When you look back at photos of road cycling through the ages, it is the cycling kit that delivers the most information. You can usually identify the team and era from the jersey alone before getting a flood of memories of watching or reading about classic cycling battles. From the chequered Peugeot jersey worn by Australian pioneering cyclist Phil Anderson to the flaymboyant skinsuits worn by Mario Cipollini and even the Team BMC jersey which Cadel Evans wore when he won the Tour de France. While a jersey has to be functional and has to represent a team and sponsors, they are usually far more telling.
In the last five years, road cycling kit has seen some significant changes. Custom cycle wear has come of age, it is faster and simpler than ever for a team or loose-knit cycling group to get there own custom kit made up. A new generation of cycle wear brands have hit the market with the stunning designs, it is like a fashion show every day on the road. And performance is becoming an increasingly important criteria cycling kit design, nowadays it is all about skin-tight jerseys, long sleeves and attributes such as breathability, aerodynamics or weight.
One of the worlds biggest suppliers of custom cycling wear, Champion System is positioning itself to be leader in cycle wear innovation. Considering that they only started in 2005, they are closer to a newcomer than an institution with 3000 staff, offices in 22 nations across the globe and production in Hong Kong, China and Thailand. Since starting, Champion System has pushed for visibility in competitive cycling and this year you will spot Team UAE Emirates and Wiggle High5 competing in Champion System kit. At the Tour de France, Team UAE rider Dan Martin was sporting a zipperless jersey from Champion System and this is the jersey I have been testing, along with some champion systems knicks.
Without a zipper, the Tech Men ELITE Jersey Short Sleeve Race Cut appears a little foreign to me and reminds me of the transition of the wine industry to screw caps. When the wine brands started shifting from corks to screw caps the experience changed a little and wine drinkers wondered if the magic and romance would disappear.
But the screw cap analogy is not as apt as it may first seem, you only have to look back to the 1990’s when full length zippers on cycling jerseys started replacing the short zippers en masse. If you turn time back further, short length zippers were popular for decades but even they only first gained traction in the 1960’s. Before then, zipperless was the norm. Returning to modern day cycling, ‘zipperless’ skin suits and time trial suits make frequent appearances in professional cycling it is not as ‘different’ as it first seems.
The Champion System jersey is a close fit on the body and has the ‘trendy’ long arms while the waist is cut fairly high. I find it ironic that it is still called a short sleeve jersey, if I compare it with some of the cycling jerseys I used to wear, this would be more aptly labeled a mid sleeve jersey.
The mesh material almost shouts “summer” and at a mere glance you know that the weather has to be warm if you want to wear this. For practicality, the Elite jersey has three pockets, like any good jersey these are deep enough.
Silicon grippers keep the hem of the jersey in-place while the skin-tight arms means that the sleeves won’t move either. At the front hem, a wider elastic strip is incorporated and gives it an overall attractive appearance. Although Champion System are in the business of custom cyclewear and you can design the kit to suit, the jersey for review had a modern black/white graphic pattern which looked good. Little Champion System tags sewn into the pattern lend charm to the jersey.
There are a few minor points for critique, inside the jersey were a few loose threads which I would prefer to have trimmed or sewn neatly. The mesh material is more susceptible to damage than a typical cycling jersey. Although I didn’t face any issues and made certain to use a washing bag when it was in the washing machine, you do need to take more care.
One thing I missed was reflective piping or material on the back… this always a good feature for cycle wear and something I want as standard. Finally, the soft white mesh appeared to loose a tiny bit of sheen after the first two washes, I think it may have absorbed some of the darker dye from the rest of the jersey and knicks in the wash. These are all minor points, but shows that there is still a bit of room to excel.
The APEX bib knicks
With all of the focus on the zipperless jersey, it would be forgetting that the APEX knicks are also part of the equation so a few words will shared before looking at how the jersey performs. The Men APEX Premium Pre Dyed Bib Short – Semi Custom knicks are an ‘all black’ affair with a simple foam chamois. You can design these as you please but in my book, straight black is always a good colour as it matches everything.
The bib knicks have a form fitting design and tidy construction. The braces incorporate mesh while on the cuffs, elasticised ‘power bands’ with additional silicon grippers ensure that the knicks won’t slip. The total weight is a respectable 189 grams (large size) and I noticed a few nice details like a double layer material on the rear and flatlock stitching throughout to reduce friction. Like the jersey, there are a few loose strands, it is also missing reflective ‘bits’ and the ‘simple’ chamois leaves a ew unanswered questions but overall it presents a good first impression and it feels like it is going to be a bright sunny day.
Chamois can be a very personal thing, with the wrong chamois your ride can deteriorate into the hell of the north. I won’t venture quite that far but for a professional level bib knicks, the chamois used felt way out of place. Typically higher quality knicks incorporate a formed chamois, sometimes with different layers of foam of differing densities and usually with a thin channel along the middle which is designed to reduce pressure of the perineum.
The product specs suggest that the blue chamois is the Granfondo which is titled “all day, maximum density chamois” and there is a dark grey Veloce chamois available “For lighter riders and shorter races” along with a one women’s chamois named’ Donna Forte.
Sometimes a chamois needs a few rides to wear in, not this one. It was uncomfortable from start to finish and a real shame. Chamois cream, the right saddle and bike fit along with experience in the saddle always helps though in my case it just wasn’t a good match and at $169 (based on an order quantity of 10+) didn’t meet my expectations.
Let’s drop in two ‘morals of the story’. The first is that many riders may be very comfortable with the Champion System chamois… it’s personal. And Champion System says a lot of pros are happy with these. The second is that if you are looking to make a larger order for a club or team, chat to Champion System and try and get samples to help when choosing sizes and check for comfort. Bib knicks are not necessarily the perfect garment to test, share about and then return. On a big team order, it could be worth getting some riders to test the gear and get a feel for it first.
On Stage 6 of the 2018 Tour de France, Dan Martin took a well timed brakeaway to seal the mountain stage victory. One thing he didn’t have to do before crossing the line was to zip up the jersey to show of the sponsors logos. Of course, the zipperless jersey also made it into the cycling press and Martin kept up his form to win the award for the most combative rider of the tour.
Was it the jersey alone… of course not. Success is based on so many different contributing factors but any individual factor can also work against a rider. On practicality alone, the sponsor logo always fits perfectly and there will never be zipper issues. I found it a bit wierd that I would reach up to try and grab the invisible zipper at times.
Trying to get the jersey on and off is also a bit harder when there is no zip. At the end of a ride when you have spent your energy and want to kick out of your shoes and gear, the zipperless jersey demands a bit more time and care, it just isn’t as simple.
But while riding, a zipper isn’t necessary is the jersey can self-regulate and this is something I found this jersey did particularly well. For this warm weather jersey, Champion System use their own mesh material which they call AGILE and has a 4-way stretch. It is designed to fit closely to the body.
When you build up a sweat while riding, it can help your body cool but have you ever felt like you are dripping lava or have you passed through a shady area and received a chill? The close fitting mesh in this jersey wicks the sweat away from your skin faster and keeps you feeling fresher. Very much the same benefit of wearing a base layer under your cycling jersey. The material also lent a decent wind barrier during fast descents.
Because this jersey is made from mesh, it has obvious limits when the weather drops but in my experience the Elite jersey is a bit more versatile than it appears. For this reason it is not better or worse than other jersey, rather for the right cycling conditions it brings its own set of advantages. For the right cycling conditions, I would be fairly happy to give this great marks but as part of my homework, I noticed a disclaimer on the Champion System website that this material did not provide complete sun protection.
It was only after a few rides through the pleasant European summer that I became aware of this ‘feature’. Being fair-skinned and sun-aware I wear sunscreen on my arms, face and legs and there was no indication that sun was seeping through the jersey. But the European sun is a bit lightweight compared with the brutal Aussie sun so this needs to be considered. When asked, Champion Systems commented that a cyclist “needs” to wear sunscreen so this introduces a disadvantage of thinking ahead and applying sunscreen under the cycling jersey… something to consider.
At $169 (10+ quantity and only 103 grams in size L) the Elite cycling jersey from Champion Systems sits towards the performance end of the scale and I expect it to appeal to competitive racing teams who will appreciate the ‘different look’.
The Champion System Apex knicks made a good first impression but for me, they simply didn’t deliver… let down just by the chamois. The brand feedback is that the Pros are happy which goes to show that knicks are personal so for big orders, make sure you are happy with the comfort.
The ELITE cycling jersey in contrast is a very good performer when the conditions are right and I expect a few more brands will also start entering the market with zipperless road cycling jerseys. Going zipper-free comes with some advantages but the limited sun protection could be an issue for Australian athletes who demand sufficient UV protection.
All of the cycle wear from Champion System can be ordered as one-offs and bulk pricing kicks in with 5+ and then 10+ items. The prices in this review are based on the highest discount (10+ item order).