SmartWool Flagstaff Bibs

Plain black shorts went out of style for me somewhere between 1992 and 1995. I can’t recall the specific season, but by the time Miguel Indurain stood on the winner’s dais on the Champs Elysees in 1995, I had weeded every last pair of plain black shorts from my cycling wardrobe. By that Sunday in late July, all of my shorts were bibs and had sublimated panels in them.

I didn’t wake up one day with a grudge against black shorts. I was simply following my nose. I was by no means hip, but in my effort to emulate the fastest guys I rode with, among the many lessons I filed away, one note I took to myself was that fast guys have so many old pairs of sublimated team shorts that they have no black shorts in their wardrobe. To me, it was like being so rich that your daily driver was a Porsche 928.

And so I tossed anything that didn’t make a bolder statement than who manufactured the shorts. I tossed everything without bibs. Once, when a friend who didn’t race asked me why all my shorts advertised for someone, even companies that weren’t current sponsors of my team, I responded, “If they were ever willing to support cycling, even if for only a year, I’m still willing to support them today.”

It’s an answer in which I still believe.

For more than 10 years, there was only one pair of bibs that were exempt from this rule. As you can guess, they were the single pair of Assos bibs I owned. (Well, to be honest, I also had a pair of Assos bib knickers that I would press into service during bumper seasons, but because I never wore them during the same time of year, it wasn’t like I had two sets of black shorts in rotation at the same time.)

For more than 10 years I didn’t think anyone other than Assos was making a pair of bibs so noteworthy as to merit consideration if they lacked a sublimated panel bearing the name of a team. Perhaps it had something to do with my desire to be a part of a community, that to be part of a team meant I knew the secret handshake. Part of it certainly was related to my racing; fast guys are on teams and I was still trying to prove I was fast.

At some point comfort and fit became an acceptable alternative to the cool unity of the team bibs, kinda like the Snuggie for the cycling set.

When I got word that SmartWool was producing merino wool bib shorts just before Interbike, I was very curious and asked to review a pair right away. My first question concerned fit and support. I wanted to know if they’d offer the support and fit I’ve come to expect from other bibs. Those of you who have experience with wool shorts of yesteryear will recall that most of them had so much stretch that you couldn’t really claim they offered support for much of anything, not your junk or your muscles.

The Flagstaff bibs are literally what I’ve been waiting to see someone release ever since wool jerseys began making a comeback in current product lines, rather than just second-hand stores. The fit is terrific, with proportions between the caboose and upper thighs matched well to the shape of the avid—not PRO—cyclist. Further, they don’t stretch out over the course of the ride the way my merino jerseys do. As it turns out, getting home with a garment three inches longer than when I left isn’t my favorite.

To achieve the fit and support they do, SmartWool did cheat a bit. Wool only makes up 39 percent of the short fabric; 45 percent is nylon and 16 percent is elastic. In the bib, wool comprises 96 percent of the weave while the final four percent is elastic. But the story doesn’t end there; the weave used in the short is designed so that only wool touches your skin except for the grippers. Modern look outside, old-school feel inside.

These bibs receive other updates as compared to the old-style wool shorts. They feature an eight-panel design and flatlock seems for a form-following and less binding fit. Silicon gripper elastic keeps the cuff in place and if you’re the sort who doesn’t like the feel of gripper elastic against your skin and perfers to fold it up, the elastic features the SmartWool logo oriented upside down so others can get clued in to your choice.

The pad comes from high-end manufacturer Cytech and features—what else?—a merino cover. I’ve become a big fan of Cytech pads; they are to four-hour comfort what butter is to French cooking.

Perhaps my favorite feature of the shorts is how they have proven to be just a tad warmer than my other bibs. I’ve worn them on several recent morning when temperatures have dipped low enough in the early morning for me to summon all manner of thermal gear. Those black bibs pair perfectly with black leg warmers and a thermal jacket to which the matching bibs wore out years ago.

Available in four sizes, S-XL. Suggested retail is $150.



    1. Author

      Thom: Because the Flagstaffs are part of SmartWool’s spring/summer collection, they aren’t up on the web site yet, but should be soon. Your dealer should already be able to order them.

  1. Charles Cushman

    I didn’t realize that plain black bibs weren’t pro. If I am not wearing my club kit I prefer plain bibs so that I don’t have to worry about color coordination issues with my jerseys.

    Padraig, have you found a wool jersey that does not stretch during the course of a ride? I love the feel of mine, but the flapping in the wind becomes annoying.

    1. Author

      Whether black bibs are PRO or not may have something to do with the region you ride in. Around here, if they aren’t team-issue, they had better be pretty trick.

      I have yet to find a wool jersey that doesn’t end up trailing like a mud flap. I’m going to consider going with an XS next time I try one and will avoid using the pockets.

  2. Touriste-Routier

    In my almost 30 years of riding, I’ve never really strayed from black shorts. I never had the gusto or ego to pull off the Cipollini Clown Suits. Plus, black has always been rather functional in terms of a place to wipe your hands after touching tire or chain.

    I was never a fan of bibs, but am thinking that these might be worth a try, particularly in foul weather.

    As for the stretching of wool jerseys, when I started riding the majority of jerseys were 80% wool & 20% acrylic. The acrylic was added to help prevent the stretching and sagging, and while not perfect, seemed to do an OK job.

    Wool’s resurgence has seen a shift largely to 100% wool in jerseys, which is likely part of the problem. In order to meet certain price points (per my discussion with several wool jersey manufacturers), they are also using thinner (lighter) fabrics, which is also probably contributing to the problem.

  3. souleur

    I have always had a love for the black bibs, since the day:-) It really is hard to find a straight black pair of bibs without advertisements or other unwanted paraphinalia on it as that is what most of the market has gone to. Some like that, hey, its fine, I have many friends that will ride nothing but white multi-colored that match their jersey as well. I like the simple & understated black, thats all. These sound like a very nice pair for me to check out, thanks for the heads up.

  4. MattS

    Since you mention these are only slightly warmer than a normal bib, Padraig, I wonder whether you or any others are aware of a good mid weight bib that would be suited to cooler/cold conditions? Up here my riding mates and I often find ourselves wishing we had mid-weight bibs on to match the warmth of our heavier knee warmers (like the Ibex merino ones). Sure, knickers are an option, and we use them too, but it would be nice to have a heavier pair of bibs to wear with knee or leg warmers or underneath tights without chamois. In the winter I always wish I had more insulation under my tights.

  5. hans

    Black has always been the new black. I have always gone that route for all the mentions above – dirt, classic, classy, understated, no clash.

    I have been looking for some new shorts – I could certainly try these but they are even more money than other options (Performance bike and others).

    Otherwise the Giordana Corsa were going to be it – but I can’t find them anywhere now. Why can’t they just make some simple, inexpensive and black bib shorts? Because they sell out immediately!

    If they were cheaper I would buy five of them and actually get some ro-tay-shun goin’ on!

  6. randomactsofcycling

    Black is definitely classic and bibs rule! Not only are they comfortable and stop the chamois from moving around, they are much more flattering! I have a couple of Santini wool jerseys and while I love them, they are only used for short rides where I don’t have to load up the pockets. A little sad, because they are comfortable and warm and perfect for a Sydney winter ride.

  7. wolfman

    The Ibex bib’s are pretty warm and go nicely with knee warmers but if you have bulky thighs they can strangle a little. I cut one little hole in the gripper on each panel to deal with this and it seams to have helped.

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