Friday, June 24, 2016

Gear Review - Bib Shorts

A word on a seriously important subject, ok the title gave it away but I am sure you will agree that good shorts can make or break a ride.  Well that is what all the manufacturers will have you believe and having spent multiple 7 hour days in the saddle I wanted to share my totally unscientific finding with you.

First and foremost I am a big believer in how the kit we buy makes us feel.  We will justify and adjust to almost anything if it makes us feel good.  That at the end of the day is what branding is all about.  We identify with what the product stands for, represents or symbolizes and in doing so we feel great about ourselves through a mix of internalizing the feeling and lets be honest sending a message to others.

So what has this got to do with shorts I hear you say.  Well until this year I had not really thought much about the quality of shorts.  To be honest I still have shorts that I use on my trainer that are 10+ years old and they work just great.  No the padding has not worn out and no I don't get sore and yes they get washed after every ride. 

The only real consideration I had was to make sure the padding felt good and that I liked the design.  As a result many of my shorts turned out to be made by Champion Systems.  Not because I chose the brand but because the kit was manufactured by them.

Then I discovered the dark secrets of high end quality shorts, or did I just get sucked into the marketing hype.  As I prepared for my Tour of California adventure it seemed reasonable and logical that high end shorts would make my time in the saddle more comfortable.  The decision was helped after a long weekend training ride when I noticed that after 5 hours my Champion System shorts were certainly less comfortable. Yes, my bum ached.

With so much invested in my trip I was not going to cut corners with my choice of clothing.  I went on the hunt for the best shorts on the market.  It was then that I was introduced to Assos shorts.  To give you some idea of  my cycling fashion awareness, I had no idea of the elite status of Assos.  Sure I knew it was a well known brand but that was it.  The next shock was how much Assos clothing cost.  The people I talked to and the articles I read all told me that Assos bib shorts where the best in the World and the "crème de la crème" was the T.Championissimo_S7.  They certainly had the best price tag.

I am going to humbly admit that I am just as susceptible to branding as anyone, ok I might be more susceptible than most and yes I like wearing high quality kit that others admire.  There I said it, I know it is vain but no point beating around the bush.   The elitism of Assos spoke directly to my ego and whilst my back was turned, my brain and ego got together to justify the need to own the shorts despite a tiny suppressed voice deep in my conscious yelling "what the hell are you thinking", needless to say I ignored it and helped by an unexpected but welcome discount I was the proud owner of a pair of T-Championissimo_S7 bib shorts.

So what did I think of them? Well they are comfortable and I like the low cut front when it comes to quick pee breaks.  I would love to say I had an "aaaahhhh" moment when I put them on, or when riding but I simple did not.  Don't get me wrong they are comfortable I just did not experience the wow factor everyone talked about.  One thing I do not like is the light color of the pad, lets face it with race nerves and chamy cream, well lets just say shorts need washing after every use.

Despite what you have just read after a number of comfortable rides and the need for three pairs of shorts for my trip I rationalized that having the same shorts would be the best idea so I resolved to acquire two more pairs.  Fate however had other ideas.  At the last minute my order for two pairs went south and I was left hanging.  Despite the cost it seemed that demand was high and I could not find anyone who had availability before my trip.

What to do?  Well I could go with another brand, but which one.  I would love to say at this point that I have experience with all brands.  That would be cool but not true.  The only other brand I had experience with was Rapha.  Rapha is a premium brand from the UK and one that I have mixed emotions about.  I am a big fan of their designs and when they fit I have been extremely happy with them, however the sizing is somewhat hit and miss.  The good news is that they have an excellent return policy which makes purchasing different sizes easy to do if you don't mind going through the hassle of returning the ones that don't fit.  In general the quality is great but I can't say it is hands down better than any other brand I have owned.  It does however feel special to me and I am unashamedly bought into that feeling whilst knowing I am sometimes paying a premium of the design, the name and the feeling I get wearing them.

So with nowhere else to go for shorts and not wanting to try the unknown I opted for Rapha.  I selected both lightweight and brevet bib shorts.  The good news was that they were half the price of the Assos shorts but would that show up in quality and ride comfort.  Well time would tell.

They arrived on time and true to form the sizing was all over the place.  The Brevet shorts were too big but luckily the Lightweight shorts fitted.  I am going to have to say putting them on felt good and I really liked the design much more than the Assos shorts.  The fabric of the Brevet shorts felt really soft and comfortable but alas I would not be able to return them in time for the trip.

So armed with my one pair of Assos T-Championissimo_s7 and two pairs of Rapha Lightweight bib shorts I headed out to put them through the paces over 8 days and 740 miles.  So what was the verdict?  I really could not tell any difference between the Rapha and Assos shorts and whilst I would love to say there was something about the Assos shorts that warrants double the price. For my undercarriage the value just was not there.   The one thing they have going for them is the statement that you are wearing the most expensive and exclusive shorts on the market.  If that floats your boat then they could be for you. 

As a result of my totally unscientific experiment  I discovered that for rides around 3-4 hours Champion System bibs are just fine.  For longer rides both the Assos and Rapha shorts performed equally well while I did notice increased discomfort with the Champion System shorts. 

May you always ride in comfort and until next time keep it Rubber Side Down and MaxLifeOut

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