THE CRUX OF IT
Self-expression lies at the heart of every cyclist. In the way they ride, the way they train, in their aspirations, hopes, and goals. Beyond the rhetorical, though, lies something more bottled-up. It's the crush, for the racing cyclist, of prostituting your own carcass for the commercial interests and benefactors that make your competition possible. Of course, this leads us to our next, logical question: What are we to do when there is no more competition? It's a riddle that many have attempted to answer, especially when it comes to the topic of apparel. David Millar is not the first, nor will he be the last to shout a response. That said, he and Castelli may have accomplished the most authentic answer to date, and it is not simply an allusion to the concept of eschewing branding, performance, accessibility; and the sacrifices that always follow in pursuit of those values, it's downright confrontational about it.
The answer is chpt. ///, Millar's Italian-made response to the confines of pro team kit, borne by the first two "chapters" of his life acquainted with cycling. chpt. /// is not simply an allusion to the concept of eschewing branding, performance, accessibility, and the sacrifices that always follow in pursuit of those values, it's downright confrontational about it. Steve Smith, Castelli's Italy-based brand manager, was quite frank in describing the line as a design shift for Castelli, a shift that gives up a hint of performance in favor of style, versatility, durability, and function. A unique, exquisite aesthetic and comfort had primacy in designing the initial release, something antithetical to the rest of not only Castelli's line, but also essentially every other cycling clothier in existence today. Needless to say, after we launched the line a few weeks ago, we immediately began putting it through the soggy fire of our El Niño-addled Northern California winter. We'll start by giving a rundown on the line's key pieces: The Rocka jacket, the Jersey, and the Bibs.
The Rocka is a flamboyant piece. The most feature-heavy of the chpt. /// line, it's a short-sleeve jacket that pays homage to the Rocker vs. Mod youth culture of late-20th Century Britain. It's a striking piece in the cycling world, with tech borrowed from Castelli's legendary Gabba rain jersey and a look that belongs more at home on our Ducatis than our Pegorettis. It's also windproof and water-resistant, with a number of finishing details that make our inner fashionista giggle with glee. They include an extra-high collar with a reversible button closure that can be worn around the front on extra-cold days (or extra-slow rolls to the café), or around the back with a blaze orange/red flare that gives access to the premium big-toothed zipper that wouldn't feel out of place on a nice leather jacket. Other small details we love? The unique sleeve articulation that gives the Rocka a very distinct look amongst cycling apparel. For those of us with typical cyclist builds, it's a welcome to change to look like we actually have a hint of upper body bulk. The drop tail is yet another design feature borrowed from the Gabba, keeping our backsides dryer in inclement weather. The single front pocket is perfect for cards and cash, but the single rear pocket is bothersome. While it's aesthetically sublime, functionally it's a bit of a pain. We'd sooner opt for the traditional three-pocket solution, but it would certainly detract from the minimalism of the Rocka.
Fit of the Rocka is svelte, yet somewhat generous in the chest and shoulders, like a nicely-tailored suit. Unsurprising, given that the chpt. /// tops use jacket sizing instead of the traditional XS-XL taxonomy. Castelli says this allows the end user to dial in a more precise fit in the line - we'd be inclined to agree. As sizing goes up in the tops, so did room in the upper body, but the waist remained trim proportional to the shoulders. We did size up from our normal suitjacket one notch, though - from a 38 to a 39.
From a performance perspective, the Rocka is outstanding in its element. It's warm. Very warm. In fact, we'd rate it as a wintery solution, and found ourselves getting a bit toasty on days when the mercury peaked over the 55-degree notch - fairly impressive, given how trim the jacket looks and feels. The short sleeves (also Gabba-inspired) definitely increase its versatility, and we were often glad to have them. The Rocka is also windproof and water-resistant, with the former not being a joke in the least, and the latter a bit interesting. Instead of a water-repellant treatment on the outside of the jacket, it seems to be buried deeper inside the layers. This leads to a heavy feeling as it absorbs moisture, but it never soaked through, and we were never cold in the Rocka, even under heavy rainfall.
At first touch, the chpt. /// Jersey bears a remarkably similar feel to Q36.5's Short Sleeve L1 as far as fabric is concerned, but with more embellishments and stitching strewn about the canvas. It uses fabric that's too light to sublimate on, making it unsuitable as a racer jersey, but right at home in the chpt. /// line. It also makes use of a buttoned collar, a fairly useful front pocket, rather unusually, three pockets underneath the jersey in the rear designed to act as warmer stashes, along with the standard three-pocket arrangement on the outside. Clever. The external pockets sit quite low on the body, which can be somewhat disorienting if one is accustomed to reaching higher up the back to get to the pockets, as is the standard with most current performance pieces.
Fit is nearly identical to the Rocka jacket, but with very tight arms. Even our rather slim (they've been compared to a six year-old's) cyclist biceps, our arms are a bit squeezed with plenty of room in the shoulders to spare. Everywhere else feels exactly as intended - tailored, trim, and extremely comfortable. We can't yet comment on the thermal properties of the jersey since it's spent all of the review buried beneath the Rocka, but we're fairly certain that it's going to come in a similar range as the aforementioned Q36.5 piece - a great mild-to-warm weather piece.
Before we say anything else about the Bibs, first we have to get into the fabric. It's significantly heavier weight than almost anything else we've handled. It's luscious, thick, soft. It makes a pair of cheap team kit bibs feel like Oreo filling being stacked up against gourmet buttercream on a $50,000 wedding cake. It's silky, luxurious even, and the same fabric is used in the straps, with the same thick, heavy feeling. The waist has ornate hemming, and it's compressively slimming without a lot of stretch. The bibs are build like Castelli's Bodypaint bibs, a single piece of fabric with but a single stitch running up the back of the leg, with a gripper that stays in place without any binding or stickiness.
The Bibs also use Castelli's proven X2 chamois, which is stitched through the bottom to keep the short short in the right spot on the pad. This also keeps it from catching on the nose of the saddle during any standing efforts, a complaint we often lodge. Thanks to all of it, we never had a single complaint when it came to comfort. But, such luxury comes at a cost. They are cut rather long. Our test mule is 6 foot 1" with a 35" inseam and long femurs - the size 32 bibs came in just above his knees. A hair too long, in our opinion. Nothing wrong with showing a little leg! The aforementioned extra-fancy tight waist, whilst supremely comfortable and supportive, might drive you to do things like crunches and planks as every spare adipose ounce blossoms forth into the sheer jersey, like a muffin running over. The elegant fabric used in the bibs has a downside, too. At the hint of moisture, it will turn a shade quite a bit darker than dry, drawing some odd looks in the bunch.
Our verdict on chpt. ///: Yes. For a freshman effort, very yes. Yes, it's sort of kooky in the fit and function. Yes, you will show the world your morphological discrepancies. But damn, does this kit look good. And feel good. So good, in fact, that we're motivated to lose the extra pounds to overlook its slight hiccups. After all, this kit was never designed to race or go KOM-hunting in. That isn't the mentality. Relax. Enjoy the view. Sip a cappuccino. Look good. Feel good.