Some years back I came across a set of bib shorts made from Roubaix Lycra. Back then, Giordana was the only company I knew was producing such a garment. Before I encountered them I thought that Roubaix Lycra was strictly the province of arm, leg and knee warmers, tights and knickers. It would be a few years before I saw long-sleeve skinsuits made of the stuff for ‘cross racers.
My introduction to them was accompanied by the same exuberant Aha! I experienced when someone first showed me Tegaderm. It was a product utterly useless for most of the year, but when you needed it, nothing else would do, and I knew when you wanted such a device.
Bibs such as these were intended for days that get described as atrocious, nasty and epic. These bibs are what you pair with embrocations of such heat that a shower eight hours after application is still uncomfortable. In short, if you need an embro marked “nuclear,” then you deserve shorts made from something that offers greater insulation than 8-ounce Lycra can.
What became of that first pair I encountered, I don’t know. One winter day I went digging in a box of seldom-used winter stuff and they had vaporized. I missed them the way you miss certain heavy metal albums: almost never, but occasionally, nothing else suits the mood (or conditions).
At Interbike I learned about the Castelli Claudio bib shorts. These are one of a handful of thermal bibs on the market; naturally, Assos does a pair as well. They are cut from Castelli’s Nanoflex fabric, which is used in the company’s best tights, knickers and warmers. Nanoflex is a thermal Lycra coasted with tiny (nano—get it?) silicone fibers that makes the fabric unusually water repellant. I didn’t appreciate just how water repellant it was until I saw some water dumped on the material when it was cupped in someone’s hand and the water just rolled around on the fabric without soaking in. You could say that Nanoflex is Roubaix Lycra for the 21st century.
The bibs are cut from a polyester mesh so that your torso doesn’t get overheated and moisture is wicked away quickly. These bibs are equipped with Castelli’s KISS3 pad, which, while not the company’s top-of-the-line pad is honestly better than most companies’ best pads. The leg grippers are industry-standard silicone ones that are completely ineffective on a properly embro’d leg, not that I mind.
I log the vast majority of my winter miles in the morning when there’s not a lot of light. Even so, I don’t usually tend to get too excited about reflective accents, but I do think it was pretty bright to make the reflective spots on the back of the bibs actual tags that protrude from seams on the hips so they can be seen from more angles than just directly behind the rider.
I used to pull out the set of thermal bibs I had any time conditions turned both cold and wet. I’m not a fan of soaked knee warmers, Philippe Gilbert at Lombardy notwithstanding. I referred to the combination of those bibs with a hot embrocation as the secret weapon.
It would be easy to reject special-purpose bibs if they ran $300. The Claudio bibs are only $129, affordable enough to be worth adding to your winter wardrobe.
While I haven’t had a chance to try these bibs in truly cold temperatures, I frequently used my previous set down into the 40s. Castelli says these are appropriate for temps between 50 and 64 degrees, but I suspect you’ll find them handy in even cooler conditions.
We all need a secret weapon. Staying comfortable is mine.