I’ve worked for Total Women’s Cycling for over a year now. I’ve reviewed a lot of pairs of shorts, tights, jerseys, jacket, gloves, shoes… but I’ve never reviewed a skinsuit. In fact, an off-the-shelf women’s skinsuit that fits is something I’ve wanted to find and review for some time.
Sadly, the vast majority of brands either don’t make one, or see such an item as a minuscule volume production so they’re just not interested in marketing them. Alé, it seems, are the exception to that rule – making not just a women’s skinsuit, but even different options for varying racing conditions. Hallelujah!
This year, I’m playing around with crit racing and the track – but I’ve ridden time trials for the past few seasons, so skinsuits – all in one outfits designed to improve aerodynamics – are something I know quite a bit about. Or rather, I know quite a bit about badly fitting ones.
When I first enquired around getting a women’s fit skinsuit in 2013, the initial response from one retailer was “er, do they even make women’s skinsuits?" Yes, they do, but they’re hard to find and expensive – so I have to admit I’ve been wearing my husband's old one for about two years. It works ok, in that it covers me up on the bike, but it’s not aerodynamic since, would you believe it, I’m not shaped like a man!
I later invested in a club suit printed by a custom clothing manufacturer – it was made to fit a woman, apparently – but though the bottom half was perfect, the top half could have fitted around three of me in it, and the manufacturer seemed to think that along with a waist and breasts, I also must have a huge neck.
Enough of the woes – I simply want to make it clear what a struggle it's been, so that when I explain the lightbulb moment of peeling on the Alé Cyclocross Women’s Skinsuit, my dear readers, you’ll understand my joy.
A skinsuit is designed to fit very close – it should literally be peeled on and peeled off, and that was absolutely the case when I first poured myself into Ale’s creation in a size Small. It genuinely felt like a second skin, the material is so flexible that in a way wrapping myself in it was a little reminiscent of a snake growing its new scales for the summer. The stretchy nature of the fabric means there's still of course plenty of room for movement - something that would be high on your list of priorities if you used this suit for 'cross racing.
The full zip pulls up high at the collar – again a good sign as there’s no point wearing an aero suit and then letting all the wind flow into it with a half open zip!
The long sleeves fit snuggly, there are a few wrinkles which an aero-geek might turn their nose up at – however I’ve yet to see a suit that has nailed the art of long sleeves without a couple of creases. Some riders will take an ‘all or nothing’ approach to turning themselves into slippery wind dodgers, but personally I’ve always felt a few extra hours training a week would make more difference at the level that most of us are riding. If that’s not the case you’re probably wearing pro team kit.
The lining is made from a light fleece – which is why this is the cyclocross version. Since I’ve only ever raced CX once, I intended to use it for early morning spring time trials – when temperatures are often well below 10 degrees Celsius.
I wore the suit for the East Surrey Hardriders TT – setting off at around 9am (actually a very civilised time for a TT). Zipping up the neck I felt incredibly snug, and well protected against the wind whilst riding to the start. Upon beginning my race, I distinctly remember being concerned I’d be too warm once the steeper hills arrived – but my concerns were unfounded. Though I was protected from the breeze, the fleece showed itself to be hugely breathable, and as soon as I turned my concentration to the road ahead, I forgot all about it.
The chamois provided is Alé’s W4H – the same that’s used in the tights I’ve enjoyed wearing over winter. Shaped for a woman’s body, there’s padding at key contact points and I was perfectly comfortable. I would add that racing an ISM saddle I’ve been comfortable in basically any chamois but Alé have put a lot of TLC into making sure this one is designed so that the wings are flexible when pedalling.
The leg grippers use the brand’s LG Stability System, with 60mm of elastic to keep them in place without putting undue pressure on any area and creating ugly indentations. The grippers are made even more well fitting thanks to stretchy mesh inserts at the back which give a great ‘snap to skin’ feel and cater for assorted leg sizes. These certainly did the job for me and where tight enough that I could fit a gel under each leg band as is customary for a longer event.
Apparently [it's on my long and growing To-Read list], in his book ‘Faster’, time trial legend Michael Hutchinson suggests that a well fitting skinsuit could have a greater effect on aerodynamics than a time trial bike. It would be hard to state the exact time saving offered by the suit without a wind tunnel – so I’m not going to speculate, all I can say is that this suit stretches to fit its rider as an individual, and feels a lot more slippery than any other race garment I’ve ridden.
I did notice after just once wear that there was a small amount of abrasion on one sleeve, and that the pins from my race number had left a mark in the suit. This is, to be honest, quite unavoidable if you’re using safety pins and many riders now use ‘No Pinz’ pockets to solve the problem, but it’s worth noting you’d need to be delicate with this suit, or trash it and buy a new one each year if you’re riding cyclocross!
It is also worth being aware of the rather large Alé logo on the suit. In times gone by, in the case of cycling time trials regulated by the CTT riders could only compete in clothing with a commercial logo if it was the logo of their team and this had been paid for via an advertising fee when the team registered, if it was a club (non open) event or if it was a ‘subtle’ manufacturers logo. More recently, the word ‘subtle’ has been removed and the rules now state: “The inclusion of a manufacturer's logo shall be permitted."
In the case of road racing, regulated by British Cycling, you’ll need to wear your registered club or team kit once you reach category three - the only exception being those not racing for a club or team. In the case of cyclocross, a great many beginners do wear any kit they fancy, but under British Cycling rules you are required to wear ‘club, racing team or trade team colours’ – so though you might get away with it at a few local events, you’d really need to wear official kit if you’re serious about competition.
That's a lot of red tape and regulation - but you should be aware of it if you're racing and don't want any rule books thrown at you. Regardless, I couldn't recommend Alé enough for taking the time to and effort to develop a quality women's skinsuit that fits, and fits well. Regardless if it's this, or another version offered by the brand (even a custom club kit version) I think you'll be in safe hands.
Now a last season offering, this particular skinsuit is down to £97 from £150 at Wiggle, but sizes are limited. Alé stock via a selection of distributors, and you can find your nearest one via Paligap.cc. Of course, a cyclocross skinsuit is a pretty specific requirement, and for those after a summer variety, Alé also offer the Roadster Women’s Skinsuit, which does away with the long sleeves and fleece lining.