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In February 2016 when Kitsbow announced that they were expanding into road cycling apparel (caveat: currently only available for men), my interest was piqued. I’d been on the lookout for a pair of lightweight knee and arm warmers for the shoulder seasons so I took a chance and picked up a few pieces to see what the hype is all about.
Founded by two guys with starkly contrasting backgrounds, Charlie Cronk and Zander Nosler have built Kitsbow into a brand with an admirable reputation. Their design ethos is “craftsmanship, style, function, and doing it right” which is easy to say but difficult to execute. Therefore the logical question is "do they live up to this mission statement?" Keep reading and you'll find out in my review of the Kitsbow knee and arm warmers for road cycling.
design & construction
In general, design for Kitsbow takes place outside San Francisco in Petaluma, California where they are headquartered. Manufacturing itself is done by Tamoda in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada with wool sourced from Australia & New Zealand and technical fabrics from Schoeller in Switzerland. (caveat, these road specific pieces are actually sewn in Petaluma California). That's an extensive logistics chain which is evidence to the effort put in.
Wherever they are manufactured, the overall shape to the patterns for both the Kitsbow knee and arm warmers is articulated. That fact is important because it means the natural shape of the garment better matches the position of your body while riding. Adding up to a greater range of free motion. This approach of articulated pattern shaping is becoming more and more common yet is still found mostly in higher end apparel.
Kitsbow constructs the knee and arm warmers from a technical fabric that is made up of 75% nylon and 26% elastane (aka lycra, aka spandex) which is knit in a honeycomb shaped texture. Why? A shaped knit creates a greater connection with your skin when stretched out. How? The gaps between the honeycombs open up to act as additional surface area that can draw moisture away from your skin keeping. This benefits the rider in both greater compression and dryness. The muscle compression is due to the 26% elastane in the fabric but the 75% nylon is key to the moisture wicking dryness. As a synthetic polymer fibre, nylon has an advantage over natural plant fibres like cotton or animal fibres like wool in that it dries faster. Nylon may not be 'warmer' than cotton or wool when dry but it will keep you drier and therefore warmer than natural fibres that are soaked in rain or sweat. For protection from the elements, the technical fabric has an SPF factor of 50 so your arms and legs will be protected from the sun at the same level as applying an SPF50 sunscreen.
Helping keep the knee and arm warmers in place (which is important), Kitsbow use both compression and silicone. The knee warmers have silicone in a herringbone pattern at the upper and lower hems, while the arm warmers only have silicone on the upper hem.
Graphic treatment on the Kitsbow warmers is pretty discreet. In Henry Ford style, they are available in any colour as long as it’s black. They do come in a full range of sizes from XS through to Large though. For visibility they’ve screen printed logos in reflective silver ink. The knee warmers have the Kitsbow K at the bottom and the arm warmers have a word mark at the wrist. For style, both sets of warmers include a tone on tone chevron patterned patch. The arm warmers place this on the inside of the forearms and the knee warmers have this over the calf to behind the knee.
fit & function
The feel of the Kitsbow knee and arm warmers is light, soft, and luxurious both in hand and when worn. It's what you’d expect from the Kitsbow reputation. For me the arm warmers fit nicely with a decent amount of stretch / compression. However I did have a problem with the fit of the knee warmers. More on that in the next section.
Sizing: In my opinion the sizing on the Kitsbow site is confusing. Unlike some other brands, the stated dimensions of the Kitsbow fit guide are not based on fit when stretched. Kitsbow measurements are done with the warmers laid flat so there is a lot of uncertainty as to which size will fit best you when stretched around your arms and legs. It would be great to see this changed but they have customer service reps on hand to help.
Length: Overall the arm warmers offer full coverage from wrist to shoulder and the knee warmers came close to the top of the currently popular 6” sock length to offer almost full leg protection. However this may vary a bit depending on your body dimensions.
Function: The arm warmers have stayed relatively secure in place thanks to the herringbone patterned silicone in the upper grippers. They haven’t come close to slipping down but at the same time they don’t feel as reassuringly stuck in place as they could be. There is a bit of downward movement and some more generous silicone would likely address this nicely. In all fairness I could also just hit the gym a bit. Because I had a problem with the fit of the knee warmers (explained in next section) it would be fair to make an assessment on them.
It wouldn’t be much of review if I didn’t address the big question. Do they keep you warm? Yes they do. They are not a set of thermal warmers by any means but they do protect you well in those tricky shoulder season temperatures. As a general rule I usually ride with lightweight warmers in temperatures from about 5 to 15 degrees celsius. Below that I prefer thermal and above I don’t wear any.
This aspect to Kitsbow deserves special attention. To make sure I was making the right fit choices I decided to try out some of their contact me options. I chatted with someone via the Kitsbow website and again later via telephone when I had a pricing issue (next paragraph). Both times I spoke directly and immediately with a live person to confirm their recommended sizes. They were always quick and friendly in their response while super helpful and never rushed to move me along. They reassured me that if I wasn’t happy with the product after trying it, they would happily exchange them as long as they weren’t torn or fouled.
During my transaction and as a non-US resident I had an issue with a pricing discrepancy on the Kitsbow website. The Kitsbow shop section has a convenient navigation option that includes shopping in USD, Canadian, and Euro currencies. At the time, the Canadian currency price showed the same dollar figure as the USD price but it only became apparent that you were going to be charged in USD when you went to complete the transaction. When I called Kitsbow they acknowledged they were aware of this error and its since been corrected. Thanks!
Based on their recommendation, my final order was for large sized knee warmers and medium sized arm warmers. Unfortunately I knew something was wrong as soon as I had the knee warmers in hand. My fears only confirmed when I tried them on. They were too big and I was going to have to send them back. Skeptically, I tried them on a ride to make sure I wasn't just leaning towards a previous preference. When I got home I contacted Kitsbow. Within minutes they sent me a return form for an exchange. I shipped the knee warmers back on a Monday, Kitsbow received them that Wednesday and the return was back to me the following Wednesday. From Toronto to Petaluma and back in 10 days. How's that!
Overall customer service has been really top shelf and they live up to their promises.
The second biggest worry of an online shopper is shipping. The options available to customers outside the US (like me) are from Fedex Express and (to be honest) insanely expensive. You have the options of Fedex International Economy or International Priority. For just the set of warmers, shipping was quoted at $55 and $60. Considering that is approximately a 35% upcharge for shipping, you may want to either buy a lot of stuff at once, find a friend in the US who can forward you a package, or find a local stockist. Here is a list of them from the Kitsbow site (Note they list US retailers only).
It would be great to see Kitsbow offer some more cost conscious options on some lower sized orders.
Kitsbow has made their formal foray into the market of road cycling apparel. Many people are excited and curious about what they have to offer. The knee and arm warmers are an essential accessory to any cyclist who rides beyond fair weather days and the new Kitsbow warmers are definitely a choice for serious consideration. Through a full spring season I've been very happy with the Kitsbow warmers. The quality of construction is in line with expectations of the brand, the design is discreetly different and there is a great sense of trust in your purchase thanks to an attentive customer service experience. If you're in the market for some apparel to cover you in the shoulder seasons, give these a consideration. Just be careful on sizing choices and shipping charges.