Product Tests & Reviews

Apis Rain Jacket Looks Great and Wears Like a 1970s Original, Just Don’t Get the Graphics Wet

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This is, what I hope will be, the first of many product reviews of the small-but-growing number of retro and reproduction products currently being produced by the cycling industry. I’ve put together a fairly long and complete list of the products I’d like to test (short-term and longterm) and review here. I’ve been reaching out to the suppliers, requesting products for review. So far, as you might expect since I have no history of reviewing products here (I did some in a past life.), few items have been forthcoming. Although, there are some really nice things on the way. As a result, I’m going to start reviewing items I purchased for personal use.

Brooklyn Chewing Gum Rain Jacket

Manufacturer: Apis (www.apis-italia.it); U.S. Seller: SRM Trading (www.bikebag.com)

Country of Origin: Italy

Purchased From: Maxrun (SRM Trading) on eBay (Castro Valley, CA)

Test Period: One Day

Price: US$40

Last winter, I bought a reproduction Apis-made, Brooklyn Chewing Gum Team rain jacket to round out my collection of Brooklyn gear and to be prepared for bad weather at the 2018 Eroica California. We get very little rain here in Southern California, but the jacket was so cool, and looked a lot like those I’ve seen in photos and films from the 1970s, I couldn’t pass it up.

I bought if off eBay from Castro Valley, California-based seller Maxrun. He also sells Apis rain jackets for the Molteni (white), Renault/Gitane (yellow) and Jollj Ceramica (black) teams, as well as Apis cycling caps and musette bags.

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I bought an Apis Brooklyn Chewing Gum rain jacket (upper right) to round out my Brooklyn gear collection and so I’d be prepared for bad weather at Eroica California 2018.

When I received the jacket, my initial thought echoed Maxrun’s recommendation to buy the jacket one size smaller than your normal jacket/jersey size. I typically wear a large jersey, but sometimes have to go with an XL. Although I was losing weight and planned to slim down more by Eroica CA a few months in the future, I worried about the jacket being tight over warm or layered kit. I should have heeded his advice. The large I ordered was quite roomy and the sleeves too long.

Other than the fit, the quality was nice. It felt very much like a piece from the 1970s. In fact, it reminded me a lot of the waterproof, nylon running suit I purchased around 1980.

The jacket’s seams were solid, but not taped. The waterproof, PVC-coated nylon seemed to be of a high quality. The single-color, screen-printed, Brooklyn logos on the front and rear were clean and accurate. A long drop-tail was the same as the jackets I’d seen Eddy Merckx and Roger De Vlaeminck wearing in photos and would offer extra coverage. An unsealed brass zipper and collar snap added to the vintage feel of the jacket and both worked well. The bright-blue nylon was a nice match to the blue of my Brooklyn jerseys.

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The Apis rain jacket is a lot like this one worn by Roger De Vlaeminck in 1981/2. Both have a long drop-tail to keep your rump clean(ish). Photo Credit: Unknown

Taking it for a Ride

Southern California has been in the midst of a drought for several years, so the jacket hung in my closet for several months before I was able to use it. I put it on for a 50-mile (80-kilometer) vintage ride that began with me rolling through dense fog and a little bit of light rain. The temp was in the mid-40s Fahrenheit (around 8º C.).

Moisture from the fog and rain beaded up on and rolled off the surface of the Apis jacket as I made my way up the coast. And, as you might expect from a jacket made using the materials of 1970s raingear—PVC-coated nylon in this case—there was no breathability. I spent much of my ride with the zipper pulled down about six to eight inches (15-20 cm), allowing cool air to circulate inside the jacket and keep me from overheating.

Just as it would have been for the boys in the peloton back in the 1970s, the lack of breathability may be bearable during very cold rainy or snowy days, but even then you are likely going to sweat more than usual during vigorous riding. When the temps and humidity are higher, however, you may be better off riding jacket-free once you get your core temp up. Either way, this jacket will give you a legitimate 1970s experience.

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The Apis rain jackets are a close facsimile to this original Molteni rain jacket. One detail overlooked by Apis, however, is the Velcro closure. The original also lacks a logo on the front. Photo credit: Unknown

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The much faded logo appears to indicate that the inks of the 1970s may have been similar to those used by Apis. That may have been acceptable then, but not now. Photo credit: Unknown

 

It was clear that the large-size jacket I bought was a bad choice as soon as I got on the Santa Ana River bike path and turned into a headwind coming off the Pacific Ocean. The extra fabric flapped freely and loudly in the wind. The flapping was such that the jacket’s drop-tail spent more time sticking straight out than hanging down. The bottom five inches of my jersey were streaked black at the end of my ride. Lesson learned.

At about 20 miles, the sun came out. I got hot quickly and I took off the jacket. It packs fairly small and fit easily into the pocket of a wool jersey. I finished the ride without needing it again.

Keep it Dry

When I got home, I hung up the still-damp jacket to dry. Despite spending several hours in a pocket, the back was still splattered with fine, black, road grit.

When I got around to washing the jacket a few weeks later, I checked the labels for washing instructions. There were none. I erred on the side of caution and tossed it in the washing machine with other cycling gear. as usual, I set the water temp on cold, chose the extra-gentle cycle, limited the wash cycle to four minutes and added a small amount of Woolite laundry detergent.

When I opened the washing machine later, I saw small white flakes covering all the clothing inside. I thought maybe I had run the load with a forgotten tissue or an old receipt left in a pocket. When I pulled the jacket out, I immediately understood that the white flakes were the ink from the silk screen-printed graphics. The once large, white logos had almost completely washed off.

Although I half expected the logos to come out of the washer cracked, as they might have back in the 1970s, for them to completely wash off was shocking. I know for a fact there are washable and flexible inks available that would easily survive numerous washings.

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After wearing the jacket only once and a single wash in cold water, on the extra-gentle cycle for four minutes and with Woolite, all the logos washed off.

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Customer Service?

I reached out to Maxrun, the seller on eBay, before leaving feedback, which would certainly be negative. I discovered, however, I waited too long to leave feedback and the item was no longer on my Purchases list.

In what may seem like an unlikely move, I ordered a second jacket in medium size and, at the same time, reached out to Maxrun and requested a refund on the first one. If he failed to issue one, I thought, I’d leave negative feedback on the new jacket, which, I planned to never wash.

Maxrun got back to me quickly and asked for more information that he could the Apis, the manufacturer. It took more than three months to get a second reply from him. In it, he wrote:

“I did run this by the manufacture in Italy and they were not very apologetic about it all. They said hand wash in cold water only, liquid detergent. I tried it on my jacket, as well, and the logo washed off very easily. That really sucks. I don’t sell many of these, thank God, but now I need to always include a warning for washing them.”

Maxrun asked what I’d like him to do, suggesting he send me another jacket. I explained that I had already purchased a second jacket several months prior and didn’t need one. I asked for a refund for one of the jackets. Although he never replied to my request for a refund, we exchanged several more emails. In one, he further explained the attitude of the folks at Apis.

“Apis is a very traditional company in Italy. There are some caps, like the La vie Claire, that also do not handle washing well. They tell me it can’t be fixed and they have been doing it that way for 70 years…Oh, and only Americans complain so much,” he wrote.

While I have yet to wear the second jacket, I have noticed that some of the ink has already flaked off. I assume this happened because I’ve been storing it balled up in a musette bag since I got home from Eroica CA in April. The ink Apis uses obviously lacks flexibility, as well as waterproofness. This may have been acceptable 70 years ago, but there are plenty of modern inks available that work well on materials like nylon. I don’t think it’s a stretch to assume that most consumers today would expect the logos, arguably a big reason for buying the jacket or cap in the first place, to hold up to normal use.

Reaching Out to Apis

Apis is perhaps best known as the most famous Italian maker of cycling caps. Many professional team caps made since the 1980s until now have the Apis lable sewn inside. It also produces a range of safety and work clothing, promotional clothing, banners and musette bags.

I reached out to the company via the email address listed on its website. I told them I was following up on a problem previously reported to them and was writing review. I asked them to comment, sent some other questions and gave them a deadline for a reply. As of July 27, 2018, I had not heard back. When/If I do get a response, I will post it here.

According to the Apis website, the company strives to be responsive to its customers’ needs and is always working to improve its products.

“For 60 years we have been telling you, through our caps, the history of cycling teams all over the world. Our curiosity and aim to improve ourselves had made us become a trustful partner of many teams and cycling companies in the world.

“To us every customer is special and needs a special care. We have always tried to catch all the particular needs of our customer in order to offer them prompt and proper solutions. Thanks to our skills and “Know How” we have developed since 30 years the safety-work department.At first we do a punctual selection of suppliers and row materials and go on supporting our customer step by step to turn his ideas into the product,” the Apis website reads.  —MG

 

The Good: Generally a nice, high-quality jacket with a cut and materials that feel very authentic to the 1970s. Very waterproof, although I was unable to ride in heavy rain, so I didn’t thoroughly test the unsealed/uncovered zipper. 

The Bad: Despite being a rain jacket to be used when it’s wet outside, the ink used to silk-screen print the logos is not waterproof. Neither is it very durable. It tends to flake when the jacket has been balled up—as when stored in a jersey pocket. Cracking and flaking logos, however, add to the jacket’s vintage authenticity. Not being waterproof and washing off, however, are not cool. Waterproof nylon is not breathable and it doesn’t take long to sweat profusely and overheat while wearing the jacket during a spring or summer rain. Be cautious when choosing a size. They run large. The eBay seller I bought mine from recommended going down one size. I would agree.

Fun Factoid: The first breathable, waterproof and windproof Gore-Tex clothing hit the market in 1976. The first Gore-Tex clothing with taped and sealed seams hit in 1979.

 

Kucharik’s Bibs Have Barely Changed Since the 1980s—Perfect

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6-Panel Bib Shorts

Manufacturer: Kucharik (www.kucharikclothing.com)

Country of Origin: USA

Purchased From: Kucharik

Test Period: One Month (about 15 rides over about 400 miles)

Price: US$45 (chamois upgrades available at additional cost)

I’ve been searching for the perfect retro, black, bib short since I learned that most vintage Lycra shorts, even “new” ones, are far too fragile after 30 years to be washed or worn. The elastic in them apparently has a life of no more than 15 years (likely less). Like well-aged human skin, old Lycra shorts tend lose their elasticity, wrinkle and hang loosely from the body.

According to Assos, the Swiss sportswear maker introduced Lycra cycling shorts in 1978, which were first used in the pro peloton by the Assos-sponsored Ti-Raleigh Team in 1979. A year later, pretty much everyone was wearing Lycra shorts or bibs. Unlike toe clips, non-aero cables and friction shifting which amany riders continued to sue after their “better” replacements were introduced, few, if any, pros refused to give up their wool shorts and suspenders or braces.

If you’re like me and you like to get the details of your kit as dialed in as those of your bike, you need Lycra bibs when riding any bike newer than 1980 or while while wearing your Ti-Raleigh, Renault-Elf, Wickes-Splendor, Boule d’Or-Studio Casa, Vermeer-Thijs, etc. jerseys.

But most of the bibs made today—as they should be—are designed for the needs of today’s racers. They use contemporary manufacturing techniques, modern cuts and the latest fabric technology. They are awesome products, but not what I want to pair with vintage jerseys while riding my vintage bikes. They simply look awful with a classic wool or acrylic-blend jersey.

The shoulder straps of new bibs are often mesh or vented and in white or another contrasting color. Leg grippers are thick 2 or 3-inch strips of color backed with some sort of tacky rubber cement-like substance. Super-wide side panels straddle the centers of the thighs. Many side panels feature an additional tail that wraps around the entire lower thigh and/or the waist, creating a perfect spot for sponsor logos. And panel counts often enter the double digits. Not to mention, the preponderance of logos and contrasting color graphics.

What I wanted was a 4 or 6-panel bib short with side panels no wider than five inches (un-stretched) straight down each leg; basic leg grippers and made entirely from black Lycra, ideally, wet-look black Lycra. Maybe, as a fancy option, contrasting colored thread or piping in red, yellow or white, along the seams where the side panels meet the front and rear panels. Even better, no logos, or logos sized and placed as they had been in the 1980s.

I imagined that if such bibs existed, they’d likely be the entry-level model for most cyclewear makers—too simple for the pros, too easy to make and lacking any and all “value-added” cool factor to charge more for.

Searching for the Perfect Little Black Bib?

I checked out all the big boys—Santini, Castelli, Assos, Pearl Izumi, Descente, Demarchi, Rapha, etc. None of them had what I wanted.

While checking out Biemme’s gloves (another accurate retro item I’m searching for), I found the Italian company offers a simple black bib short.

Called Item 2, Biemme’s website says virtually nothing about the bibs other than they are made of 190-gram Lycra and have silicone leg grippers and Biemme’s FX09 pad. But, they look good in the photo, And, as I suspected, they are cheap, priced at only 40 euros, tax included (64.40 euros shipped to California).

Instead of buying a pair from the Italian site, however, I went to Biemmeamerica.com (a Canadian-based company), to see if I could save some money and get them faster. Although Biemme America carries the bibs, renamed Basic Cycling Bibshort, the price is double at $99 plus $5 shipping.

Before attempting to buy a pair of Item 2s from Biemme Italy, I decided to keep searching for other options. I came across Kucharik. I knew the company, of course, but I considered them a wool clothing maker. It turns out they do a fair business in Lycra, including 6 and 8-panel bibs, too.

Buying Local!

Located about 40 miles north of me, Kucharik has been making cycling gear since 1934 and may be best known for its wool jerseys and shorts. When I walked into its windowless Gardena, California, shop I flashed back my local pro bike shop circa 1984. I doubt much has changed there since the 1980s.

The racks in the small shop are hung with dozens of wool jerseys in patterns reminiscent of (or identical to) the two and three-color horizontal-striped tops so many amateur cyclists wore 30 or 40 years ago. There are wool tights and shorts, too. But I was there for Lycra bib shorts.

Once the nostalgia and amazement wore off, I spotted a few pair of basic black bibs hanging limply from hangers on a rack near the front of the store. As I walked to the rack, John Kucharik, the owner and son of the founder, stepped from his office and asked if I needed help.

He told me the bibs on the rack were his entry-level, 6-panel model and were quite popular. He said the chamois could be swapped out, on the spot, in about 5 minutes, for an up charge of $18-20, depending on which of the several optional chamois I chose. Kucharik employs several full-time tailors who can modify almost all of its clothing. John said they also modify and repair a lot of non-Kucharik clothing for customers.

I asked John to replace the fleece-and-terry-cloth chamois (It’s very similar to those used on less-expensive shorts in the 1980s.) with the Number 2 chamois, a thinner, modern, molded chamois. It took about 10 minutes. Amazing.

Near Perfection.

The bibs fit almost all my requirements—all-black; 6-panels; thin, straight side panels; old-school rubber-band leg grippers and no logos. The 200-gram Lycra even has a semi-gloss finish. It’s not quite wet-look, but it’s the closest thing I’ve seen since 1987.

If I’m being picky, the “fancy” mesh Coolmax/Lycra top doesn’t quite fit my vision of the perfect 1980s bib short. I’d prefer it be made with the same Lycra as the shorts. I’d also like them to be about ¾ of and inch shorter.

 

 

After more than two months of riding in the bibs, I have zero complaints. The fit is great, although the lighter weight Lycra fits looser than many modern bibs that are more akin to compression shorts. The Italian-made Number 2 chamois also is great. I’m one who prefers a thinner and slightly less wide chamois and this one is perfect. I’d be hard pressed to say any other high-end chamois I’ve used is better.

I wear the Kucharik bibs when I ride my Colnago Roger De Vlaeminck, Serotta Murray and LeMond Maillot Jaune. Their simple semi-gloss black works perfectly with the matching Boule d’Or, 7-Eleven and Z Team jerseys I have.

If you’re like me and you’ve been looking for a great 1980s-style bib short, you can’t go wrong with Kucharik’s 6-panels.

The Good: Not really a retro replica because Kucharik never stopped making these basic black bibs. From the 6-panel construction to the semi-gloss finish, these are as close to legit, vintage, 1980s bibs as can be found. At $45 to $65 (depending on the chamois), the price is great.

The Bad: No real complaints. If I were being picky, I’d love to them to be made with real wet-look Lycra with contrasting piping and/or contrasting thread options. I’d also make the inseam a tad shorter.

Fun Factoid: Inspired by aerodynamic skiwear, Assos’ Toni Maier created the skinsuit and Lycra shorts for cyclists. In 1978, Daniel Gisiger competed on the track in the World Championships in Munich wearing the Assos skinsuit. The following year, the Ti-Raleigh team was the first in the pro peloton to race with Lycra shorts—Assos, of course.