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.
Castelli Premio 2
The Italian company Castelli has been an innovator in the cycling short arena for a long time, promoting a less bulky pad 20 years ago and continuously using garment design and fabric technology that strive for a better fitting and functioning short.
The just released Premio 2 is an update to the previous version with subtle feature and fabric changes. A couple of the new features are a fabric that offers more compression and vertically oriented leg grippers to offer better stretch at the leg opening.
The Castelli Premio 2 have the most tailoring among the shorts reviewed here with a very snug fit, and the shorts use different fabrics throughout the construction. The lumbar panel has a laminated fabric that gives the shorts a snug fit around the waist.
The bib straps are a laminate of mesh and lycra; the mesh panel has a vertical striped knit that stretches more vertically than horizontally. This helps keep the suspenders in place and the fit snug. The inseam is 28cm, about 11 inches. Uniquely, the bottom edge of the legs have no hem or band-the edge has a raw edge and vertical silicone grippers.
The Progetto X2 Air pad is seamless and measures a whopping 13mm thick at the sit bones. The pad itself is a flat 10mm. It tapers towards the front and edges. The face fabric is not laminated to the pad but floats free over it. It is soft and stretchy with a thin, perforated layer of padding itself, adding the additional 3mm. Interestingly, there is no center groove or thin area of the pad, and density seems uniform throughout the pad.
Castelli shorts are snug. You have to work them on like a pair of panty hose. I describe myself as an off-the-shelf medium, though I err to the smaller end of the medium spectrum. These are snug and fit beautifully on me. If you tend to the larger side of medium, definitely size up!
The fabrics are attractive and have a silky hand feel, like a fine suit. On the bike, these are quite comfortable, such that I am unaware of the shorts. The fabric never binds, the leg openings don’t constrict and the pad is not bulky at all.
The one flaw is the flat pad on a long ride in the saddle puts central pressure on the crotch leading to friction and pressure problems sooner with those shorts than with a pad that has a central groove separating the pad into halves. In an hour long ’cross race, these would be my choice as they feel so seamless.
Price: $279 USD
More Info: castelli-cycling.com