Before I begin addressing the Sugoi RSE bibs specifically, I want to make a general statement about cycling shorts. Compared to what was available 20 years ago, today’s bib shorts are barely distant cousins. Few items have evolved as thoroughly (frames, wheels and helmets deserve a nod) in the last two decades as cycling shorts. To everyone who has had a hand in this, my entire undercarriage thanks you.
When I think back on the best stuff I had to wear 20 years ago, the RSE bibs would have been an off-the-chart hit had they been around then. Hell, back then bibs were still exotic; the shops I worked for all stocked regular shorts and if you wanted bibs, they were a special order item. Even 10 years ago, these would have been Prius (Pria?) among Ford Torinos. But it’s not the past, thankfully, and even the worst bibs out there are acceptable for two hours.
It’s summer, so I want to talk a bit about wicking. I encounter a lot of garments, both bibs and jerseys that claim to wick better than your garden-variety kit. Rarely do they turn out to actually keep me drier. The relative humidity of my environment makes an order magnitude greater difference than any fabric ever has. Put another way, when I lived in the desert everything wicked well. When I ride in Memphis, nothing wicks well.
I don’t expect a lot from a pair of bibs. To keep me happy, all you really need to do is use a fabric covering the chamois that will wick enough to keep me from feeling like I’m wearing swim trunks. And this isn’t something that happens by degrees. I’ve noticed that if I’ve been out for more than four hours and the pad isn’t keeping me dry, my hindquarters will get uncomfortable due to moisture on my skin. Keep me dry and it doesn’t happen. It’s pretty simple.
The FXE pad used in the RSE bibs features a center channel for pressure relief, an anti-microbial cover cut from Meryl Skinlife (which is what helped keep me reasonably dry) and four-way stretch to keep the bibs moving with your body. It’s also worth noting the the construction was laminar, meaning the layers weren’t sewn together. I encounter a lot of shorts where the pad seems good until you enter the fourth hour. With the RSE bibs, the thickest foam is reserved for the sit bones, while there’s still enough under the perineum to allow you to roll your hips and not feel like you’re riding some witch’s broomstick. I was pleasantly surprised by this one. It’s better than anything Sugoi has ever used in the past, the way Ernest Hemingway is better than Jackie Collins. Not really worth the conversation.
The construction of the bibs features a combination of flat-locked and laminated seams. It reduces bulk, which gives two benefits. First, it reduces the amount of material that can hold sweat, which helps keep you drier, and thus, more comfortable and second it reduces the irritation on your skin that can come from traditional serge or overlock seams. And the patterning is such that they eliminated the traditional inseam that runs down the inside of the thigh, to result in less chafing. The straps of the bibs are cut from a knit material that doesn’t require a finishing hem to keep it from unraveling. Nearly every manufacturer has a piece that uses this stuff, but Sugoi, to give the straps a bit more structure, laminated a second layer of material to each edge. It reduces stretch to better keep the bibs in place. The practice of laminating a second, narrow, strip of material is used at the top of the short to add durability.
At the back of the bibs just above the waist is a radio pocket with a buttonhole for the cable plus an extra guide loop at the top of the bibs. It’s all very well done, but it strikes me as about as useful as a second speed of reverse on a family sedan. When are you going to use it? Not many riders actually need a race radio at this point and for those who use a music player when you’re riding (this is something I do, but only when mountain biking), you’d never be able to change the music or adjust the volume if your player is in that pocket. Great execution but something I don’t see many people putting to use.
The leg grippers feature the same clean-edge knit found elsewhere in the bibs, only here there’s no extra layer of material laminated at the edge. The shorts are either all black or all white except for at the gripper, which is the one place where some sublimation is used for branding. The bands feature a weave with the silicone integrated into the fabric, so that it’s not a few dots to tug on your skin. The upside is that these bands don’t budge unless you’ve got embro on your leg. The bad news is because these bibs are cut to feature some compression, getting these bibs all the way up is a challenge. I kept readjusting even when out of the road to make sure that the chamois was properly docked in the harbor.
So how much compression do they offer? I would otherwise swear I had worn the wrong size, but according to their sizing guideline a guy with a 32-inch waist should be wearing a medium and medium I had. Put another way, don’t even dream of making a quick potty stop with these things on. You’ll need to ditch your jersey and pull the straps down (the front of the bibs rose above my belly button). To get them on, I advise using either embrocation or a shoe horn. With continued use I came to the conclusion that I’d be more comfortable going up one size and the act of pulling these one probably wouldn’t take five minutes. So like I said, while their sizing guidelines put me and my 32-inch waist in a medium, I’d be happier in a large. That also fits with my experience with other brands: If I wear their medium jersey, I’ll be a large in their bibs, and with the RSE jersey, their medium fit me. Me and my big, fat, American ass.
The RSE bibs go for $230 and come in two colors (black or white) and five sizes (small through 2XL). That might seem like a lot for a pair of bibs from a brand that isn’t first-tier, but these are as well made as anything at this price point. Except for how tight they are overall, the cut was good for me in that they allowed more room in the caboose for my aforementioned hindquarters than does a pair of bibs from some brands, such as Castelli. Were I shopping for a set, I’d try both the recommended size and the next larger size. My greatest concern about these bibs (and the jersey) isn’t the sizing, though. I wonder how many shops are going to sign on as dealers for Sugoi. My suspicion is that they’ll mostly be Cannondale dealers, and while that will help signal likely outlets, the RSE bibs and jersey deserve broad exposure. They are better than much of what I see people wearing.