Cycling & triathlon clothing; custom cycling jerseys tri suits
Carvalho Custom is based in Portugal, but our main market is the UK and other northern European countries. It has been interesting to see the development of the custom cycling & triathlon clothing market in the UK over recent years: when we first started selling to the UK, we only had 3 or 4 competitors - now there are more than 25! What has happened to really change the market is that the Chinese have really got stuck into the market, either selling directly through massive investment in Champion System or increasingly now making kit for small new British brands.
Every week we receive requests from northern European custom brands for us to make their kit for them, because there is now clearly a retreat from getting kit made in China; sourcing relatively small orders from China is problematic to say the least and when it all goes wrong, it can be very difficult to put things right again. It is worthwhile underlining here that we never make kit for other brands and we will not make any kit without our branding on it.
In the face of all the challenges that the Chinese have introduced to European brands like ours, we have tried to stay true to our original principals rather than try and match the Chinese with their aggressive pricing. So that means our focus stays on producing the best quality kit we can, delivering it on time and making things as simple as possible for our customers. And lets be honest, sometimes things do wrong and when they do, we always try and put things right with the minimum of fuss.
It has been gratifying to see over the last 12 months or so, that a number of our clients that we lost to Chinese made kit have come back to us and after some challenging years, our sales are again growing strongly. So here is a call out to all of the cycling & triathlon clubs who have tried buying Chinese and are less than impressed: we will give you pro quality kit, fair prices and unbeatable customer service. And all made in Europe!
We put a lot of effort into getting the fit right for our custom cycling clothing, but as a client, it is important that you understand how the fit is meant to work. The most important thing to consider when trying kit on is that it is designed to fit when you are on the bike in a riding position and not when you are standing up trying the kit on for the first time.
What this means for jerseys and jackets is that the fabric in the sleeves and shoulders is shaped to relax into its natural position when you pull your arms forwards to put your hands on the handlebars and the sleeves have to be cut longer; then the front of the jersey/jacket is cut short, because when your torso bends forward into the riding position, the distance between your chin and your waist shortens dramatically so if it is not cut short, the fabric will tend to fold and bulge. Meanwhile the back of the jersey/jacket has to be cut long as the curve of the spine in the riding position elongates the length that that the fabric has to cover. This means that if you try our jacket/jersey on when you are standing up straight, you should find that the fabric ripples across the shoulders and the sleeves feel a little to long. The front of the jersey/jacket should also feel a bit short riding up to the top of your bib shorts.
With bib shorts it is more of the same - if you hold a decent pair of bib shorts by the top of the straps and let them hang, you should see that the shorts naturally form a curve to follow the position that you will be in when riding. Standing up straight the straps will tend to pull both on the front and the back of the shorts, but in a riding position they should almost entirely pull up on the back. Only in the riding position should the fabric relax into its correct position - standing up straight, bib shorts should be ill-fitting! (Whilst on the subject of bib shorts, it is worth remembering that the straps have three functions: to remove the need to have an elasticated waist band that can dig into your stomach, to hold the back of the shorts high up your back so that there is not a gap between jersey/jacket and shorts and to pull the chamois up firmly against your backside so that it stays in place throughout the pedal stroke).
When it comes to our patented halterneck bib shorts (also sold under our license by DHB/Wiggle) the idea of the fit only working correctly in the riding position is equally important. In this case the halter strap only really pulls on the front of the shorts when you stand upright, but in the riding position the straps transfer the pull on to the anchor points at the back of the shorts. The functionality of the design of our halterneck shorts is so important for this reason: not only are they easy to pull down in the squat position to allow a rider to take a pee without removing their jersey/jacket, but in the riding position they perform the 3 key functions of standard bib shorts as outline above because the key anchor points are at the back of the shorts.
So the point is, when you try on cycling clothing, you have to do it on a bike, or at least bending forwards as if you are in the riding position. Decent kit should only fit properly when you are in this position - if if fits well when you are standing up, then there is something wrong!
If there is one garment in our range that we really obsess about, it has to be our bib shorts. We have already designed and patented the world's first halter neck bib shorts (now made under license by DHB/Wiggle) to help change women's cycling forever, by making it possible for female riders to go to the loo without removing their jersey or fiddling with any straps or zips. We have recently been tweaking our men's bib shorts, adding a new highly breathable lycra to the interior panels, upgrading the chamois, widening the shoulder straps and extending the leg lengths; further to this we have now removed a seam that used to run along the crotch (joining the front interior panel of the shorts to the back panel).
An additional seam can make all the difference to a garment; sometimes in can add to the design, but in the case of bib shorts this crotch seam can tend to bunch and rub in an area where there is a lot of movement when riding - removing it is just one more step towards the perfect pair of shorts.
The speed of change in textile technology continues apace and Carvalho Custom is determined to continue at the vanguard! So if your club is looking for a more comfortable custom cycling kit supplier, then please give us a call to see some samples.
The speed of change in sports fabric technology is unrelenting - every year we update a large element of our range either with incremental improvements or wholesale replacement. Over the last couple of years we have introduced a brand new hydrophobic lycra for our custom tri-suits, two new fabrics for our bib shorts (as the shorts now use two different lycras in combination), new laser-cut arm and leg grippers, a new chamois for cycling and triathlon and a new extra-breathable fabric for our racefit custom cycling jerseys.
Now we are updating our cycling jackets and gilets, with improved breathability to the waterproof membranes we use and also adding more stretch to the waterproof fabrics so that they are more figure-hugging/aero. In the past some of our clients have used a jacket or gilet in one size up from the jersey size they use, but together with the extra stretch in the fabrics we have also adjusted the sizing so that all clients should now wear the same size jacket/gilet as cycling jersey.
We now have available in our online store kit for the Wicklow 200. Please click here to buy Wicklow 200 jerseys, shorts, jackets and gilets.
As well as our standard Biofit jersey, we also have a Racefit option, bib shorts (including our patented halterneck bib shorts for women), rain gilets and training jackets. Orders must be received before 18th of April to guarantee delivery before the race.
The pro peloton has really driven change in the design of cycling jerseys, demanding a body contour fit with no hint of flapping fabric, but without sacrificing breathability which can be a problem with traditional lycra. The solution has been to combine various fabrics to get the perfect balance of fit and performance.
Over the last 3 years our racefit custom cycling jerseys have gradually evolved and we like to think we have now got the balance just right. We use a super lightweight lycra over the shoulder areas, where a firm fit is most important, then on the side panels a lycra mesh to draw the front and back panels up against the torso whilst maintaining full breathability and then a lightweight, supremely breathable, stretchy fabric for the front and back panels. You might not want to wear our racefit cycling jersey if you still haven't lost those extra winter pounds, but once you get in shape, it is the ultimate cycling jersey!
Let's start with the Coke. Andy Warhol said: ‘America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest… You know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good.’
Well cycling clothing is increasingly going down the Coca-Cola route and here is why: a lot of my job consists in developing new products for our custom cycling clothing range. And part of the development process is buying all of our competitors' kit and riding in it (then the good stuff is taken apart to look at in fine detail). Although this works out as quite an expensive process, as a brand you pretty much have to know what your competitors are up to: you can then copy the good bits (except when they are patented of course!) and occasionally bring your own innovations to build on what they have done. Essentially that is what every brand is doing in the cycling clothing (and triathlon clothing) business and we all know that everyone is doing it and that is fair enough.
It can be a sometimes fun, sometimes tiresome part of the job to test all of this kit out, but it does give you a privileged position to be someone who gets to test pretty much everything that is out there in the cycling clothing market. The most obvious thing that you can see is a convergence between brands: it used to be the case that there were high end brands that sold fabulous kit that was just streets ahead of their lower cost competitors. Over the last 2 to 3 years, this has all changed though. Now you have a few brands at the bottom of the pile still churning out frankly mediocre kit (short durability, washed-out colours, non-technical fabrics, poor fit etc) and then you have the mid and premium priced brands that are increasingly becoming indistinguishable.
The reason for this convergence is that high level cycling has essentially gone from a niche to a mass participation sport, so where once niche manufacturers had to source scarce fabrics, chamoises, leg grippers and other fancy kit from small suppliers, now this stuff is being churned out in vast quantities; and whereas before premium brands had to use technically gifted seamstresses to put them together, now there are all manner of clever machines that mean the seamstresses can work a lot faster and with less skill required. So really it means that the difference in quality between the mid-priced and the premium is tiny and increasingly the price differential is just a question of clever branding.
Here at Carvalho Custom we have never aspired to be a super premium brand, we just plug away at producing the best quality kit we can at a fair price and put all our efforts into following innovations and developing our own. We have never paid for any advertising, just using word-of-mouth to develop our brand. Cycling clothing is not Coke and it never will be, but the days of great quality kit only being available to the lucky few have thankfully come to an end.
2016 has been a great year for Carvalho Custom and we hope that all our customers and friends have had an equally fantastic year. For us 2016 has been all about innovation: whilst being granted the UK patent for our halterneck bib shorts was undoubtedly the highlight (the design rights are currently licensed to Wiggle and we are negotiating with some other brands also), we were also very happy to introduce innovations to our custom cycling jerseys, including new fabrics and an improved fit, particularly to our custom race fit cycling jersey. Our male bib shorts have also had a few improvements made to them, including laser cut leg gripper and a new injected foam chamois.
In triathlon we have also done some work on our hydrophobic fabrics to decrease the weight a little whilst maintaining the water repellent properties so that our custom tri suits glide better in the water and dry off extremely fast for the bike leg.
We have a few new ideas that we are currently working on to launch in 2017 - now is a very exciting time to be in the cycling and triathlon business because of the blinding speed of innovation, but we like to see it as a time of great opportunity. May your 2017 be all that you want it to be!
Here at Carvalho Custom we realized about 5 years ago, that female cyclists were being neglected, typically getting palmed off with either men's clothing or the tremendously patronizing "shrink it and pink it" option. So we started experimenting with new fits and fabrics and we made some steady progress. We sponosored Shu Pillinger's kit for the Race Across America and in return she helped us field test some of our concepts (we thought that 5000 kms of non-stop cycling would probably be a good test for our chamois for example...).
We knew that the biggest single problem that women cyclists faced that men did not was bib shorts - the problem was getting caught short in your bib shorts (in other words taking a pee). With a bit of stretching of fabrics men can take a pee relatively easily without removing the straps, but for a woman it was always a case of having to take the straps of her shoulders in order to be able to pull the back down, which meant having to remove her jersey also. Most women resigned themselves to wearing waist shorts, but they just had no idea on the comfort they were missing out on: bib shorts do not dig into your tummy, they are held up high on the back so that there is no gap between jersey and shorts when in the riding position and very important (but often overlooked), they hold the chamois firmly in place against your backside which dramatically reduces chaffing.
There have been a few efforts at resolving this problem, many of which are not great. For example adding a zip to the back of the shorts works OK, but most women find having a zip being pushed into their flesh less than comfortable! Then there is the so called "drop tail" option, which anchors the back straps at the side of the rider and leaves a flap of material at the back to be tucked in. This sort of misses the points of bib shorts however as it does not pull the back of the shorts up, so the chamois does not get held in position.
We went through a lot of iterations before we realized that there was an alternative solution. By using a halter neck, and using clever anchor positions for the strap and a super soft and stretchy neck strap, we could hold the shorts in position just like normal bib shorts, without putting pressure on the neck and they could be pulled down without removing the neck strap.
The reason that this idea was complex to develop was twofold - first understanding it was possible to anchor a halter neck on the front and back of the shorts (which meant that the back of the shorts would be pulled up, so keeping the chamois in place properly) and second understanding that there are 3 positions to wear bib shorts and the functionality of the straps changes completely according to the position. When you try on cycling shorts for the first time, then generally you will be in the upright position, but this is pretty much irrelevant for a cyclists, because the only time you are upright is walking to and from your bike and trying them on in the shop. So our halterneck shorts do not really work very well when you are standing upright, because they don't really pull up the back properly. When you bend forwards into the riding position though, everything slips into place and the tension is transferred from the front anchor points of the straps do the back anchor points and suddenly the shorts make sense. Then when the rider squats down, so reducing the distance the straps have to cover from the shoulders to the hips, all tension is released and the back can just be pulled down.
After a lot of work with prototyping and testing we realized we have a very good idea, so we applied for a patent. And today, 17th of October 2016 it was granted in the UK, with worldwide patents to follow hopefully over the coming months. It has been a long journey for our little company and it has been troubling so see several other brands try to copy our idea, particularly as we have made it clear that are prepared to license the idea to them. We were very happy that Wiggle/DHB did a license deal with us and now our halterneck shorts are one of their biggest selling cycling shorts, which really feels like a validation of our original idea and all those years of development.
So if you are a female club cyclist and you would like to wear halterneck bib shorts in your club colours, then Carvalho Custom is your only choice as we have not licensed the concept to any other club cycling kit supplier. If you are a brand and you would like to license the concept, then please speak to us!