Alé Winter Kit: Modern Spin on Old School Wool

It’s officially winter in the northern hemisphere. And depending on how far north you live from the equator, it’s time to break out cold weather kit. In the “old days” (when men were men and sheep were scared), that meant wool. In today’s cycling world, keeping warm (or at least keeping from being freezing cold) is usually done with hi-tech fabrics that insulate (and sometimes ward off wind chill) but also wick/ventilate so you don’t get clammy from wet fabric next to your skin. But as Moneypenny said to Bond in Skyfall: “Sometimes the old ways are best.” So even though Alé (pronounced like the French allez, but Alé is an Italian company) makes hi-tech cold weather kit with hi-tech fabrics, PEZ went old school with their PRR Sombra Wool Thermo Long Sleeve Jersey.

PRR Sombra Wool Thermo Long Sleeve Jersey$184.99

The Sombra Wool Thermo Long Sleeve Jersey isn’t a 100 percent wool jersey — rather, it’s a blend of 28 percent Merino wool / 72 percent poly blend (so a best of both worlds combination of “old school” and modern “hi tech”). The first thing I noticed picking up the jersey is that it’s very light for a cold weather jersey.

To give you some idea how light the Sombra Wool Thermo Long Sleeve Jersey is, the Alé Bullet summer jersey I previously reviewed weighed in at 105 grams

Design-wise, the Sombra Wool Thermo Long Sleeve Jersey is a “basic” jersey. But that’s a good thing because why fix something that isn’t broken? The jersey is constructed with five panels in the main body (not including the collar) and set-in sleeves that each have two panels (not including the cuffs). All the panels are serge stitched. Since it’s intended for colder weather, the jersey has a high collar with a little wind flap at the top behind the zipper (full-zip, of course). The bottom front of the jersey has two elasticized stretch panels. The back of the jersey has the requisite three pockets and rubberized gripper on the inside at the bottom.

Stretch panel (green arrow) and rubberized gripper (red arrow) to help keep the bottom of the jersey in place

If it’s a high collar, it must be a winter jersey

Fit-wise, the Sombra Wool Thermo Long Sleeve Jersey is comfortably snug — not quite full-on race fit. Which means it’s not so tight that you can’t fit a slightly thicker, more thermal base layer underneath, if needed. But if the weather was just “cool” and I didn’t feel the need for a base layer, the Merino wool blend fabric is soft and smooth against my skin. And even though the seams are serge stitched, they’re comfortable and don’t chafe.

Form fitting, but not second skin uber tight (size Small on my 5’8″, 130 pound, ectomorph frame)

The full-length zipper is cam lock: (L) Flipped up to zip; (R) Flipped down to lock in place

Subtle touches of Alé trademark fluo at the back of the jersey. The dots below the pockets are reflective.

Cubes Long Sleeve Base Layer$89.99

The Cubes Long Sleeve Base Layer is appropriately named. There’s no missing the graphics/design, which is a cube-like pattern that has a 3D effect and is reminiscent of the style of many cubist paintings.

Relatively light for a long-sleeve, cold weather base layer

Essentially a long-sleeve t-shirt with a mock turtle neck, the Cubes Long Sleeve Base Layer is made with PrimaLoft fabric that has ultra-fine fibers designed to trap warmth, but is also high breathable to wick away moisture — exactly what you want in a base layer. PrimaLoft fibers are actually thinner than human hair, resulting in a very soft material. To the touch, the Cubes Long Sleeve Base layer feels silk-like — so smooth and comfortable. Fit-wise, it’s pretty close to being a second skin.

Pretty flash for a base layer

NOTE: The sizing for the Cubes Long Sleeve Base Layer (XS/S, M/L, XL/XXL) is different than how Alé does their jerseys (XS, S, M, L, XL, XXL, 3XL). Since I wear a size Small jersey, my base layer is XS/S. It fits perfectly, but the neck opening is a little on the small-ish side. I can pull it on without a problem. But I just can’t pull it off off. It requires a little gentle “maneuvering” to get it up and over my head.

Solid Winter Bibknicker$124.99

I know my PEZ compadre Ed Hood is not fond of knickers:

And before we close on legs – Edwig Van Hooydonck was a cool guy, 10 years a pro, four Brabantse Pijl and two Ronde victories. BUT he is the man who gave us ¾ length ‘knickers’ and that’s hard to forgive. One word: NO! 

Edwig Van Hooydonck – No

Yes, I know knee warmers are EuroPro cool and I wear them (because who doesn’t want to be EuroPro cool?). But once the weather gets cold enough, knickers or 3/4 length tights are practical and functional. Plus unless it’s frigid cold, I actually prefer 3/4 length rather than full-length tights. Don’t ask me why — especially when you consider that I’m of tropical (Filipino) ethnic heritage and don’t have the same tolerance for cold as my more hardy riding partners of northern descent.

Knickers (size Small for me) … one word: YES!

Design-wise, the Solid Winter Bibknicker is essentially a set of bib tights with shorter legs — or are they a set of bib shorts with longer legs? Either way, the knicker legs section consists of 7 panels that are serge stitched. The bib upper has three sections: the Y-back and both bib straps, which are also serge stitched. The wide-ish bib straps are finished with a flat felled seam. If that sounds like your typical pair of bib shorts, that’s because it’s a tried-and-true design that works.

Wide Y-back and wide bib straps

What sets the Solid Winter Bibknicker apart from “regular” kit is the stretch microfiber material that’s more “substantial” (thicker/heavier) than normal lycra and brushed on the inside for added thermal insulation.

The brushed inside is flannel-like: soft and warm

For all the gram counters

The compression on the Solid Winter Bibknicker is fairly firm, so they don’t just “slide” on. Some pulling and tugging is required. Once on, they are comfortably tight and hold everything in place, but without being constricting and providing enough freedom of movement.

The 3/4 leg ends are held in place by compression — there isn’t any gripper material on the inside. The tabs on the back of the legs (right) are reflective material.

Of course, the “money” in any pair of riding shorts is the chamois/pad. Alé chose their in-house 4HF Shammy (rated for 4 hours of riding) that features:

  • PADDING – 4HF shammy made of elastic micro-fiber with padding strategically positioned in the contact points
  • ISCHIATIC AREA – In the perineal and ischiatic area, the 90 kg/cm2 density padding is calibrated and breathable on all covered points to ensure utmost protection against shocks and stresses of the road.
  • RELIEF CHANNEL – The central relief channel was developed to protect the nerve endings for improved support, a/so on the longer distances.
  • PROTECTION WINGS – The lateral shaped wings are flexible and follow the body movements while pedalling, adapting to the cyclist’s anatomy far the highest comfort.

The 4HF Shammy features lots of dimpling for “down under” air flow

Sombra Wool Socks$29.99

If you’re getting the Sombra Wool Thermo Long Sleeve Jersey, you can go Full Monthy matchy-matchy with Sombra Wool Socks that are made with a mix of Merino Wool and Dryarn. This combination provides excellent insulation, high breathability, and light weight. And like the jersey, the socks aren’t as bulky as a lot of other winter socks. Bonus!

For the weight weenies counting grams

Not sure if these fall within Ed Hood’s sock height restrictions

Wind Protection Winter Gloves$69.99

As the name suggestions, these gloves are more about wind protection than thermal insulation. At least for “mild” cold temperatures, I find wind protection more important for keeping my hands from getting too cold. So, for me, these are winter gloves until the temps are more frigid — meaning down to about 40F.

As someone who rides without gloves in warmer weather, I don’t really “need” padding but the Wind Protection Winter Gloves have comfortable gel padding in the palm and base of the thumb

The tip of the forefinger is a material that’s touchscreen-friendly — which is handy not just for your phone, but also if you have a touchscreen bike computer (like the Hammerhead Karoo 2)

Det finnes ikke dårlig vær, bare dårlige klær

I have to admit that I was a little unsure how well the Sombra Wool Thermo Jersey would insulate given that Alé rates it “for temperatures between 50 and 61 degrees Fahrenheit.” At least in my part of the world, that’s more like fall not winter. But I also know that for those who live in more temperate climes that temps in the 50s F can be considered cold/winter. So some things are relative.

That said, my first ride fully kitted up was a sunny 45F day with a light breeze. I was pleasantly surprised at how the combination of the Cubes Base Layer (rated “for temperatures between 35 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit”) and Sombra Wool Thermo Jersey kept my upper body warm enough. It’s a case of where the whole is equal to more than the sum of its parts. And what I really loved is how it did so with hardly any bulk. We tend to think of thermal jerseys as being thicker/bulkier and in that respect the Sombra Wool Thermo Jersey is decidedly svelte.

I don’t know that the jersey and base layer would keep me (tropical Filipino heritage) warm enough in more frigid low 30s F temperatures, but I know I can ride in them down to about 40F … with some caveats. If there’s anything more than just a light breeze, I would want a gilet (or possibly a jacket) to ward off wind chill. If it’s overcast/damp air, I’d want a more “substantial” base layer because it will feel colder than the ambient temperature. Another option for colder temps is to double up jerseys, wearing the Sombra Wool Thermo Long Sleeve Jersey as what amounts to a base layer with a more thermal jersey over it. But I’ll also add that in my old age that no matter how good modern winter kit is, there’s only so much cold and wind I’m willing to deal with … that’s what a smart trainer and indoor riding is for.

Having lots of winter miles in the Alé Graphics PRR Bibtights, I was confident that the Solid Winter Bibknicker would be up to snuff. It’s rated “for temperatures between 43 and 59 degrees Fahrenheit” and I can ride them to 40F (probably down to the high 30s). Not only does the inside brushed fabric provide a lot of thermal insulation, but it’s very cozy, i.e., smooth and soft against my skin. Honestly, I’m spoiled by the feel of it. I’m a big fan of laser cut, lay flat bib straps but the felled seam straps on the Solid Winter Bibknicker were comfortable and didn’t dig into my shoulders. Also very comfortable is the 4HF Shammy. It’s got just enough padding to provide cushioning (at least for my butt on my different saddles: Selle San Marco Short Fit Carbon FX, Prologo Scratch M5 PAS, and Selle Italia Novus Boost Ego TI316 Superflow), but is dense/firm enough so that it doesn’t feel like a diaper. Most of my outdoor winter rides are 40-ish miles, but I know from riding the in the Graphics PRR Bibtights that use the same 4HF Shammy that the Solid Winter Bibknicker is good for longer rides (I just have to be willing to do longer rides in colder weather).

Another pleasant surprise were the Sombra Wool Socks. My feet tend to get cold pretty easily and I often resort to toe warmers or even booties when the temps drop into the 50s. But I was able to ride in just the Sombra Wool Socks in the mid/high-40s without my toes freezing. That’s actually a first for me. Just as with the Sombra jersey, wind and damp air would be factors affecting my ability to just wear the Sombra Wool Socks without some sort of toe or shoe covers.

Finally, colder weather forces me to wear gloves and the Wind Protection Winter Gloves do their job of keeping my hands from getting too cold — at least down to temps in the low 40s (Alé doesn’t rate them for temperature but I’m more concerned about warding off wind chill than thermal insulation … at least until the temperature drops low enough). One thing I really like about the Wind Protection Winter Gloves is that — unlike a lot of thermal insulating gloves — they’re not too thick/bulky. So I’m able to retain a lot of bar feel and tactile control. I still have mechanical shifting on my bikes, but that’s something to consider for those of y’all with electronic shifting.

I think it’s fair to say that this set of Alé kit isn’t intended for more frigid riding. IMHO it’s better suited for more “moderate” cold. If you live somewhere where winter temps regularly drop into the low 30s (I do realize that in some places — like Minnesota — that’s actually considered “warm” during the winter), Alé has more “substantial” kit for cold weather — including the really cool R-EV1 Future Warm Jacket that was featured in PEZ Holiday Gift Guide. But if your winters aren’t Nanook of the North cold, I think this kit is spot on.

If the weather prognosticators at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are to be believed, this winter will likely be warmer than average for my part of the world (I know global warming isn’t a good thing, but I’m also not going to complain about a “warm” winter). If that turns out to be the case, I expect the Sombra Wool Thermo jersey, Cubes Base Layer, Solid Winter Bibknicker, Sombra socks, and Wind Protection gloves will get a lot of use — probably into the early spring when it’s still chilly enough.

As this goes to press, we just had our first snow. Got about 8 inches. And temps at or below freezing. So much for NOAA’s prediction.

Before the storm

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As the Norwegian saying goes: “Det finnes ikke dårlig vær, bare dårlige klær”. Translation: “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.” If you’re in the market for not bad clothing for bad weather riding, the Sombra Wool Thermo Jersey and the rest of this Alé kit should be on your short list.

Note: If you have other experiences with gear or something to add, drop us a line. We don’t claim to know everything (we just imply it at times). Give us a pat on the back if you like the reviews or a slap in the head if you feel the need!

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