X-Bionic is the Lamborghini of cycling. The catalogue now making its home in the TWC office is 1152 pages long, entitled ‘Update V4.2’ – and yes, it’s got a picture of a silver Lamborghini on the front. This is a company dedicated to research, science, and performance.
Every piece of X-Bionic kit (and there’s a lot of it) is meticulously designed for optimal performance with a plethora of trademarked technologies woven into the fabric. Unlike many super techy brands, the women's offering is pretty conclusive and each piece takes into account the female shape.
Of course, laborious design is one thing – performance on the bike is another. A brand can talk about features endlessly, but what matters is the rider’s experience on the day. To test this kit, we requested a full set and sent it to an athlete whose caliber demands quality and performance - National Hill Climb Champion, National Masters Road Race and Criterium champion, Maryka Sennema.
Words and pictures: Maryka Sennema
X-Bionic tell us that they are the first company to have adopted a highly scientific approach to cycling clothing – searching for examples within nature to design textiles that work with athletes to help them find optimum efficiency.
They have certainly created a unique and functional set of garments that look and feel like no other. Putting the kit on for the first time, I had no idea what to expect - would this be some as yet undiscovered miracle kit worth its hefty pricetag? Or more an over-engineered overpriced gimmick? Fully kitted in jersey, bibshorts, short-sleeved base layer and arm warmers – after first browsing the X-Bionic website to make sure I had donned it properly! - I set out on a damp breezy 15 degree day to give it a try.
Energizer MK2 short sleeved base layer €85 size S/M (around £59)
The Tech: Unlike most brands, X-Bionic don’t discourage sweat. They use it. Ribbed and patterned in various thicknesses and directions all over the garment, the base layer contains ‘sweat traps’ which wick away the majority of moisture, whilst leaving a barely noticeable film of perspiration on the skin that acts as a cooling system when you’re hot, and a heating tool when you’re cold. There are also various air conditioning channels and ‘X-Impact’ technology uses compression to enhance performance.
The Ride: My general preference these days for baselayers is merino (varying weights depending on outside temperature) but unless it’s the easiest spin possible, I never come home dry, my baselayer is always at least a little damp.
Not today however! I was very surprised to shed my jersey once I arrived home and realise that the layer closest to my body was nearly dry to the touch. Even though I had layered another lightweight shirt on top which turned out to be overkill (and which came home quite damp), the base layer next to my skin had stayed dry. In fact, I’m keen to try this shirt in other conditions to see if it performs just as well. This was by far the best X-Bionic piece of kit I tested.
Effektor Powershirt jersey €159 size M (£133)
The Tech: The Effektor Powershirt features Kompression tech which aims to reduce muscle vibrations, improving the uptake of oxygen and delivering nutrients to muscles. The same ‘sweat trap’ technology is implemented, to work in tandem with the base layer, and X-Bionic have intelligently added ‘SupportingRibs’ to offer extra compression and sweat management below the breasts.
The Ride: Straight out the box, the jersey looks very tiny compared to the base layer in the same size. However, it's extremely stretchy and therefore fitted easily over the baselayer. I was pleased that the pockets in the back also stretched enough to fit my usual autumn extra baggage of my gilet in the middle pocket, food and pump in one side pocket, and wallet/phone/keys in the other. At the bottom of the middle pocket is the nice added touch of a reflective strip for visibility and the teal colour is pleasing but not too feminine.
The jersey weathered the day’s conditions well, shedding the drizzle and withstanding the headwind nicely, whilst remaining comfortable going uphill or flying home in the tailwind. Would it fare as well in 10 degrees? Or 20 degrees? It did feel like a versatile garment, and with the similar ribbed channel design as the baselayer, it probably does breathe better in variable conditions than most jerseys.
I’d need to try it for a much more intense ride to determine whether it “reduces muscle vibrations, improves the uptake of oxygen and nutrients to muscles, and enables faster regeneration". But overall it surprised me with its quality, and it performed better all around than I expected.
Effektor Power bibshorts €229 size M (£163)
Tech: X-Bionic bib shorts offer ‘Partial Kompression’ which is designed to transfer targeted impulses to large muscle surfaces, activating the Neural Response Effect –the idea being that power transmission is improved. X-Bionic highlight explosive efforts as the target of improvement and promise a technological advantage at the starting line.
The chamois pad is stitched in after construction – and it has no covering over it. This means that the pad is not stretched or affected by construction, but it also means the outside looks much like the inside of a ‘normal’ chamois.
The Ride: These shorts were where the outfit fell down for me – personally the fit just wasn’t right. Billed as “compression", the legs were far more stretchy than any pair of women’s bibshorts I’ve worn. Whilst the legs were long, the straps were quite thin, and the back was short. This meant the fairly narrow chamois chafed a bit and lacked the smooth transition I’m used to with a more traditional style. Where the other components of the outfit worked for me, I can’t say my legs felt less fatigued owing to the Kompression technology.
Fit is all personal – and it might be that these would work on a woman with a shorter back and longer legs - but the overall look of the ‘outside chamois’ is another subject of debate. Given that the shorts were black, this is not an unforgivable fashion error, but it’s certainly a look that will divide opinion.
X-Bionic Said... We asked Dave Hemming from X-Bionic why he thought this was and what potential buyers should do to avoid a similar experience. He said: "The challenge with all clothing is fit, this is why X-Bionic is focused on working with retailers that are the traditional bike shop, bricks and mortar. With our retailers they will size you correctly and work out which range of X-Bionic works best for your needs. This is where the experience of online clothe shipping can not compete with the expertise of a great bike shop."
Effektor arm warmers €50 size S (£35)
The Tech: The arm warmers provide targeted protection, with Expansion technology at the joints to ensure that movement is not restricted alongside the Partial Kompression which aids performance and cooling.
The Ride: The warmers obviously had much thought put into the design, and as someone who has frequently been annoyed by arm warmers that bunch don’t sit comfortably around the elbows, I was pleased to note that X-Bionic got it right. They have even printed the inside cuffs with instructions on how to wear them which was helpful.
The fit could have been improved on for me - they seemed a bit short. However, they didn't fall down and the seamlessness means more comfort whilst the minimal material in the elbow crease meant they really seemed to be hardly there at all.
X-Bionic has clearly put a lot of time and money into technical kit research, fabrics and design. The primarily polyamide material doesn’t absorb lots of moisture but rather transfers it well across the ribbed channels, which differ in their placement across the garment (larger in high ventilation places like the back and chest, smaller and more subtle in the arms and legs). The material feels nice against the skin and the Italian-made quality is high.
However, the high-level research and development is reflected in the prices, and the look of the shorts could put off a lot of mainstream buyers.