I like to think of myself as the dude that helped put the sport back into sport shirts for warmer cycling, so it only stands to reason, as I try to repopulate my (geezer) cycling wardrobe for the fall and winter season, that I’ve gravitated towards a great Northwoods classic…the wool/flannel shirt/blouse/tunic/shirt-jac/smock.
You know…like Paul Bunyan wears when he’s lumberjack’n or play’n frisbee with ole’Blue. I think that there’s no reason for everyone to try and look like they’re in the Tour de France all of the time. There’s more than just #kitsandcarbon when it comes to our choices for cycling apparel. I’d personally rather look like an outdoorsman than a pro-tour rider. Everyone has their own style and when it comes to a good Flannel for cold-weather riding, style usually takes a back seat compared to comfort and durability. All three of those aspects will play key roles in deciding which one of our trio of Ride Flannels will emerge triumphant.
So just in time for post-holiday sales, we’re setting the table for a good old fashioned Ride Flannel Shootout! (ricochet sound effect) Our contestants are from Pearl Izumi, Kitsbow and LL Bean. Let’s take a look at each one in alphabetical order.
Since we’re doing a RIDE Flannel Shootout I’m going to rate each shirt (1-10) in three categories. 1) Cycling Mods- How the shirt works while riding a bike. 2) Comfort- How comfortable the shirt is to wear. 3) Overall – All things considered (style/comfort/laundry care/cycling use/casual wear) The ride flannel with the highest score will be the winner of our very first ride flannel shootout.
Our first contestant comes to me through the kind graces of our Apparel Editor, Greg Gentle. When I mentioned that I was working on a Ride Flannel Shootout, Greg suggested Kitsbow. He’s been a fan of them for some time and Greg has impeccable style along with a discerning eye when it comes to the quality of cycling apparel. Both the fabric and the shirt are made in the US. The fabric is made by Pendleton and the shirts are sewn with meticulous attention to detail and truly designed to be worn while riding. Those are some of the reasons for the Icon’s $220 price tag.
There are gusseted vents and that area is lined with a wicking synthetic material with mesh panels. There are reflective strips near the vents that round out the features that earn the Icon high scores in the cycling modifications category.
The closures on the Icon are black plastic snaps. I asked Kitsbow to send us the XL (tailored) athletic fit, but they sent the new XL relaxed athletic fit, so it’s pretty baggy, but as I said above…not everything has to fit like a super-hero costume. The Icon comes in a variety of stylish plaid colors. Our test shirt is the Greyrock Ombre colorway. The laundry care tag for the KB says to Machine wash cold and tumble dry on low, but I line dry all of my wool cycling gear and that seems to work pretty well for me. The wool on this shirt is the old school scratchy wool that your grampa wore, so if you’re a delicate flower you might not tolerate that sort of thing very well. Being somewhat of an orchid myself, I just wear merino wool next to the skin to keep grampa’s Pendleton wool from making me itchy.
1) Cycling Mods- 8.8 – 2) Comfort- 6 – 3) Overall – 6
There’s a really fun Fat-Bike Race Series in Wisconsin called the Hugh Jass Race Series that has adopted traditional lumberjack plaid as somewhat of a tribal banner. They award racers with points for wearing plaid and other themed costume ideas at every race. I’ve done a couple of the races this winter, so we can blame Hugh for inspiring this article and for driving me to seek plaid ride gear. That quest drove me to a classic Maine outfitter LL Bean. Representing the original gangster of plaid wool work shirts, the LL Bean Main Guide Shirt looks like the shirt that Paul Bunyan wears tucked into his jeans, but it’s tailored like a shirt/jack.
The modern-day version of the Maine Guide Shirt (MGS) looks just like the classic but it’s made in Vietnam. They certainly cloned the classic itchy wool fabric accurately, but since this ride flannel is cut large (like a shirt/jac) there’s not much of a chance that I’d wear the MGS without some kind of wool base layer underneath.
The MGS has virtually no cycling-specific modifications, but that didn’t stop it from being deployed at last weekend’s Hugh Jass Race. I wore a Kora Yak Wool Cycling Jersey under a vintage triple knit polyester leisure Suit with the MGS as my outer layer with the pre-race temperature hovering right around freezing and rising to the high 30’s F during the race. The MGS is nice and breathable and kept me warm throughout the race. The MGS is Dry Clean Only (talk about old school) and comes in at $109.
1) Cycling Mods- 0 – 2) Comfort- 4 – 3) Overall – 6.66
Our final contestant in our ride flannel shootout comes to us from Pearl Izumi. The Rove is listed as having a relaxed fit but is only relaxed if you have a cyclist’s physique. If you’re working on all but the tiniest of beer guts, this shirt wouldn’t fit very well. At 5’11” and just under 200 lbs the XL fit perfectly. The Rove comes in four different color plaid motifs. I purchased the blackest version that they had. It’s called black phantom plaid (dope gnomenclature). This is the only synthetic ride flannel in our shootout. The material of the Rove is also the lightest of the three shirts tested. The two other shirts fabrics are wool and fairly thick. The Rove is made with a mid-weight fabric. The tag says the Rove is made from 100% Polyester. The material feels like a soft cotton flannel shirt yet it wicks like a jersey for ride comfort. I can wear the Rove without any itchiness and be totally comfortable. Like the LL Bean Maine Guide Shirt, the Rove is made in Vietnam.
The Rove has a couple of nice cycling-specific mods. They designed it with a drop-tail to keep the plumber’s crack covered and added a bit of reflective material along the bottom edge of the tail for visibility. The closures on the Rove are black plastic snaps. The Rove is one pocket behind the other two ride flannels with just one chest pocket (instead of two) The rove is the least expensive and most comfortable ride flannel in our shootout at $80.
1) Cycling Mods- 7 – 2) Comfort- 9 – 3) Overall – 8
So there you have it…do the math…let the ring announcer make the call…The Pearl Izumi Rove wins our first ride flannel shootout. ¡Felices Caminos Amigos!