When I was a kid going to Catholic school, before our first confession we were told that every priest had heard every sin, that nothing we could say to them would be new or surprising, so we should just get over our embarrassment and misguided ideas that we were somehow committing rare or special sins and get on with the business of confessing our misdeeds. What they were really trying to instill in us was the belief that there is nothing new or unusual we might do. I didn’t buy it.
I get the feeling that designers in Italy responsible for Castelli’s many innovations had a similar childhood. I’m sure they tired of being told there were no new ideas. How else could you labor as a clothing designer for years on end if you didn’t believe that the world was big enough to hold a few surprises yet?
It is into such a void that Castelli thrust the San Remo Speedsuit. The first couple of times I saw it I didn’t appreciate just what it was. Watching guys on TV I couldn’t tell that what I was seeing wasn’t just another ultra-tight Castelli jersey paired with a set of Body Paint bibs. Oh, but the San Remo Speedsuit is nothing ordinary. But just what is it, if it isn’t ordinary?
In broad strokes, it is the skinsuit for the 21st century. Or maybe it’s the traditional jersey and bibs rethought in as aero a manner as possible. That’s the thing: The skinsuit family tree forked a few years back. The traditional skinsuit used in a time trial has become an ever more aerodynamic garment, with fabrics that make normal Lycra seem as slippery as sandpaper on skin. Long sleeves and integrated gloves have helped ratchet up the aero-ness of an already speedy outfit. The San Remo Speedsuit heads in the other direction. It takes the skinsuit as the starting point and makes it more functional, providing the wearer with a skinsuit that is more comfortable and practical than the Lycra jail that is the traditional skinsuit.
The San Remo Speedsuit begins with Castelli’s top-of-the-line Body Paint bib shorts. They are mated to a full-zip Aero Race jersey. To look at the garment is to see something that appears utterly obvious, but it takes a bit of explaining. The rear hem of the jersey and its accompanying gripper are removed; the jersey is sewn directly into the short. Consequently, the bibs are discarded. Also, unlike the Body Paint bibs, the front hem is brought up higher, making the Speedsuit more comfortable than Body Paint bibs for people who aren’t running 4 percent body fat. The front of the Speedsuit features a full zip but the fabric is anchored where the bibs would begin their run from the belly to the shoulders. What that means is that when you unzip the front of the Speedsuit, you realize two benefits. First, you don’t end up with a disco-style V-neck design running to your navel, you end up with real ventilation. Second, you also end up with a garment that doesn’t require Houdini-like powers to remove.
Let’s back up a sec. A few years ago I had the opportunity to try one of Castelli’s Body Paint jerseys. It was like a Lycra condom for my torso. Someone is reading this right now and thinking—”Perfect! That’s just what I’ve been looking for.”—but my experience was one of claustrophobia. I couldn’t have been more surprised by my reaction. Somehow, the fact that the garment wasn’t integrated into a skinsuit made the jersey intolerable. So I didn’t review it.
Whatever wasn’t working for me then has been sorted. It’s worth mentioning that the jersey portion of the Speedsuit uses more polyester which helps eliminate the whole ohmigod-I’m-covered-in-latex-in-public thing. The front up to the shoulders is Lycra, but the sleeves and back are poly. In the pits a textured material is used to help speed air flow in what tends to be a fairly turbulent area.
Of this garment’s many selling points is how it offers three usable pockets. It’s impressive because the pockets lie flat—as they should—but they aren’t so snug that it’s difficult to get your hand in or out while holding a gel. With pros wearing their jerseys snugger, this has caused jersey pockets to sit higher because all you’re really doing is wearing a size smaller, and that makes the pockets harder to access. Well one of the added bonuses of the Speedsuit is that the pockets sit lower than they would with a similarly cut jersey, making them really easy to access.
There are those ultra-hot days when all a base layer does is absorb sweat. Ditto for bib material. Imagine a garment that is useful enough and comfortable enough to ride a century in but eliminates as much bulk as possible. It’s amazing how comfortable the shorts are given there’s only a single seam running up the inside of each leg. Despite reading about all the science that went into these things I’m still amazed that they can fit so well.
The ends of the legs are lazer-cut and receive just the barest treatment for a gripper to prevent them from riding up. My one knock on them is that there isn’t enough pad in front to protect shifting equipment, and even if chafing isn’t a problem, modesty can be. However, the Progetto X2 pad is very comfy and does a great job of offering support without staying wet with sweat.
Having just finished a ride in the Speedsuit I’m reminded of just how much easier it is to open the dam for a controlled flow than with a traditional skinsuit. It’s also better than a skinsuit in that you needn’t be the human equivalent of skim milk (fat-free) to look good in it. I’m not at all sure how they pull that off, but maybe that’s part of why they patented the design.
I reviewed a large Speedsuit, just as I wear when I don a pair Castelli’s bib shorts. Now, I normally wear a medium in Castelli’s jerseys, but that wasn’t a problem with the Speedsuit. As I mentioned previously, the top was snug without being vacuum-chamber tight. I suspect that riders who normally wear a large jersey would still be comfortable in the large Speedsuit. I really only see there being a sizing issue for those who actually have a real upper body and wear a size jersey larger than their bibs; those riders will be faced with either loose shorts or an ultra-tight top.
Castelli claims this thing has a temperature range of 53 degrees to 95 degrees. Yeah, maybe if you slather your entire body in some Mad Alchemy Madness, but honestly, I won’t wear this thing out if the temperature is much below 80. As to that upper temperature recommendation, I’m of the opinion that if it’s not too hot for you to ride, then this is a suitable answer. I’m going to RAGBRAI soon and I’ll have this thing along with me. If it’s as hot as it was last time I rode the event, I might be washing it in a sink at the end of each day. Temperature aside, the material used in the back of the Speedsuit is ventilated enough as to be practically see-through; I was able to a buddy’s chest strap through his. On bright days wearers would do well to apply sunscreen to their backs all the way from their shoulders to the waist.
Some folks will flinch at the $350 price tag. Given the quality of the bibs, the incredible fit and just how functional it is, the San Remo Speedsuit is worth every cent. Maybe not a bargain, but I once had a bargain skinsuit and I can say that was a waste of $120.