Putting "Victory Graded, Gutter-Inspired" to the test
Based in Boulder, Panache calls their clothing “racer-bred, victory graded, gutter-inspired.” Don Powell, who founded the company, raced professionally in Belgium during the early 1990’s. Think rain, crosswinds, and kermesses. After stints at Salomon and Pearl Izumi, Powell set out to start his own clothing company in 2008, and Panache is the result.
“The impetus for Panache was creating clothing for people who spend a considerable amount of time on the bike and for racers,” explained Kevin Burnette, who works as the sales manager at Panache. Panache currently offers both retail and custom lines. For this review, I tested jerseys and bibshorts from the retail line.
The goal at Panache is also to create clothing with good design. “Just being able to walk into a coffee shop and not feel like you’re a poser,” said Burnette. The company draws on trends in men’s fashion and watches the surf and skate industry for ideas. The overall look is mostly black and white with some highlight colors. “Less is more,” is how Burnette summarized the Panache design philosophy.
Panache assembles their jerseys in Romania from Italian-made material. They are full-zip, which for me, as a bibshort-wearing woman, is totally essential. The fabric feels good, the quality is dialed, and the stitching remains tight after about three months of wear. They’ve pretty much become my go-to jerseys since the box first arrived on my doorstep from Boulder.
Fit The Panache retail line is aimed at riders who spend a lot of time on the bike. The clothing is cut close to the body with relatively narrow armholes. “It’s definitely designed more for the performance rider,” said Burnette. The size scale at Panache is relatively tight, also. “Our small through large would probably be like some brand’s small through medium, and the sizing comes in length as you go up, rather than opening up in the body.”
I typically wear a men’s small or medium jersey, depending on manufacturer and whether I want to wear a winter base layer. I tested a size small from Panache and it is a “race fit” jersey. I would recommend sizing up from your usual size if you like a more roomy fit, a longer length, or you tend to wear thicker base layers under your jerseys. If you’re shaped like a bike racer, you will love this kit. I’m not really shaped like a bike racer - I have the wide not-aero shoulders of the competitive swimmer I used to be - but these jerseys worked well for me, too.
The new 2012 summer line at Panache also includes several women’s jerseys, which I did not test for this review. Watch this space, and we’ll try to get an update published this summer. The women’s jerseys run one size smaller than the unisex/men’s sizes. “The patterns on our men’s and women’s jerseys are very close,” explained Burnette.
The women’s jerseys from Panache do not flair out at the hips. Instead, the jersey is cut shorter to fall just above the hips. If you tend to wear shorts rather than bibs, this shorter length might not be ideal for you, but with bibshorts, it works very well on the bike. Most noticeably, there is no “zipper bulge” from the full length zipper when bent over the bike.
For their women’s bibshort, Panache takes the same features from their men’s product line, adds a women’s chamois, and alters the fit to accommodate women. The G.S. bibshort has nine panels, flatlock stitching, and a lightweight mesh upper. It includes a stretch chamois specifically designed for women riders.
Like the rest of the Panache retail line, the women’s bibshorts are sewn in Romania. According to Burnette, Panache bibshorts are constructed in a specific section of the factory. “This factory has a group of sewers that are really, really good. Some pieces go through the whole factory, but the bibs are only in one set of Romanian ladies. They’ve been doing this for a long, long time.”
Bibshorts are tricky to construct, because the panels have to be set perfectly to conform to the body. When Panache designs their patterns, company owner Don Powell sits on a bike set up inside the factory. He wants to see the clothing will fit when a rider is actually pedaling. “All the measuring on him on the product is done while he’s on the bike. You don’t ride standing up or walking,” said Burnette.
The women’s chamois did its job without getting in the way. Sometimes clothing companies get carried away and try to make the chamois big and pillowy. The result generally feels like wearing diapers. Not so for the G.S. bibshorts. The chamois feels lightweight and breathable while still offering plenty of cushiony goodness.
The panels are smartly placed, and there are no inconvenient seams. Wearing these bibs made me wonder why anyone ever puts a seam in the chamois area. The Panache G.S. avoids this mistake, and it makes all the difference. I wore these bibs in the hot, dry hills here in California, and the uppers felt lightweight and had a nice barely there feel.
Unlike many women’s shorts, the Panache bibshorts are not cut especially short. If you are looking for short shorts, you’ll want to look elsewhere. I habitually roll my bibshorts in the summer, but I appreciate the length in cooler weather. The Panache bibs are long enough to hold up legwarmers and kneewarmers comfortably.
“There’s basic things you need to design around,” commented Burnette. “Maybe there’s a summer short, but you need a length to where you can hold up your knee or legwarmers. You’re going to get some kind of tanline regardless.”
I tested a size large in the G.S. bibshort, due to availability. My usual size would be a medium. I fell in love with the fit of these bibshorts, because they fit my height (5’10”) without becoming overly roomy in the hips.
When I got these Panache clothes, I took them out of the box, put them on, went for a bike ride, and they just plain worked. I did not feel like a poser. The fabrics feel good against the skin, and the stitching has held up to several months of riding and laundry days. Panache clothing is not inexpensive, but the pricing is comparable to other brands of similar quality. Recommended!
More info at www.panachecyclewear.com
All images by Carson Blume