Craft first developed undergarments for Swedish Air Force pilots in 1974 to help regulate their body temperature in high stress situations. These early undergarments proved to be so efficient at wicking away moisture and keeping people comfortable in extreme conditions that the weave was soon applied to active-wear designed for other disciplines. Craft Active-Wear was quickly adopted by high performance athletes such as skiers, runners, and of course, cyclists.
The Central Plateau of the North Island is not a place that usually screams the word ‘hot’; that is, unless a nearby volcano has recently cracked it's top… But on a recent trip to the region to ride the Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge, the weather on the day proved perfect for testing kit – it was a temperamental mixed-bag of light rain followed by scorching sun.
My workmate Brooke was also kitted out in Craft, but rather than heading to NZ she tested hers at the Mitchelton Winery Ride with Orica-GreenEDGE and Orica-AIS in Nagambie, Victoria. We figured if Craft is good enough for OGE, it's good enough for us.
In this review, we’re going to start from the bottom and work our way up, in the same way that Craft did back in the seventies. First up: socks.
Grand Tour Bike Socks
An ankle sock designed for cycling performance, the Grand Tour bike sock from Craft is clean and simple in its design – not exactly eye-popping – but the focus here is clearly on form and functionality. The socks align with your feet as soon as you put them on, and after a few wears get even better. Padding is good around the heel and ball of your foot with tapered stitching providing support under the arch as well. I wore these for 160km around Taupo after having only worn them a couple of times and I had no problems with numbness or tingling.
Brooke also didn’t have any problems with her socks other than the length – reaching just a few cm above the ankle felt a little short for her.
See also: the Lekker Amsterdam review
Craft Puncheur Bib Shorts
Bib shorts made for rolling, fast terrain – for riders the likes of Rodriguez, and Gilbert – the Puncheur Bib Shorts are a garment designed to aid muscle performance while making the rider feel as one with the bike.
Four way stretch fabric fits like a second skin – you really feel like it’s wrapping around your major muscles, holding them securely against your leg, providing comfortable support when you get out of the saddle and really work.
The bib is comfortable and sits high enough at the waist that there is no chance of an awkward gap wearing a race-fit jersey. Flat lock seams and subtle silicon strips hold the legs comfortably above the knee; a noticeably firmer fit than other knicks I’ve worn, but it just feels more supportive.
The chamois is solid. That’s the first thing I noticed after getting on the saddle. It fits well under my sit bones and provides plenty of padding. If anything it feels rigid, creating a distinctive ‘click’ with each step while walking, but that goes away once you start riding. The chamois feels quality in that (like many quality products) it needs time to wear in. After a few kms on the bike it has only gotten more comfortable.
Brooke’s bib shorts got a big tick during the Nagambie ride. She decided to take a risk and try them out first time during the 138km event, which included one heck of a surprising heart-starter hill climb along the way. They performed flawlessly – no discomfort, no feeling of sweat retention, no cutting of seams into skin. The biggest tick of all goes to the hook closure at the back, which allows women at last to take toilet breaks without having to fully de-robe. Surely this feature, and other iterations of it across other brands, will become the new status quo.
From a design perspective, Brooke really appreciated the subtlety of this bib. It’s spotted gripper goes terrifically with the matching Craft Glow Jersey, but it’s still low-key enough to be paired with plenty of other tops, which will increase its number of wears.
Active Extreme (Crew Neck, Short Sleeve) Base Layer
The successor to the undergarments first developed by Craft, their ‘Active Extreme’ series of base layer garments are designed for extended, high intensity workouts. The Active Extreme CN SS Base layer hugs close, the absence of seams on the torso means zero rubbing while riding. Flat lock seams sit up close under the arm fitting the natural contours of the body.
The only criticism I would offer is that the crew neck came up quite high and I occasionally noticed it was there…by no means uncomfortable…just there. I would opt for a longer sleeve and a lower neck line next time.
Check out: the Shimano RP5 road shoe review
Craft Glow Jersey
Craft has designed a jersey that aims to do almost everything. Lightweight and breathable; ergonomic and close fitting; highly visible from every angle, and, good looking.
First things first: the feel. The Craft Glow Jersey is made from super-light, soft fabrics that at first feels great when you put it on, and then completely disappears from your mind: you forget that it’s even there, which is great in warm conditions.
Next is the fit. It cuts in close, but isn’t restrictive – the added bonus of mesh panels under the arms helps keep you cool when the sun beats down.
The neck line was a little high, and the sleeves a little short for my liking, but the sleeves finished nicely with wide enough seams that didn’t need grippy silicone strips to stay in place.
And then there is the featured glow. Craft have focused on making a jersey that is not only comfortable, but safe. The dotted print is made from high-vis reflective material and features on the shoulders, the back and the chest, making the jersey visible to other road users from every angle.
The look is clean and simple: white with subtle red and black means you can wear this one with almost anything. Throw on a pair of statement socks if you want to turn some heads, or play it low key. Personally, white’s not my colour, but that’s just down to personal preference.
Brooke’s jersey was the opposite – black but with a reflective print across the back and chest, making it a good option in broad daylight (black is and always will be the new black) as well as in conditions of compromised visibility. The mesh inserts were in all the right places to keep her as cool as possible, especially on the climb and given the 138km took place in warm to hot conditions. Brooke prefers this tighter, more snug fit of jersey but one thing she did notice was that when in riding position, the front did not fold and poke out as some of these tighter fits are want to do. Again – subtlety was key to this design, with a smart red zip adding a pop of something different, but not to the point where it will clash with much (although it has to be said – this is a rider with somewhat of an infatuation for pink).
Craft Puncheur Gloves
The Puncheur gloves I was really impressed with. They fit like a second skin with elastic wrist-cuffs and have a good amount of gel padding in the palm, really helping to take the edge off after 140km around Taupo. The back of the thumb features soft absorbent material to wipe away sweat. They breathe well; they are simple in design so you can wear them with a good range of kit, and they have loops to help you take them off without struggling to turn them inside out. Enough said.