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I Regret Using Expensive Kits on Race Day

I love high-end cycling kits and own a ton of expensive bibs and jerseys. Unfortunately, I also have a habit of destroying my kits in races. I'm starting to realize that cheaper bibs and jerseys might be better for my race performance and my wallet.

Written by: Bruce Lin

Published on:

Posted in:Opinion

Races can be rough on your kit.

I love high-end cycling kits because they fit extremely well, feel super comfortable on the bike (especially high-end chamois), and they make you look good.

A great kit can have a huge effect on your riding enjoyment, and if it’s aero, extra ventilated, or has some other performance benefit, then that’s even better. When I put a good kit on, I’m like Frozone and his super suit — ready to be a superhero.

The only downside is that high-end kits also tend to be super expensive. For example, my nicest Rapha Pro Aero jersey and Pro bib shorts cost $480 (absurd, I know). Ultimately, this might be waaay too much since I seem to have a bad habit of ruining my best kits during races (more on that below).

So should I really be racing in my nicest kits? Or should I find cheaper alternatives that I can abuse without worry? 

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The Dangers of Racing (for Your Kit) 

Races are often the highlight of my year. I get to plan big trips, spend a lot of time training (which is fun if you do it right), and nerd out on all my gear. That last point is important because for bike geeks like me, picking out the kit you’ll wear during a race is a major decision. For me, it’s almost on par with choosing the right tires and waxing my chain

Since I always want to perform at my best and look my best, I like to pull out my best kits for race day. Unfortunately, that has ended in a few tragedies. Let me tell you three recent stories: 

Unbound: The Muddy Kit Killer

Unbound Gravel muddy race kitThis poor kit was never the same again...

If you haven’t heard, the last two editions of Unbound Gravel featured plenty of hellish mud. I generally like mud, but my kits don’t. This year, the mud and grit that collected on my saddle generated enough friction to rub two dime-sized holes in the ass of my super expensive and almost-new Rapha Pro bibs. 

Of course, I was really upset about this, but I should have known this was going to happen because the exact same thing happened in 2022 to my equally expensive and equally new Pearl Izumi Pro bibs. That’s two top-of-the-line bibs, killed in the same way, by the same race.

The fancy Pearl Izumi Pro Air jersey I wore in 2022 has also never been the same. The light mint green has been stained with a bit of brown that just won’t wash out. 

My wife did the 100-mile race and had her own kit mishap. She got caught on some barbed wire while hiking through a mud section and tore a big hole in her Velocio Concept bibs. So Unbound took a third top-of-the-line bib from us. 

My Race Brain Kills a Limited-Edition Jersey

12-hour mtb race kitThose laser-cut sleeves didn't stand a chance...

I was competing in a 12-hour mountain bike race called Sunrise to Sunset Elephant Rock. Around 6 hours in, the heat and exhaustion were melting my brain and causing me to make some sloppy mistakes and questionable decisions.

I rode into the bushes to pass another rider who was stopped on the trail and snagged a sharp branch with my shoulder. This tore a massive hole in the sleeve and I had to switch jerseys in the pit. In race situations, I tend not to think, and would probably have dove into a bush full of thorns without looking just to get ahead. 

In the end, I placed well and had a ton of fun, but it cost me a limited-edition TPC Giordana FR-C Pro jersey. That jersey’s not made anymore, so sadly, I can’t replace it. 

Overcooking a Corner Kills My Coolest Bibs

Crashed cycling kitOuch... those lightning bolts were so cool too...

I love racing short track. It’s fast and intense, and as you’d expect, crashes sometimes happen when you rub shoulders or try to blast through loose section at Mach 10. I showed up to one of the first races of the season wearing my BRAND NEW custom-printed Pearl Izumi Pro TPC bibs. As you can tell from the above photo, I overcooked a fast corner and crashed, instantly destroying them. 

Again, these TPC bibs are no longer produced, so I can’t replace them. I drank a case of Tecate to help numb the pain of losing the coolest bibs I’ve ever owned. 

Hunting for the Best Budget Cycling Kit

Now that I’ve ruined three top-of-the-line bib shorts and a couple of top-of-the-line jerseys in some of my recent racing endeavors, I’m thinking about changing my philosophy toward race kits. They need to be cheaper and more expendable.

While I always want to be comfortable and look good, worrying about damaging my expensive kit might start holding me back in the future. I want to be able to abuse my kit without worry. I want to be able to pin on a number without cringing. I want to get it muddy and not care if the stains come out or not. I want to crash... actually, no I don't want to crash, but if I do, I don't want to feel like I wasted a high-end piece of kit. 

So recently, I’ve been on the hunt for “cheap” bibs and jerseys in the $100-150. Of course, cheap is relative, and $100 is still pricey, but compared to my bougie $200-300 Rapha, Velocio, and MAAP bibs and jerseys, something in the $100-150 range is relatively affordable and it will likely still have a racey fit, nice fabrics, and a well-padded chamois for long and tough rides

Here are some bibs in that $100-150 range that I've found work very well for me:

[product-block handle="ornot-mens-house-bib-shorts"/]

So far, the bib that feels closest in terms of feel and performance tp my bougie high-end bibs is Ornot’s House bib (retail price is $180 but they're on sale right now for $137). They’re lightweight, breathable, well cut, and use a great chamois. I’ve comfortably done 6+ hour rides in these. Plus, they have cool designs and I like Ornot’s sustainable approach to kit manufacturing. These might be what I wear to SBT GRVL (a 140-mile gravel race) this year. 

[product-block handle="7471450882240-specialized-men-039-s-rbx-bib-short"/]

I’ve also been super impressed with the RBX bib from Specialized which uses a Body Geometry Contour chamois. It is firm and single density, but it actually feels somewhat similar to my favorite chamois (Rapha Pro). These retail for just under $100 (or even less when on sale) and I’ve been using them multiple times a week on training rides. I think these will be my go-to short track and crit bibs, since they’re cheap enough that I won't worry about losing them in a crash. 

[product-block handle="7454077386944-specialized-prime-bib-shorts"/]

An even better option might be the Specialized Prime bibs, which retail for $200, but are currently on sale for $150. I haven't worn these yet, but I'm very tempted to try a pair in the moss green or espresso colors. 

[product-block handle="poc-pure-bib-shorts-vpds-uranium-black-uranium-black-1"/]

I’ve been loving POC’s entry-level Pure bibs which are $130. They use POC’s excellent VPDS Catalyst pad which is seam free and uses silicone inserts to absorb vibration. I’ve been using them on super rough gravel and for mountain biking and I'm loving the cushiness. These might be my pick for 12-hour mountain bike races, enduro races, multi-day bikepacking trip, or anything where my backside is going to take a serious beating. 

Next on my list to try is The Black Bibs, which start at an amazing $40. I’ve seen a lot of positive reviews online, but of course, I need to actually ride in them before I commit to racing in them or buying more. If they're good, well, you can't beat $40. 

As for jerseys, I like race-cut jerseys that are super thin, breathable, with no bagginess around the belly. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been easy to find at a sub-$100 price point. However, I’ve started using a few Pearl Izumi Attack jerseys which retail for $90. They have a nice race cut, and they’re super light and thin, rivaling the feel of my $190 Rapha Pro jerseys. Plus they use recycled fabrics. I do have to size down one size from my Rapha jerseys to get that nice aero fit.  

[product-block handle="7456428228800-ornot-men-039-s-house-jersey"/]

Ornot's House jersey is also very good, but at $130 it's a bit more than I want to spend on a jersey I'm going to rough up. I still might use it at SBT GRVL just to match the bibs though. 

Cheap cycling kits are better for racingGet dirty. Ride hard. Be happy. 

I’m a vain hypebeast-type of rider, so I probably won't stop buying super high-end kits. But from now on, those kits aren't going racing. Like an obsessive sneakerhead, I want to preserve the good stuff for as long as possible. For races or any other rough and tumble adventure, I'll rely on a workhorse kit that costs half as much. It will be better for my wallet and my mental health. 

If you have any suggestions for bibs or jerseys that perform well for endurance racing/big rides without breaking the bank, I’d love to hear about them!

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