On road photography by Seetoh Lang
Nearing the end of the 2017 season, a mysterious box arrived at my front door, unannounced. At that time temperatures were really dipping fast, and so my mind was searching for ways to extend comfort through a few more rides. I had heard a few things about a new winter 'system' from 7mesh and my fingers were crossed that this would be what I found inside. It was.
When I opened up the box I found a complete set of the new Strata bottoms, the new MK2 bibs, and a couple of jerseys. Everything I've ridden and reviewed so far from 7mesh has been either warm weather or shoulder season apparel, save for maybe the Strategy Jacket. Now it was time to see how they really stacked up against winter temps. If I wasn't so sick that day, I would have headed right out the door. But I had to be patient.
You might be asking yourself what is the Strata system? At a high level I'd describe it as a multi-component, performance functional apparel system for cold weather cycling. The chamois less tights and knickers feature integration clips to pair directly with the revamped 7mesh MK2 bib short or their new Foundation bib short. The Strata tights and Strata knickers fit into the 7mesh product lineup to extend coverage down through the lower extremities while sticking to the 7mesh design theory. Because this really is an apparel system, I'm going to cover both the tights and the knickers in a single review. They are in many ways such similar garments, and the preference for tights vs knickers can be personal.
Design & Construction:
The overall design approach of the 7mesh Strata apparel uses a multi-panel pattern to form a pre-articulated shape. If you've read any of my previous 7mesh reviews (see the bottom of this page for suggestions), this will not come as a surprise because this approach is part of their DNA. The pre-articulated shape means the bottoms will fit best when your legs are in a position at the middle of the pedal stroke. This ensures the garment is working for you, rather than against you.
Both the Strata tights and knickers are made with DWR Thermoroubaix fabric. This is a Durable Water Repellence treated thermal fabric from MITI SpA in Italy. The Thermoroubaix is a stretchy (elastic) double layer warp knit fabric with a soft brushed backing. While it is a thermal insulating material, it is defined by its breathability and its hard wearing outer face. The selection of this particular material is not a unique differentiator. In fact, it's quite common in the winter apparel from many brands. When it works it works. But why does it work? It is because the two layers are working in harmony together. The inner layer, the soft brushed backing, helps to insulate the body and retain body heat while wicking away moisture and allowing the vapour to escape. The outer layer, the warp knit, has a bit of magic to it. Warp knitting is made by zigzag’ing the yarn in a knit along the entire length of the material. This method produces higher yields in varying sizes compared to normal knitting and is easy to sew. Most importantly it creates a more durable wearing fabric which is resistant to runs, and the warp knit produces less stress on the yarn and thus can more freely stretch.
The DWR treatment of the Thermoroubaix fabric adds a bit of weather resistance to the fabric. Note I didn’t say water proof’ness! The water repellency is thanks to a chemical treatment added to the fabric, usually during production, which makes the material hydrophobic. Most DWR treatments are made from flouropolymers and used to prevent the fabric from saturating with water, aka “wetting out.” The DWR is what causes road spray or light rain to bed and shed off. This helps keep you comfortably dry. As winter conditions can be quite damp, the DWR treatment is a key performance aspect to Thermoroubaix because when the material does become saturated with water, it rapidly reduces its breathability making you lose body heat fast.
The pre-production samples that I’ve been riding were manufactured using micro stitching in the seam construction. It's a key technical feature which reduces a lot of the bulk at the seams and reduces the amount of thread needed versus a flat lock stitch. Although the final production version changed to a surge seam construction, I bring this up to emphasize the always exploratory nature of 7mesh. Surge seams are commonplace is cycling apparel and has been proven quite effective.
A key and differentiated design feature of the 7mesh Strata apparel has got to be the removable straps. Both the 7mesh Strata tights and knickers come with 2cm wide removable Y straps (compared to the ~4.5cm MK2 Y straps.) But being an integrated system, removing the straps allows the tights to attach directly to the MK2 or Foundation bib short via the gClip. This creates a more direct connection between the two pieces while reducing the bulk of wearing two sets of straps. But on the flip side, having the straps means the Strata tights and knickers can also be used with non 7mesh bibs if you choose. That versatility is further extended by the chamois free design. This is because they are not intended to be used alone (you can if you want to, it’s your butt) and rather with a wide assortment of on and off brand bibs underneath. Both the tights and knickers hold themselves up high at the waist line thanks to a 2mm thick silicone strip at the top.
What’s keeping the Strata bottoms held down at the bottom? An all new lower gripper. This new gripper can also be found on the refined MK2 and the Foundation bibs. It is a silicone backed woven gripper that is ~4.5cm wide, but on the Strata apparel it’s only on the front of the leg. It does not wrap all the way around.
A lot of cold weather riding is done in low and or flat light, so designers need to think about visibility and safety. The 7mesh designers have added generous reflective patches on the rear calves of the Strata tights and on the front thighs of the Strata knickers. These reflective patches are the same gun-metal tone as used (and written about) on the 7mesh G2 jersey. On the Strata apparel, its darker shade gives a more tone on tone look to the application but has only a small reduction in luminance reflection compared to the standard silver.
According to the product information available, the claimed weights of the Strata tights are 230gr and my mediums tipped the scales at 235gr. The Strata knickers claim a weight of 203gr and my mediums tipped the scales at 190gr. That puts both of these well within any margin of error.
Prior to receiving the 7mesh Strata tights and knickers, I'd been using my tried and true thermal tights that I’d picked up at the local outdoor coop years ago. They aren't pretty but they work well. When it wasn't cold enough for those, I'd wear just bibs and knee warmers. When I started looking them over I was very hopefully that I'd find an end to warm knees and a cold butt in the shoulder season.
Overall each piece fits well to my body shape. They are relatively easy to get in and out of, and to slip overtop of any bibs. The pre-articulated shape felt good off the bike and did not feel restrictive when walking around. There was a definite and immediately positive sense that these were going to work on the bike. I am really into the gunmetal reflective patches. They are very discreet and subtle for anyone not wanting to look like a rolling billboard.
Comparing the Strata tights and knickers, the tights are the big boy bad weather brother to the knicker. They are the ones you're going to reach for when you know it's cold, it's going to stay cold, and you know you're going to feel cold.
In the initial try on, one point of concern was that a front micro seam on both the tights and knickers opened up. The openings were both about 1” long and were caused by the tension of the stitch in the thread being too high and thus causing the thread to snap under load. Because my set were an early sample, 7mesh were aware of the issue and corrected this for the production run. Thankfully I learned how to hand sew. It took me about 10 minutes to repair both. Honestly not a big deal and no further issues have occurred in 6 months.
On the road
While riding, both the 7mesh Strata tights and knickers are form fitted, snug, and secure. I've experienced no undesirable rubbing. I almost forget they are there at all. The silicone gripper up top is tiny yet works well to keep everything in place and the lower hem really ties the tights down. In the six months or so (at the time of writing this) that I've been using the Strata tights and knickers, I've not experienced any odd hot spots or pre-mature wearing of the fabric.
The tights are a bit long for my 32" inseam which creates some extra bulk around the calves. But it's never been a problem and it has not caused any rubbing against the chain. Rest assured, I’ve been told the pattern was trimmed down for the final production run. The Strata tights provide full coverage right up to about the belly button and up to the lower back. The Strata knickers start the same coverage just below the knee, as you'd expect.
Throughout the winter I've honestly been impressed with how well the Strata bottoms pair well with the 7mesh bib short (MK2 or Foundation) as well as with other brands. There is no denying that they do work best as a system with the 7mesh bib shorts. They kind of go together like peanut butter and jelly. You have to try them to understand. But if you do pair them with other brand bibs, you'll find yourself with an extra tab of material at the back. This is where the gClip for the integration system is located. It's best if you fold and tuck it back into the waistline and then it won't bother you. Because the Strata bottoms come in any colour, as long as it's black, you can wear the over your embarrassing white bibs or your comfy trainer only shorts, and nobody will ever be the wiser.
To give context to how and where I've used the 7mesh Strata apparel, my rides have varied from -10 degrees Celsius on the bottom end, to +12 degrees Celsius on the top end. I've been out in sun, snow, wind, clouds, and all various combinations. Some of my key observations about the performance of the Strata apparel has been that nearing -5 Celsius I had an overall chill which would be compounded by wind. In these temps I always opted for the Strata tights. From -5 to +5 degrees Celsius, the Strata tights did let a bit of chill work up especially at the lower end of the scale or when there was no sun to provide any help. In the +5 to +10 degree Celsius range I used both the Strata tights and the knickers, but I never thought about either of them while riding. Especially if the sun was out. Once it got right up to +10 Celsius, the knickers definitely won out as the right choice.
To be honest, I've even used the 7mesh Strata tights off the bike as winter running tights. I did so in a pinch when I hadn't gotten to my laundry and figured why not. Even though they weren't intended for this activity it all worked out well. Just saying.
Nothing is perfect. In my opinion, the 7mesh Strata apparel could use a few minor tweaks which I'd like to see if they plan to refine them like they have the MK2 bib shorts.
The Strata tights are easy enough to slide on but the wide gripper at the bottom can be tricky. And if you forget to put your socks on first, you have to take the tights off and start again. Adding a zipper at the ankle would help with getting the tights on and off more easily.
When riding in the Strata tights I frequently felt the cold air and wind on the front of my shins. This was in the area not covered by my socks. I always felt this in isolation from anywhere else in my legs and long before overall coldness would set in. I'd be happy to see a larger loft material used in the front of the shins on the tights for added insulation. Since 7mesh do have a partnership with W. L. Gore, a WINDSTOPPER panel would be even better.
The 7mesh Strata system represents an extension of the 7mesh apparel lineup to cover more of the rider in even more conditions. The in-house research and design process and their direct relationship with ambassador testers continues to pay off. The 7mesh Strata tights and knickers are a well-designed set of winter bottoms that work flawlessly with the 7mesh bib shorts to create a highly functional and integrated system, but they also pair well with other brands to further their versatility. Having both tights and knickers in the 7mesh winter system means there is something for everyone.
The use of tested and proven DWR Thermoroubaix fabric in a pre-articulated pattern shape ensures high performance for the money spent. Like everything 7mesh does, particular attention has been paid to researching and testing construction methods.
Who are the 7mesh Strata tights and knickers right for? Anyone looking for a complete winter apparel range or anyone who is currently wearing 7mesh apparel will find the Strata apparel to be a compelling choice for serious consideration. They’ve set a high bar that I’ll compare all others against.