This review is different than the ones I've done in the past. Mainly for two reasons. First, I don't usually review kit or gear that's been pitched to me, unless I’ve already had an interest in it. Secondly, I didn't actually ride this kit myself. But I'll explain more on that a little later in this review.
About a year ago I received an email through the contact me portion of this site. The email came from the founder of a small cycling brand named, Catella (no I don't mean Castelli). Rodolfo was pitching to see if I was interested in reviewing some of their current kit. Usually I'm pretty quick to politely decline review requests because I'm trying to be limited in my commitments so that I can focus on quality rather than quantity, and many of the small brands are really not doing much more than graphics on stock kits using stock materials - so there isn't much of a story there. Sorry if that offends anyone. But something in this email caught my attention. Catella is manufacturing their kit with some unique materials and most importantly using a proprietary method. Their kits also include some interesting design features so I was intrigued to find out more. Below is my review of the GMR seamless jersey and seamless cycling bib shorts.
Who is Catella?
Sometimes it can seem as if there is a new cycling brand every day and because of that, it's hard to keep up with who everyone is. Catella is a boutique apparel brand based in Los Angeles, California. It's run by Rodolfo Sadana, who's experience and heritage traces back to The North Face. After growing frustrated with the status quo of cycling apparel design, Rodolfo decided to use his experience in order to do something about it. He and his partners set out on a mission to design a better product through both technical construction and materials. In the following sections, I'll explain more about each and how well it performs.
What's better than new kit day? Maybe new bike day, but not much else. With eager anticipation, I opened up the package containing the Catella kit. Inside I found neatly and individually packed pieces of kit with proper professional tagging, and a bunch of stickers. To the eye they look just like the photos on the Catella site, but in hand, there was an immediate sense that there something was distinct about the kit. The material of the Catella kit feels different than what we've all become sort of accustomed to, and that's because the Catella materials come from a different mill. First impression to the tactile feel of the Catella kit is that it light, but dense. I couldn't help myself and thus I succumb to my urges and pull on the bonded seams. Nice and snug.
Design & Construction
If there is one critical part to this review, it's this one. They key differentiators for the Catella kit are how it's made and what it's made from. The Catella GMR seamless jersey and bibs are constructed from Cold Black, a fabric technology from Schoeller-Dynamic Fabrics in, Switzerland. If you look at the outdoor sports market beyond cycling you'll find Schoeller being used by notable brands like Arc'Teryx, Columbia Sportswear, Mammut, Under Armour, and The North Face. If you remember from above, I mentioned that Rodolfo's experience includes time at The North Face so you can see where the connection is. Cold Black is a synthetic based warp knit material that provides protection from UV rays and heat, despite its dark color. This proprietary Schoeller technology helps to make dark colors feel and perform like light colors when in the sun. Ever felt your legs cooking in the sun under those black bibs? Well Cold Black works to alleviate this by reflecting the infrared radiation (heat) produced by sunlight rather than absorbing it and by also blocking UV rays like lighter colors do. The UV protection is partly due to the UV protective properties that all fabrics have but it is enhanced by a UVA and UVB treatment that is applied to the material. They say this treatment does not fade or deteriorate in the wash. All in all, this gives the Cold Black fabric a UPF rather of 30 according to Schoeller.
The material panels of both the GMR seamless jersey and bibs are laser cut. This is a computerized process that results in clean and precise cuts that are capable of being extremely intricate. This is especially helpful for sealed fabric edges in order to prevent fraying. Laser cutting uses high intensity lasers to cut the material and as it passes it leaves a melted edge along the way. The Laser cutting process also allows for greater precision as no stress or strain is placed on the fabric while cutting so the material is not stretched in any way and this helps to eliminate small variances. Again, leading to a more precise product.
The laser cutting technique is a key step to the support other half of the Catella kit construction. Rather than sewing the panels together, Catella bonds them in a proprietary method they call Weldedskin. This technology uses a thermocouple to bond the pieces of material together with a formulation developed in house. That formula is a careful mix of heat, time, pressure, and a bonding agent which they took a year to create. I asked Rodolfo for specifics to the formula and bonding agent but they declined to spill the beans. The result of that secret sauce is a jersey with low volume seams and a lack of stitching. The kit isn't completely devoid of stitching though as some stitching has been added to high stress seam joints. But the overall lack of stitching helps to create a greater sense of second skit fit and reduced skin irritation from friction.
The Weldedskin seams feel a little less eloquent or refined than the more traditional bonded and taped seams method. Why? They feel a bit more rigid and less pliable, but at the same time it also feels more secure and like it is not going to start separating mid ride. Truth be told, I've had more taped seam pieces of non-cycling apparel come apart than I can count, so this is a sincere concern.
Here are some notable specifics about the jersey and bibs. The jersey has a full length YKK zipper on the front and a two large pocket design on the back. However, there is another small zipper secured pocket in back. The front zipper has a soft tab at the collar for chin protection when you’re tucking from the wind. While I never recommend listening to headphones while cycling, the GMR jersey also features a headphone port out of the collar. For increased breathability and better fit, Catella have placed mesh panels on the sides of the jersey. Mesh panels are becoming more and more commonplace in jerseys and I'd say the side panels is the most likely place you'll find them.
The GMR seamless bibs feature a carbonium chamois from Elastic Interface Technology, aka, EIT. This fairly common but higher end chamois contains 4% carbon fiber threads. But what makes it unique in the Catella kit is that it has been welded to the bib rather than stitched. Again, this works to create a second skin fit and reduces skin irritation caused by stitching of the chamois. Speaking of irritating abrasions, the inner thigh panels on the GMR bibs are a more abrasion resistant fabric than what is used elsewhere on the bibs. The different materials give the bibs a two-tone black appearance. Helping to keep the bibs in place are integrated leg grippers. A pretty cool detail on the bibs are that they are individually serialized so that Catella can track and refine quality standards by identify exactly when your bib was made, should a problem occur.
Graphics & Branding
A person’s choice in cycling kit is an extension of personal expression. Therefore, any critique of graphics is far too subjective to be valuable, I do include some details within the review. Overall the branding and graphics are pretty minimal and inoffensive. On the Catella GMR seamless jersey and bibs they have included various reflective logos. I always appreciate this because every bit of visibility helps out on the road. Visibly the bibs have just the Catella logo on the outside of each leg. The jersey however does have a bit more visual attention paid to it. The rear pockets, front right chest, and both arms sport the Catella dog logo and the arms also include the Catella wordmark. Additional linear graphics are featured on the right rear pocket. Sizing and product information for the jersey can be found printed inside the collar. All graphics and colors are applied using a sublimation process. This industry standard process applies preprinted graphics and color to the raw fabric through high heat and pressure.
If you remember up in the intro section I mentioned that for this particular review I wasn't actually the one who rode in the kit. Well this is where I'll explain why. During the initial conversations with Rodolfo I provided my fit specs and some examples of sizing from various brands. Based on their fit chart they sent their recommended sizing. Although I knew it was going to fit like a race cut I was surprised by just how trim and tight the kit ended up being. Although I could have gotten out in the kit, I felt that I wouldn't have been able to properly assess it. So, I reached out to friend and fellow cyclist, Jesse Merson to fill in for me. Thankfully he agreed and came by to test fit and take the photos we'd need for the review.
After some time in the kit, Jesse confirmed my assessment of the fit. It definitely fits tight and can best be described as like a skin suit. My best description of this is that the GMR seamless jersey and bibs sit next to the skin with a compressive feel. Compared to the Catella fit chart, the kit fits small. Although I chose based on the fit chart, in retrospect I could only recommend sizing up.
One thing in particular to note is that because the seams are all bonded, they are more rigid than stitched seams. So in areas where the material wants or needs to fold, it tends to bow out more than normal. In the same way zippers tend to. Jesse explains this further in the next section of the review.
On The Road - Jesse's Impressions
The benefit of having a secondary tester is that there is a fresh perspective and take on the apparel being tested. While Jesse was out riding in the kit this past season, he was taking stock of its performance against expectations and in comparison to his other cycling apparel. Here are his words on the Catella GMR seamless jersey and bibs;
"Loving the bibs, the straps are like butter, super comfortable, great fit. The chamois is very comfortable and gives great feedback...it’s not too mushy.
The jersey fits snug, although I've lost some weight since trying it on for the first time and it's getting better. Definitely "race fit" as the jersey changes from standing to riding. At first the seams around the neck were rigid...not comfortable. However, once down on the bars, this improves - although I unzipped a bit and this obviously loosened things up. The two back pockets, instead of 3 threw me for loop at first, but got used to that. I still prefer three pockets though as the two pockets didn't hold my phone and pit stop snug. The zipped pocket is handy, great for keys and cards etc. Sweat didn't seem to evaporate around this area though, it got trapped and this part of the jersey was soaked when I got home.
I definitely feel "pro" wearing the jersey with its snug fit and fast feeling material. I can see myself wearing it more, just need to lose a couple more pounds, lol.”
Without a doubt, the most focused point of feedback is regarding the rear pockets. This isn't the first time I've come across the two pocket design. In fact, I wrote at length about my experience with the setup my 7mesh Corsa Softshell jersey review. It's a perplexing design and while I understand the factors behind the design choice, it seems that both Jesse and I struggle with how to use it effectively. Maybe if we weren't all so used to 3 pockets we wouldn't have so much trouble. Accepting change is never easy.
So far through a season of wear, tear, and washing, the Weldedskin bonded seams have held strong. I still remain fearful of bonded seams in general, especially in bibs, because when a bonded seams goes, it goes quickly. And if that happens it's going to be a super awkward ride home… for everyone involved. Thankfully the Catella seams are holding up and haven't shown signs of early fatigue. Furthermore, although the Weldedskin seams do appear to be up for the task of cycling, they are more rigid than the traditional bonded and taped seams used in outdoor apparel and what is found some cycling apparel. Especially in comparison to micro taped seams. In future iterations, it would be great to see Catella refine the proprietary process to produce smaller and more subtle seams, but without losing their locked tight bond.
In an ever increasingly crowded market for cycling apparel it's easy to fit in, but incredibly hard to stand out. Catella calls attention to their offerings with the way they incorporate well established outdoor performance materials along with their own proprietary construction methods.
Despite the fit issue I had with the kit they sent to me, the Catella GMR seamless jersey and bib were an intriguing piece of kit. From a design standpoint, the Catella kit has a few things going for it. Some of my favorite brands regularly use Schoeller fabrics in their gear, because it's a quality product so I’m glad to see it crossing over to cycling. In fact, I prefer it over many of the Italian sourced materials.
Stitched seams have always been a sore spot in cycling apparel (pun intended.) The problem is that they are the proven norm and what everyone seems to use by default. While so many other sports have moved over to bonded and taped seams, cycling has lagged behind. Again it's cool to see this construction method crossing over here. Being an early adopter at heart, I put these types of design features on par with, maybe ahead of, the best graphic treatments.
If you're looking for a confidently race cut fit, are irritated by flat lock stitching, or want a North American designed kit from a small brand, then the Catella GMR seamless jersey and bib may be what you’re looking for. I'd advise you choose your sizing wisely and that you plan ahead for how you're going to stuff the two, rather than three, rear pockets.