Fitting In – Machines For Freedom Review #ShowUsYourPowerFit

Abi, a white, fat, butch person with short brown hair, is standing looking down. She is wearing blue rimmed glasses and a lycra cycling jersey with a leaf pattern and bright orange cuffs. There are rocks and the sea in the background. The sky is bright blue.

Abi: When the email from Machines for Freedom, a high-performance cycling apparel brand based in the US, pinged into our mailbox, I audibly squealed. They were launching a more inclusive sizing range and wanted to know if I wanted to try out some kit. They were also willing to send Lili some kit too (if only to avoid the jealousy tearing our relationship apart).

I replied quickly, sent them our measurements, and then lockdown happened and everything was parked for a little while. I’d never tried athletic cycling kit in my size, and was super excited to get my hands on them, but I patiently waited and tried to distract myself with other boring stuff, like the book launch.

A few weeks ago MfF got back in touch to let us know they were sending the kit off, and it arrived on the 15th June (a belated birthday present for me!) I was so excited as we opened the package up, but holding the bib tights and feather light jersey in my hand I got the same sinking feeling I always get holding beautiful technical gear, whether for cycling, running or climbing, will they even fit?

Abi is facing away from the camera looking out over the sea. She is wearing a lycra cycling jersey with a bright leaf print.

First Impressions

Abi: . Technical cycling gear in my size (UK 2O-22) is hard to come by, and because I’ve never tried it, I’ve never known if it was worth the investment. For tours, I’ve always ended up wearing men’s decathlon padded shorts. These tend to fall apart after around 500km, and I’ve spent many rest days sewing them up. Plus the padding was in strange places. It was overwhelming, then, to think that I might finally have kit that fitted my body and looked amazing.

When the box came I had to hold myself back from tearing it apart. The first thing out was the bib tights, I pulled them out, caught a glimpse of beautiful patterned fabric beneath and immediately threw them aside to claw my jersey out of it’s packaging. I was perhaps a little overwhelmed.

Oh my god. The first thing to say about the jersey is how damn gorgeous it is. I was sent the Palmera print – not my choice (we didn’t choose what was coming), but impressively well suited to my style. There are flashes of lilac in it which I hadn’t noticed from the website, but which are a lovely detail. The second thing I noticed was how light it was. The only jersey I’d ever felt was Lili’s more winter-y one, and I didn’t realise jersey’s came in such thin fabric.

After filming another one of our famously underwhelming unboxing videos (we really need to get the hang of them). It was straight through to try them on.

Lili: I find it a damn sight easier to get cycle-specific clothing in my size. My standard cycle touring get up is padded kind of ‘under’ shorts, jogging bottoms, a plain t-shirt, or a more technical mountain biking shirt I got from a sale to try and avoid sunburn. If it’s hot, I’ll wear my padded shorts on their own but you can definitely see my butt. I’ve got a long sleeved jersey I can wear in winter too.

Unlike Abi, whilst I was thrilled with the jersey (and believe me, it is stunning, it’s in the Jaded Rose and is like archetypal soft butch) I was more excited about the bib tights. I really wanted to see if they were something I could comfortably wear off bike, and I was desperate to remember what properly padded shorts were like (my current pair are 4 years old, and really after probs 6,000 km of wear very much past their best….)

Also, full disclosure, I’ve put on a bit of weight in the last year and the weird soup of dysphoric and eating disordered feelings that result make buying new gear pretty hard, but I’d been brave and let abi measure me properly for this gear and I was nervous and excited about having something that fit well.

Lili stands on rocks next to the sea. They are wearing a green flowered cycling jersey and black bib shorts. They are holding a bike helmet to their head with both hands.

Fit

Lili: I got a L in the bib tights and an XL in the jersey. The jersey is an absolute dream fit for me, because although it’s not skin tight, and probably would be considered ‘baggy’ by lycra standards, it’s cut and constructed in a way that means it still sits well on my body and looks super smart. The length of the sleeves is great, the fabric is light and soft, there’s some super thoughtful details and the kind of, sticky tape at the bum which keeps it from riding up is texturally the best I have ever felt! When we went on our test rides, I wore it over like a unstructured crop top-y bra and then today when we went to the supermarket i wore it over a long sleeve cotton top and it was super comfortable and that’s probably not how it’s meant to be worn but hell, i liked it!

When I pulled on the tights, my body was like ‘WHAT ARE YOU DOING WE HAVEN’T WORN ANYTHING STRUCTURED IN TWELVE WEEKS?!’ and I panicked they were too small but they weren’t, they’re a really snug, supportive fit (for reference I’m a UK 14-ish atm) – I guess what you’d expect of lycra? I am pretty tall ( 5ft 11) and they comfortably sat just above my ankles. I did some exploratory lunges at ravenscraig park and they were more stretchy than I am. I was worried my body would be too long for the mesh bib straps but actually they were bang on.

Lili awkwardly leans against a wall with one leg stretched to the top of the wall. They are wearing a green flowered cycling jersey and black long bib tights. behind the wall is the sea. Their bike leans against the wall at one end.

Abi: Whenever I try things on, I carry the memory of every time I’ve fallen in love with clothing on the hanger, only to not get it past my knees (even when it’s ‘my size’). I’d been sent the XXXL in both tights and jersey. After admiring the thick padding in the tights I began pulling them on. When I got to my thighs, I definitely started panicking they didn’t fit. They felt tight and I looked to Lili for reassurance and realised they were feeling the same thing. A bit further up it became apparent that they did fit, just snugly. Once on there were no more worries. They were skin tight but super comfortable, holding me in all the right places. I was particularly keen on how far up my stomach they came and how they held me in place and didn’t cut into me when I was bent over!

The jersey isn’t a loose fit, but the fabric is stretchy and it feels very comfortable. Once I zipped up over my boobs, the jersey feels like a perfect fit. I absolutely love how long the jersey is at the back- I hate wearing tops which ride up as a cycle. I’m also a huge fan of the pockets at the back which is something I’ve never had before. My phone never once felt close to escaping.

Abi holds her bike on a brown gravel path. Behind her is blue skies and green ferns. She is wearing a leaf patterned cycling jersey, long bib tights and sandals.

Riding

Abi: The padding! Oh the padding! I can’t believe my bum can feel so damn comfortable in a saddle. These tights are worth buying just for the padding alone!

For our first ride, we had a couple of errands to run in town and decided to cycle to the beach afterwards. It was about 19 degrees (celsius) and very, very humid. I was a little worried about getting too hot (I tend to run very hot).

I actually felt super conspicuous in full lycra to begin with. Lili and I have always been big proponents of wear what you want cycling and I have always felt that lycra was unnecessary and a bit elitist (with the exception of padded cycling shorts, which i love). That being said, I felt super cute in the outfit. It was a bit like dress up – I felt like a professional cyclist. And because of how the clothes made me feel, I found myself in quite a good place mentally – much more willing to push myself. It was an unexpected benefit for sure. I did feel like I needed a new bike though! My clunky second hand mountain bike felt way too uncool with the clothing.

Riding felt great in general. I didn’t overheat – which astounded me. I thought I’d be hotter in long sleeves and tights, but actually the fabric seemed to help me keep cool. I’m such a n00b when it comes to technical clothing, so this probably wont come as a surprise to anyone else.

One thing I will have to get used to is having long sleeves and long trousers. I’ve always had a bit of a sensory issue with long sleeves in particular- so I was worried I’d find it unbearable to ride in. However, the lightness of the fabric makes it feel like I’m not really wearing sleeves at all. Plus the added bonus of the SPF50 protection means I would definitely wear this on a hotter day. As for the tights, I definitely prefer shorts, but these are going to be perfect for all those cooler autumn and winter days and weren’t overly hot during our test ride. Plus there are zips at the bottom of the trousers, which meant I could roll them up a bit when we rested.

Abi stands on a path leading to the sea behind her. She is wearing bib tights and a blue sports bra. The top of her bib tights are mesh vest sleeves and the bib shows off her stomach.

Lili: Sweet baby jesus, my butt has never felt so pampered! The way the tights fit, the particular dimensions of the padding, the stretch, the reassuring hold of the bib part of them. Can I just say it is very comforting to feel so held, and also know that I’m not flashing my ass crack at every passing motorist?

Our first ride we had some errands to run (book delivery day!) and it was a sunny day, so we thought we’d go visit one of our fave places in Kirkcaldy – Ravenscraig castle, and the coastal path plus beach. It felt a little odd to be riding our usual network of streets and paths in fancy cycling gear – like I suddenly felt like people would assume cycling was ‘just a hobby’ for us which is a very odd thought. Like Abi I definitely felt like our bikes didn’t match up. But, the power of wicking! I’ve heard of it, but I never really understood how *more* fabric could keep you *cooler*? Also, putting my phone in the big pocket at the back (plus facemask and fizzy vegan sweets) was really useful – and it felt really secure. There was also a little zip pocket where I could put my cards and ID just in case. This is one of the reasons I wore just the jersey top again over the top of my tshirt to go shopping today – because it meant I wasn’t having to just sling everything into a pannier (or wear the bumbag abi hates…) I figure everyone is wearing active wear anyway these days, so I may incorporate the jersey into outfits generally.

Abi lies on the grass with her hands behind her head. Her leaf patterned cycling jersey has bright orange along the underside of her arms. Above her on the ground is her black helmet and blue glasses.

Relaxing

Abi: I do not wear uncomfortable clothing, ever. I have a lot of sensory issues with fabrics and have a very restricted list of clothing I find comfortable to wear. I am happy to make some exceptions when exercising though (like wearing long sleeves), but if exercise clothing can be worn whilst relaxing too then it’s an absolute winner.

We decided to chill in the park after our ride and soak up some of the sun. I swapped out of the jersey and unzipped and rolled up the bib tights. I also rolled down the bib top after a while to try it out, although I think I actually found it more comfortable when it was on. The tights stretched with my body, so I never felt restricted whilst relaxing.

Lili: So one of the things I mentioned before was wanting to see how comfortable these were to wear off-bike – since so much of the riding we do involves errands (although obviously less so recently) and cafes (again…) and lying in the grass (plenty of this!) The tights felt really comfortable to just hang out in the park in – we changed out of our jerseys and into vest tops over the top of the bib tights to try and soak in as much of the vitamin D as possible and then just loitered on the grass (until we realised we had forgotten to hang the washing out!) The structure of them is very cool – I like the mesh panels at the back of the legs which again feel very ‘active wear’ and 100 percent something I wld wear generally. The bib part of the tights felt very comfortable when sitting, and didn’t cut into my wee tum!

Lili smiles in the foreground whilst taking the picture- they are wearing a green flowered cycling jersey. Behind Lili, Abi pushed her bike down a brown gravel path, she is wearing cycling gear- a jersey and bib tights and smiles widely. In the background a bright blue sky and large green trees.

Overall Verdict

Abi: I’m completely over the moon with both the jersey and the bib tights. I don’t think I will be wearing them for every cycle ride, but I will for longer rides and they will certainly become a regular part of my touring kit.

I rarely get to experience wearing well-fitted clothing (technical or otherwise) and it makes a huge difference to feel comfortable in what I’m wearing when cycling. This kit really ticked that box.

I didn’t realise how much not being catered to by outdoor clothing companies was affecting my feeling of belonging or legitimacy in the cycling and cycle touring community. This isn’t to say that I think you need to buy expensive gear to be a legitimate cyclist. But even just knowing that bodies like mine are being considered when brands imagine what cyclists or cycle tourers look like makes me feel that, whether I’m in lycra or cotton shorts, I’m welcome, I belong here, I fit in.

This being said, I was given size XXXL clothing- which is the largest size the new inclusive fits reach. I’m small fat, a size 20-22 UK and I know a lot of cyclists who are larger than me. I hope that this is just a first step towards even more inclusive sizing. It would be great if everyone could experience well fitted, technical gear like this; it was the positive experience I didn’t know I needed.

Lili: These prompted a lot of conversations between us about what we wear to cycle in, and why, and what we spend money on. One of the reasons we’d never invested in more athletic or specific cycling gear is because to get stuff in abi’s size felt like a lottery, and involved spending so much money on stuff we didn’t even know was worth having.

You don’t need gear like this to cycle, and I certainly feel like amateur cycling clubs and groups could definitely benefit from showing that people can participate in whatever they are comfortable in. I went on a cycle ride leader training course at the start of the year where we were told to advise people to wear like three different technical layers, and ‘unfortunately some people will show up in jeans and a hoodie’ (reader, i was wearing jeans and a hoodie)(actually, technically they were jeggings, which are like 50% lycra anyway).

On longer distances, I experience a lot less saddle sore in technical, padded bottoms, and these really were the best I’ve ever worn – comfortable the length of the ride, wicking, well fitted. I will wear them on every future ride, guaranteed, until they fall apart – and I’ll let you know when that is, because longevity is obviously a key part of kit that we can’t attest to (yet!)

The jersey feels like a treat, like the sensible part of me is like – you only need the tights – but the other part of me is like, this is so so nice, and its super comfy and light and soft, and I wanna wear it and I wanna ride in it – which is how you should feel about any cycling clothing, lycra or not. I felt really handsome in it, and it is already being added to the list of ‘my favourite items of clothing’ so I guess that’s a ringing endorsement.

Abi stands on rocks by the sea with her arms wide and a big smile on her face. She is wearing a patterned cycling jersey and long black bib tights.

Would we buy it?

Lili: We probably would never had tried this kit without MfF offering to send us some in exchange for an honest review. Both of us are inclined to make do with what we have, but I’m actually super grateful because I think I hadn’t appreciated how much a lack of cycling kit in abi’s size was making her feel like she didn’t belong in cycling, and I really noticed how much more confident she was in her own riding wearing the jersey and bib tights. Of course, more MfF kit would go on my wishlist, not just because they proved to be comfortable, well fitting and in beautiful patterns, but because they are such a solid bunch, and the values of brands we buy is important to us. However, I have my pick of cycle clothing and I would realistically go for something more in our budget if I had to get new gear anytime soon (which is unlikely, since I am going to wear this stuff to death.) That said, the kit has prompted us to rethink our priorities in our budgets for cycling stuff, and we’ve decided that the MfF kit is definitely worth it for Abi.

Abi: I would recommend both the bib tights and the jersey to anyone who can afford them, and who’s looking for technical cycling gear, especially in larger fits. Having tried it out, I can definitely see some of the benefits to riding in jerseys and bib tights, together or in combination with other items of non-cycle specific clothing. I’m definitely looking at investing in some of MfF’s shorter bib shorts at some point in the future.

A final note! We love trying cycling kit/bikes/gear and writing about it, and we feel like we can bring a different and valuable perspective! We have some pretty straightforward criteria for brands we’ll write about – if you’re interested in us trying out your stuff and wanna get in touch you can read them here and contact us on lilithandabi@gmail.com