Riding cobbles is kind of the ultimate test for not only a rider, but for their equipment. It’s a crucible that tests everything from the bike to clothing. If any piece of gear isn’t up to par, you’re in for one miserable day on the bike.
When we headed to Belgium to ride the Ronde van Vlaanderen Cyclo gran fondo, which included several cobbled sections and four cobbled climbs, we knew we would need some great bikes—which Ridley graciously supplied us for the day, but it also struck us as the ultimate proving ground for our new Performance Ultra SL bib shorts and the Ultra jersey. Ultra is Performance’s line of performance-oriented clothing, designed for riders who expect the very best from their clothing, in all circumstances. If it could survive a day on the cobbles, then it was certainly ready for the prime time back at home.
The new Ultra kit is an evolution of last year’s break out redesign of the Ultra line, and is engineered to be lighter, fit better, and help you perform better on the bike. Constructed using our Physiodynamic design, made with lighter weight Eschler fabrics, coldblack treatment, and Aerocool technology to help you stay cooler and perform better, this pair of short and jersey are designed for long hard days. The all-new SL shorts feature a less bulky chamois, a finer mesh on the upper for better breathability, and a slimmer cut than the standard Ultra shorts.
Our first impression of the newly redesigned Ultra jersey was that it is unbelievably airy and light. On our ride to the ride, we actually needed a jacket in addition to our usual baselayer and arm warmers, because the jersey held in so little heat. The Aerocool fabric is definitely that—cool. In fact, the faster you ride, the more it seems to suck air in and channel it under the jersey. The fabric has an almost silky feel to it that wasn’t clingy like some other jersey’s we’ve tried. The high collar is a nice touch, since a sun burned neck is something we’re usually keen to avoid on long rides, and the arm bands were a fan favorite. As cyclists we’ve generally let our arms wither away to nothing, so it was nice to find a jersey that had sleeves that actually felt snug around our arms. The fabric was a little on the stiff side, but it seemed to loosen up a little as the day went on.
The locking zipper was also a nice feature. The day we rode the Ronde Cyclo ended up being fairly hot and sunny, so it was crucial to be able to easily open up the jersey to get more air, especially on the longer climbs.
Another nice benefit we noticed was the bellowed rear pockets. One of them is apparently sweatproof, but we didn’t know that at the time, and didn’t get an opportunity to test it. The pockets proved more than able to pack in everything we needed for a long day. We filled ours up with 2 tubes, multitool, tire levers, mini pump, iPhone, wallet, packable jacket, 3 gels, 2 stroop waffles, and a route card, and we still had plenty of room. One of the real tests—and one seldom mentioned—for a jersey though is how well it performs with fully loaded pockets. Many race-fit jerseys feel great until you load up the pockets, and then they just end up stretching and drooping as the day goes on. The Ultra jersey though seems to have hit that sweet spot of being light enough to keep you cool, but with enough structure in the back panels to keep the pockets from sagging or bouncing around as you ride. Definitely a solid touch.
As great as a jersey is, the shorts are really the center piece of any clothing line, and if they aren’t up to snuff, you’re in big trouble. Especially when riding on cobbles, which feels a little like riding a bike with a jackhammer for a seatpost. We were a little apprehensive about riding a new shorts that we’d never before worn before – hoping against hope the chamois would be worthy of the challenge. It turns out that we had nothing to worry about!
The TMF Skyve chamois found in the Ultra SL shorts was more than equal to the cobbles. Normally this reviewer is not a big fan of multi-density pads—it’s just a personal preference, but in this case it was exactly what the doctor ordered. The different densities did a really a fine job of soaking up what could have been some…ummm…uncomfortable cobble hits. We definitely knew we were riding over the rough stuff, there’s only so much your shorts and bike can do, but we shudder to think what it would have been like with a lesser chamois. And the pad didn’t just excel in the cobbles either—we spent about 5 hours in the saddle that day, and never had a single complaint. No chaffing, no rubbing, no issues. At no point did we ever really think about the chamois—which is one of the highest compliments you can give to a pair of shorts. If you don’t notice them, they are doing their job.
The overall construction was also really nice. The contoured Eschler gridded fabric construction moved easily with us, and provided a nice snug fit without too much compression, or the ever-irritating stretching out that sometimes happens. The leg band was nice and snug, and held the shorts in place—even when wearing knee warmers, which is fairly unusual.
The Ultra jersey and Ultra SL shorts were definitely the right tools for the job. The distinctive styling didn’t have us feeling out of place amongst the ever well-dressed Europeans, while the high performance features kept us comfortable and helped us ride well during one of the toughest rides we’ve ever done.
Whether you’re racing or going for a longer-distance ride, the kit provides a nice aerodynamic fit that can help you gain an advantage in the paceline, and had all the comfort features you would want for long distances.
Now that we’re home, this is definitely a kit we’ll be reaching for again for some other adventures we have coming up…so check back for more soon.