A unique approach to design, safety and construction has seen POCs AVIP range receive well-deserved accolades and recommendations. AVIP stands for Attention, Visibility, Interaction, Protection. One quick look at the Essentials kit reveals the innovative thinking that has come about as a result.
The WO Essentials share many features with the men’s kit that we reviewed recently. The three-tone palette – bright orange, white and black – has been chosen for visibility and contrast in an urban environment. Reflective strips, dots and logos adorn almost every panel of this kit for extra safety at night. The jersey even has a small ‘my info’ pocket designed to help emergency medical professionals identify you in the case of a life-threatening crash – although annoyingly, as we found with the men’s gear, this pocket is too small for most people to use effectively.
Body-hugging fit means a very aero ensemble, sadly it doesn't stay like this once hunched on a bike
Staying on the safety-first theme, the fabrics used in the Essentials kit are designed to better withstand crash impact than standard Lycra. It’s also carefully designed for both comfort and aerodynamics: extra underarm ventilation to complement breathability, glued seams, 3D construction to work best in a riding position, four-way stretch to eliminate bunching or hot spots – and the material itself is said to reduce drag.
In theory then, this gear is designed to be about as aero as you can get without wearing a skinsuit. Yet it left us wanting more when it came to its women’s specificity. It’s part way there in terms of female fit, function and appeal, but could do with further development.
We normally take a small or extra-small in most brands when it comes to bibshorts (£158 / US$270 / AU$300), but the extra-small WO Bib Shorts were so loose we came home from our first ride wondering if we had ordered a medium by mistake. We didn’t get the benefit of the advertised compression.
The thick ladies’ chamois appeared to be quite comfortable but without compression provided by the bibs it moved around when getting in and out of the saddle. The mesh uppers continued with the fairly dated approach to women’s bib designs. They don’t appear to be radically different to the men’s design.
Sitting up straight caused the front of the jersey to pop up
We really appreciated the snug fit of the extra-small Essential WO Jersey (£135 / US$200 / AU$250). It was appropriately tight, fitted well across the chest and was far more aerodynamic and functional than the matching bibs. However, the waist tended to pop up above belly button level when standing, reducing the aerodynamic function and sleek styling of the kit as a whole. We would have appreciated a firmer fit here.
Also, in our nickel and white test kit, the see-through upper white panels combined with the black mesh under the arms made it hard to keep your underwear discreet. Do you wear a black bra to match the mesh, or a white one so your bra looks less obvious from behind? This won’t be a big deal for some but could be a deal-breaker for others.
Poor fit means the jersey and bibs would shift position as we moved
Unfortunately (or fortunately in the latter case), we didn’t enjoy using the Essential WO kit enough to test out either its durability or crash resistance. Despite the excellent materials and construction, a poor fit template means it just isn’t worth the very expensive price tag – especially in comparison with so many high-quality, superb fitting women’s cycling garments available right now.
Ladies wearing sizes medium and above may have more success and would be able to pair this kit up with other unisex items in the range such as jackets and vests (the extra-small unisex sizing is close to a ladies medium.) The block colours and smooth lines are also quite flattering to a female body shape.
We trawled through POC’s Instagram for images of other riders in this kit looking for indications of how it performs on other women. Despite a strong presence of female snow sport and mountain bike athletes, we were only able to find one image of a female road rider wearing the Essential WOs. She was facing away from the camera. This indicates to us that perhaps the Essential WO kit isn’t POC’s main priority either – which is a shame.
This apparel has a lot of potential. We hope POC doesn’t see poor women’s sales as a reflection on the gear itself, but rather a challenge to step up its research and develop women’s road designs that perform as well as the men’s.