Jumping back-and-forth from overly hot sunny days of riding to cool spring-like mornings, we’ve had a great chance to get some intense testing out of a whole range of kit from Isadore Apparel over the past several months. The full product line we dove into covers the spectrum from short and long sleeve merino wool blend jerseys for both men and women, all-day bibs for men and shorts for women, plus several sock options and caps. One thing that caught our attention (besides some good merino colors and nice simple design variations) was the focus on keeping design and manufacturing in Europe in Isadore’s home country of Slovakia. Plus a lightweight merino mix like the Climbers Jersey above typically does a pretty good job keeping you comfortable in a wide range of conditions, like climbing big mountains in the heat, sweating on the way up and chilled at high elevation, then for long descents back to the valleys.
Follow us through the break to see more detail on a sampling of their range…
Isadore is a bit distinct, beyond just their focus on keeping all design and production in their 5.5 million person home country. The company was founded and is still run by Martin Velits and his twin brother Peter, both current pro cyclists riding for Etixx-Quick Step and BMC respectively this season. As active road pros they do have more day to day staff to keep the company running through the race season, but it is very much their vision that guides the products, and often times their design ideas that result in the finished products. It seems that after spending so much time training and racing in skin-tight plastics emblazoned with all of their sponsor logos, they want more of a classic, low-key look and all-around fabrics when they get away from team responsibilities.
From the moment summer took hold here we got to try on the new lightweight merino blend of Isadore’s new Climbers Jersey in the Mount Haleakala Orange style. At 130€ this jersey is a bit of a departure from the less breathable and simpler jerseys throughout the standard range. This new option is a direct rebuttal to the use of merino in a hot weather jersey and follows a bit in the vein of competitor Rapha’s Lightweight jersey. The Mt. Haleakala jersey is based on a light weight 160g/m2 wool blend body (23% merino/77% polyester blend) that is woven in a mesh-like waffle pattern to benefit from the pluses of both natural and manmade fibers. Sleeves and side panels (and one rear pocket) are then made from a even lighter lycra (86% polyester/14% lycra) for extra wicking, a stretchier and tighter fit, and the ability to add printed designs. On each of the different Climbers jerseys (also Mt. Fuji and la Bonette) these lycra elements gets a design inspired by the local culture of the climb. Our Haleakala jersey gets a stylized wave motif.
The thin, slim cut jersey keeps a high SPF rating, so none of the worries of odd sunburn that sometimes come with light and mesh-like jerseys. In fact the jersey is a bit more closed that it looks like upon first glance. That mostly comes down to the 3d waffle pattern of the weave that keeps most of the fabric off the skin to better wick away moisture and keep us cool, while still getting the opposite benefit of being warm in cooler temps with an otherwise closed off fabric.
From a tech features side, it gets a full length zipper and three reinforced standard rear pockets. As you’ll see is pretty much the same across Isadore’s range, the right pocket gets an extra valuables pocket inside it against your back with a zipper closure and buttonhole wire routing. This pocket also gets an extra water resistant lining to keep its contents mostly dry (away from a sweaty back, but not a heavy rain.) The jersey also gets Isadore’s signature metal I logos on the collar and rear pocket, and a small reflective detail on the left rear pocket. Lastly the rear hem gets a full length rubber gripper and the sleeves get a smooth, second piece of lycra for a soft, grippy fit.
Designed to benefit from the look and feel of natural merino wool, the Climbers jersey is built to prevent overheating in the hottest climates. When we’ve ridden up those true mountain climbs with more than an hour of sustained climbing in this jersey, we felt that we pushed it out of its comfort zone. The jersey perform excellently under say 30°C and on say half hour climbs, but even at 28° after an hour of riding up I ended up with the jersey unzipped to my waist to get enough air. The main body texture did well to keep me from overheating quickly and wicked as well as any jersey with wool in it could hope to, but the solid fabric didn’t really let cooling air in quickly enough. But that’s why it has a full zip.
We’ve started taking a look at how much light jerseys actually weigh, since we read a press release from Northwave talked about a 68g jersey. Our medium Haleakala Climber weighed 164g, making it about 60g lighter than Isadore’s mid-weight wool short sleeve jerseys (below) and 35g lighter than Rapha’s comparable Lightweight merino-blend jersey. That light weight translated well into a jersey that handled hot temperatures pretty well, and especially wicked better than we had expected. Natural fiber jerseys tend to hold a bit of moisture but this one was almost dry by the time we finished every ride.
We don’t really see the jersey being ideal when it is scorching hot out or super humid; in those cases a more open mesh-style jersey made from the most wicking technical fabric typically wins out. But we can’t fault this jersey for getting us comfortably up long climbs and keeping you warm and dry as you bomb down the other side of the mountain. One worry we have is the durability of the main body fabric. After a couple of months of riding on a mix of smooth asphalt and gravel mountain roads (little or no actual trail riding), the jersey has a few nicks and pulled threads in the waffled fabric. It seems that the 3D construction results in a slightly more fragile fabric surface. While there doesn’t appear to be any threat of the fabric developing a hole, some people might be frustrated to see even these cosmetic issues after just a few months of regular use. As of now we aren’t concerned, and the Haleakala Climber will certainly get more time climbing summer mountains.
In addition to the Climber we also have been testing Isadore’s mid-weight merino Messenger Jersey. At 120€ in Rio Red, the Messenger starts with a conservative solid color with accent sleeves and side panels, then adds a functional chest pocket for a bit of contemporary fashion. We were almost reluctant to try this jersey, thinking it a bit kitsch. But it has grown on us, and doesn’t look out of place on relaxed road rides, exploring gravel roads, even mountain biking, and the occasional mid ride stop for beer or coffee.
The jersey uses Isadore’s mid-weight blend of 36% merino/61% polyester/3% lycra, with a fabric weight of 180g/m2. This gives it a bit more cool weather flexibility, but at the same time limits its usability above 25°C. The size M jersey gets a slim fit that manages to have a close fitting cut without feeling tight, and a full length zipper. That’s probably good as the heavier fabric has a more loose feel to its stretch than the Climber. In addition to the proper buttoned chest pocket, it gets the typical three rear pockets with the small inside, lined zippered valuable pocket, headphones routing, and minimal rubber printing on the rear hem to keep the back in place.
I’ve worn the Messenger as much as the Climber and it still looks as good as new. The fabric is very soft on the skin and seems resist abrasion. The heavier fabric favors cooler temps, and definitely is less able to wick away moisture during high intensity rides. This jersey is much more likely to end up with damp or even wet spots between the shoulder blades or under stuffed pockets. The thicker wool blend fabric does seem to have just enough merino in it to end up with both good insulating properties and decent wicking when it gets wet, making it suitable for hard efforts even right up to the point where it might have been too hot for this jersey.
Our only gripes here are that we haven’t really found a reasonable use for that chest pocket; oh well. And like all of the Isadore jerseys we’ve tested, we are pretty annoyed with the placement of the valuables pocket. With the zipper sitting just in line with the opening of the normal pocket, every time we reach back into the right pocket we scrape along the zipper pull. If the pull is flipped back to the middle it is even worse. Then when you are trying to get something in or out of the zipped pocket you are also fighting the seam of the regular pocket. The entire issue could be fixed by putting this small pocket on the outside of the regular pockets, or just relocating it about 5cm up the back.
The last men’s short sleeve jersey we tested was an Asymmetric Jersey in Anthracite/Antique White and again size M. With a distinct side-to-side split, the 120€ jersey is essentially a black jersey form the left and a white one from the right. The trick comes more in that the switch happens about ¾ of the way onto the left side to earn the asymmetric name. That means the majority of the chest is white and the majority of the back is black. By offsetting the zipper to the left the collar becomes a bit more comfortable and you get an interesting look, but at a price. Again the jersey gets a slim cut, the same Isadore 3+1 pocket layout, and minimal rear printed grippers. The fabric is also the same mid weight merino/polyester blend as in the Messenger, for cool to warm riding and generally good breathability.
A quick note on the men’s Bib Shorts, at 120€ they border on premium, but still offer a good value over similar competition. Their fabric is a ColdBlack treated PowerLycra that feels smooth and comfortable against the skin and fits well. The black bib straps continue the same lycra up the front and transition to a slightly mesh fabric on the back. The chamois is a fairly thin multi-thickness pad that is profiled on the surface against the skin and does not really stretch. Generally they have made a good day-to-day short, although we do have a few nits to pick. There is a bit of slack where the fabric sewn over the chamois, so while the rest of the shorts stretch tight the fabric is not taut at the chamois making it easier to catch the unstretched fabric on the nose of the saddle after standing on the pedals. Then the fabric on the sides of the legs has a more open knit, that while more breathable suffers a bit in the durability department. I’ve worn them on and off road (although nothing too technical yet), and have developed two small pinholes in the weave that I’m afraid will expand if I don’t stitch them shut. Comfort wise, the pad and fit are good for up to say 4-5hour rides, so they will be worth the minor repair and will surely see many more kms of use.
I really like the look of the jersey off the bike, and the left side/right side views were kind of cool, but riding with it was a bit odd. With the zipper off to the left, right-handers are at a bit of a disadvantage. It was strangely unnatural to have to reach past your neck and body centerline to zip and unzip the jersey, and on more than one occasion I would instinctively reach for the zipper pull and be annoyed that it wasn’t where my hand automatically went. And with the heavier merino fabric these jerseys benefit from a lot of opening and closing to optimize temperature, so it really did get frustrating, and oddly enough I never seemed to adapt to the different zipper position.
The cut of the Asymmetric also seems a bit longer than the other jerseys, and while I was very happy with the perfect close fit of the Climber and comfortable relaxed fit of the Messenger, this one seemed like its fabric would get pulled in one way or another and bunch up after riding. Maybe this is just Murphy’s Law, but it also seemed like every time one hand got dirty (say fixing a friend’s greasy chain) it was always the right one and the white right side became a dirt magnet. Sure it cleaned up fine, but for some reason I had some unrealistic hopes of this jersey being dark where it would get dirty and always looking fresh. In the end this one got the least ride time out of the bunch.
The Long Sleeve Jersey is less of a summer piece but should serve well from autumn through spring, so mainly did service on a couple of wet mornings and a couple pre-summer rides where we knew the ride was going to end a good while after the sun set. In this Burnt Orange, the same M size jersey costs 130€. It uses a soft merino blend that feels similar to the mid-weight, but with maybe a slightly tighter weave and a bit more wool (44% merino wool/53% polyester/3% lycra.) Overall I’d guess that the fabric weight is the same as the 180g mid-weight. The jersey gets a slightly peculiar inside chest pocket, something along the fashion-inspired styling of the Messenger. It’s not clear how much use it is. I tried to put a phone in it, but the weight pulled the fabric to the side and riding with it was not really comfortable. Then bending over to adjust a shoe and out came the phone… so maybe for a brevet card or something similar? The jersey also gets double up fabric at the elbows, with flatlocked elbow patches. I’m not sure if I’ve ever worn the elbows out of a jersey, but it can’t hurt and maybe adds a little style depending on individual taste.
The fit is again slim and feels similar to the Asymmetric, although it seems more appropriate here as a jersey that will be layered on and under. The jersey is long, and while that means standing around it bunches a bit, on the bike that translates into sleeves that cover the back of your gloves and a back that doesn’t ride up and let air in. I can easily imagine riding this down into the single digits (°C) on hard rides with a baselayer and a wind vest as needed. Our tests at higher intensity were a bit limited (it more often was worn as an extra layer over a lighter jersey to get us home when the mercury dropped) but it did seem to breathe and dry as well or better than the other mid-weight merino. Isadore calls it the latest generation of the wool blend fabric, so there may be an improvement on breathability that will make its way into the other jerseys as well?
Isadore also does a range of accessories. Their 30€ Signature Cap is a classic 3-panel heavy-weight cotton cap that is mostly windproof, with small side vents to let out hot air. It sits high on the head and breathes well enough. But because of its tall construction it pushes a helmet up and back, so is probably more suited to riding without a helmet. Unlike the jerseys and bibs, it is made across the border in the Czech Republic. Isadore recommends hand washing, but we’ve been tossing it in the machine with the rest of our cycling kit and it still looks good.
In the sock department Isadore farms them out to the US (it looks like they are made by Defeet.) What results are a selection of padded cycling socks that feel great and perform well as long as it doesn’t get too hot. The 15€ CoolMax socks are made from recycled bottles and come in short (3″ above the ankle) and tall (6″) lengths in both white and black. Those are the tall ones in the photo above. While they get a lot of mesh, they are still not for hot days. The 17.50€ merino socks are 49% wool and also come in the same two heights, but only in black. Their fabric is not surprisingly a bit heavier and they are suited more to cooler days. We have an affinity for merino socks (all socks should be wool!), so did ride these even up to 25°C comfortably, but they are also a bit padded and better suited for temps up to 20.
Isadore ships worldwide and offers free shipping in the EU on orders over 250€ (which is surprisingly easy to hit). They are also offering a 10€ coupon if you sign up now for their mailing list on their website.