An email from Laurence Plant at Athlete Service arrived in my inbox last week, requesting some volunteers to test out £700 (Symframe jacket, Trick jersey and Effektor shorts, leg & arm warmers) worth of X-Bionic road kit in the rain. I jumped at the chance, partly because I was interested to see how £700 worth of kit performed (particularly the 'thorny devil' technology), but mainly because he said I would get a free coffee afterwards. Also, the ex-pro downhill mountain biker David Hemming would be handing the kit out (I was a fan of his and the other MBUK guys in my youth).
I woke at 07:00hrs and got the porridge on. I opted for a delicious concoction of Oats, Bran Flakes, Golden Syrup and Chia Seeds. I was feeling quite drained, so opted for extra golden syrup in place of a serving of peanut butter to boost the carbohydrate content. The bran flakes were added towards the end of cooking to provide a welcome, soft, but yielding texture in the mouth and the chia seeds added a nice snap. I resisted the urge to make a second bowl as I only had a short ride planned for the day.
The organised ride wasn't scheduled until 09:30hrs, so I decided to do an extra 1hr loop before hand. The conditions were wet (light rain), windy (30mph gusts), and mild (10degC). Fairly grim, but probably ideal for testing out the gear.
During my initial 1hr solo loop, I got a puncture descending the Stonor valley. I replaced the tube quickly, but noticed a large slice in the sidewall of my tyre. Time was getting tight, so I raced back to Athlete Service, which was fairly busy with other local riders who were trying the kit out, and immediately borrowed a track pump to get some decent pressure back in the tyre. BOOM! The tyre exploded, much to the shock of everyone in the shop. Rather than replace the tube/tyre, I decided to grab a spare bike, then picked up the kit I was to test out.
I was surprised to be told (by David Hemming) I was probably a medium size (I would usually take a large). The kit was colourful, in a grotesque, clashing way, but was informed it was also available in black!
After donning the kit, the group (about 10 or so riders) left Athlete Service to ride a 20ish mile loop in the kit.
The fit of the kit was fantastic, very close fitting but didn't feel restrictive. I was told by David Hemming during the ride that each item is made from a single continuous piece of string. I asked how long the piece of string was, to which he answered with the rhetorical question "How long is a piece of string?". Hilarious as this was, I actually wanted to know how long the string was.
The ride was a steady pace, with a few big, short, efforts (for example, when friend Joe Harris tested his legs up a climb and "became the asshole on the ride [he] didn't want to be" - his words....). The kit felt slightly too warm for the conditions, but it wasn't uncomfortable. During the short efforts, it definitely felt hot, but I didn't feel like I was getting too sweaty or steamy. I did think the seat pad in the shorts was a little uncomfortable, but I think this could have been because it was wet from road spray, and maybe this would be helped on longer rides with some chamois creme.
On returning to Athlete Service, and removing the kit to return to David, I noticed just how dry it all was. Usually, my kit would be fairly damp from sweat, but this was bone dry. This is a key selling point of the kit, so it was good to see it had performed as promised.
I think the standout piece of kit for the day, in my opinion, were the leg warmers. They fitted superbly and stayed in place really well under the shorts. These retail at £53 which I think is great value. I'll be getting some of these, as it means I can use my good (& expensive) bib shorts throughout winter without needing to have a wardrobe full of bib tights.
In summary, the kit performed really well, in terms of fit, temperature regulation and sweat prevention. The aesthetics are a little too unique for me, but as it is also available in black this is not an issue. The only downside was I didn't find the seat pad as comfortable as some other shorts I own (Assos, Rapha) but this may be down to the conditions and lack of lube.