Specialized have a reputation for creating incredible bikes, and components – even those who begrudge them their giant status on the market acknowledge that they know how to put a bike together to an exceptional standard. Their clothing however has gone under the radar a little in the past, which is a shame because they make some beautiful gear.
The SL Pro kit that Specialized sent me to test was probably the most beautiful I’ve seen yet. In 'Boels Dolmans colours', it flies the flag for the exceptional team without screaming 'I'm wearing a team jersey and I'm not in the team'. It's admiring, without shameless imitation.
Not only that, the summer sunset style colours are so bright you can’t fail to ‘pop’ against your bike, and the road. It might not be to everybody’s taste, but I’ve not managed to ride in it and not receive at least one compliment.
It’s not just about appearances, of course. As well as looking pretty swish, the SL Pro kit is the top end offering from Specialized, so I was expecting some impressive performance to boot. So how did it get on?
When I’d got over the bright colours on this jersey, the next thing I noticed was the softness of the fabric. It’s incredibly light and flexible, which means when on it sits against your body like a second skin. Specialized have used their ‘VaporRize knit’ fabric which blends moisture management and durability, and for the ‘Pro’ standard garment they’ve added ‘Cold Fabric’ technology where darker colours are treated to ensure the wearer doesn’t overheat.
The material on the back is lighter to allow for breathability – you can just make out the outline of the bibs. It all works: testing the jersey in the warmer, sometimes humid, temperatures we’ve been treated to lately I certainly felt cool enough and sweat was moved away from my body via wicking fabric as you’d expect.
Attention has been paid to the finer details, too – the gripper at the waist is elasticated at the rear, and then wide but reinforced at the front. This means you get a fit that won’t ride up in the cycling position, but there’s no restriction at the front. There’s some gentle ruching on the lower part of the body, too which creates a flattering shape.
The collar sits high, with the full zip hiding neatly in its cage when stowed away, and the sleeves are ‘cuffless’ to allow for an aero fit without any overly tight grasp on the skin.
So far so good. I only had one real issue with this jersey, and that was that the light and flexible material meant that when loaded with the basics: pump (because I've had too many co2 failings for my liking), multitool, phone (for which there is a zipped, sweatproof pocket), keys and gel, the pockets sagged and therefore jumped around a bit as I rode.
Initially I started with a Medium, sizing down to a Small. There is also an Extra Small available, and from experience bouncing pockets can nearly always be resolved by going down a size. Since the kit is designed to “feel painted on" I would expect that I’d find a better fit with the XSmall as I still had quite a bit of extra fabric. This said, even in the Small the fabric felt supportive and flattering, if not as aero as it should be. Sizes go from XSmall to XLarge - but it is worth noting that if I need the XSmall, then my lighter riding buddies are unlikely to find something to fit here.
I also noticed that after a few rides and three washes, there was one pull on the rear of the jersey. Since the fabric is so light and delicate, I’m none too surprised, but this gear might be best kept for Sunday best as it won’t last forever with rough treatment.
Though the jersey pattern had me pretty much sold, it was the shorts that got me on performance. The fabric is equally soft and flexible, and again features the breathable trade marked 'VaporRize' material for excellent moisture management. I didn’t notice myself feeling the heat at any point wearing these, but that doesn’t particularly set them apart.
What does set the shorts apart is the attention to detail when it comes to the leg openings. A double fold and silicone printed cuffs mean that the legs stay in place, without pressing too hard or being uncomfortable. Bad short cuffs are the quickest way to ruin an otherwise good pair of shorts – and clearly Specialized have realised that, and made sure theirs are second to none. I really think they’re the best I’ve tested – and I don’t make that statement lightly.
The bibs also feature the legendary ‘Hook Up’ closure system from Specialized. Most brands now have a bib closure method that allows for easy pee-stops, but this is one of the best – a simple magnetised hook at the lower back can be easily split and re-attached in seconds. I’d only add that the system is so efficient that I struggled a little the first time I used it as I found myself trying to ‘clip’ the magnet, when all I needed to do was wave one half within a centimeter of the other to make them meet.
The chamois is the brand’s Women’s Body Geometry SL Pro insert. We know that Specialized work with leading doctors to produce contact points that provide a comfortable ride. Even their gloves are produced following research into blood flow, so we can expect saddles and chamois pads that work. The chamois was indeed comfortable over long and short rides - I've really got no complaints at all when it comes to any element of these shorts.
In this case, I went for the Small, and the fit was spot on for my frame. These are available in a plain black for £120, too - which if you like them as much as I do might be a good idea, so you can pair them with any items in your kit draw.
This kit has quickly become one of my favourite sets. The jersey is light and breathable, only slightly let down by bouncy pockets that I do think could be resolved by sizing down. The shorts are probably the highlight for me - the silky smoothy fabric feels amazing against the skin, and the leg grippers are spot on.
Size tested: Small
Jersey: £100 here
Shorts: £140 here
See the wider collection here.