Cycling shorts are one of the most important pieces of clothing for the serious cyclist. The close-fitting shorts were originally from tightly knit wool with a piece of deer skin as a liner pad to avoid saddle sores. Cycling shorts have not changed conceptually, but they do employ significant design and material improvements compared to the wool and leather counterpart of yore.
As we move into the heart of summer, rides are longer and temperatures are higher. With drop bar gravel riding as one of the fastest growing categories of cycling, comfort on long mixed terrain rides becomes a concern, unlike an hour long cyclocross race. Paramount to that comfort in the saddle (considering you have a saddle that fits and is properly adjusted) is the short liner pad and the fit of the shorts.
In recent months, we have had four top-end bib shorts from prominent cycling clothing companies under review. We evaluated shorts from these companies because they have historically introduced new technologies to cycling shorts that others have copied.
The innovations start at the high end with input from sponsored racers, and that technology trickles down to the other products in their lines. The companies sent bib shorts, the most popular style among enthusiasts since the design offers more comfort by removing pressure around the waist.
The shorts are: Assos XC Bib Shorts, Castelli Premio 2, Rapha Classic Bib Shorts II and SQ Lab One12 Racing Bib Shorts.
Getting a pair of bibs with the proper fit is essential. For reference, all shorts were size M. I am an off-the-shelf medium, size 38, European 3, 5’10”, 31-inch waist, 155 pounds. Each pair was ridden several times on different saddles. Washing the shorts over the evaluation period in a top load washer according to instructions gave me an idea whether the characteristics change with a wash.
One true test of short padding was my road tandem test. We have a tendency to stand less when on the tandem, often choosing to spin up in the saddle. That places significantly more time actually sitting in the saddle, leading to discomfort of many types.
To read about each of the four bib shorts, scroll through using the next button.
Assos XC Bib Shorts
Assos of Switzerland has the claim to fame of producing the first lycra cycling shorts in the late 1970s. Since then, Assos has had a reputation of being at the highest end for innovation, fit and finish. Assos started to produce mountain bike specific clothing in 2014 and most recently sponsored the BMC MTB Racing Team to aid the further development of off-road specific product.
The Assos XC bibshorts are unique, with a tear and abrasion resistant fabric Assos calls dynaRope. The textile has a stiff hand with four-way stretch and a rip-stop weave and texture. The rest of the shorts have a lycra construction with a low front panel—lower than other examples in this review.
The suspenders are rather simple 4.5cm-wide elastic straps mounted out towards your hip bones, further than the other shorts in this review. There is no mesh back panel, rather the elastic suspenders simply cross in the middle of your back, like farmer’s suspenders. The inseam is 28cm, but there is no actual inseam—Assos designed a seamless inner thigh panel. The leg opening has a wide elastic band with a mildly rubbery inner texture.
Assos designed a mountain bike specific pad considering performance. Off-road riders sit more upright than most performance road riders. The pad is 11mm thick, including a perforated foam lined surface fabric laminated to a thicker pad that Assos says is a type of memory foam.
There are actually two separate thick pads offering a groove in the center. Uniquely, the pad is only attached to the shorts along the front and back of the pad—the rest “floats” free. The purpose of this is to reduce friction to allow the pad with its elastic interface to stay with the rider as the shorts move.
The Assos XC Bib Shorts have a snug “European medium” fit that is not quite as snug as the Castelli Premio 2 but similar. Again, if you tend to the larger side of medium or like a less tight fit, size up one.
They don’t feel quite as seamless as the Castelli Premio 2 since the pad shape makes it bulkier despite being thinner, and the dynaRope side panels are stiffer and textured. The side panels are good in theory to prevent an abrasive tear should you crash or graze a tree or rock (ouch).
The fabric’s stiffness is noticeable and bothersome initially; it binds at the hip flexion point and feels scratchy. I quickly became accustomed to the odd feel and mostly did not notice over the long term. Certainly the BMC MTB Racing Team would ask for alterations if it was a universal problem.
The widely spaced suspenders with the simple criss-cross suspenders are remarkably comfortable. The wide positioning means the straps avoid running over your nipples. This, along with the low cut front makes your front torso feel more open or free.
The pad that Assos says is memory foam does not have the feel of a Posturpedic mattress, and I am not convinced it had any memory at all. Regardless the pad is quite comfortable and fared well against pressure and friction ills on long rides in the saddle.
Price: $239 USD
More Info: assos.com