It features colours bright enough to stand out on the road, but that's not the only reason the Specialized Women's SL Pro kit stands out.
The SL Pro line from Specialized is the Big S's top-of-the-line women's kit, based on the kit worn by pro teams such as Boels Dolmans. In fact, there's a great-looking version of the SL Pro in Boels Dolmans colours, minus the sponsor logos. Both the jersey and shorts have a well-thought-out panelled construction that uses multiple fabric types to optimise temperature regulation, moisture control and comfort. And it works!
This is some of the most comfortable kit I've worn, and boasts some great features such as the rear catch on the Hookit bib shorts – more on which later.
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One thing worth noting first-up is the fit. While this is pro-level kit, which usually translates as extremely tight fitting, actually the Specialized Women's SL Pro jersey and shorts size up true, and possibly even a touch on the large size. I'm a curvy UK12 (US8) and the medium size jersey and shorts fitted perfectly, which means it might come up a little large if you sit at the lower end of a clothing size bracket – if you do, and you want your kit to fit tightly, then go down a size. Everyone else, enjoy riding some very nicely fitting kit.
Both the jersey and shorts feature subtle reflective accents in various locations on the body, legs and arms.
The Women's SL Pro kit comes in Team Neon Navy/Coral (pictured) and a range of other colours including Boels Dolmans team replica kit
We've tested the Team Neon coral/navy version of the kit, but there is a wide selection of colour options available, including black/red, turquoise/geo fade, black/pink, and of course the striking Boels Dolmans team version with a vivid orange to purple ombre finish.
While this is by no means the cheapest kit on the market, it is competitively priced giving the quality and detail that's gone into both the jersey and shorts, and your cash is getting you a supremely comfortable product.
Specialized Women's SL Pro jersey £100 / $150
The jersey comes with a full-length zip
Specialized has really nailed the cut of this jersey. It fits beautifully, sitting close to the skin and staying in place without feeling restrictive. The full-length zip raglan-cut sleeves mean no seams on the shoulder tops, and the jersey is cut to suit the forward riding position and was long enough to ensure my lower back was covered when in the drops.
The bulk of the jersey is made from 'VaporRize' knit Lycra, a soft-feeling pitted knit with excellent wicking properties. Exerting hard in warm conditions, the fabric dealt brilliantly with sweat, keeping me feeling dry, comfortable and cool when on the go. In fact, I actually felt hotter when stationary, so effective is the fabric at aiding evaporation.
Another excellent feature is the integrated sun protection: anyone with fair skin like I have will be pleased with the fact this jersey has UV 30 protection.
One point worth noting for women of a curvy persuasion: the orange Lycra on the jersey we tested has a white backing, which means if the jersey stretches the white can show through. So if you have, say, a larger bust that's causing the fabric to stretch, that area can end up looking paler or highlighted compared with the rest of the jersey. It's definitely not see-through, but worth taking into consideration, and if you don't like the look then it may be worth going for another colour. Personally I didn't notice it particularly, but you can judge for yourself from the photos.
Storage on the women's SL Pro is well executed. The three main pockets are topped with a reinforced band for security and support, and the rear hem of the jersey features a wide silicone-backed elastic strip that helps keep everything in place. The pockets are big enough to stow your essentials – spare tube, race cape, snacks – and there's also a sweat-proof secure pocket with a zip closure that includes a port for headphones or an earpiece.
Specialized Women's SL Pro bib shorts with Hookup £140 / $180
The Hookup system from Specialized features a magnetic clasp at the back that allows the back of the shorts to detach from the straps so they can be pulled down for comfort breaks
The shorts, like the jersey, have a wide cuff that's made from a folded soft stretch Lycra and has an asymmetric cut for an excellent fit. This is an update on previous incarnations where the cuff was constructed from microfibre elastic. This cuff managed both to feel soft against the skin and prevent the shorts riding up, while also being broad enough to avoid that sausage-leg look. Length-wise, these came to about two thirds of the way down my thigh (I'm 5ft 8in / 1.73m) which is a comfortable length for me and will be plenty long enough for the majority of women, but they're not the longest shorts out there.
The main sections of the shorts are made from a supple Lycra that holds its shape well, with no shifting or bunching noticed on long rides. Specialized has stated that the Lycra used in the shorts features 'cold fabric technology' which helps regulate temperature in hot conditions. I can affirm that these felt the most comfortably cool and breathable shorts I've worn in a long time, even when riding on warm and bright days. Again, as a fair-skinned lass, I was happy to hear the shorts are rated for UV50 level sun protection.
I have to confess to being slightly dubious about many of the 'comfort break' solutions brands come up with for women's bib shorts. Specialized's approach is its Hookup system. The rear strap on the bibs has a magnetic clasp, located around the lower back region. If you need to relieve yourself but don't want to strip off to get your shorts down, the clasp can be popped open one-handed so the back of the shorts can be pulled down leaving bib straps still hooked over your shoulders and neck like a halter neck. Once you're done, pull the two halves of the rear strap together and they pop into place.
Wide leg hems come backed with silicone gripper dots
And it really does work as simply as this. The magnet on the clasp is strong enough that it will pop shut easily, so you can do it behind your back as you are wearing it. The only downside was occasionally losing the top half of the strap in the upper reaches of your jersey, which required a little arm flexibility to retrieve.
The magnetic clasp is a small plastic disc in two parts, and despite my initial concerns I didn't notice it at all while riding, even when wearing a rucksack.
On the downside, the Lycra – while very comfortable – isn't particularly firm so if you prefer a more compressive feel, you may be less impressed with the SL Pro shorts.
The Body Geometry chamois pad is of medium thickness and well positioned, and felt comfortable over long and short rides and different intensities.
Overall, the Women's SL Pro range from Specialized is kit that delivers on its promises. It unobtrusively does its work, staying in place, regulating your temperature, providing cushioning and support where you need it, and it does it so well that you don't even notice it's happening.