Tuesday, February 17, 2009

It was the talk of the office, that ad. You know which one I ‘m talking about; the thing ran in VeloNews and drew some readers letters. Of course, it delivered on drawing attention to the new iteration of the Octane line of apparel.

It’s one thing to sensationalize for the sake of it. Of course, Pearl Izumi didn’t build it’s legacy on slick ads and weak product. I remember wearing the ubiquitous Pearl Izumi socks on a daily basis when working at REI in Seattle many moons ago, and a bunch of us floor monkeys used to have a shop thing; wear the socks mismatch. One black, one white with blue trim. It was a dumb thing, but it was our thing, and it was only in those “IP” logoed socks.

Back to today. I spent a long time with Cache Mundy from Pearl Izumi while at the Tour de France last year, since I was around the Garmin team hotel most of my time before the race kicked off in Brest. So I got to see all the cool stuff that they co-developed with Allen Lim, like seamless aero gloves (shown in the new issue of Inside Tri), and the aero skinsuits that I wish I could race in out of the water. Of course, their design would prevent me from standing upright after the race, the stitch optimized exclusively for being in the aerobars.

Suddenly, Cache and PI marketing man Geoff Shaffer made me a testing guinea pig for a couple of pieces. I was one of the first to get to run in the newly revamped Peak shoes, supplying me with enough prototype pairs of the shoe to get through my first ultramarathon last spring.

Recently, I got a chance to test their hottest new offering, the Octane. Italian-made. Ultra expensive, and totally different to anything I’d ever been in, from any brand.

Now to be fair, I know what you’re saying: “Assos is the best.” And to be fair, I’ve ridden in the Swiss-made Assos bibshorts just once. I had a those of shorts that were summarily sent back to the retailer after one ride. They were very nice, nicer than most other shorts I’d worn….a great cut and a natural feel. But they were a bit small, and they didn’t have my size. Oh well c’est la vie. I opted instead for shorts that didn’t require a week of Ramen to financially recover from, some basic Pearl Izumi Microsensor shorts, which did the trick.

Such luck, I get a job where I get to test these shi-shi goods, irrespective of the cost. That totally aside, I can firmly say that this new Octane, is the Assos-killer—or at least a major rival to the brand. The Swiss do things nicely, but the Italians do it with more style, and in this case, a level of comfort than I’ve ever experienced. And with a few four- and five-hour rides under my belt in them, I have to say they are the best bib-jersey combo I’ve ever worn. Period. Some things are worth spending on. For comfort in saddle, the Octane can go toe-to-toe with Assos.

Tangibles? The ad spells out that the outfit is like a second skin. Most every brand makes a kit form-fitting, but this is in another realm altogether. The cut of the full-zip is very, very athletic—tight around the ribs, flaring at the lats, with a long back. So there was very little excess material flapping. At the same time, it didn’t bind, the materials moving seamlessly with me. It was like a tailor-cut suit. There’s mesh across the black back for cooling, anti-microbial underarms, all the basics. And all with a styling that doesn’t scream “dork” like so many ride outfits do.

But it was the bib shorts that were so damn nice that I am hand-washing them after every ride, hanging them in the shade to dry, because I want them to last forever.

Where do I begin? I guess in the chamois, where comfort originates. Pearl Izumi has several chamois’ through their line, but they use a brand-new PRO 4D chamois, its new best. It’s pre-formed, super breathable and thermal-regulated (so it stays dry). I’ve been riding my road bike all winter, and the upright position hits a raised section at the chamois aft that has a different density. Waaaay comfortable.

It also has four-way stretch for more comfort. When you build in a seamless, anatomically-designed short with just the right seam angles, the ride will be great. Add a stretchable chamois, and the comfort level just goes off the scales. There hasn’t been a short that moves as well in the saddle as this one, by miles, without a bit of exaggeration. Early or late in the ride, and of late, in the aerobars on my tri bike, it feels like you are in a custom-built kit.

So, it made sense that they did an ad with a chick in a fairly sheer kit. No, the kit’s not sheer (thank God) but like the ad purports, it fits like it’s that dialed. The bibs are $275 or $250 for a short, and $225 for the jersey. When paired together, you look so pro, it’s sick, as the alabaster whites, brilliant reds and glossy blacks that bring the outfit together are the epitome of Italian style. That is what set this apart visually from the rest of the chartruse-mottled or USPS team-outfitted yahoos out on the weekend ride.

But it’s what’s inside on the design that makes it better than any outfit I’ve ever ridden in. I commute during the week in whatever I have, but this kit I save for my epic weekend rides. And if I need to do a mechanical on my bike mid-ride, you better believe I’m packing a hand wipe, coz chain grease fingers ain’t touchin this kit.

1 comment:

rappstar said...

This was one of the first ads in a long time that made me do a double take. Nice to see a company going to MORE form fitting clothing. I've had a ton of problems finding stuff. My '99 Nike jersey in size M fits like a glove. Anything made once they started making for the American market fits like crap. I have a couple S jerseys that fit much baggier than my old medium. Rapha is the other company that has me really interested as an "assos-calibre" brand. Judging by the fit of the latest Assos stuff I've seen, they've loosened their cuts as well. If this stuff is good, I think it will have a big following. Rapha certainly seems to have grown quickly, and I'm sure the report that it fits the way it claims to (a race cut that actually fits like a race jersey) is a big part of why. I guess it's like tubular tires, though, where things have been getting WORSE rather than better as time goes on. So that was rather rambling. In any case, glad to hear that this stuff will be worth trying. Now to decide between it and Rapha...