It's confession time. You know when you get something just totally wrong? Hands-the-air, eye-rollingly wrong? Well, that was us with the Polaris women's cycling range. We committed that cardinal sin: preconceptions.
How wrong we were. And what a fun and rewarding time we've had putting said preconceptions through the shredding machine.
Here was what we thought: 'Oh, Polaris - aren't they a bit average, formulaic and made by some massive behemoth of a company?'
Here's what we've learned since we began hearing their story earlier this year: they're none of those things.
What they are is the real deal. It's 25 years since Roger Dillon founded Polaris to fill a gap in the market: innovative, hardwearing technical clothes for mountain biking. During that time they've developed into a global cycling brand - admittedly they're not the smallest, but this is more a reflection of sticking successfully to what they're good at more than selling their souls. Importantly, they still feel like a family firm.
So, what is it they're so good at?
- Passion: spend a few minutes on the phone to them and you'll come away positively adrenalised.
- Cycling: they all ride bikes as a way of life and as our contact Hannah says, 'we only wear Polaris kit - if we didn't rate it there wouldn't be much point working here!'
- Design: the talented Chantelle Mattews heads up a team consisting largely of women who manage to combine cycling know how with great technical experience.
- Cutting the cr@p: we all know there's too much jargon and snobbery in cycling - Polaris are on a mission to reduce that and their products reflect that. They're all usable for most styles of cycing - road, mountain biking, commuting, bumbling. Polaris like to blur lines and we like that.
- Value: they've proved that you can be a cyclist on a budget - well-made cycling shorts/jersey combo for £60, anyone?
Now, we weren't entirely wrong about them - they admit to having been through their 'Halfords Era', when for a period some years ago now they succumbed to the lure of Halfords and their quality and reputation suffered.
They've emerged from that stronger and even more determined to go back to their roots of creating kit that great for all kinds of cycling - made with unrivalled enthusiasm and team spirit. They use mostly independent retailers to sell their products. A Good Thing.
They get out there in imaginative ways - like supporting GB triathlete Holly Lawrence, helping Project Enduro to get disabled and amputee men and women into cycling, and even providing kit for the BBC's Children in Need Rickshaw Challenge.
OK, this is all background. Which products do we especially like...?
1. The Vela Range (from £13): new for 2015 this is designed with road cyclists in mind and punches way above its weight/price in terms of quality. In fact, our in-house pro Rose tested the kit and was genuinely amazed by the quality and fit. Plus it looks great and can be combined to create a complete look.
2. The E-Motion 'Easy Zip' Bib Short (£50): this is the ingenious solution to those 'comfort break' issues that can so often cause people to steer away from bib shorts. The E-Motion Bib Shorts simply unzip around the middle, allowing you to do everything you need to without taking off any top layers. Plus the fit and pad feel far higher quality than the price tag would suggest. And as for 'Sausage Leg' syndrome - the cleverly cut silicon grippers ensure that's minimised too.
3. Multi-Use Cycling Jerseys (£35): Polaris' jerseys typify what they're about - remarkably high quality at this price level, they're theoretically for mountain biking, but deliberately conceived so they'll do you proud on your road bike or even commuter bike too. Strong colours add the finishing touch.
(Left to right):
4. Adventure Shorts (£25): at this amazing price, you'd forgiven for wondering how much of an adventure they'd be good for! Underestimate them at your peril. They're remarkably hardwearing, with a surprisingly capable pad and flattering fit.
5. Core Bamboo Base Layer (£22): ever hanker for a good value, well fitting, hard wearing base layer that you can throw on under anything, but which looks stylish enough to wear on its own. And that's made of wicking, anti-bacterial, anti-static natural material? Look no further.
6. Aqualite Extreme Waterproof Jacket (£50): this could be the one thing you take with you on every ride. Lightweight, bright enough to enhance your safety out on the road, flatteringly cut for female curves and fully waterproof. Plus it squashes down into an integrated sleeve pocket when the sun comes out. Once again, we can't work out how Polaris manage such high quality at such a reasonable price.
7. Contour 3/4 Length Tights (£40): if you prefer something a little more modest than cycling shorts, but no less comfortable or capable, then these padded capris could fit the bill. Brilliant for all kinds of cycling, they can also double up for other activities like spinning or even running.
In truth, we love the whole range. The proof of the pudding came each time Rose tested another Polaris piece - time and again she was genuinely taken aback by the quality and fit. And this from someone who is quickly getting used to top of the range, sponsored kit for a pro cycling team.
That's validation of a good brand if ever we saw it! Well done, Polaris - welcome to VeloVixen. And sorry we got you wrong.
VeloVixen's Polaris Range 2015
Unit 28, Wheatley Business Park, Old London Road, Wheatley, Oxford OX33 1XW // email@example.com // +44 (0) 1302 249 323