We cyclists are spoilt for choice when it comes to riding kit. Each week it seems like we’re met with the arrival of another new high-end clothing company, with more options available to us than ever before. No longer are we obliged to make a choice between boring black or team replica kit. That said, cycling fashion in 2016 is without doubt at the most daring it has ever been, with more brands attempting to offer something more striking and more eye-catching than those before them. Subtlety is so last year.
Of course choice is all well and good, but what if you’re not quite into the bright and lairy kit from the fashion-forward hipster brands? What if your tastes are a little more understated and you don’t want to look like a pedalling billboard?
Read on to find out what’s different about Eleven Velo, and why they’d rather not plaster you with logos and branding…
As an apparel brand, Eleven Velo have been doing things a little differently since 2010. Eleven Velo is a small Australian company that has built its reputation on creating bespoke merino wool cycling garments that are sent all around the globe. They produce a number of different jersey styles, bib shorts and baggys, and they also offer accessories such as warmers, cycling caps, ride pouches and musette bags. All of Eleven Velo’s garments are made to order in a small sewing shop in Sydney, Australia. The beauty here is that you choose your design, then specify the colours of the various panels on the shorts and jerseys. Eleven Velo primarily relies on ethically sourced merino wool for the construction of their cycling kit, which is supplied from just a few hours drive down south in Victoria.
You may recall Nick’s review of the Eleven Velo kit from a few seasons ago, where he praised the Team Jersey and Premium Bib Shorts for their luxurious feel and high quality construction. There have been some changes to the Eleven Velo range since then, so I was excited to see an updated Pro Jersey and Pivot Bib Shorts turn up on my doorstep to find out what’s new.
First and foremost, you’re still in charge of kit design. This is a huge drawcard to Eleven Velo products and a great point of difference. Eleven Velo offers a simple garment template on their website (see above and below), which allows you to select from a range of different colour palettes. Once you’ve decided on colours, you can elect to add on any upgrades such as specifying a 3/4 or full-length cut, or having additional stash pockets. You can even choose a fully bespoke fitting service, where you send in all of your key body measurements for a truly custom fit.
Despite all of the various colour and style options available, the constant that you’ll notice (or won’t notice) with all of their jerseys and bib shorts is the distinct lack of branding and big logos. A small label at the base of the left leg and on the rear of the jersey pocket is all that’s visible. And even then you need to be up close to see the brand name. Otherwise it’s a fairly stripped-back aesthetic for both the jerseys and the shorts, with a classic style that’s inspired by the cyclists of yesteryear.
Gerard is the main man behind the Eleven Velo design shop, and I had the chance to speak with him about the garments and the rationale behind the understated design ethos.
“It’s a pretty simple one actually”, explained Gerard. “When somebody’s bought the kit, that’s it, they’ve bought it and the transaction’s done. Unless we are paying them to broadcast our name every time they get on the bike, why would anyone want to be our rolling billboard? Our ‘market’ (such a crap term) prefer to have the nice kit without feeling the need to broadcast the name to anyone that looks; to us, and them, that’s poseur kit, not kit to ride in.”
Whether you agree with Gerard’s sentiment or not, it’s certainly refreshing to hear an apparel brand downplay the need to cover their garments in logos and heavy branding. Ultimately, Gerard wants the quality and fit of his apparel to speak for itself. So, does Eleven Velo tick the necessary boxes?
As part of the review process, I went through the online shopping cart to choose my very own design. I decided on a simple colourway, with mostly black panels for the shorts and jersey, along with some orange highlights. Because of the custom nature of the garments, Eleven Velo collates all of their incoming orders once a week. After collecting your order, the next phase of production is the cutting cycle, where the various panels of the jersey and bib shorts are cut out of the necessary coloured fabrics. From here, the panels go to the sewing shop, where the garments begin to take shape. After a final QC and packaging process, your new kit is sent directly to your door. While delivery times can vary, for me it took just four weeks to receive my test kit after placing the order. At each step along the way, I received a confirmation email to keep me in the loop with how the order was progressing.
For the jersey, I chose the Pro model, which is one of three different options alongside the Classic-R and the Super Domestique. Pricing for the jerseys starts at $130 AU ($96 US), with the Pro model going for $145 AU ($107 US).
“The Pro is the closest we get to a race jersey”, says Gerard. “It’s cut a little tighter and fits a little shorter. Also with the side panels and sleeve design, it’s also a lot more form fitting. The Super Domestique and Classic-R are based on the same patterns but the Super Domestique is a more ‘current’ cut, with longer sleeves and higher cut at the front. The Classic-R is a more traditional cut jersey and offers those ‘old school’ details like chest and back panels and /or arm stripes.”
Regardless of the design, all of Eleven Velo’s jerseys are constructed from merino wool. We’ve been through the advantages of merino wool before on Bikerumor, so I won’t cover all of that again. But in a nutshell, it offers a lower environmental impact than synthetic fibres (both in production, and at its end of life), excellent breathability, and impressive anti-stink properties. Compared to regular wool, merino is much finer and much softer to the touch, so it ain’t like the scratchy jumper your Nanna knitted you as a kid. The wool that Eleven Velo use is a 170gsm fabric, which basically refers to the thickness of the fibre. The idea here is to strike a balance between breathability, thermal regulation, and durability. Of course merino wool is also available in a lighter weight, but Gerard isn’t convinced about going that thin for cycling garments.
“Pure 150gsm Merino does not last, period; we have yet to find one that has. We run 160-170gsm (depending on the batch) and that’s as light as we go; it has that balance between durability, light weight and the performance we look for. Remember, the gsm is a nominal range and being a natural fibre, it can vary from batch to batch. As such a 150 might actually come in at a 145 or even 140, and that’s silly thin.”
The Pro Jersey features a full-length zipper, along with neat covers at both the top and base of the zipper to hide the seams. The soft guard on the collar prevents the zipper from contacting your neck. Overall, I must concur with Nick’s original comments about the soft and luxurious feel to the Eleven Velo jersey. It really is lovely to wear, and the contrast was made even more apparent every time I had to put a synthetic jersey back on while the Eleven Velo kit was in the washing machine.
Whilst soft and comfortable, the fit of the sleeves isn’t overly loose or tight. Because merino wool has less stretch to it than Lycra, Eleven Velo can’t build the jersey to be super tight fitting. So don’t expect it to fit like your skinsuit. What it does offer however, is a close-to-skin fit that never feels restrictive. If you have overly big or skinny arms, it may be worth noting that on your order to have the sleeves constructed accordingly.
Compared to their other jersey options, the Pro model features mesh panelling underneath the arms and through the armpits. This provides a noticeable boost in cooling, which I appreciated greatly on warmer summer days. When things got really hot and sweaty, I did find the jersey overall to be very impressive at wicking away sweat and keeping me cool. On the flipside, the fabric is equally impressive at keeping you warm on colder and wetter rides, so I can vouch for the claims of merino wool’s thermal regulation properties. It just means that you feel less of a need to change layers when the conditions are constantly changing. The only downside I experienced when getting drenched in a downpour, is the tendency of the merino wool to have you smelling like a wet dog. Unless you’re into that sort of thing. In which case, I guess it’s an upside?
To assist with porting your mobile phone and ride spares, there are three pockets at the rear of the jersey. Inside each pocket is a Lycra lining that helps to provide additional stretch and flexibility when stuffing them full. That said, the jersey pockets aren’t quite as stretchy as what you’ll find on a typical Lycra jersey. I don’t always carry heaps of stuff in there anyway, but it’s worth noting for the gear-hauling hunchbacks out there.
At present, Eleven Velo offer two different bib shorts. The Pivot ($178 AU / $131 US), and the Premium Race ($189 AU / $140 US). Both share the same cut, and they also feature the same chamois and a merino wool upper that includes the shoulder brace. The difference between the two options is in the legs, where the Pivot shorts feature a full Lycra construction, while the Premium Race model gets merino wool panels for the outer leg.
I’ve had the pleasure of using the Premium Race shorts previously, and I gotta say, I actually prefer the slightly cheaper Pivot shorts. Compared to the Premium Race shorts, the Lycra panels on the Pivot offers greater compression and flexibility in an area that’s constantly moving, whether you’re road riding or mountain biking. In line with the rest of the Eleven Velo garments, the Lycra itself is of beautiful quality. It uses a soft mid-weight fabric, and it feels lovely on the skin.
A nice detail is the merino wool cuffs at the base of each leg, which can be had in multiple colourways to complete the kit. On the base of the left beg is where you’ll find one discreet Eleven Velo logo.
As for the chamois, it’s a high quality item from Italian manufacture Elastic Interface (also known as ‘Cytech’ or ‘E.I.T’). Eleven Velo have tested numerous chamois’ from various companies all around the world, but so far they haven’t found anyone producing anything that comes close to the multi-density padding from E.I.T. I can confirm the level of support and comfort from the red chamois inside the Pivot test shorts, and these have quickly become my go-to short for any ride that’s longer than a couple of hours. Whether it’s the chamois itself or the quality of the Lycra construction, I also noticed that the pad also stayed put, and never shifted out of place during riding – something that I do find to be a problem with lesser quality shorts.
Overall, I was thoroughly impressed from my time in the saddle with the Eleven Velo kit. I also quite enjoyed the process of choosing my design, though be prepared to spend a lot of time in front of that custom jersey builder – it’s addictive! As an Aussie, I also love the idea of buying a local product that comes with minimal air miles and a focus on ethically and sustainably sourced materials.
The merino wool fabric may not be to everyone’s tastes, especially if you’re into figure-hugging spandex and neon colours. But for those who appreciate classic style and are after a luxurious-feeling cycling kit with excellent temperature regulation, it would be very hard to look past the Eleven Velo range. The only downside worth mentioning is that merino wool can be more susceptible to damage during a crash or from being stabbed by foliage on the singletrack. In this case, the courser synthetic fibres are typically more resilient, so for mountain bikers who frequent overgrown trails or who make a habit of taking dirt naps, merino may not be the most suitable option. That said, I have numerous merino thermals, t-shirts and other cycling garments that have lasted years through normal use and regular washing, so I have no qualms recommending it. The fact that I can get multiple rides out of the merino jersey before it gets stinky is a great bonus. As for the bib shorts, I’d happily elect to use the Pivot bibs over the Premium Race model, as you can save a few bones, and I found the full Lycra construction on the legs to be a little more flexible and form-fitting.
What do you think of the Eleven Velo kit? Do you dig the understated style? Or is merino wool not your bag? Leave us a comment below and tell us what you think!