Price: $300 MSRP — tights; $250 MSRP – jersey
Available: company website, Internet
How obtained: samples from company
RBR Sponsor: no
Colors: black/graphite only
Tested: 25+ hours
Super-Premium Winter Riding Clothes
On most cold winter rides, I typically spend more time deciding what to wear than any other aspect of my preparation. I mull over the weather data like a meteorologist preparing an important forecast: What will the starting temperature be? How much is it expected to warm up during the ride? Any chance of precipitation? What about the wind?
And then I start considering my possible clothing combinations, and whether the weather variations will warrant removing layers during the ride.
Sometimes, it almost — but not quite — makes me think of just skipping the ride and hitting the trainer instead. (Just kidding!)
So this winter, when it started dipping into the 40s and 30s during rides, I was eager to try out some new gear that promised to make my riding life a little bit easier in terms of the “preparation anxiety.” Way back in August — when it was still in the 90s every day here — Skins sent me a C400 thermal long-sleeve jersey and a pair of thermal bib tights. They provided me the only reason to look forward to winter.
Technical Fabric, Fits Like a Second Skin
Skins offers full lines of compression-based gear for numerous sports. (Though it does not appear that the same thermal products are available in the women’s line, Skins does offer women’s cycling products.) The cycling line certainly fits like the brand name implies — the jersey and, especially, the bib tights fit like a second skin. When my riding buddies first saw me in the Skins gear, they alternated between immediate comments about how nice-looking the kit is, and how much like Peter Pan I looked in the tights! (That might give you more insight into my buddies than the gear!)
Putting it on the first time, I could immediately feel the softness of the brushed interior against my skin — something the company says “helps release the heat back to your body to give you a thermal advantage in cooler temperatures.” Made of 75% nylon and 25% spandex, the fabric is claimed to have a thermal rating 200% higher than Skins??? non-thermal jersey, and 190% higher than their non-thermal tights.
It also has advanced wicking properties to draw moisture away from your skin, UV protection of 50+, and the tights feature gradient compression, uniquely wrapping and supporting your key muscle groups to reduce movement and focus direction for less vibration in your muscles, less soft tissue damage and less soreness after exercise.
Outstanding Thermal Properties
I’m not sure how, objectively, I can verify the efficacy of the compression, but the thermal properties of this gear are readily apparent. Moreover, I was pleasantly surprised on my first ride with how wind-resistant the gear also felt.
I have worn the full-zip jersey and bib tights on rides with temperatures as low as the low 30s (about 0 Celsius), which is typically the lower limit of Atlanta weather during daylight hours. The most remarkable feature of the gear, to me, is that from the 30s to about 45 degrees F (7 C), I was quite comfortable wearing only the jersey, with a wind vest over it. I didn’t even need a base layer, which makes dressing for rides across the temperature range from the low 30s to the mid-50s (12 C) so much easier than before. (Adding a base layer would probably get you into the low 20s, along with a wind vest.)
The warmth is locked in at the lower temperatures, and the breathability allows for comfort up to 20+ degrees warmer. (I wouldn’t want to wear either piece beyond 55 or so.)
A Couple of Minor Drawbacks
The only quibbles I have with the Skins thermal jersey and bib tights are in the lack of color choices in both and the fit of the bibs. While they have well-positioned reflective material, the fact that both are available only in black/graphite will not sit well with some riders who prefer at least basic (if not bright) color choices — especially in winter gear.
The bib tights fit like a glove, as mentioned above, but because they have no zipper or elastic at the cuffs, working them over your heel when putting them on is not easy. I invariably spent more time than planned just to put on the tights, and I worry that the stitching there may eventually rip (as I can hear the strain when getting dressed). A zipper that comes up 6 inches or so would be a welcome addition.
The final minor drawback is that the torso-covering material at the top of the bib (which does help keep you warm) comes up so high (about the top of the rib cage on me) that pulling them down the way you can with most bibs to urinate is very difficult to impossible — which could complicate things on a really cold ride with only outdoor bio-break options.
John Marsh is the editor and publisher of RBR Newsletter and RoadBikeRider.com. A rider of “less than podium” talent, he sees himself as RBR’s Ringmaster, guiding the real talent (RBR’s great coaches, contributors and authors) in bringing our readers consistently useful, informative, entertaining info that helps make them better road cyclists. That’s what we’re all about here—always have been, always will be. Click to read John’s full bio.