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2014 has been another successful year in women’s cycling and we’re pretty chuffed to have been a part of it all.

We’ve seen tonnes of road cycling kit hit the TWC offices and are grateful to have been able to give feedback and praise to the products which are helping to shape the future of the sport.

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And there are certainly a few special pieces that we believe have completely nailed it! These are the pieces of kit that have helped us to perform better, look the part, are practical and give us a sense of ease and excitement when we’re on the bike.

When you’ve found a product you love, you know you’re in good hands and after having had a good long think, here are our top ten (and in no order) best reviewed pieces of road cycling kit from 2014…

Essential Road Cycling Clothing for Autumn

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Whoa! These are the most lovely cycling shoes with retro ‘bowling shoe’ styling and contrast lace and micro-suede heel detail. Everyone who has clapped eyes on them has drooled and they may as well have ‘just popping out to my favourite urban cycling café for a latte’ written all over them.

They’re a recreational cycling shoe (ie not really designed for a road tour of the Alps or a downhill session at Bike Park Wales, but perfect for more laid back riding) designed to be worn on or off the bike: they take spd cleats – which are recessed and therefore easier to walk in than road cleats – and also have high-traction walking pads on the outsole.

Giro Release Game Changing Bib Short

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Despite this I wouldn’t want to walk too far in them because, as with any shoe designed for cycling, the soles are still pretty stiff. They will however, make the journey from pavement to espresso counter with stylish aplomb. They also look good with skinny jeans. What more can you ask for?

Verdict: Super-stylish cycling shoes for recreational riding.

Price: £ 129.99 from Evans Cycles.

By Adele Mitchell.

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Despite the fact that summer has clung on for dear life, there is an apparent chill in the air.

Winter is on its way and alas it is time to start turning our attention towards waterproofs , baselayers, overshoes, gloves and cosy winter jerseys. Many of us are not rejoicing the arrival of colder temperatures and shorter days but here at TWC we like to embrace the brighter side of things – it’s an excuse to purchase some gorgeous new winter gear.

One of the first winter cycling jerseys we have put to the test this year is the Rapha Souplesse Long Sleeve jersey. Slipping it on, one of the first things I noticed was how good it felt against my skin. It is super soft and envelops you in a friendly hug, immediately reminding you of the feeling you get from your very favourite piece of gear.

Exclusive: Rapha AW14 Collection

The Rapha Souplesse Long Sleeve Jersey sat a little high on my stomach but thanks to my bib shorts there was no gap

I opted to try the Size Small for my UK 10 frame. Due to the fact I am tall, I felt it rode a little high on my belly, although when worn with a bib short there is definitely no gap and it fit pretty perfectly elsewhere.

At £160 this jersey certainly does not come cheap so my expectations were high when it came to how the jersey would perform under pressure. Thankfully though Rapha delivered.

I have worn this jersey on both mild autumnal days and much nippier days. I feared the Souplesse jersey would be too warm on the mild day, but thankfully it wicked away sweat fantastically and the full zip allowed me some much needed ventilation. I actually wore it with the Rapha Classic Bib Shorts and thanks to the in-built baselayer style on the shorts, I was able to open the jersey completely without exposing myself.

Fast forward a week, temperatures had dropped dramatically and I had that zip fastened all the way to the top. The jersey dealt with the wind admirably and I was super grateful of the soft collar wrapped around my neck. Elsewhere the jersey has elasticated cuffs which sit really snug and comfortably on the wrists. There are three pockets on the rear, with plenty of room for all of my kit. In addition to this there is a central pump pocket and a zipped pocket for valuables.

Pros

- Style and performance. I love the little touches on this jersey such as the block colour stripe along the back and the polka dot inner collar.

- Sublimely soft material and fantastic performance that make you feel like you are wearing something a little bit special.

Con

- The price, £160 is a lot to pay for a jersey.

Verdict: Overall I loved the Rapha Souplesse jersey and I have no doubt it will be hauled out of the closet for many a winter ride in the coming months.

Price: £160, available from Rapha.

By Heather Irvine.

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For years I have been moaning about the lack of grown up, stylish cycling clothes for women. Looks like Giro have sat up and paid attention….

Giro are a cycling brand based in Santa Cruz, California. They’re best known for rather fabulous cycling helmets and shoes, but have recently dipped into women’s cycling wear with their Giro New Road range.

It’s technical on/off the bike gear suitable for casual riding or commuting. First impressions? It’s a go-to for quality and understated style (oh we love a bit of that!) but be warned: it’s not cheap.

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Ride Jersey

This is a really classy cycling top in a merino wool/polyester blend, styled with contrast side panels and a full-length zip. Lightweight, breathable and soft, it has a quality look and feel to it and performs just like a cycling top should.

There are three rear pockets in the Giro New Road Ride Jersey (none are zipped though) and grippy elastic tape to keep the jersey from riding up mid-route. It’s a generous length too.

I really love the design – its very flattering and you could wear this top without going near a bike and still look great. One tiny point: the label is stitched into the back of the top – knowing how fragile wool can be, I wonder if this might be a weak point long term.

Care wise, it requires a cold wash (so don’t just shove it in the machine and with the rest of your washing!). I also use wool-specific detergent to keep merino at its best.

Price: £99.99

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Ride Overshort

The Giro New Road Ride Overshorts are unpadded shorts in a lightweight, two-way stretch infused twill that allows for lots of movement (up and down on the front and rear panel, side to side at the hip and leg opening) on the bike.

They are cut so that there are no seams to sit on, and are generous enough to wear padded knickers beneath should you wish to. The contrast stitch, zip fly, and belt loop detail create a smarter ‘city short’ look and they are very well put together.

They’re available in two cuts – classic (pictured) and tailored – to flatter different body shapes. The above the knee length looks very sporty and the slimmer cut stops you from looking like a Boy Scout.

They arrived just in time for the good weather we enjoyed through September and I wore them pretty much all the time. They are ridiculously easy, comfortable and stylish. Care wise, it’s a simple cold wash again – and they don’t need ironing after washing. This makes me very happy indeed.

I love these shorts and will wear them a lot: again, they are pricey but taking cost per wear into consideration, I think they will represent pretty good value for money in the long run.

Price: £89.99

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Ride Legging

Styled to look like jodhpurs, these stretch cycling leggings are made from a mid-weight herringbone knit. They may be called leggings, but they’re actually thick enough to be worn as trousers and feature faux pockets and a faux fly to give them a streamlined, tailored look.

There’s a back stow pocket with zip on the waistband though it wont hold much more than a tissue and some loose change. The waistband itself is quite high so you don’t get a gap at the back when you ride. Abrasion-resistant leg panels add durability and make them look a bit ‘equestrian’. The label is printed onto the fabric so they are super soft to wear.

They’re put together like conventional trousers with seams that meet beneath the gusset: I didn’t find this a problem when I rode in them (even on a road bike saddle!) but may find you need padded knickers for a longer ride.

To sum up, well made, stylish and comfortable.

Price: £99.99

Giro New Road Range Verdict:

Pros

-Quality.

- Style, designed for cycling.

Con

- The price.

Verdict: Expensive – but rather lovely.

Available from: Zyro.

By Adele Mitchell.

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The legendary Victoria Pendleton brings her expertise from years of cycling to the Pendleton Initial women’s road bike, part of her women’s specific range of bicycles available at Halfords.

Designed for women, the range is an absolute treat for cyclists of all kinds. They are good value for money, nice to use, and downright lovely to look at.

The Pendleton Initial, the women’s specific road bike in the range, follows the trend. It certainly looks the part, with a plush blue metallic paint job, white saddle and grip tape, and a flash of the rainbow stripes – a celebration of Pendleton’s achievements as an Olympic and World Champion. In fact, this looks like a bike that costs a lot more than the RRP £399 it’s on sale for (and it’s currently cheaper than that – a bargain £249!)

Pendleton Road Bike collage

It’s only available in small and medium frame sizes. That rules it out taller ladies, but it’s a brilliant bike for women below 5"7 or girls who are looking to try road cycling for the first time.

There is a good gear range: 16 in total with 8 at the back and a double chain ring up front which will be plenty to get you up the majority of hills. I found the gear changing motion at the back nice and smooth, but changing the front gears was a clunky experience.

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I’m a big fan of the combined break and gear shifters as they are so easy to use! You can shift up and down gear and control your speed without having to move your hands about on the bars, which is great for stability and security. The rim brakes are reassuringly effective.

To ride, the bike feels pretty comfy, aided by the cromoly forks which help absorb some of the shaking and ‘chatter’ you get from riding over a rough road surface.

Verdict: An ideal choice of bike for women and girls who are looking to get into road cycling. The Pendleton Initial women’s road bike looks the business, is brilliant value for money and has great components for the price.

Price: Currently £249 (RRP £399), available from Halfords.

Size: Small (43", suitable for 5’00" to 5’3" riders) and Medium (46", for 5’4" to 5’7" riders)

By Aoife Glass.

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The Sportful Women’s Hotpack 5 Cycling Jacket is ideal for blustery, changeable days when the temperature is still mild but the windchill is picking up or there are threats of showers.

In the race-shell category of jackets, the Hotpack 5 is extremely lightweight and packs itself down easily inside an integral pocket, so you can easily stow it in a jersey pocket when you are heading out for a ride. It’s clearly a very well made jacket, and looks and feels top notch.

It’s windproof, and highly effective at it too. Once you pop it on you feel warmer almost instantly as it keeps the breeze off. I loved the stretch cuffs on the sleeves which have a thumb-hole. This helps seal the sleeves off preventing drafts blowing up your arms, and keeps the cuffs in place around the wrist without resorting to tight elastic or silicone grips.

A lot of race shell jackets are essentially a light plastic layer, and you can end up feeling a bit boil-in-the-bag, but the Sportful Hotpack 5 jacket has a surprising level of breathability. This is aided by vents high on the back which help waft out moisture-laden air as you ride.

The jacket is water-resistant rather than waterproof, so it’s not going to protect you if you are heading out into heavy rain. Where it did excel though was drizzly conditions and keeping road spray at bay. I also got caught in a light shower and emerged dry, so the nanotech water repellent fabric (Schoeller NanoSphere) does seem to do the trick.

The cut is very definitely race focused, and there’s no stretch in the jacket so getting the right size is important. I tried the medium and as a size 12 I’d say it was a tiny bit on the tight size, particularly across the boob area. If you are towards the upper end of a dress size, or curvy in the chest region, I’d consider going up a size.

The sleeves are nice and long, and sit perfectly when riding down on the drops. The jacket stayed in place and didn’t ride up at all. There is no zip garage for the full length zip, and as the collar is high (another great wind proofing design element) it did spike my chin a little.

sportful hotpack jacket packed

I liked that Sportful have made the usual drop tail at the back of the jacket that little bit longer, which does help protect your rear end from spray. The jacket is finished with printed reflective details on the back and sides, which are actually big enough to make a difference to your on-road visibility to other road users, and the light colour of the jacket will help with this too.

Pros

- Very lightweight, and packs down to a small size

- Effective windproof jacket, and pretty good water repellant properties too

Cons

- Sizes up on the small size, particular across the chest for me

- No zip garage meant that it chaffed my chin a little

Price: £67.49 (RRP £75), available from Wiggle.

By Aoife Glass.

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Whilst the choice of women’s specific bike models and specifications can often be very limited, Specialized is one of a few manufacturers that offer a choice of female-specific road bikes. The Specialized Amira is their race-orientated road offering which complements the Ruby endurance model.

I tested the entry-level model which retails for £1300. Out the box I was stuck how beautiful the frame was. The full carbon frame and forks are made from Specialized FACT 8R carbon. Compared to the men’s Tarmac race bike the Specialized Amira has shorter chainstays and headtube to give a women’s specific fit.

Whilst the quality and finish of the frame was above what I would expect on an entry-level model, I felt the bike was let down by its componentry. The specification of the rest of the bike is pretty basic with bottom-of-the-range Shimano 2×9 speed Sora groupset and Axis (Specialized’s own brand) wheels and brakes.

This leads to a bit of a mismatch between the high-quality frame and fork and the rest of the kit. I can’t fault the performance of any of the kit in the few months of testing; it was both solid and performed well. But all of the components lacked the finesse and build-quality of what I wanted on such a frame and were heavier than what I’d chose on a race bike.

Review: Specialized Amira 2014 Road Bike

The Specialized Amira is a fast and aggressive ride. Rather than sit and pedal, it constantly made me want to attack and I found myself out the saddle on every climb and corner. The compact geometry makes the Amira incredibly responsive to each effort and in turn pushes you to put in the next.

It was the perfect bike during a couple of short circuit road races which consisted of some short punchy climbs and fast descents. The only downside was the weight of the wheels which took more effort to get up to speed than something lighter (and more expensive).

Although race orientated and aggressive I found the frame sufficiently compliant to make for a comfortable ride over longer distances – I happily rode it on many training rides for several hours without any problems. Well, except for not quite having the strength in my legs to be able to ride as hard as the bike seemed to want me to.

The Specialized Amira is a beautifully designed and great performing race bike. But this entry-level model is let down by its componentry which feels poorly matched with the frame and forks.

If £1300 is as far as your budget will stretch it is a great starter race bike on which you could gradually upgrade the components overtime. But if you could stretch another £300 then save up for the Sport model which will give you components that will do the frame justice.

Pros

- Fast and responsive women’s specific race bike.

- High quality frame and fork for an entry-level model at £1300.

Con

- Entry-level.

- Heavy components.

Price: £1,300.00, available from all Specialized dealers.

By Rachel Sokal.

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The Chapeau! Ladies Pave Bib Shorts (yes, that exclamation mark is part of the name) are an understated looking pair of road cycling bib shorts that at first glance look simple, but pack in the features.

At the top end of the Chapeau! bib shorts range, the Ladies Pave bib shorts come with two different chamois pad options: a green pad for riding in a more upright position (for example on a mountain bike) and a red pad which is specifically designed to cushion your undercarriage when you are down on the drops in a more aggressive stance.

I took the Pave Bib Shorts with the Red Pad option out for some intense rides, and got on very well with them. The chamois pad is made from different thicknesses and densities of foam, and provided great support underneath without moving about or creasing while I rode. It didn’t feel too bulky, and stretched and moved with me on the bike.

Made from a sleek black stretch fabric in a goes-with-anything black, one thing I really liked about these shorts was the length. At 5 foot 8 with long legs, I often find that road cycling shorts come mid-thigh, but the Ladies Pave Bib Shorts came to just above the knee.

chapeau ladies pave bib shorts leg detail

They stayed in place thanks to a wide, thick elastic band with silicone grippers. Personally I’m not a massive fan of this type of band, as my legs are not particularly thin or toned, so I do often find it causes leg squidge. However, in this case it wasn’t too bad looks-wise, and when riding was secure and comfy.

The fabric itself is quite thick and firm, which provided great support for the leg muscles yet was breathable. It’s also proving robust, as it hasn’t deformed, stretched or snagged in its weeks of use so far.

Chapeau! have added a few reflective details on the thigh and derriere to aid with on-road safety, and have opted for the simple braces style of bib strap rather than some of the complicated strap and buckle contraptions you find on other ladies bib shorts. The high back, made from a lighter and more breathable stretch mesh fabric, kept the straps in place.

As a UK size 12, I tried the Medium bib shorts and found the fit good, so I’d say the come up true to size.

Verdict

A comfortable and classic pair of performance women’s road cycling bib shorts, that work exceedingly well for long hours in the saddle.

Pros

- Firm, supportive stretch fabric.

- Simple bib straps that stay up.

- Effective and comfortable chamois pad for road riding on the drops.

Cons

- Plain colour (I like my kit a bit brighter!).

- At £119.99 they aren’t cheap, but according to Chapeau! are super durable and will last you ages.

Price: £119.99, available from Chapeau!

By Aoife Glass.

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Pactimo began in 2003 in Denver, Colorado and continues to manufacture custom cycling clothing from their factory in China for a huge number of teams worldwide. Alongside their custom apparel, they now offer a branded line of well-thought out gear with plenty to tempt us ladies to part with our cash.

The Women’s Ultra-Lite Rain Cape comes in two colours – black and a see-through white number that’s designed for your team kit to show through.

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Initially, I had my reservations about this jacket – it looked worryingly like a prophylactic when first unwrapped, and having tested some really horrid clear rain jackets, I was concerned it would feel unpleasantly rubbery.

Thankfully, Pactimo have used a very soft, stretchy fabric, which is not plasticky at all. It is slightly noisy, but you get used to it.

Once on, the fit is so-so, depending on how you’re intending to use it and your own preference. My size Small is fairly roomy over a road cycling kit, and to me seems more like a medium in the torso. If I was layering this over my team kit at a race, I’d definitely prefer it to be cut a little leaner. Sleeves are on the baggy size and a rather long and the neck is a little tight, though it is elasticated.

Over a few layers, or if you prefer ‘comfort fit’ to ‘race fit,’ then the cut makes more sense. It would be very useful as an emergency jacket to keep in your work bag in case the weather played havoc with your plans.

The neck is lined with a soft material and the end of the zip is covered so that it doesn’t irritate. Cuffs are simply gathered and elasticated and the drop tail has a rubber strip to help hold it down over your derriere. The wide reflective strip is incorporated nicely into the design, so it’s both effective and unobtrusive.

The jacket is ideal for British Summer, where mixed weather is inevitable and you want to be prepared for all eventualities. It weighs practically nothing and packs into a tiny size that can be easily stowed in a jersey pocket, meaning you’re never caught out when the weather turns.

The jacket does a remarkable job of keeping you warm considering how thin it is; it’s so windproof that it makes a real difference to your temperature. It’s also manages to be very waterproof whilst still being breathable – something that many lesser jackets fail to achieve. Mesh under the arms helps, but the fabric itself doesn’t make you sweat like with some lesser jackets do.

Verdict

Despite my reservations about the fit, this jacket is a winner given the price and the performance. And if you’re not keen on the clear white colourway, why not try Pactimo’s slinky black offering? I know I’d like to!

Price: £55.00, available from Pactimo.

By Juliet Elliot.

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This helmet is made using ‘in-mould construction’. This involves fusing the two parts of the helmet shell (the polystyrene bit and the polycarbonate exterior) during the moulding process for improved shock-absorption. It’s light too – the size M here weighs in at 245 grammes.

It is extremely comfortable with a dial at the back for ease of adjustment including a vertical adjustment to position where the helmet touches your head.

It is very stable and stays put even when there’s lots of vibration coming through the bike (and consequently the rider!) on uneven road surfaces. There’s plenty of ventilation, and the net that lines the hat helps avoid the dreaded ‘hat hair’ look post-ride.

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The straps are designed to aid sweat evaporation and provide greater tensile strength with less weight. I’d like to add here that sweaty straps are not something I have ever encountered so I can’t really comment on their efficiency!

Pros: Strong, stylish, light, great fit.

Cons: None.

Verdict: A tear-drop shaped beauty-queen of a helmet for the road – and it’s not just a pretty face.

Price: £76.49 (RRP £99.99), available from Chain Reaction Cycles.

By Adele Mitchell.

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Every so often a garment lands on my desk that is quite breath taking in its fabulousness. Pactimo’s bib shorts don’t just fit into this category, they actually own it.

I have rarely worn bib shorts so comfortable and of such lovely quality: they are designed for hard, long rides and there is a whole list of trademarked technologies (see ‘they say’ below) to make sure they do the job.

The size M fitted my size 10, tall (5’ 9") frame without pulling or rubbing, the leg band is double turned (a proper hem!) with a silicon gripper that doesn’t dig in and the pad is a comfort dream.

The cut of the panels and use of stretch technical fabrics – which I will sum up as shiny for the leg panels, net for the back panel (with ‘well hello there’ keyhole detail), and luxe-feel satin-sheen ‘scales’ for the rest – are clearly employed for their performance benefits.

The result, however, is like wearing the best shapewear ever. Step into them with a body like a bag of spuds and seconds later you’ve been re- sculpted into the body of Beyonce (well, almost). They’re so flattering that it’s tempting to wear them for a night out – now would make an interesting review.

The contrast colour on the legs can best be described as ‘noticeable’: one side features a bright pink thigh-hugging logo while the other side is an equally eye-catching graduated grey. There is also a huge logo on the bum that, believe me, no one will fail to spot as you sprint past them – for these are not shorts for going slowly in. If the colour isn’t quite your thing, never fear because these are also available in plain black.

These bibs are loud, proud, confident and extremely competent – much like the rider that they are clearly designed for.

My verdict: Flaunt-tastic.

Price: £125, available from Pactimo.

By Adele Mitchell.