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.
SQLab One12 Racing Bib Shorts
SQLab does not fit into the mold of the other three. SQLab is a German component company that specializes in the contact points. Its main product is saddles, but handlebar grips are another mainstay. We saw one of the company’s saddles at Interbike 2018.
The SQLab philosophy is to design comfort into the saddle with proper fit and padding placement. The company felt riders with ill-fitting shorts or with shorts that have improper padding undermined good saddle design. To SQLab, that often meant too much padding which created pressure points that it was trying to eliminate with saddle design.
The One12 Racing Bib Shorts are an American-style medium. I did not have to peel them on or off, and the suspenders stretched on easily and did not slide off when standing upright nor when in the drop bar cycling position. The legs have an inseam of 26cm, or just over 10 inches.
The fabric is thick with a slightly stiff hand. The stretch of the fabric is less than the Rapha and Castelli. The SQLab shorts utilize a lot of different panels sewn together particularly in the inseam area. The leg bands are a thin neoprene laminate without any rubbery grip material.
Most significant is the thin, hard pad. It is 4mm thick, flat and very firm The pad has tapered edges and a smooth tricot fabric laminated to the surface. Running your hand across the surface, it is not fuzzy, but has a smoothness with low friction. There is a groove at the back portion of the pad, more to aid the fit when wearing the shorts than to relieve any pressure. With these shorts, a properly padded saddle will be necessary.
I actually like the SQLab shorts a lot for the fit and their thick fabric construction. I also personally like the thin, firm padding. A lot of the mixed-terrain riding I do is hilly, so sitting on the saddle for extended periods is infrequent. The firm pad even fared well in the tandem test, though sit bone discomfort came sooner than with the other shorts in the test. Numbness came later than some of the other shorts, however, since there is less material to bunch up centrally in the crotch.
These were great for cyclocross. The thicker fabric felt durable and acted like a semi-thermal short, and with the thin pad, I never felt like the pad my hook the saddle in a remount or other maneuver. I did not feel the thicker fabric a demerit in warmer spring weather.
Price: $199 USD
More Info: sqlab-usa.com