Superlative cycling clothing from Brooks
London has experienced a boom in cycling over the past 10 years, with the annual number of journeys doubling from 270,000 to 540,000. I have commuted to work by bike for that whole period, and junctions where you used to sit alongside one or two bikes are now three-ranks deep. Many clothing companies have attempted to cater to this new market with good-looking but functional clothing. Most produce a pretty poor product. One that has succeeded with style is Brooks.
The Brooks ‘John Boultbee’ clothing
Brooks is best known for its leather saddles. Indeed, most people would struggle to name another manufacturer of saddles, so ubiquitous has the name become. I visited the Brooks factory in Smethwick last year and wrote a feature for The Rake on the manufacturing, which is delightfully antiquated and honest. The stages include everything from hand-beating copper rivets – which takes a certain amount of skill – to simply placing nose cone after nose cone in a big iron machine that puts a hole in the front.
Brooks knows where it is with saddles. But clothing is an entirely different matter, and it didn’t want to be accused of simply slapping on some high-margin products to capitalise on the Brooks following. It took its time, and after several years of working with bespoke tailor and friend of the Rake Timothy Everest, Brooks has three cycling jackets that it can be very proud of.
The first, the launch piece and the signature piece, is the Criterion jacket. It is waterproof, warm and wonderfully functional, but its materials give it a traditional air that is perfectly suited to Brooks. The outer layer, for example, is made from Ventile, the British-invented waterproof cotton material. Its matte finish immediately sets it apart from synthetic jackets, but without that dirty patina of a waxed jacket.
It is lined with Fox Brothers tweed – which all Rake readers will immediately feel a fondness for – and hand-treated hardware that has a copper finish, again giving it a sense of tradition rather than technology. My other favourite part is the bright blue shoulder straps on the inside, invisible when worn, but an incredibly practical way to carry the jacket at other times. Why don’t more jackets have this feature?
Being designed by Tim, it also has lots of functional aspects to the cut that could easily be missed. So let’s mention them here: a wide front closure for wind and rain protection, large bellow pockets, a shooting back for ease of movement, reflective strips for visibility, and fitted wool rib inner cuffs to protect hands when cycling.
I was very excited by the Criterion. Very few pieces of clothing raise the bar so far in a particular industry. But you were never sure how they could match in the rest of the range.
Fortunately the next piece, the Blackwell, managed keep a lot of those elements but strip the jacket back, producing a simpler and – just as importantly – far cheaper jacket (€550 rather than €1000).
The Blackwell is a Harrington-style shell, without a collar and cut long in the back but short in the front – suiting a more aggressive riding position. It is still made with Ventile, this time in green, and has the copper accents, but loses the lining and a lot of the extraneous detail of the Criterion. It does, to my relief, still have the shoulder straps, and both the interior and exterior pockets are well thought out.
There is also the Elder Street cycling jacket, which reworks a classic tweed blazer to include elements such as a reflective cuff and collar, and vented back. Anyone familiar with Tim’s work on cycling tailoring will be familiar with the design. The Oxford roll-up rain cape, meanwhile, is less sartorial but highly innovative, and made with Rake photographer Guy Hills’ Dashing Tweed.
For a great video from Timothy Everest on how the Criterion jacket works, click here.