Café du Cycliste isn’t a brand that immediately comes to mind when thinking of the cycling clothing giants in today’s market. However, the French company has been on a steady rise to prominence in recent years, notably in the gravel and all-road scene with collections that are made to tackle long days in the saddle. Founded in 2010 by Remi Clermont and Andre Stewart in a traditional café nestled in the hills above the Cote d’Azur, Café du Cycliste is all about encouraging people to explore the outdoors doing whatever activity suits them best – it’s not just cycling clothing that the brand offers, but also an extensive range of outdoor and casual apparel.
The Audax collection is described by Café du Cycliste as “road cycling apparel inspired by a desire to go further.” Rather than focusing on specific aerodynamic qualities of the kit, or race-focused details, the Audax range is optimised to be comfortable and practical for long-distance cycling, be that on the road or gravel. With nature and the outdoors being such a huge pillar of Café du Cycliste’s brand identity, the company places a sharp focus on sustainability – aiming to have as little negative impact on the environment as possible when creating kit. From using fully biodegradable mail-packaging, to ensuring that no employees travel by car to work, to being part of the ‘1% For the Planet’ initiative (donating 1% of turnover to nonprofit environmental groups and charities), to ensuring as little waste as possible in the designing and manufacturing of new kit, Café du Cycliste claims to have an “eco-conscious culture”, protecting the landscapes that provide a playground for cycling.
Over the winter months in Europe, we've been using the Audax range to see how it holds up in some tough British weather. Designed by those who spend much of their time on the sunny shores of the French Riviera, does this kit really go the distance when the days are long, dark and cold? We put it to the test.
Lorenne Air Channel Cycling Jersey
I was immediately struck by how unique the Lorenne jersey looked when I first received it. My initial thoughts were that the chalk colour wasn’t particularly practical for riding off-road, though I have since been impressed by how well the garment washes – it doesn’t cling onto dirt and is still looking fresh after plenty of use. There’s also a green colourway option for those who are looking for something a little less striking. Café du Cycliste describes the Audax jersey as ‘mid-weight’ and it definitely feels closer to a jersey than a winter jacket. While this means it doesn’t provide as much warmth as a thicker jacket, it’s also a versatile piece as it can easily be layered since it doesn’t provide too much bulk.
I was impressed by how well the waffle textured ‘air channel’ structure helped to regulate temperature – it kept me cool during efforts while also ensuring that wind chill was blocked on descents. On warmer days when I wore the jacket with just a short sleeved base layer underneath, the brushed fabric on the inside of the arms provided plenty of insulation and felt soft against the skin. The attention to detail from Café du Cycliste is impressive – there’s even a wind blocking fabric behind the main zip to ensure that no cold air escapes through the jersey and onto the skin.
When it comes to the features on the jersey that make it suitable to fit in Café du Cycliste’s ‘Audax’ collection, which is defined as kit for “those who ride long,” there is plenty of additional storage space on the Lorenne jersey. At the front of the jersey, there is a chest pocket for any valuables which I found useful for putting items like my keys in, as these have a tendency to drop out when I’m getting other things out of my rear pocket. The chest pocket isn’t particularly accessible on the move, though, so I didn't find myself using it for things that I wanted to get hold of regularly. At the rear of the jersey, the back pocket configuration provides an impressive amount of storage space – it has additional cargo pockets with an outer mesh pocket that I found useful for putting in waterproof jackets and extra food.
My main issue with the Lorenne jersey was that the fit could be better – I found the sleeves to be a bit too long and gaping at the wrist, which allowed cold air to sneak through the gap. Elsewhere, the jersey fit well on the body and wasn’t too short, ensuring that I was fully protected from the cold, even when in a race position. Overall, this jersey is impressively versatile – I paired it with the Café du Cycliste Air Channel base layer on colder days which provided plenty of warmth without being too restrictive. The cream colour I wore won’t be for everyone and the dark green could be more practical for most, but Café du Cycliste kit is always aesthetically pleasing and the small ‘flying fish’ motif is a nice touch that ensures the brand identity is clear. At £186, the Lorenne jersey comes with a premium price point, but Café du Cycliste is a brand that markets itself at the luxury end of the cycling apparel scale.
Zélie Audax Cycling Jacket
One of the standout products in Café du Cycliste’s Audax range is the Zélie jacket. It’s made for serious adventure riding and is versatile enough to be worn on the bike in cold conditions, but the hood and structure of the jacket also means it works off the bike too. While the jacket only comes in a grey colour, the oversized reflective details on the logo and the panelling on the arms and at the rear of the jacket ensure that it provides visibility in low-light conditions. Interestingly, Café du Cycliste’s signature fish doesn’t appear anywhere on the jacket, with the French brand opting to just include the ‘Audax’ logo. While I like the simplicity of the design, I also think that the jacket feels a little out of step with the aforementioned Lorenne jersey and it would be nice to tie the whole outfit together a little more with branding that is better aligned.
When it comes to how the Zélie jacket performed in cold weather, I was impressed by how well insulated it was thanks to the innovative three layer construction which consists of a mesh lining, thermal insulation and a highly technical outer fabric. When it comes to water-resistant jackets, there is often a risk that the jacket offers protection from the weather but doesn’t allow breathability at the same time. I was happy to find that the Zélie was still breathable despite the multi-layer construction, ensuring that I stayed cool even when doing some harder efforts. In addition, the jacket is extremely packable – despite offering plenty of warmth, I could still wrap it up small enough to fit in the rear pocket of the Lorenne jersey, making it a great option for long haul trips when you need to pack light.
The fit of the Zélie jacket was definitely slightly tighter than I would have expected for a jacket designed to go over the top of other kit, and I would have preferred a little more room for layering underneath. However, the close fit did mean that there was no risk of the jacket flapping around in the wind, as is the case with some waterproof jackets. I liked that the hood of the jacket was tight enough to fit underneath a helmet too, meaning that it could act as a hat and buff when the temperatures were very cold.
Similarly to the Lorenne jersey, the Zélie jacket had plenty of storage solutions with three cargo pockets, an oversized rear ‘drop’ pocket and a zipped chest pocket for valuables. The jacket retails for £260 which is a big investment, but it’s worth keeping in mind that this is an item of clothing that can do the job on the bike as well as off it. Despite putting the jacket through its paces on some long off-road rides, I’ve been impressed with the durability so far and the way it has handled such a range of conditions, though a two-way zipper would be a welcome addition to help regulate temperature a little more.
Marceline Women's Audax Tights
I found the Marceline Audax Tights to be my favourite item in the entire Café du Cycliste Audax range. As soon as I put them on to go for a ride, I was impressed by the fit and comfort immediately – they provided ample levels of compression without being at all restrictive. I felt as if the bib tights had been constructed to fit a female shape, they weren’t too long on the leg and complex construction of the bibs across the chest helped to evenly distribute pressure and ensure there was no rubbing or discomfort. I also liked how the bib tights looked when on – the reflective Café du Cycliste logo on the calf is subtle yet notable branding, while the cargo pocket and reflective stripe on the leg ensures visibility but also adds some interest to the tights.
When I was out riding in the bib tights, I found that they helped to regulate temperature around my core well – the mesh bibs didn’t add too much insulation where I didn’t need it, but the wool blend on the legs added warmth to important muscles. The tights also feature high wicking panels at the hip which make sure that sweat doesn’t build up in this area when riding at a high intensity. I did miss an ‘easy pee’ functionality on the bib tights, especially considering they are made for all-day adventures in cold weather – it would have been nice to have a solution for nature breaks that didn’t involve taking off layers of jerseys.
As is to be expected with Café du Cycliste’s Audax range, the Marceline tights also come with additional storage options. The cargo pockets on the legs are extremely useful to access gels and bars – they are secure enough that there’s no risk of anything falling out but are also easily accessible.
While the comfort of a chamois is always going to be personal preference, I was impressed by how much support the padding on the Marceline tights gave me. The chamois is developed in collaboration with Italian company CyTech which uses an ‘Elastic Interface Technology.’ Café du Cycliste says that the company uses scientific research that has led to advances in the understanding of posture and pressure points, and I thought that this was noticeable when wearing the tights. I didn’t have any issues with rubbing or discomfort even on the longest days in the saddle and I found that the chamois moved with me, meaning that there was never any need for adjustments when getting in and out of the saddle.
As with all of the Café du Cycliste Audax range, the Marceline Women's Audax Tights come at a premium price, retailing for £289. There are certainly cheaper options on the market, but if you are looking to invest in a pair of bib tights that will ensure optimum comfort on all-day adventures, these are a great option and there is very little to fault on the Marceline tights.
It’s fair to say that the Café du Cycliste Audax collection certainly lives up to the claims that this is kit made for riding long. The storage options on all of the garments are impressively well thought out, and the entire outfit provides optimum warmth, comfort and temperature control for rides that could vary in weather conditions. Paired with accessories like the Audax gloves which also feature reflective detailing and technical fabrics to ensure warmth, and the entire Audax outfit ensures visibility out on the roads too. There are a few issues with the fit of some of the products and I wish that the bib tights offered a solution for nature breaks – especially since perfection should be expected at the extremely premium price point of Café du Cycliste kit.
While it’s undeniably an expensive outfit, for those with the means of investing in some high-quality cycling kit, Café du Cycliste’s Audax range is a good option, especially given the brand’s focus on sustainability and responsibility when it comes to protecting the environment. Aesthetically, the kit is eye-catching enough to stand out from the crowd and its versatility and durability goes a long way to justifying the price point.