Colder temps or trainer days got you down? Thermal cycling clothes can make riding outdoors this time of year a lot more pleasant. Clifford Lee compares some affordable and pricey bib shorts to help you determine if you really get what you pay for, and perhaps, find a good value gift for you cycling loved one.
We are in the midst of Autumn in the Northern Hemisphere and well into the cyclocross season, but some days it feels like winter, especially for this San Francisco resident. Depending on your locale, the nights are cold, but the temperature warms during the day. Thermal Shorts sounds like an oxymoron, but we find it is a key piece of cycling kit for the shoulder seasons of Spring and Fall. Thermal bib shorts typically have fleeced fabric. Paired with leg warmers, knee warmers, or “Belgian knee warmers,” to provide the leg insulation you desire. If you have a cyclist on your gift list, this could be an item missing from their kit.
We compared three examples of thermal bib shorts in this review, from bargain-priced to quite expensive. At the inexpensive end, Decathlon provided Van Reysel Winter bib shorts for review. These are $70 and are available directly from Decathlon. On the high-cost end, we purchased a pair of Rapha Pro Team Winter bib shorts directly from Rapha. These retail for $290, though we bought last season’s color during the summer on Sale directly from Rapha for $135. For a mid-range pair, we thought the Endura FS260 Pro Thermal Bibshort would be a good choice. This retails for $130 directly from Endura though we kindly received a review sample when we asked.
Decathlon Van Rysel Winter Bib Shorts, $70
The French company Decathlon, one of the largest sporting goods companies in the world, has a limited presence in the United States. The few Decathlon stores in America have since closed as Decathlon focuses on its online presence and partnerships with some retail partners. Cycling is one of the big departments of Decathlon. Some may recall the French professional road team AG2R rode Decathlon bikes in the early 2000’s later to be Decathlon’s B’Twin brand in 2007. Decathlon provided clothing to French cycling teams for a decade from the late 1990s through the mid-2000s They re-entered professional cycling sponsorship this year, providing the French CCofidisteam’s clothing. The Van Rysel brand is a signature Decathlon brand born in 2019. There is a long blog post on the Decathlon site about the Van Rysel name.
The Van Rysel Winter bib shorts are entirely fleeced spandex fabric except for the mesh bib straps. The horizontal leg bands at the bottom of the shorts are also of the fleeced stretch fabric and importantly have no rubberized leg gripper bands. The fabric hand is soft with a not-so-shiny outer face that seems to have a DWR (Durable Water Repellant coating) since water rolls right off the surface when placed under a stream of running water. Construction is a multi-panel, ergonomic shape with a relatively high front rise. Construction quality is very good with excellent flat seams and excellent stitching. The Van Rysel Winter bib shorts are manufactured for Decathlon in China.
The Decathlon B’Twin brand seat pad has two thicknesses. The thick zone is about 5mm, fairly dense, and in the position where you’d expect under the sit bones. The thin zone is along a middle channel and the outer edges. The pad surface is soft, not as fleecy as the shorts fabric, and stretchy. The pad lays flat, meaning it has to bend to match the shape of the shorts.
Other features include a vertical reflective band on the front of the left leg and a small Van Rysel logo just above that in white. The inseam is 10 inches.
The Van Rysel sample is size M which fits quite well on my off-the-shelf medium physique 5’10”, 155 lbs. The front rise comes up to my navel which is high compared to a pair of summer shorts. Fit is optimum for the standard cycling position and I have experienced no fabric bunching. The seat pad is in the correct position with no binding, bunching, or extraordinary friction. Padding thickness and density are good but compress down on rides longer than a couple of hours. The Van Rysel Winter bib shorts ride up a bit once on the bike because they lack rubberized leg grippers, but the soft leg opening is very comfortable. However, they will not hold up knee or leg warmers quite as well as short with a gripper of some sort. I thought the design and construction is very good, the fit also is very good, and the pad is average.
Endura FS260 Pro Thermo Bib Shorts, $130
Endura is a well-known UK brand of cycling clothing, especially in the mountain bike category. Recently Endura entered the road cycling category in a big way with the sponsorship of the Movistar ProTour team for six seasons ending in 2019. The partnership with Movistar drove the technological development of fabric, design, and execution for Endura’s road and drop-bar cycling clothing.
The entire body of the Endura FS260 Pro Thermal bib shorts is Thermoroubaix® fleeced spandex fabric. A small section across the front is a wind-stopping membrane within the fabric. The bib straps are a lighter stretch fabric that has a fleece inner surface with a mesh texture-sort of a fleece mesh. The circumferential leg band is a wide ribbed elastic fabric with a rubbery inner texture. The shorts fabric has a soft hand and a DWR to make water run off the surface. Construction is a multi-panel ergonomic design with a very high front panel. Uniquely, a zipper splits the front panel. Construction quality is very good, with very good stitching, but none of the seams are flatlocked. FS260 Pro Thermal bib shorts are manufactured for Endura in China.
The seat pad is the “Endura 600 series”. This pad has 4 thicknesses with a brushed surface. The thickest is about 5mm with its position correctly under the sit bones. Pad density is medium, similar to Van Rysel. The other thickness zones are around the sit bones, with a channel down the middle. The pad appears quite sophisticated with a soft brushed surface, various thicknesses, and waffle-like foam texture. The pad lays flat so it too has to bend to form to the shape of the shorts.
Endura logos are on each leg, and twin reflective strips are vertically on the back of each leg elastic band. The inseam is 10 inches
Endura sizing is different than most other brands. I mentioned I am an off-the-shelf medium, but the Endura size chart puts me squarely in the size S. That said, the FS260 Pro Thermal bib shorts fit like a snug M of other brands. Similar to the fit of Castelli M shorts if you are familiar with that brand. If you err on the larger size of M, size up and the Endura M should fit, but always consult the size guide.
The FS260 Pro Thermal bib shorts are unique with a zippered front with wind-stopping panels. The front of the bib comes quite high, an inch past my navel. When bent over in the aero position, the front moves up to the bottom of my solar plexus. The zipper is a necessary feature on these shorts for putting them on, nature breaks and adjusting comfort. If you have a bit of a stomach bulge, the high rise may not be comfortable, or you may leave the zipper down for more comfort.
Thanks to the leg grippers, the shorts stay in place. The gripping strips also hold knee or leg warmers quite well. Alone, the tight rubberized leg band can be uncomfortable for some riders. I think the design of the Endura FS260 is thoughtful – I like the weather protection the high front and small wind-resistant panels theoretically offer. I also like the zipper to accommodate this high front design. However, the high front rise is quirky and might be uncomfortable for some riders. That aside, the overall fit is very good. Construction is average without flatlock seams. Although the pad appears sophisticated, its performance is average.
Rapha Pro Team Winter Bib Shorts, $290
Rapha is a cycling lifestyle brand founded 18 years ago in London. Rapha popularized subdued cycling fashion, then brilliantly promoted the brand worldwide by opening stores with a club atmosphere, hosting rides and events, and producing videos in diverse locations often featuring cycling icons. Rapha, along with Focus Bicycles, sponsored Cyclocross star and 4 time National Cyclocross Champion Jeremy Powers for many years during the height of his career. Rapha is now a cycling icon itself.
The Rapha Pro Team Winter Bib shorts utilize several fabrics, the majority of the shorts using Thermoroubaix® fleece spandex. The front panels and front of the legs have a wind-blocking layer. The back and crotch fabric is stretch waterproof laminate fabric. The bib straps are a lightly textured stretch fabric in a contrasting color. The circumferential leg band is a wide thick elastic with small rubbery dots on the inner surface.
Thermoroubaix® fabric has a soft hand, and even the front wind-blocking panels share that softness. The rear and crotch panels are a bit stiffer. A DWR causes water to run off the surface of all areas of the shorts. The multi-panel, multi-fabric design is ergonomic.
Rapha’s Pro Team seat pad is 2 thicknesses. The thick area is beneath the sit bones and along the crotch. The thin area is along the middle and also surrounds the thick pad. The 7mm thick pad is quite thick, but the curved and shaped pad forms with the shorts.
Other features include small reflective tags on the outside seam of each leg and reflective Rapha graphics. The inseam is 11 inches.
The construction quality is very good with excellent flatlock seams throughout. However, after only a few uses, a short area of the stitching along the seat pad edge is unraveling. I contacted Rapha about this and they offered a replacement, refund, or no-charge repair. Rapha Pro Team Winter bib shorts are manufactured in Portugal.
The Rapha Pro Team Winter bib shorts have small reflector tabs on the outside seam of each leg, but also the Rapha logos on each leg are reflective.
Almost $300 is a lot for a pair of bib shorts, even feature-rich as are the Rapha Pro Team Thermal bib shorts. I was lucky to find them in my size on sale directly from Rapha at more than 50% off, limited to a single color from the previous season. After a few rides and washes, I noticed an unraveling stitch, something we also saw with Rapha bib tights early in CXM’s days. Rapha quickly addressed this. I chose a replacement, but Rapha does not have the Pro Team Winter bib shorts in my size for the remainder of the season. I like the shorts, so I then chose repair over the refund.
I like the fit of the Rapha Pro Team Winter bib shorts. It fits well in the cycling position, does not wrinkle or bind, and the pad is comfortable. In a previous review of bib shorts, the Rapha Classic bib shorts won for long-distance comfort. The thick, contour-shaped pad helps, but some won’t like the thickness. The thoughtfulness with the placement of different fabrics puts these shorts on top for design, and because of the wind-stopping fabric on the front of the legs, and waterproof fabric on the rear panel, offer the best weather protection, especially in wet cold conditions.
Do You Get What You Pay For?
All the shorts fit well and exhibit good stitching and construction. The low-priced Van Rysel Winter and expensive Rapha Pro Team Winter both have flatlock seam construction, yielding less bulk and generally a more durable seam. The Rapha shorts had a problem with the pad seam, but Rapha quickly addressed the manufacturing defect. I followed the fitting guides for each respective company and the three shorts fit well. The inexpensive Van Rysel are basic thermal bib shorts that offer a fleece stretch fabric with a DWR, and an average seat pad. Endura’s FS260 Pro Thermal Bib shorts use similar fabric and have leg gripper elastic, some small wind-stopping panels, and a high front with a zipper. These additional features cost you almost twice as much as the Van Rysel Thermal shorts. The Endura pad looks more sophisticated but performs similarly in use. Leg grippers are certainly helpful for keeping the shorts from riding up and holding leg or knee warmers, but the high-zippered front is unnecessary.
The Rapha Pro Team Winter bib shorts are 4 times the price of the Van Rysel Winter and more than twice the price of the Endura FS260 Thermal. There is more weather protection with multi-fabric construction and the formed pad is more comfortable for me. Thoughtfulness and sourcing cost time and money. The leg bands and grippers are more comfortable. There is Rapha-direct customer service with a repair program. The shorts are manufactured in Europe. You pay a bit more for each of those details. Then there is the cache and fashion which is intangible and perhaps unnecessary. I was lucky to find the Rapha Pro Team Winter bib shorts on sale. You have to be lucky and indiscriminate about the color choice to get that advantage.
You can buy 4 pairs of comfortable Decathlon Van Rysel Winter bib shorts, but they still won’t hold up your leg or knee warmers as well as the Endura FS260 Pro Thermal bib shorts or the Rapha Pro Team Winter bib shorts. When it begins to rain, all the shorts will hold up for a short time, but the Windstopper front leg panels and rear splash panel of the Rapha Pro Team Winter bib shorts may keep you more comfortable in uncomfortable conditions. That’s priceless.
Decathlon Van Rysel Winter bib shorts $70
Endura FS260 Pro Thermal bib shorts $130
Rapha Pro Team Winter bib shorts $290