming cycling kit. Whether you’re a back-lanes blaster or cycling city slicker, they’ve something to add to your pedalling panache.

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