Those of you who like the finest that online cycling retailers have to offer already know about Competitive Cyclist. From frames to complete bicycles, components, apparel, and accessories, nobody offers a more complete selection of high-end products for the discriminating shoppers. Even their website is in a class of its own, with a clean, professional look, well-written, detailed product descriptions and reviews, and an incredible image zoom feature that allows shoppers to inspect products with exacting detail. Most of my online shopping is for apparel (let’s set aside for now the debate over online shopping versus supporting your “LBS”), and over the years I’ve increasingly chosen CC for my apparel purchases. Of course, when it comes to road apparel, it doesn’t get any better than one of CC’s feature lines – Assos. High-tech fabrics, superb fit, and flawless functionality have made Assos products the gold standard against which all other apparel is measured. Of course, with all that comes a high price tag, and while it is possible to find selected Assos garments on sale, it doesn’t happen very often. Still, if I’ve got the cash, I’ll gladly plunk down a bundle of Benjamins for a full Assos kit – and have no regrets. Recently, CC has also started offering products from a new apparel maker that appears intent on competing with Assos for the title of premier cycling apparel maker – Rapha, whose long sleeve jersey and 3/4 bib shorts caught my eye last fall when I needed a new cool-weather kit. I decided to try them out and see what I thought, and I was immediately impressed with their fit, feel, function, and elegant-yet-understated styling (that is, until I crashed in January – I don’t know what hurt worse, breaking my rib or ripping a hole in the knee and the elbow!).
A few weeks ago, I found myself wanting another summer jersey (as zippers in my aging fleet of “cheaper brand” jerseys begin to fail). Checking out the CC website, I immediately spotted Assos’ Swiss Federation National Team Jersey – I’m a big fan of Fabian Cancellara and loved watching him racing the Tour de France this year wearing a similar jersey as the Swiss national road champion. Even better, the price was actually quite reasonable (compared to that of their highest-end jerseys). What a beauty! Then I spotted Rapha’s Club jersey – about the same price, but much more subtle styling. I decided to play it safe and ordered the Rapha. The size chart said I needed an XL (what?!), but I just didn’t believe that – I mostly wear M and L, depending on the brand. I’d rather my jersey fit a little too tight than a little too loose, so I ordered a L and anxiously awaited its arrival. When it arrived, I tried it on to check its fit – it seemed a tad loose, but not too bad. Then I wore it on a ride – it just seemed to get looser and looser. I figured it would tighten up after the first wash, but on the next wearing it seemed even looser than before it was washed. By the end of the second ride, the back was hanging down so long it almost hung past the saddle. Never before have I been so disappointed in the fit of a jersey – it just felt loose, baggy and heavy. I was sick – I’d paid decent coin for the jersey, yet I couldn’t imagine ever wanting to wear it again.
I decided I had to at least try to get my money back. I called CC and sheepishly explained to them that I had bought the Rapha Club jersey and that I just really wasn’t at all happy with it, and would there be any way I could return it for exchange. A very pleasant man on the other end of the phone asked me if I had the packing slip – I did – and told me to just fill it out and send it back. I ‘fessed up that I had already washed the jersey, to which he replied, “No problem, we have a “No-Questions-Asked Returns Policy” – just send it back within 60 days and we’ll and exchange it for something else or refund your money.” Wow – what a relief! I went back to their website to make sure a size M was available before filling out the exchange form, and while I was there I saw that Assos Swiss jersey again. This time I decided to go for it. It arrived last Friday, and I wore it both days this past weekend – I don’t think I have ever loved a jersey as much as I love this one! Incredible fit and looks – I’ll never look back. (And to those of you who scorn people for wearing pro team kits – phttt!). I guess it might be unfair to compare Assos’ race fit to Rapha’s club fit, but I’ve at least clarified what I prefer for myself.
Competitive Cyclist – thanks!
Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2009