Cycling’s natural habitat is summer, same as the natural habitat of the panda bear is bamboo forest. It’s just how the sport is supposed to work. Consider: Speeding through the air on a hot day gives you a cooler experience than if you simply sat fanning yourself on a veranda. Sweating on said hot day goes over better if you’re not covered in clothing.
Go for a ride on a cold day and comfort gets complicated in a hurry. That convective cooling thing that works so well on a July day can be hell in December. Might as well rub ice cubes on your skin if you’re just going to go out in a jersey and shorts. You’ve got to stay warm, so you’ve got to cover up yards of skin. But you’re going to sweat, so your clothing needs to wick all that moisture away.
By now, you’ve learned all the basics to riding in the cold. We know that. Heck, I suspect most of you could teach a graduate seminar in winter base miles.
That said, there’s one piece of clothing that I think has been consistently under-appreciated: the thermal bib short.
That brings us to the Assos T.607 thermal bib shorts. In general, I don’t think there’s another piece of clothing on the market that could do more to increase a rider’s comfort in cold weather than the thermal bib short. The problem, as I see it, isn’t that riders haven’t been buying them. It’s that clothing companies make them too rarely and market them almost not at all. Getting retailers to stock them is like asking the attorney general to sell crack. Little wonder that I like to call them the secret weapon.
What amazes me is how we all think to put knee warmers and leg warmers on crafted from Roubaix Lycra and yet its furry warmth doesn’t seem necessary for protecting our more sensitive undercarriage bits.
Assos rates their thermal bibs to temperatures as cool as about 46 degrees. Those crazy Swiss. Such modesty! When hell freezes over, these babies will be on my ass as I ride my ‘cross bike through the icicle flames.
Justifying a $300 pair of bib shorts isn’t easy. It’s even harder if you’re married. And want to stay that way. However, there are three features in particular to recommend these. First is the classic Assos fit. Anyone who has enjoyed a pair of Assos bibs on a long ride knows that no other bibs on the planet offer more comfort in fewer panels, or even the same number of panels. The cut is almost identical to their top-selling Mille (say Mee-lay) bibs.
Next is the fact that the T.607 bibs use the same pad found in the Mille bibs. This is Assos’ thickest, broadest pad. No matter what you may think of big, thick pads, you haven’t pinned the needle on the comfort meter until you’ve worn bibs with this pad. And because the pad is generously cut, any time you spend off the bike (say in line at Starbucks) isn’t accompanied by an inappropriate anatomic demonstration. Ahem.
Why any company would go to the trouble of making a thermal bib and then not actually spec it with their best chamois defies both logic and explanation. You might as well buy a Ferrari and put Costco tires on it. Really? That’s your plan?
Roubaix Q is the other reason why if you’re going to bother to plunk money down for the secret weapon, you need to think about these bibs. Roubaix Q is a fleecy Lycra, but with a twist. It features a waffle pattern. Think old-school long johns. The pattern creates more space to trap air and keep you warm. And of all the Roubaix Lycras I’ve ever worn, Roubaix Q is the softest version ever to grace my caboose. Not that there’s anything particularly graceful about my caboose. The material used on the outside of the hips, where the wind makes more direct contact and in front on the lowest portion of the bibs to help keep your torso as warm as possible. A more traditional Roubaix fabric with a smoother finish is used in the high-wear areas of the bibs.
The bib uppers are essentially identical to the Mille bibs. It’s a lightweight material that helps wick moisture away quickly to keep you dry.
Assos has come out with a new set of knee warmers, the S7, also made from Roubaix Q, except for the portion just behind the knee, to reduce bulk. They run from mid-thigh to the bottom of the calf. They also run $85; that might seem like a lot for knee warmers, but other brands have appreciated, making these simply a bit more expensive, rather than hideously so.
The S7 knee warmers are a curious departure from all other knee warmers I’ve ever encountered. They lack a leg gripper on the top hem. I’m one of those fortunate souls who has rarely had trouble with leg grippers, either in my bibs or in my knee warmers. However, I know plenty of riders who complain of an allergy to the gripper material that results in uncomfortable skin irritation. Assos has designed the T.607 thermal bibs to hold the S7 knee warmers in place. The silicone gripper has a remarkable ability to hold the waffle surface of the S7 knee warmers in place.
I’ve tried the S7s with other bibs. They are nearly proprietary knee warmers. A few pairs of bibs have held them sufficiently in place, but they haven’t worked with most bibs I’ve tried. After a little more than an hour the knee warmers creep out, exposing the back of your thigh before just pulling out entirely. I suspect the key is to wear them with bibs that feature grippers that don’t lay in-line with the rest of the garment. Any gripper that protrudes from the surface of the hem, as Assos grippers do, will probably work.
What’s that you ask? You could just purchase knickers and be done with it? Well here’s the thing: I see this bib/knee warmer combo as the wintertime cycling-equivalent of the ragtop. During the week, when I have less time to get ready and get pressed into family duty the moment I walk in the door following the ride, embro isn’t really an option. So I can wear these bibs with these knee warmers. On the weekends, when I have more time on both the front-end and back-end of my ride, I can do embro and leave the knee warmers in the drawer.