Online cycling clothing company Ground Effect’s Zest riding top is a beauty. Short sleeves, a long, long front zip, deep pockets and a snug cut: this formula’s an old favourite, and it’s one that works.
It is such a relief to find some women-specific mountain bike clothing that does not include butterflies, flutter-bys, flippant swirling scrolls or sickly shades of pastel. The irrelevant-decoration-free Zest comes in bold colours, so it wins big in the appearance stakes. (The latest selection includes brighter-than-bright red and a funky blue-green.) This shouldn’t say much at all, but with so many outdoor clothing options for women being covered in styling detail that suggests we’re all over-grown Princesses in search of a babysitter, making a riding top in strong colours with a few practical bits of reflective tape says ‘we get it’. And they do.
The Zest is super-comfy on the bike. Cut to fit but not feel like a vacuum-pack, the Zest was loose enough to let me manoeuvre the bike out on the singletrack freely, but did not flap about in the wind on road rides. The raglan sleeves meant there was no drag under the arms or across my shoulders, and with the Zest’s elastic-free hem, there was no bunching up or tightness around my waist and hips either. Like all Ground Effect riding tops, the Zest is cut to sit over the waist of your riding shorts or knicks, no matter how low your riding posture (or shorts), with extra length at the back (a feature Ground Effect calls a ‘WhaleTale’). The concept works: I have a long trunk and when a bike top rides up I can get cold very quickly, but the Zest’s WhaleTale kept all those kidney-kicking breezes at bay.
The Zest is a summer-weight top has been around for a while, but Ground Effect revamped it for the southern hemisphere 2013/2014 summer. The biggest change is a fancy new high-performance fabric called ‘HyperActive,’ which Ground Effect touts as a lightweight fabric that wicks sweat away from your body and dries quickly. I put the Zest through its paces in a range of climates and weather conditions – in New Zealand, in Oregon and Idaho in the States, and in Victoria and around Central Australia in Oz.
While the newer Zest felt a little heavier in my hands, out on the bike it felt softer than the old version, and the HyperActive fabric lived up to the hype. It felt cooler and dried out quicker, even in the much drier and way hotter arid desert climate of Central Australia, which is about as far from the New Zealand summer climate as you can get. It also didn’t snag like the fabric on the old-version Zest did.
HyperActive is a bi-component fabric that has polyester on the outside and nano-charcoal on the inside. Apparently that nano-charcoal does all kinds of good things, like wicking (which is how it keeps you feeling cool) and eating up smells with more enthusiasm than the animations in an advert for laundry detergent. Meanwhile, at my house, the Zest was regular smelly straight after a ride, and when I left the Zest on the floor for a few days it cultivated some full-on fumes. But the bad smells lost their grip on the HyperActive in a regular wash, and there were no ‘subtle lingering aromas,’ even after a few months of wear.
As a summer-weight cycling jersey, the Zest has a UV protection rating of 50+, and a stand-up collar for further sun protection. Not being a scientist, I can’t say if the Zest met its UPF rating, but I did notice differences in the collar. The new HyperActive fabric and the new seam, just on the outer facing, mean the collar on the revised Zest stays where you put it. If you sit the collar up, it gives about 5mm more height than the collar on the out-dated Zest. Of course, there’s still a bit of skin to cover in sunblock, but every mil of barrier protection helps.
I did notice the neckline wrinkled up sometimes – it could have been due to that hefty new collar or it could be a user-generated wardrobe malfunction. Either way, the Zest’s HyperActive fabric is soft enough on the skin that the wrinkling did not cause any discomfort, and a Fonzie-inspired adjustment corrected the slouching collar no worries.
Around the back, the side-back pockets on the Zest are elasticised and angled so they’re low enough for me to reach into easily, while being still deep enough to hold all the gear I like to take on a two- to three-hour mountain bike or road ride. (They carried a pump, a multi-tool, my phone and house keys, coffee tokens, and food – lots of food – no worries.)
If you like to carry a bidon in your back pocket, you’ll find the Zest can hold that too, but the top slouches under the weight, and you have to use a side pocket because the middle pock has a narrower, zippered closure. When I’m not product testing I don’t carry drink bottles in my jersey, and I liked the added security of the zip on the middle pocket. It’s good to know for sure that no matter what kind of ride I’ve had or how many tumbles, I will have cash close at hand for my post-ride fuel-up.
All up, I’m pretty stoked with the new-model Zest. My only regret is that I have just the one new Zest; I’d like to replace my old Zest too, but it’s not showing any signs of wear…
A word about Ground Effect
The dream-child of three mad-keen Kiwi cyclists, Ground Effect is all about function and sass. These traits are apparent in every aspect of the company, from the names of its clothing and trademark features, to its web copy and design concepts – right down to the tube patches Ground Effect stitches into the pockets of its riding tops and shorts.
New Zealand is a small three-island country in the Pacific Ocean, southeast of Australia. It takes up roughly one-eighth the surface area of Alaska, and if this mountain-spikey, rain-sodden land is not Alaska’s little sister, I’ll eat my Kiwi passport.
So New Zealand cycling clothing company Ground Effect is good news for women who ride bikes because if there’s one thing those folk who live on the wind-battered, much-rained-upon Land of the Long White Cloud know a thing or two about, it’s tough gear.