Much like football supporters, cyclists often like to wear the team kits of their favourite stars and I’m no exception. Regular readers of this blog will know I’m quite the Team Sky fan, as well as being a regular follower of the GB National Team, and own a pile of cycling-related junk relating to both of them. Eventually, I decided I wanted to wear the kit as well, and wondered if a bit of Wiggo’s speed or Trotty’s skill would rub off on me.
Football shirts are often seen as a rip-off, but compared to the price of official team kits for cycling, they are a bargain. I was astounded at the cost of a (mostly) polyester and Lycra jersey. To kit myself out in Team Sky clothing would set me back something in the region of £175; more if I went the whole hog with gloves, overshoes and helmet. I found this staggering. Since Rapha Condor took over the clothing sponsorship for Sky, the prices have got even higher and a full jersey / shorts combination, made from exactly the same materials as the pros wear, will set you back closer to £300. These prices are staggeringly high. Of course, it doesn’t matter if you are one of the handful of pros riding for Sky, but for the rest of us, it feels like a bit of a rip-off, no matter how well made they are. These kits aren’t bespoke tailoring; they’re mass-market sportswear. If you crash and rip your jersey, that’s a big investment just gone down the plughole.
Having even a brief look at eBay, you will see how much these prices have fuelled a massive market for counterfeit clothing. At a conservative estimate, searching for “cycling team jersey” on eBay will return 90% Chinese copies of genuine team kit. The prices for these are considerably lower, and even including shipping, a jersey / shorts combination won’t set you back more than about £20 – probably around £150 cheaper than the genuine article.
I wondered – are they any good? I’d seen one of my work colleagues with some fake BMC gear from eBay and couldn’t spot the difference, so I decided to have a go myself. I purchased a couple of Team Sky kits from China and they duly arrived about a fortnight later.
I was surprised at the quality and feel of the kits. There was no poor quality printing, no cheap feel to the material, no glaring errors on the kit – in short, none of the shortcomings I expected to find. I tested the kits out on a couple of bike rides and found them both comfortable and durable. They’ve all been through the wash several times and still look as good as they day they were purchased.
When I went into Evans Cycles last week, I handled the real team kit. Apart from the Rapha logo on the left blue stripe being made out of a sort of raised gel-type printing on the genuine shirt (just printed on mine) and a slight variation on the “Believe in Better” slogan on the inside of the neck, the genuine Team Sky kit felt and looked the same in every way. I felt disappointed that this jersey, on sale for £75, had been equalled by a Chinese copy costing around 1/4 the price. Advocates of the genuine article may say, “The real ones are made of better material!” or “They last longer!” but that hasn’t been my experience in the last few months. Instead, it feels like there is rampant profiteering on the “official” kits – which cost far more than any Premiership football shirt. Perhaps it’s because cycling is a sport that appeals to the well-heeled who are prepared to spend money on flashy accessories and glamorous kit, but I can’t help but feel that the manufacturers are just taking advantage. This will surely fuel far-eastern counterfeiting in the future, and teams will lose out on sales altogether.
With all these thoughts in my head, I looked inside the Team Sky jersey to see where it had come from just before I put it back on the rack.
Printed on a white panel inside, it simply said, “Made in China”.