A Beginners Guide to Road Cycling: Custom Kit

A Beginners Guide to Road Cycling: Custom Kit explores the process of having custom cycling kit made, from design to purchase and offers some tips if you or your club are planning to take the plunge.

Back in June 2013 I rode a small sportive called The Williams Farm Kitchen Cycle Challenge in East Yorkshire. As the event only had 200 participants it was clear that a good 50% were members of clubs, some I recognised, like Hull Thursday Road Club and Cottingham Road Club, others were new to me, such as Coeur de Velo and Beverley 41 Club, yet they all had one thing in common, as they were all immaculately turned out in their club kit – I admit to feeling rather envious!

Now if Master Yoda has taught me anything, it’s that jealousy will ultimately lead to the dark side, so to avoid such a fate there is only a few courses of action…

1. Join a local cycling club and get kitted up in their colours.
2. Buy a pro team kit and break Rule #17!
3. Suck it up.
4. Form my own club and start from scratch.

It goes without saying that I decided to take the route less travelled and, along with Marvin, opted to form a new club, a club with rules that would suit like minded riders and ultimately wear a kit that was iconic, if not a little controversial…

The Concept

You will have your own reasons for wanting a custom kit, some people want to buy a custom kit or jersey for an existing club or society, maybe even a charity ride or particular sportive, others to market their product or company.

In our case we wanted our own jersey to wear at sportives and off the back of this we formed our own cycling club. The concept and idea for the club, then ultimately our kit was:

#1. We are crap and we know it – Anybody who shows an ounce of talent will be suspended and made to eat cake as punishment!
#2. Don’t take yourself too seriously – ride for fun.
#3. Ride as fast as the slowest man, looking good while we do it.

So in June 2013, Vélo Club Ironique was formed…

Kit Ideas

Once you have a clear direction, why not make a list of your requirements, this will prove useful when dealing with the various companies who supply custom cycling kit. The best tip I can offer is to make up a design scrapbook and work up a rough idea of what you’d like.

I’ve listed a few design principles below, but if you would prefer somebody else to design your kit, skip to the ‘Finding a Supplier’ section.

1. Inspiration – What is your club about, does this lend itself to a particular style or colour scheme i.e. Do you have a sponsor with a strong identity.

2. Imitation – Look at what other clubs are wearing or even look to copy the style of a pro team, after all imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Locally we have some really nice club kits, I’m a big fans of the kits worn by both The Sunday Girls and Selby Cycling Club.

 

Selby CC Club Kit

 

3. Colour – This is a statement of identity and is possibly the most important aspect of any design, certainly if you plan to go with a plain single colour shirt.

4. Style – Careful consideration should be given to the style of your kit, something that looks great in 2014 might look a bit naff in 2015. To avoid having to change kit too often look at classic styles for inspiration or go with a retro style, like this Molteni / Arcore Jersey available from Prendas.co.uk.

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Molteni / Arcore Retro Jersey by Prendas


Our idea from the start was to have an iconic cycling kit, something familiar and something to go with our ‘ironic’ theme, so we looked to take inspiration from the grand tours. Initially we thought of going with a yellow or pink jersey, but that was too subtle, so we decided on polka dots, as iconic as ironic.Once we knew where we were heading, we dabbled with altering the colour scheme, al la Polocini

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Polocini Test Team Jersey


…but although this was tempting, we preferred the traditional red on white on the Tour de France King of the Mountains jersey.

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Tommy V wearing the spots with pride at the Tour

Finding a Supplier

Once you have an idea of the type of kit you would like, now you need a supplier. The reason for choosing a supplier is different for everybody, however unless money is no object, I guess most people choose a supplier based on budget before anything else.

Depending on your standards, getting your own custom club kit made can be a very costly exercise, so in our case it is lucky that I am a fully paid up member of the “Ow Much?!?” Society of Yorkshire men, therefore I invested a lot of time and research into finding a supplier who could meet our criteria:

1. Low Cost – we were doing this for a bit of fun, so we didn’t want to spoil it by making it costly.

This cuts out many of the big name suppliers, who offer pro level custom kit at a premium price – Although prices do tend to drop with higher quantity orders.

2. Bespoke Manufacturer – We had a clear idea of our kit style, but quite a lot of companies use fixed templates to base their designs.

Watch out for some suppliers making additional charges for fully bespoke kit, quite a few I looked at offered a semi-custom kit design with a limited range of templates at their standard price.

The majority of manufacturers offer a design service, so if you want your supplier to come up with your club kit design they will do, however some will charge for this service, so make sure before you commit.

3. Low Quantity Supplier – We only have four members, who only needed jerseys, and very few companies offer custom kit unless you buy 5 items or more, most don’t at all, others charge a hefty single item supplement.

To help you out, here is a list I made of custom cycling kit suppliers and their minimum quantities*:

No minimum Quantity

Pente 14
Gear Club**

No minimum (with single shirt premium)

Owayo
Imp Sport
Cycle Division
Pedalling Squares

Minimum Order of 5

Creative Cycling

Pactimo
Pro Vision

Minimum Order of 10

Hincapie
Champion Systems
Castelli

Minimum order of 15 plus

Primal Custom
Endura
Foska
Milltag

No Information

Santini
Capo
VO2
Kalas
Bioracer
Race Skin
RSD Sports

* Note that companies often change their policies on minimum orders and as such you should contact the supplier directly.

** In June 2013 Gear Club were only taking minimum orders of 5 pieces of kit, their policy has altered as of January 2014.

Narrow down your list of suppliers to meet your own criteria and then get in contact to see what they can offer, some will be design orientated and will be keen to help you with your designs, others might expect you to submit a design on a template to give them an idea of what you would like.

After a good deal of research and talking with a few different suppliers, it turned out that we could only find one supplier who met all of our criteria.

The Design Process

Many custom kit suppliers employ web based design systems, using set templates, to generate an initial design, which is a great way of seeing your ideas come together with minimal effort – although this suits the semi-bespoke market more than any other. Others suppliers use blank paper templates for their initial design consultations and our supplier was no different, asking us to submit a basic design in order to kick off the custom design service.

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These templates are a blank canvas to the budding jersey designer and with the modern printing techniques, like sublimation material printing, this allows you to pretty much design to your heart’s content, using whatever colours you want.

YouTube Link to Nimblewear Sublimation Jersey

Here I go through the design process we undertook to create the Vélo Club Ironique cycling jersey, where we chose to design our own kit and club logo – I’m guessing this isn’t typical, but the processes will be the same if you were employing the services of your custom kit suppliers designer.

Many custom kit suppliers have their own in house kit and logo designers, such as Pactimo, who’s designer worked in collaboration with Baldwin Titanium to come up with this Logo and Jersey for the Wolds123 Cyclosportive…

 

Wolds 123 Logo by @DCHought


 

Wolds 123 2015 Jersey by Pactimo

  

VCI Club Kit Design Process

Fortunately I have used design packages before, so we were able to put together some ideas for our club jersey before submitting the designs to the supplier…

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VCI Concept 1 – Too Spotty!

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VCI Concept 1 Rear

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VCI Concept 2 – Blank Name Plate

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VCI Concept 2 Rear

Although we liked the simplicity of the initial designs, we wanted to add a splash of colour, so thought about adding some logos or sponsors. As the Tour was to be in Yorkshire in 2014 we decided to approach Le Tour Yorkshire to see if we could use their logo on our jerseys. Although LTY were enthusiastic about the idea, ultimately there was an issue with ASO intellectual property, so the request was politely declined.

Undeterred we added a bit of colour by putting the MOD logo to our jersey, in honour of the cycling god Wiggo, but also because Marvin fancies himself as a bit of a mod! Also we decided to remove the polka dots from the side panels and also enlarge the dots on the main panels, a bit like the Bianchi King of the Mountains jersey…

 

Bianchi KotM Jersey by Nalini / Moa

 
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VCI Concept 3 – MOD Logo / White Panels

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VCI Concept 3 – MOD Central

Although our design was coming together we felt that our design just looked like an everyday KotM jersey. Eventually, after a tip off from a Twitter follower, we approached Bike Pure and thankfully they agreed to allow us to use their logos on their shirts, which also gave us the idea of using their colour scheme on the side panels and cuffs…

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VCI Concept 4 – Bike Pure / Blue Panels

Our final finishing touch was to come up with a club logo, this is something your supplier can help you with, but we had a go ourselves, with a design nodding toward our East Yorkshire Heritage, the MOD culture and of course, racing bikes…

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VCI Club Logo

It took a long time, but eventually we had a rough design to send to the supplier and after a number of weeks back and forth, our supplier came up with a design that worked not only on paper, but also on the cutting table – remember that cycling jerseys are made up from numerous panels, so sometimes complex designs don’t translate so well from paper to material.

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Pente 14 Final Approved Jersey Design

Finalising Your Order

Once you have agreed your final design you will be asked to chose the specification of the jersey. Typically custom kit suppliers will offer a few different jersey cuts:

Race – Skin tight and cut for comfort in a racing position.
Club – A slightly looser race cut.
MTB – Typically longer and looser.
Female Cut.
Junior Size.

Then you might be given a few choices of material, in our case we were offered three different options:

Entry Level Jersey – Quick drying polyester fabric (Typical Club Jersey Material)
Mid Range Jersey – Soft, Breathable and Fast Drying Fabric.
Pro Level Jersey – UCI Team quality fabric with rear mesh panel.

Then *the elephant in the room* choose your size, so good luck with that and I offer absolutely no advice on this subject – smoke and mirrors!

The Finishing Touches

Custom cycling kit suppliers offer a huge array of extras, almost all at an extra cost, so a basic jersey can quickly become quite expensive if you chose to ‘pimp’ it up too much, here are a selection of optional extras you might be offered:

Long Sleeve
Full Length Zip
Flat lock Stitching
Individual Name
Zip Rear Pocket
Fluro Colours
Optional Cuffs

That’s just the jersey, custom suppliers also offer other items of kit, all branded and designed to your club style and colours, including:

Shorts
Bib Shorts
Tights
3/4 Tights
Arm Warmers
Leg Warners
Gloves
Gilet
Wind Jackets
Rain Jackets
Skinsuits
Compression Wear
Shoe Covers
Socks
Caps

For our first foray into the world of custom cycling kit, we opted for the cheapest and most basic jersey, with the only extra being a waterproof hidden zip pocket on the side of the jersey, with three members opting for the race cut and one for the club cut – eventually ordering at the start of July after beginning the process in early June.

The Custom Cycling Jersey

The Vélo Club Ironique jerseys eventually arrived at the beginning of September 2013…

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The Verdict

To be honest, what started out as a bit of fun became an anti climax, as by the time the kit had arrived our sportive season was over and we had just about lost all enthusiasm for the whole project.

I hadn’t appreciated how long the process would take, but there is no denying that the kit looks good and although I’ve only worn it a handful of times it is comfortable, well cut and of good quality and value, especially as it only cost £31 for each fully bespoke jersey, you can’t really argue with that.

We are now looking forward to the 2014 sportive season, hopefully we haven’t put on too much weight over the winter so that we can still get in our jerseys, which we wear with black shorts, not matching polka dot bibs like that clown Pierre Rolland!

See you on the start line and give us a wave if you see any Vélo Club Ironique cyclists on your travels, we will be the ones struggling up the Wolds of East Yorkshire!

*2015 Update*

Two years later the club kit is still going strong, it’s been washed and warn on lots of occasions and shows no sign of wear and tear, it’s fair to say for a little over £30 this jersey is really good.

The whole point of the exercise was to have a kit to wear at spotives, so I’m pleased to report that we look very dandy on the start line and we’ve had lots of positive comments along the way.

 

Vélo Club Ironique Club Kit in Action

 

Hopefully this guide will have been of some use to anybody looking to buy their own custom cycling kit, if so let me know how you get on and also add any of your own tips in the comments box below.

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Thank you.

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5 Responses to A Beginners Guide to Road Cycling: Custom Kit

  1. Polocini says:

    Always nice to see a Polocini jersey get a mention!! Thanks.

    It always interesting to hear peoples opinions on kit suppliers. 99% of people seem to go with cost.

    I choose to use Bioracer for our kit who aren’t on your list. They develop a lot of new fabrics. It’s made in Belgium (we love cobbles), and if you watched the cross this week or a lot of UK races then you will see plenty of their sponsorship. I know that by buying from them I’m helping to develop new products and support racing.

    Anyway that’s my two penneth! You’ve not mentioned where the kit is made and what the companies do for cycling.

    Cheers
    AL

    • Many thanks for reading the blog post and especially for your comment, I think you made some really valuable points about the choices consumers make.

      There is little doubt that the majority of people will choose a supplier based on cost, but I’m also sure that many of those same people will weigh up other factors such as company reputation, quality of product and service as part of the decision process.

      I appreciate your comments about your own supplier and the reasons for choosing them as opposed to a supplier like ours, who outsources the garment manufacture to China, which is why they can offer possibly the lowest prices in the market place – This suited our team as we wanted the cheapest solution, without much thought given to relative quality or anything else.

      The one thing I would say is that we were looking at the lower end of the market where European and North American brands will always struggle on price compared to production costs in the Far East. Conversely, I believe that if we were looking for a mid to high range garment, then I would almost always look to buy from European brands, preferably the UK – I’m guessing your jerseys fall into this category and in the same situation I’d like to think we would do the same.

  2. Karl says:

    HI there, just read your article and would like to add RSD Sports to the list of suppliers.
    We are one of the few complete UK manufacturers (factory in sunny Wigan), not a design house or office that buys in from the Far East, and as such we have no minimum order and a quick delivery time. We are highly rated in the UK BMX, Downhill, Enduro and MX custom jersey markets and have have started being asked for road jerseys. Having adapted our full zip semi fitted jersey adding a back pockets has so far has been well received by the clubs and organisations we have dealt with. Our website is http://www.rsdsports.com but as we have been so busy developing products it is out of date so the best place to find our products is our facebook page. We also have a digital size guide to send out so as to help with sizing. Cheers Karl

  3. Great list. Have been looking around for companies that make custom cycling clothing and haven’t even found half of the ones you have mentioned.

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