Review: 8 of the Best 2019 Women's XC Race Kits - Tested at the BC Bike Race

Sep 11, 2019
by Sarah Moore  


Look fast and you'll go faster. Believe it or not, there's actually scientific research that can prove this correlation. Although being comfortable ranks pretty highly when you're spending anywhere from 15 hours and 43 minutes (race winner Felix Burke's time) to 47 hours and 16 minutes (the red lantern of the event's time) in the saddle and doing 300 kilometers of singletrack over the course of a week.

I decided to go full spandex for the BC Bike Race. The baggy look may be trendy, but I find jersey pockets make it easier to access that all-important hit of sugar than storage bibs hiding under a loose jersey when you're on the move. Plus, when it's hot, it just feels so counterintuitive to pull on a second layer of shorts.

Read on for how the kits I wore during the race from Pearl Izumi, 7mesh, Giro, Liv, Specialized, Bontrager, Assos and Rapha performed. There's also a bonus Velocio kit review since it arrived too late for me to race in it but I've been wearing it since.
Cannondale Habit
Sarah Moore
Location: Squamish, BC, Canada
Age: 29
Height: 5'7"
Inseam: 27"
Weight: 155 lbs
Industry affiliations / sponsors: None
Instagram: @smooresmoore



Day 0 / Prologue: Assos



ASSOS Jersey

• Three rear pockets plus hidden security pocket
• 3 colours
• $169 USD
• UPF35 protection and odorControl built in
assos.com
ASSOS XC Bib Shorts

• Schnalle magnetic clasp that runs down the center of your chest
• Offroad insert cut narrower at the front
• $239 USD
• Full side panels of dyneRope textile, a close-fitted woven fabric with ripstop weaving
assos.com


bigquotesThe material on the side panels of the ASSOS XC bib shorts is almost rigid, which the brand says makes it resistant to cuts and abrasion. Once on, you don't feel the roughness of the material and it's nice to have even a tiny bit more protection when you're speeding along in full spandex. As for the jersey, it also uses a couple of different carefully chosen materials, with lighter material under the arms and on the back for hot days. The ASSOS sizing is definitely on the smaller side, so keep that in mind if you're ordering online. A size large in every other kit I wore fit similarly, but I felt like a size up in the ASSOS kit would have been more comfortable.

I rode in all my kits before racing the BC Bike Race since you never try something new on race day, and I chose to wear this kit on the shortest day since I wasn't a fan of the Y-shaped bib straps. I found the shirt light and comfortable and the padded insert on the shorts comfortable, but the bib straps got in the way much more than traditional straps without adding any significant benefit to ease the task of going to the washroom. I also found that there was more pressure around the neck and shoulder area due to their shape.







Day 1: 7mesh


7mesh Women's Quantum Jersey

• 2 zippered side pockets with headphone ports + 3 rear pockets
• 2 colours
• $140 USD
• 100% Polyester with UPF 50+ breathable fabric
7mesh.com
7Mesh WK2 Bib Short

• Pull2P configuration for rest stops
• 1 colour
• $150 USD
• 80% Nylon, 20% Spandex Knit
7mesh.com

bigquotesNot only is the 7mesh Quantum jersey super soft and lightweight, but it breathes really well. The design is simple, with so few seams it's almost minimalist, but still allows for two zippered pockets in addition to the three larger. I was worried that the pale eyecatching blue would be difficult to keep clean, but so far I haven't had any issues with it.

As for the shorts, the material that they are made of is comfortable and the straps almost feel like they're nonexistent when you pull them on, a very positive thing. The leg hem is very lightweight and doesn't compress the thigh at all. Unfortunately, I had issues with what is undeniably the most important part of a cycling short - the padded insert. I found it would shift around when I was riding, occasionally giving me a wedgie (sorry, no better way to say it), possibly because the padded insert came up very high in the back.








Day 2: Bontrager



Bontrager Meraj Endurance Women's Jersey

• Three open-back pockets with zippered expansion to allow for extra storage space + rear zippered security pocket + wrapper pocket on left hip
• 2 colours
• $134.99 USD
• Profila Dry with Profila Cool inserts powered by 37.5 active particle technology
trekbikes.com
Bontrager Meraj Women's Bib Short

• Nature Breakaway Bib design
• 1 colour
• $184.99 USD
• Breathable Profila fabrics, Arcus inForm BioDynamic Chamois with an OverEasy constructed Aircell pad
trekbikes.com

bigquotesThe material on the Meraj Endurance jersey isn't particularly remarkable for its softness or sleekness and I didn't notice anything special about this jersey at first, other than the fact that it does its job well and is lightweight and breathable. However, what at first looks like a very simple kit is actually very comfortable and has tons of hidden features that are really well thought out.

First is the jersey pockets, which you can expand to fit a raincoat or more snacks with the handy little zippers between them. There's also a side pocket for when you want to put your wrapper away, but don't want to keep your hands off the bar for too long. As for the shorts, they have expandable straps to help with bathroom breaks. As a bonus, the expandable straps serve as adjustment straps which is nice since not all riders who wear the same size are the same height. 








Day 3: Rapha



Rapha Souplesse Flyweight Jersey

• Three rear pockets plus mesh essentials pocket
• 4 colours
• $175 USD
• 86% polyester, 14% elastane with UPF 40 sun protection
rapha.cc

Rapha Women's Cargo Bib Shorts

• Leg pockets with secure stretch closure + black pockets
• 2 colors
• $270 USD
• 71% nylon, 29% elastane
rapha.cc

bigquotesThe Souplesse jersey is so light and airy, it almost doesn't feel like you have a jersey on. Which was good because I felt like I was wearing an extra layer with the cargo bib shorts. To be fair, Rapha also makes the Cargo Short in a version without bibs, but I wanted to compare apples to apples so I went with the bib option. I did find the zippered mesh top on them comfortable, but it was definitely warmer than the straps on the other bibs.

The fit on the Rapha kit was excellent, and while I was surprised initially by just how thick the padded insert was, it was super comfortable when paired with my saddle. I think the Cargo Bibs are a great option if you don't want to wear a regular cycling jersey since there are pockets on the side panels and on the back. In fact, I found it a lot easier to grab Clif Bloks out of the side pockets on the shorts than out of my back pockets.







Day 4: Giro



Giro New Road Cycling Jersey

• Three rear pockets plus hidden security pocket
• 2 colours
• $100 USD
• 86% nylon, 14% elastane, UPF 50+
giro.com
Giro Women's Chrono Expert Halter Bib Short

• Halter top design
• 3 colours
• $150 USD
• 78% recycled nylon, 22% recycled elastane Bluesign approved fabric
giro.com


bigquotesIn a blind test, I would not have told you that this entire kit was worth the same amount as one item from several of the other kits. It was super comfortable and the material and cut are in line with the other items that I wore throughout the week at BC Bike Race. Plus, as a bonus, the shorts are made of recycled fabric. There is also a matching jersey made from the same material, but I went with the extra-soft New Road jersey for the race.

I was worried that the halter top would be uncomfortable around my neck and would cause achiness, but that wasn't the case. In line with the Rapha bibs, on a warmer day, I would choose a bib with lighter straps since the full mesh front on these bibs, while made of mesh, is slightly plasticky feeling and a touch warm. On cooler days, I do like the versatility of the pocketed bib shorts and often pair them with a tech T-shirt.










Day 5: Specialized



Specialized Women's SL Air Jersey

• Three rear pockets plus hidden security pocket
• 5 colours
• $120 USD
• VaporRize lightweight, soft mesh fabric with UPF 30+
specialized.com
Specialized Women's SL Race Bib Short

• HookUp magnetic bib connection at the lower back
• 2 colours
• $180 USD
• Compressive four-way stretch fabric
specialized.com

bigquotesThe fabric is extra light and airy on this Specialized jersey. While the fit is slim, it doesn't feel constricting. The only part that took a couple of rides to break in was the arms. At first, the stitching around the arm dug into my biceps. I'd like to say it's because they're massive, but that's not entirely true. After a couple rides, the stitching started to loosen and the jersey was a lot more comfortable.

The SL Race Bib Shorts are comfortable and I felt like I'd had them in my closet for a long time from the very first ride. There's a compressive fabric on the short legs which actually feels great and helps prevent the shorts from moving up your legs as you pedal. The HookUp magnetic bib connection at the back of the jersey is good in theory, but in practice, I find it a little bit hard to use since it requires good shoulder flexibility to connect the end of one of the magnetic straps with the other under your jersey.








Day 6: Liv



Liv Spectra Performance Short Sleeve Jersey

• Three rear pockets
• 3 colours
• $158 USD
• TransTextura fabric
liv-cycling.com
Liv Spectra Bib Shorts

• Bib short designed to set your midsection free
• 3 colours
• $189 USD
• TransTextura fabric
liv-cycling.com

bigquotesThe material on the Spectra jersey didn't feel as smooth and light as some of the other jerseys and the fit was definitely on the tighter side. The padded insert on the shorts was light but comfortable, although I wasn't a fan of the Y-shaped bib design and I found the shorts to be very long, ending almost right at my knees. I also didn't feel like I was wearing the highest-quality material since the seams protruded on the inside of the shorts around the knees. I have to say, the highlight of my day when I was riding this kit during the BC Bike Race was that I got asked by a fellow rider whether I was a Liv pro athlete. Nope, but I'll take that as a compliment!

I've since tried Liv's updated Mirage kit and found it a huge improvement on the Spectra kit. They've addressed all the issues I have with the Spectral kit. The colors are more sophisticated, the straps go straight up the sides of the body, the material is lighter, and the length of the shorts is much better. 








Day 7: Pearl Izumi



Pearl Izumi Women's PI / BLACK Jersey

• Three rear pockets plus hidden security pocket
• 2 colours
• $200 USD
• 86% Nylon, 14% Lycra Elastane
pearlizumi.com
Pearl Izumi Women's PI / BLACK Bib Short

• Unique v-strap drop-tail design for nature break convenience
• 2 colours
• $250 USD
• 46% nylon, 38% polyester, 16% LYCRA elastane Bib Mesh: 65% polyester, 35% elastane
pearlizumi.com

bigquotesThis is quite possibly the nicest kit I have ever had the opportunity to wear. First of all, the fabric is smooth to the touch but remains soft and light. It feels like that favourite old kit you've had forever and should probably get rid of but can't because it's so familiar and perfectly broken in. The seams are invisible and it feels almost like an extension of your own skin. Somehow, it's fitted without feeling tight.

Second, it has water-shedding technology that means it doesn't really get dirty. If you want to try and get away with riding the same kit twice, this would be the one to do it. Third, the fabric is stretchy enough that you can undo the front clip and easily pull it down for "nature breaks." It isn't just another gimmicky line on the list of technologies. It's expensive, but it works. I wore this kit in Squamish in front of my home crowd. 










Bonus: Velocio



Velocio Women's Signature Jersey

• Three rear pockets plus hidden security pocket
• 2 colours
• $169 USD
• 86% Polyester, 14% Elastane with SPF50 and laser-cut sidepanel vent holes
velocio.cc
Velocio Women's Signature Bib Short

• FlyFree pee-break friendly functionality
• 2 colours
• $229 USD
• Main Body: 78% Polyamide / 22% Elastane
velocio.cc

bigquotesThis is the most expensive kit in this roundup, but it's functional, comfortable and well thought out. The fabric is very lightweight and soft and the fit is dialled. The shorts feel slightly compressive, similar to the Specialized ones that I also gave my seal of approval to. While these bibs have a mesh front, it is cool on hot days and not at all plasticky. I wouldn't consider it a factor when choosing whether or not to wear these bibs on a hot day. Small details like the laser holes under the arms make this kit work well, without feeling like it's overdesigned and complicated.

Most importantly, like the Pearl Izumi bib shorts, the pee-break friendly functionality is actually functional. Using a stretchy enough fabric that you can pull the shorts down, despite bib straps, really seems like the best solution to women's anatomy and I hope to see more companies taking this route going forward.











Editors' Choice: What Was My Favourite Kit?

If I were to buy myself one kit from this round-up, I would go for the Pearl Izumi BLACK bib shorts with the 7Mesh Women's Quantum jersey. With the bib shorts at $250 and the jersey at $140, they offer the best fabric, fit and functionality for their price.

My Other Essentials For BC Bike Race

Smith's Trace helmet with MIPs stayed on my head throughout the event. It retails for $300 and is a lightweight 280g. I found the straps comfortable and the helmet allowed for substantial airflow. Luckily, I didn't have to try it out in an impact so I can't let you know how it handles one.

Bontrager's Cambion shoes with secure Boa dials have a secure fit and a sharp finish. They're stiff but comfortable for long days in the saddle and I was able to position my Shimano cleats in them easily. They're definitely not the shoes you want to be wearing if you're walking frequently, but that's not what they're made for.

Camelbak's Women's Chase Vest, which I included in my Riding Packs Check Out earlier this year, allowed me to stay hydrated while on the go.

Oh, and my Pinkbike socks meant I was repping the awesome company that let me spend a work week in the saddle. You can get a set for yourself here.




23 Comments

  • 15 2
 Whoa whoa whoa! Some of those photos were very clearly down-country. I feel misled Wink
  • 8 0
 Thanks @sarahmoore for the great reviews, the wife might be getting some new kit for Christmas from me. Tell the-man-with-two-first-names that I said hi!
  • 6 0
 Considering the fairly hefty price range for most of these items, it would be interesting to see how well these hold up over time.
  • 7 0
 This is super great and helpful. I was wondering what sizes you had in all of these?
  • 2 0
 I rode a size Large top and bottom in every kit.
  • 3 0
 @sarahmoore: Thanks! That's super helpful, as someone who wears a large in most kits it's always good for perspective!
  • 3 0
 @mdavin: Awesome, glad it's helpful to you. Let me know if you have any more questions!
  • 5 1
 $300 for a pair of bib shorts and we wonder why we can't attract more people to the sport.
  • 4 7
 We don't need more mountainbikers and bib shorts can be found for $15 at the local supermarket.
  • 4 0
 Damn, BC bike race is expensive. That's like $3k worth of clothes.
  • 9 0
 Sarah's pretty smart. She "tests" gear at the BCBR so she doesn't have to buy her own. brilliant. . .
  • 2 0
 Yes. Yes it is. Even if you shop deals like I did, you’re probably looking at minimum $80-$120 per outfit (pants, chamois, jersey socks), and they recommend one outfit per day.

I think you’d probably end up saving money bringing 4 outfits, then booking a hotel with laundry in the middle of the race.
  • 6 0
 @atourgates:
If someone has the mental acuity after a few BCBR stages to accurately count change and insert it into a washing machine they, just perhaps, hadn't been racing hard enough. Race, eat, sleep, repeat, x7.
  • 3 0
 @dlford: Never mind finding said washing machine in the first place!
  • 1 0
 @dlford: Fair enough. Though you left out such essential steps as "collapse in the beer garden" and "wait in line for the porta-potties before the race starts."
  • 2 0
 Ketl Mtn makes a women's bib with a "women's fly" so you can nature break on the trail without removing your top, beats all these by far!
  • 3 0
 They only make a liner bib from what I see not a full XC bib short? Looks great though, I might have to do a round-up of women's liner bibs next...
  • 1 1
 Nice reviews! For some true womens specific mtb jerseys developed for cross-country, enduro, and downhill mountain biking, also check out Kaden Apparel, kadenapparel.com
  • 2 1
 Sarah is a babe
  • 2 1
 She's a really good mountain biker and journalist, too.
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