Rock Racing Kit: Inter-Coastal Smackdown Review!

Tag_mini_mediumSui Juris and I were contacted by Rock Racing to check out their new kits. Sui's original suggestion was that we get the clothes, try them on, and write a post entitled "Today we tried on some clothes." I gently suggested that the post might be more effective if we spiced it up a bit, and we eventually settled on a Salon-style email debate. Here's what transpired...

Chris wrote:

OK, we've closed the loop. How about if we do this like one of those Salon debates, like where the two Sopranos fans would email each other back and forth?

Sui Juris wrote:

That’s an excellent idea, and it may well start with this one.  See, it strikes me that those on the West Coast are satisfied with a representation of reality (e.g., the Sopranos) whereas those of us on the East Coast are interested in actual reality (e.g., the Wire).  I fear that when I pull on this kit it’s going to be more "got yourself a gun" than helping me "keep the devil way down in the hole."

Chris wrote:

You guys on the East Coast are only satisfied by things that can improve your place on the world pecking order. We're OK with representations of reality, if they make us smile. In response, you guys insist on "reality," so you can point to the West Coast and call us names. And we're fine with that =)
 
I think this thing is going to make me smile. Rock Racing is a vehicle for fashion. I love fashion. I love Cycling, despite the black hole of fashion it has almost always been. Rock may have their issues, but I can't believe clothing is going to be one of them. Time will tell. Has yours arrived yet? I'm still stuck at work.

This may take a while... on the flip!

 

Sui Juris wrote:

Speaking of my place in the world, I was standing in my front yard talking with my neighbor when the FedEx guy came up to us with a box wrapped in tape that said "WARNING" all over it.  My neighbor reached out for it - she’s the one who’s a staffer on the House Committee on Homeland Security, after all – but it turned out to be for me.  Well, because I’m telling this story here, you’ve probably figured out that it was a package from Rock Racing.  Cardboard boxsealed with "tamper-proof security" tape, contents listed as One Team Kit.  Maybe they’re worried that someone was going to steal the socks and send me the rest?

Of course, I did what any reasonable adult would do.  I immediately excused myself and went into the house to rip the package open and see what was inside (even tho’ I was assured by the tape that everything would be there).

Despite the fact that I had just agreed to meet someone in Georgetown for drinks and am generally not a fan of wearing the kits of teams I’m not on, you know I had to try it on right away.  So off with the "I Bike DC" t-shirt and Columbia camp shorts, and on with the skull-emblazoned black kit.  There’ll be time enough to talk about fit later.  For now, I’ll just relay the very first I thing I heard when I came around the corner to get M.’s opinion on fit (she didn’t know I was coming):

"You look fucking hot."

Perhaps not the finest assessment of performance on the bike, but there’s something to be said for that, no?

Chris wrote:

If Michael Ball could get any reaction he wanted from someone seeing his clothes, I'm pretty sure he would go with "You look fucking hot.". And he doesn't even know M.

My story so far, not unlike my life, lacks drama: my kit showed up after a few days, and had to sit on my bed til after the kids were asleep; household in order, etc. And my wife is back in your town. So it was just me and my new flashy kit, checking each other out on a dark, quiet Tuesday evening. It's important that I waited for the boys to fall asleep; if the last image of the day was dad in a neon skull kit, sleep might have been hard to come by.

As I've said, IMHO this kit is a fashion statement first and last, so it was nice to just soak it in a bit. But there are two elements to it: the look (duh) and the construction. The former, it speaks for itself. The latter... here's where it gets interesting. Souvenir kits are notoriously crap, and quality cycling clothing is kind of a separate industry. But this material... there's something very solid and interesting to it. The colors actually change a bit as my oversized frame strains the fabric, but the feel is very snug and sleek. And the chamois: is this available anywhere else? I definitely don't have one that solid in my collection.

That's first blush. Next, I'm going to ambush the Burke-Gilman Trail in full colors. Lates!

*** The Actual Review ***

Chris wrote:

OK, here's my big review piece. I've done a long ride and a commute decked out like Fred Rodriguez, and the returns are in. 

1065_black_white_l_medium
1064_venom_l_medium
On Construction

Chris kicks it off:

Unreal. I've never felt anything quite like it. I was concerned that it was unusually snug, but on the bike it stretches more than, oh, the cheap shit club kits I'm used to. What it felt like was a really snug glove... super slick and fast, and yet miraculously my legs have never felt so free. The jersey is cut a little higher in the front waistline, but the fit holds so well that even my midrift stayed safely tucked away. Just pure quality, all around. Pro kits are fun, but they usually feel like low- to mid-end construction knockoffs, whereas this is more akin to the $250 non-logo bib shorts you can get at Colorado Cyclist. I suspect this is what the team actually wears. Update: it is.

Sui Juris responds:

It is a rather fine piece of work, isn’t it?  Even when you’re not judging it by club kit standards, both the bib and jersey show serious attention to detail.  For example, the edge finishing was perfect everywhere it counts (i.e., the chamois) and even where it doesn’t (the bib straps, inside back pocket seams, etc.).  Img_1905_mediumI took this kit on a 3+ loop through DC and Virginia, and no (seam-related) irritations, and this was only the second time I wore it.  Most of my other bibs require a little bit of breaking in – this didn’t. 

The fit worked well for me.  I’m 6’1, ~200 lbs.(that’s 1.85m and  91kg, for those of you who don’t appreciate the archaic), and I had the XL bibs and jersey.   The jersey fit very well.   The arms are cut a little longer than most, which bring tan-line management issues into play (the details and merit of which I will leave as an exercise for the reader).  The back pockets are a little deeper than usual, too, which I see as a plus.  The front zip has a RR-logo’d pull which I wish would find its way onto more jerseys.   Img_1901_medium
 
The bibs were of similar quality construction, but my fit was less than perfect.  However, fault lies entirely with me – if I’d just drop some weight, the shoulder straps wouldn’t be quite so snug.  (All mention of this issue is now banned from PodiumCafe).   Like the sleeves on the jersey, the cut of the leg seems a little longer too.   But you know what I really liked?  The chamois.  Umm, wow.  After years of testing (with some expensive and not exactly painless missteps), I’d determined myself to be a thin-chamois partisan.  Img_1900_medium
This chamois – which is thicker than most, I’d say – has me reconsidering that stance.

There are only two things I’d change.  First, the side tag on the inside side of the bib 
Img_1903_mediumhas got to go.  It annoyed me enough that I started to wonder if I’d just cut them out of all my other bibs and just forgotten about it.  
 Nope – a comparison with my existing inventory of club, Castelli, and Pearl Izumi bibs confirms that none of them had side tags.  Second, I don’t like the little rubber Rock Racing Research tag on the side seam at the hip on the bibs.  Why?  I just don’t.  

Putting it all together (yes, socks showed up - fitted for left and right, even), it’s a very comfortable kit.  While I’m still of the opinion that Ball could use some help in managing the team, he’s obviously picked the right people when it comes to design and manufacture of these. Img_1906_medium
 And speaking of manufacture, both the jersey and the bibs are made in the US (the socks, they come from Italy).  Are we at a point where I can joke about those smelly Italians?

Chris can't help himself:

I love the external rubber tag. I dunno... it's like they're flaunting their attention to detail. Totally gratuitous. Img_1899_medium


On Fashion

Chris again:

"Venom" (a/k/a neon) was my look. Not exactly my middle name, and it didn't quite match my stately Italian steel ride, though the bullhorns helped (long story, which ends with the sentence "riding on aluminum bullhorns sucks").   

Honestly, I think the kit looks fucking great, and the Brit version and Hamilton USNats one possibly even cooler. Venom_mediumThere are some nice touches, like the different subtle little patterns in the color panels, and the white lettering to give the chaotic main image some firm boundaries. Cycling isn't devoid of its own brand of fashion, but it was devoid of serious fashion. Not anymore, and I hope this starts a trend.

Sui Juris responds:

And here is where we come to the part which made me hesitate in agreeing to do the review.  Simply put, flash is not my thing.  And these are flash.  I’m partial to solid colors.  I’ve got a Bibendum jersey (let’s say I identify), and that’s about as loud as I’ll get.   So I wasn’t sure that I could be terribly fair in reviewing it.  While I’m still not entirely sure I’m fair, I can be honest.  By chance (as far as I know) I ended up with the black and white O.G. kit  which is the one I would have actually picked for myself.  See, "Venom" would have clashed with my bikes, and the "Crucifixion" theme seems a little self-serving.   See?  I can be just as petty and superficial as you West Coast flakes.

While people like me may slag the bright look-at-me! nature of the kits, I can tell you that they do serve a functional purpose – you rarely overlook a Rock Racing rider.  As you know, I do some race photography on the side, and it’s much easier to pick out Freddie Rodriguez than a rider for another team in a white-background kit.

Finally, I have to say that while my aesthetic norms may not line up with Rock Racing’s, I do dig the way they produce special jerseys for different races.  When I started writing this, you could buy special edition jerseys for the Austin, Harlem, and Manhattan Beach crits.  And it looks like they’ve just added the Tour of Britain kits.  


On Family Response

Chris shared:

I'm pretty sure my wife fell in love with me all over again. Also, DS Little Bear said I looked "cute." His English is a work in progress, but I know what he meant.

Sui Juris said:

I refer you back to my opening statement.

On Public Relations:

Chris continues:
 
Riding on the Burke Gilman trail, I got a fair number of stares, and even some full head turns -- as a cyclist and poseur that's not necessarily what I want, but Michael Ball is a fashion designer, meaning that's exactly what he wants. During the ride I was amusing myself by wondering if it would provoke the haters -- those people who are threatened into obnoxiousness* by any sighting of a bike. A fun experiment would be to wear the full kit to NYC critical mass, and see if you get completely pummeled by cops, or left alone. I'm guessing the latter.
  
[* To the guy who "warned" me of the non-existent speed trap on the Burke Gilman: I will never go less than 20mph through your neighborhood again. It's not my fault your ugly mcmansion is falling into Lake Washington.]

OK, enough of my fawning. How many obnoxious east coast Type-A stress cases flipped you off when you wore yours?

Sui Juris laughs:

Ah, this was the real test.  This is DC.  "Hollywood for ugly people" and all that.  We don’t do fashion, we don’t do flash.  For better or worse (and I do tend to think it’s worse), this is not a city in which aesthetic adventure is celebrated (or even tolerated, in many arenas).  And after a decade here, I fear that I’ve adopted these standards myself.  As you know, a certain class of riders tend to judge (usually silently, if harshly) those weekend guys that show up in full Discovery kits.  And since I’m often part of that class of riders, I figured it would only be just if I rolled down to Hains Point (where other like minded folks make up part of the regularly constituted peloton every weekday at noon).   Everyone looked at it.  Now I didn’t actually catch every single head turn (tho’ I saw plenty), but the eyes!  I could feel them everywhere!  Or maybe that was just me.  I got a number of head nods, a "sweet", and one person asked me where I got it.  I also got a couple of "those" looks.  Given that I’m not one of those guys that can roll in a pink tutu because his legs can win any argument, I may be a little sensitive.  But you know what?  DC could use a little more of the Rock Racing look (and similarly adventurous efforts).  Just not on me.

I also took the kit on a three hour run down to Mt. Vernon, and the response from the general public was similar – a lot of head turning – but without the judgment (a reminder of how meaningless some of the views developed inside of the peloton are).  I still got a few fingers, but it wasn’t about the kit – the old bird in Old Town doesn’t like me bombing down her cobbled street, and at least a couple of  "east coast Type A stress cases" didn’t think I belonged on the George Washington Parkway.  Do you think Michael Ball worries about the fingers I gave in return?  Would he prefer that I gave the sign of the horns?
2572647859_770f3e599f_medium

Chris yells:

CASH MONEY!

Sui Juris brings it back around:

Speaking of, let’s talk about money.  Unless you’ve got a closet full of Assos, you’re likely in for a bit of sticker shock, here.  Last week was the first time I’ve ridden in $415 worth of kit.  I was a little self-conscious about that, but I’m thinking plenty of people wouldn’t give it a second thought (and it’s those people that are funding Rock Racing in the first place – the denim table at Nordstrom’s is filled with Rock & Republic jeans that run $250, and they seem to move quickly).   I was talking with another fan this weekend about this kit, and she’d mentioned that she liked what Ball was trying to do for the sport, and had gone to the site to buy a jersey or something to show support.  She decided, though, that she didn’t really want show $180 worth of support with a jersey, and ended up not buying anything.  It looks like Rock Racing is trying to reach back out to fans like her, as they will be announcing a (relatively) more affordable line this week at Interbike, with the "Core" series of jerseys starting at $130.

Chris has to get in the last word:

Look, if you really, really want the best clothing, do you spend $120 for some perfectly nice bibs at Colo Cyclist, or do you plunk down another $100 for something like this? If you're on a budget, you save the cash. But there's no shortage of people out there to whom $100 isn't much, particularly when you look at the $5000 already invested in a bike. Fashion means paying through the nose for something you think is uniquely great. Ball knows his audience... but if they're going after some other audiences too with a less pricey line, cool with me.

 

 

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