Assos FI.Mille S5 Bib Shorts

When I pulled on the FI.Mille bibs, I felt as good as this guy looks.

I can’t tell you where or how I first heard of Assos apparel. It was some time in the early 1990s. What I can tell you was what lodged in my memory of the conversation: the emphatic assertion that Assos was better than anything I’d ever tried. It was as if a friend told me, “Look, I know you think The Who are the greatest band ever, but these guys are 10 times better and once you hear them, you’ll agree. Just trust me on this.”

Eventually, I located a catalog and saw that they made bib knickers with a synthetic chamois. Holy cow. After some more searching I learned that the only remotely convenient way to order a set was through O’Neil’s Bike Shop in Worcester, Mass. I called, discussed sizing and trusted them when they said to go with large (I’d never owned a large anything in cycling apparel), gave them my credit card info after taking a painfully deep breath and waited all of two days for the knickers to arrive.

The bibs were cut from Roubaix Lycra, and as this was the early 1990s, they were the first bib anything I’d ever seen to use the material. The front of the bib was cut high to give your torso extra insulation and they included a short zipper to help you when you needed to answer the call of nature. The pad was unquestionably superior to anything else I’d ever rested my undercarriage on. The cut was cycling’s answer to Armani, just impeccable. They changed my fall and spring riding in New England.

I still wear them.

As great as Assos’ jerseys, jackets and other apparel are, they are known for their bibs the way Ferrari is known for fast. Honestly, though, because their stuff lasts so long, it had been a while since I tried any of the current models. I elected to go with the F.I. Mille S5 bibs because they are made for the long day.

I’ve worn a bunch of bibs in the last two years. Some have been good. Some have featured Lycra thinner than saran wrap. The first thing I noticed about the Milles was the weight of the Lycra. It was substantial, like it was made to last.

The pad is made by Cytech, purveyors of the Elastic Interface brand of pads. Rather than this being yet another off-the-shelf (though often wonderful) pads, the unit contained within the Mille bibs is unique to more than Assos; it’s unique to these bibs. The golf-ball dimples are intended to relieve pressure and speed moisture transfer away from your netherest of regions.

The key to the Mille’s mission as a bib for all-day riding is the density of the foam used in the pad. I can tell you it offers greater support without increased thickness compared to other bibs, but that assessment may still seem subjective. Instead, I’ll offer this: It takes the Mille bibs a full day longer to dry on the rack than any other bibs I own. However, the pad’s most important feature isn’t the dimpling or the density of the foam; rather it’s the fact that it is manufactured with a cupped shape.

I’ve tried bibs with an allegedly anatomic curve before and noticed no significant improvement over traditional flat-made chamois. The Mille pad amazed me with its ability to keep everything situated just so without giving a corset-like squeeze. According to Assos’ internal research, the pocket of the chamois decreases pressure on the gear by 20 percent. How they arrived at this quantification, I can’t say, but I can tell you the claim has legs.

Between the foam and the cover of the pad is a thin mesh panel sewn in place to decrease sideways stretch. This is meant to keep the pad in position on the sit bones; it is Assos’ observation that if a pad stretches too much your sit bones can wind up between the two densest portions of the foam, as if you were slipping into a toilet seat that is too large. This wouldn’t be necessary in some shorts, but they feel it’s needed in these due to the high stretch factor of the Lycra.

Stranger still is the fact that these bibs are cut from just four (4!) panels. There are bibs out in the world with so many panels, I’ve lost count. In talking with the folks at Assos they tell me that the key to the success of the Mille bibs is the orientation of the fabric panels so that they stretch in the directions the body requires. I’m told that their patterning is hell on efficient use of the material, but they manage to make it work by incorporating the scraps into items like gloves.

With only four panels, the subject of seams and how they are finished loses importance because the opportunity for irritation has been cut so drastically. The actual bib portion of the shorts is made from an exceptionally lightweight polyester with a waffle-type weave, again, for moisture movement away from the body.

For all those of you doubtful that you possess the kind of cyclist’s body ideal for which Assos clothing is typically cut, these bibs, I can assure you, offer virtually all cyclists a chance to go Swiss. They come in six sizes—small through TIR (which is what they put on the back of trucks in Europe to indicate wide loads). I wear large in Assos, Castelli and Panache, but medium in most American lines. Draw what comparisons you may.

While the bibs I reviewed were basic black and required no special treatment in the laundry—that is, nothing beyond the basics of cold, gentle, hang dry—they do come in other colors including blue, white and red. And let me tell you, there are lipsticks and Ferraris that wish their red was as lust-inducing as the red found in Assos garments.

I’ll admit that I had largely made up my mind about whether or not I liked the Mille bibs within four or five seconds of pulling the straps over my shoulders. The combination of support and comfort was unlike anything I’d ever felt. Five hours later when I got off the bike the undercarriage was two-hour happy.

The grippers on the Mille bibs are dots of silicone spaced approximately every 2cm around the leg band. I’ve never had trouble with grippers the way some of my friends have, but I suspect that some folks may find these more comfortable than some of the grippers out there. Or maybe not; it’s impossible for me to say.

The reflective tags that protrude from the centerline seams at the front and back of each leg are well done and will certainly aid your visibility to alert drivers. But probably only the alert ones.

Assos takes a lot of guff for making products that are (to some) incomprehensibly expensive. Last fall at Interbike I had the opportunity to talk to some of Assos’ higher-ups. The message was loud and clear. They are driven to make the very best clothing they can. If it costs more, so be it. COO Carl Bergman told me that he works long hours and doesn’t get to ride as much as he’d like. When he gets on the bike, he wants every minute to count; he wants an exceptional experience.

“This is our passion,” he told me. I got the impression that he’d leave the bike industry rather than compromise on principles.

To help convey the belief that these aren’t just another pair of bibs, Assos takes an unusual approach in packaging them. They come in a box (okay, big deal), but in that box the buyer also receives a washing bag, laundry soap and a container of Assos’ beloved chamois cream. Think of the purchase as a starter kit rather than just a pair of bibs. There’s no doubt that paying $260 for a pair of bibs is a lot of money, but I think they do an admirable job of conveying the idea that you’re getting your nickels’-worth.

Consider for a moment my tale of the bib knickers. Suppose for a moment that you purchase a pair of Assos bibs and they last five seasons. How many other bibs do you own that have lasted that long? I expect that with reasonable care they will last even longer than that. Amortized over the life of the garment, $260 isn’t such a bad investment. My last pair of Voler bibs may have cost 25 percent of what the Mille bibs do, but they didn’t really even hold up a full season. C’est la vie.

My one criticism of this garment? It’s actually a criticism of Assos as a whole. Their naming conventions are arcane to the point of lacking meaning. I’ve got a graduate degree—in English!—and until their staff identifies a piece by name, I swear I don’t know what to call it. This is where they ought to take a page from BMW’s playbook. Their model numbers do a face-value service to identifying the rank of the vehicle within their line.

My personal experience with the Mille bibs is that they are as close to flawless as I’ve experienced. There’s no question they are superior to anything else I’ve worn.

Of course, such a positive review leaves RKP open to the criticism that Assos in effect purchased this review by virtue of the fact that they advertise on the blog. As I’m sensitive to any and all criticism the blog receives, I can say I don’t need the hassle that comes with selling editorial. I have been paid to write glowing copy for a fair number of manufacturers; in each and every case, I was a hired gun and as such, my name wasn’t attached. I believe in what Assos creates and I believe in their quest to continually outdo themselves.

When I get to the end of my life, I may not have enjoyed driving a Ferrari, tasted Chateau d’Yquem or finished a Grand Tour, but I can say I got to log miles in Assos clothing. That’s more relevant to my personal bucket list.

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15 comments

  1. Sophrosune

    O’Neils in Worcester! I remember that place. We would go there to drool over the DeRosa’s, Pinarello’s and Tommassini’s. It was near Clark University as I remember but it was still kind of a tough neighborhood, not that all of Worcester wasn’t, or isn’t, tough.

  2. todd k

    +1 on your thoughts on price, Padraig. The price seems initially steep for a pair of bibs, but they seem to have really built their product to survive extensive usage over a long period of time. This makes it an ok trade off for me. While I have had my S5 Bibs for only 3 years, they remain cosmetically and functionally identical to the state they were on day one. At worst I could argue the chamois may have faded a tad from its original light blue color. Two complaints I have with a lot of other bibs out there is they are prone to pilling, fraying, or showing the ill effects of abrasions on high friction areas over time. These issues have yet to surface on these specific bibs. I can’t say I baby them or wear them only for ‘special rides’ as they are getting regular rotation on the bike. I don’t even bother with washing them in the garment bag they provide. I am way too lazy for such a laundry regimen.

    During this same period of time I have also had a couple of other lines of similar bib apparel manufactured by other companies. I obtained these under the notion that they were much friendlier to the wallet and I am always looking for a good deal. Those prodcuts function fine, but I tend to lose out on longevity. My experience is that over time this nets a lot of that cost.

    I wouldn’t recommend Assos product to someone who rides only a few hundred kms a year, but if your annual riding falls into the 1000’s of km’s, I think you can make a fair argument that they pay for themselves. OH, and they are very comfortable on top of that. I tend to think if you are sitting on the saddle for that many km’s, then a little splurging is maybe forgivable!

  3. naisan

    I’ve now pretty much standardized on the Assos as well, and agree on your observations above.

    I recently tried the Castelli Aero Race with the Progetto X2 pad, and believe I have found a pad that’s even better than the Assos one.

    The material on those Castellis is more thin, and I don’t think they’ll last as long, but they are wonderful to wear and ride.

  4. James

    I started using Assos bibs about 5 years ago. They are the best and they do last a long time. The secret to buying them is waiting until they are on sale! It makes getting a great short a great deal! They’re the only shorts I currently use…I even use them on my commute to work! My only fear is that I may crash and rip them up…what a horror that would be!

  5. Andrew

    Can you parse the naming conventions at all? Any time I even think about buying Assos, I give up when I realize I have no idea what any of the nomenclature means.

    And as long as you’ve got their ear, please tell them that the division symbol (÷) is not typically used to indicate a range, i.e a÷b.

  6. Alex Torres

    Although not every of my bibs are ASSOS, I do have some and I do love them. Yes they last forever, and what´s more important to me is that they usually keep the good for, fit and ride characteristic thru their lifetime, unlike most other brands that regardless of lasting a long time for built, wear like new for only 1 or 2 seasons.

    On a sidenote, I´ve got to confess that I´m addicted to the smell of the ASSOS wear cleanser, that one that comes as sample in the Mille box. So much so I associate the smell with training and racing much in a Pavlovian way :-p I keep a large suply of bottles on hand because I love it.

    I can´t say it helps my stuff last longer or wear brighter, but I´ve noticed along the time that besides the good smell it has helped me to completely eliminate saddle sores, so maybe the anti-bacterial thing is not just hype.

  7. Jim Morehouse

    I don’t know about the bibs (although I wear Rapha’s), but their 851 jacket is the best thing I’ve ever worn. After three winters, it still looks like new, and it is not only warm, but once it’s on, I don’t notice it. Their stuff is outstanding. It was your review on BKW that pushed me over the edge to buy it. So thanks for that!

  8. Scott G.

    Assos stuff functions well, but the Haute Power Ranger look is too much.
    A delogoed, plainer version of the stuff would be a easy purchase decision.
    Or make the logos easily removable ala Patagonia.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Sophrosune: To me, O’Neil’s was exactly what a PRO shop should be, including the dicey location. I’ve learned they moved, but I loved that old location.

      Todd: I hear ya, but I gotta wonder, if you’re taking care of yourself, is it really splurging?

      Naisan: Castelli does great work. I don’t think they get enough credit. I wore the Claudio bibs I reviewed earlier this week and just love those things.

      James: Crashing in Assos could make a man cry.

      Andrew: As the folks at Assos read RKP (even when I’m not reviewing their stuff), you’ve already informed them. I’ll talk to them, though, and see if I can’t get a bit of clarification on the naming conventions. Even if they don’t change how they do it, we could all benefit from knowing just what’s on their mind.

      Alex: Everyone I know who actually tried the cleanser loves it. Scents are powerful avenues of memory; I’m not surprised what the cleanser does for you.

      Jim: Radio Freddy deserves full points for the 851 jacket. That was his review (though I’m a big fan of that jacket as well—I just don’t get much call to wear it in SoCal).

      Scott: The Mille bibs really didn’t have a lot of logoing on them, though it may be that I’m less easily offended than you are and so my perception isn’t one you would share. That said, “Haute Power Ranger” is my new favorite fashion phrase. I hope to use it today.

  9. Souleur

    I absolutely agree Padraig, you are spot on.

    I cannot think of anything ‘Swiss’ that isn’t very very good. List them off, and they speak on their own merits.

    Now, in terms of Assos, my observations begin a bit later than the early 90’s, but here they are. They use to be by far the most expensive and the most extravagant products in cycling. However, that is not the way it is any longer. Now, you have multiple players: Castelli, Hincapie, Pearl Izumi octane, Mavic, EtxeOndo and others are very similary priced…if not more expensive in some lines.

    So..now you have the gold standard, which is competitively priced, more durable and by all as good as or better than others. I have had a few Assos items, and loved them all. I have had others, and whereas they are good, they are not as durable and some do not ride as seamlessly.

  10. Rob Templin

    Overall, the review seems to be spot on. I spend a fair amount of time on the bike, and really appreciate top-end stuff. Giordana and Assos have been my favorites for years now. The Giordana stuff is outstanding top-end clothing at a substantial savings over the Assos line – however, I must say that the Assos bib shorts get a slight nod over anything else I’ve worn for comfort/performance/style. Almost as good as sex. I don’t really buy into the marketing or packaging of the Assos line (don’t need the fancy tags, box, and “sample” detergent bottles), BUT I do think they’ve done their homework and produced a truly superior product over most of the other stuff out there. One more thing, I’ve NEVER worn large bib in any other clothing (including Giordana), and, according to the Assos sizing chart I should wear a medium in their stuff – but be forewarned, they run small (which means I get the large size in any Assos clothing/shorts).

  11. Brad

    I do a lunch ride with a group of colleagues. They are all pretty well versed on cycling and gear, and some intimately involved in the business. Over the last 7 years since I started wearing Assos exclusively, I’ve enjoyed many a quite smile as some one or more of the group would lament some problem with their bibs — fit, wear, comfort, durabilty — you name it, I’ve heard it; all the while gliding along in my Assos bibs, knicks, tights, warmers, gloves.
    Not “it’s all good” rather “It’s all the best.”
    Great job calling this out.

  12. Mr. Fly

    No one can deny that Assos stuff is ridiculously expensive, but rather like Rapha stuff, once you try an item, it’s really hard to go back to the lesser brands and you end up with drawerfuls of clothing that are not only durable, but functional and beautiful. My only fear now is getting fat, such that I won’t be able to fit nicely into these “starved Italian” sized clothing.

    One thing not often mentioned about Assos is their wonderful crash repair service. I’ve had to use it once. It was painless and my S5 Mille bibshorts came back looking like new. We hope we don’t crash, but one use of that service and that big upfront price tag looks mighty reasonable, even without considering the durability.

  13. fausto

    If I could trade in all of the other brands that I have tried and been disapointed with and had just spent the money on the Assos I would be so much happier. I have friends, some in the industry, that bag on it but it works for me. If a $150 pair from another brand worked for them, good at ya, but for me they all seem uncomfortable in comparison. What is amazing is the other brands hitting $200-250 for bibs and they have lots of engineering but just not as good. Their bibs with my Rapha jersey is heaven.

  14. Mark S

    Sorry to spoil the party but I’ve had a pair of F1s for 18 months, ridden twice a week, always hand washed and dried out of the sun…and the lycra has given up and given me the dreaded transparent patch above the bum. Wrote to Assos distributor here in Australia to ask if that was an acceptable longevity, and got no response. Sure thy were comfy, but at that price should last longer.

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