Of the many products I’ve been asked my opinion of, but haven’t ridden, the number-one, top-of-the-list item is a pair of Rapha bib shorts. It seems any time I review a pair of bibs—by anyone—the first question I’m asked, either in comments, in person or by email is how they compare to bibs from Rapha. Until recently, I had no answer for that.
Then Rapha sent me a pair of their Pro Team Bib Shorts.
Now, I need to insert a little caveat here: The Pro Team bibs are an item new to Rapha’s offerings, but some riders will already be familiar with them. This is the same short as the Rapha Condor Sharp Bib Shorts. So it’s not like I’m reviewing a product to which existing Rapha shoppers are wholly unfamiliar.
The 21st Century is a place of paralleled partisanship. It’s not only okay to be biased, the world wants to know what your biases are. “Fly that freak flag,” is as much a statement granting permission as it is a request to tell us who you are. Rapha, to their credit, have told us they live in a world of Plus X film, pre-helmet, and that the only phone they answer is at a café in the shadow of Mont Aigoual. Oh, and that they don’t do rides shorter than six hours.
Good thing they made these bibs. I don’t put these on unless I’m going out for at least three hours. Anything less is something of an insult. How come? Well, it begins with the pad. It always begins with the pad, doesn’t it? The pad is not just the foundation of a good bib short, it is the cornerstone of said garment. Begin with a crap pad and you can do all the Lycra acrobatics you want and the shorts will still torture you after two hours.
So Rapha begins with a very fine Cytech pad, the same pad they use in all their other bibs. It is one of the two best pads I’ve ever worn, though not quite the very best. In a world crowded with Kias this is an Audi. I did a humbling six-hour ride in these just this weekend and returned home to a happy undercarriage. The pad, as has been noted by some, is thick, but I’m less concerned with its thickness than how firm it is. I don’t really notice how thick the pad is, just that the saddle never feels uncomfortable. Which is saying something because, in the parlance of Fi’zi:k, I’m not a snake and I spent all of Saturday’s ride on an Arione. Somewhere in my little black book of equations it is written that Padraig + Arione + 6 (hours) ≠ Happy Ass. Or so I thought.
Now, getting that pad in position and keeping it there is the second important ingredient in a pair of bibs. The first time I put these bibs on—I gotta be honest—I took them off immediately. I thought they might be the wrong size. Yes, I got them on, but they were tight like, well if you’re truly responsible, condoms ought to fit this tight. So I checked with them and I found out that, yes, these are supposed to compress. I noted a corollary to their suggestion when I put them back on. While they were tight around my legs, they weren’t tight at my belly and the bib straps were long enough. Had these been a size too small the straps would have turned me into a hunchback with belly spilling from the waist.
So about getting the pad in the right spot … these bibs take a minute or so to worry into place. I can get the straps over my shoulders while the pad only glances by the machinery, so getting them into place requires a bit of squatting and a few small tugs. But once into place? They are as intractable as a cinder block wall. Which, if you think about it, is kinda what you want. Their only movement will be with you, not again’ you.
All this compressive Lycra comes with an extra dollop of quality. The material has been treated with Schoeller’s coldblack technology. I could go into all the technical details behind coldblack but I’d put you to sleep and you wouldn’t read any further. Here’s what matters—coldblack is a treatment given to fabrics that does two things. First, it helps reflect light, including UV rays, to help keep you cooler than you would be were you wearing an ordinary black garment. Second, because it reflects UV rays, it offers UV protection, which is a handy thing given that you’re a cyclist and not a couch potato.
Patterning on these bibs is exquisite; if you told me they’d been cut by Coco Chanel herself, I’d be apt to believe you. A pair of bibs this tight has the potential to dispense discomfort like grains from a salt shaker if the pattern isn’t right. Were there no room for my caboose I’d suffer, either at cheek or beak. The other potential pitfall is that any garment this snug could limit movement. Overly tight, ill-fitting bibs can restrict your power at the top of the pedal stroke. Say it with me in your best ironic voice: That would be genius!
Of course the other facet of fit that people are prone to complain about is the length of the bib straps. For me, the length is perfect and the material used in the bibs is very light weight, lighter than what is used in many other bibs I won. Also, at the top of the bib, basically extending from the top of the shoulder forward to the collarbone is a small length of Lycra to give the bibs a bit of extra stretch.
I’m wearing the mediums, which places the sizing squarely among many American brands like Capo, Hincapie and Voler. That said, just bear in mind these won’t feel like a medium from those other companies. Oh, and for you beanpoles out there, they do a version with a 30mm longer inseam. Why don’t more companies do that? Be aware, though, that the bib straps do not increase in length, so if you’re 6′ 4″ and 140 lbs. you will only be slightly better off.
You’re an observant bunch and have no doubt noticed I’ve just mentioned some of Rapha’s competitors. So far as I can tell Pro Team Bib Shorts were designed with a sniper’s scope aimed at a facility in Switzerland. Yeah, Assos. If these bibs are meant to compete with anything on the market it has got to be the Assos Mille bibs. I can’t help but make the comparison in my head even though the experience of wearing the two different bibs is, well, dissimilar. And this difference isn’t something that causes me to choose one for one sort of ride and the other for something different. I have three go-to bibs for long, hard days. There are my Panache RKP bibs. I’ve got a set of Milles. And now I’ve got a set of Pro Team Bibs. Everything else is limited to rides two hours and shorter.
These bibs carry a suggested retail price of $250. Again, the suggestion is that these bibs are meant to compete with nothing other than the Milles. Rapha has on occasion been criticized for what has been perceived as a style premium, that, perhaps, their goods weren’t truly worth the price being paid. I can say there has been a lot of thought put into these bibs. How many of us really need a radio pocket is, at best, debatable. I know I don’t need one, and don’t slip an iPod into it. While I do mountain bike with an iPod Shuffle, I clip that to my jersey pocket. However, if I did need a radio pocket, it would be nice to have a choice of two pockets, right and left of my spine to that a piece of electronics isn’t resting against bone. Who needs that?
Do I really need a laundry tag on which to write my name? It’s been a lot of years since I last had a roommate who could wear my cycling clothing, and even then we didn’t do laundry together so that’s one of those value-added propositions that doesn’t actually add any—value, that is. But good style is worth something to me and I thoroughly dig that the Rapha block letter logo is done in white in one leg and black on the other.
All the seams are flatlock and the leg bands at the bottom of the short feature a repeating mantra of “PRO TEAM” around the band. As it’s in black the understated presentation tickles my sense of un-obnoxious style. And for those of you who, like me, prefer a leg gripper that does the job but doesn’t get overzealous about it, you’ll like these. The tiny bands of silicone are just enough to get the job done.
So, are these things worth $250? My sense is that they will last longer than the Eurozone, that you’ll never get home from a ride wondering how you missed putting chamois cream on that one blessed spot, that you’ll never wear these with any jersey you own and look like a dork, that you’ll never regret your purchase.
I spent my formative years struggling between wearing clothes that were unfashionable but fit me and those that were fashionable, but didn’t remotely fit me. Not only did I not understand it, my mother didn’t either. Most of the pants I wore in grade school were loose at the small of my back; to keep them at my waist I had to pull my belt pretty snug. Most of my shirts fit okay at the shoulders and then billowed out as they went down, like I was wearing a tailored tent.
Eventually I began to notice from time to time that some clothes simply fit better than others. As much as I loved Patagonia casual wear, their polo shirts were flappy on me, even in small. Their pants and shorts either fit in the seat and loose in the waist or fit at the waist and tight across my crotch. Levi’s 501s stopped fitting me after I took up cycling. I had to switch to the 569s—sit at the waist and roomy through the seat and thighs. Those skinny hipster jeans? I’d never get ‘em past my knees, unless I went for the 40-inch waist.
It wasn’t until an ex-girlfriend taught me about fit models and how all clothing begins with pieces of fabric cut to fit some individual that I began to appreciate why some things fit and others didn’t. Understanding that actually made shopping easier; it eliminated whole product lines because I knew they weren’t cut for me.
When I first got into cycling I was pretty unaware of just how cycling clothing needed to fit. I got it more or less right, but I occasionally bought shorts that were too big and all my jerseys were a size larger than necessary. Even through the turn of the century, most cycling clothing had enough stretch to accommodate differences in physique within a given size.
More recently, with the advent of Power Lycra, compression panels and skinsuit-tight jerseys, I’ve begun to notice some stuff doesn’t fit as well as it used to, or as well as some of the competition. In my reviews of clothing I’ve begun to talk about the nature of the fit. The point isn’t to say this fit is good or that fit is bad, but to note how it fits. We can talk about features like materials, reflective piping, dual-density foam in pads and Power Lycra panels until our faces are cyan, but if you—like me—have a bounteous and spherical caboose, some bibs aren’t going to fit you all that well. It won’t make them bad, but it’s worth knowing that there are others that might fit you better.
The importance of this was driven home for me this past winter when I had an experience I really didn’t want to have. I’ve long been an admirer of Vermarc clothing, but I’d never had the opportunity to wear any of their stuff. It’s a big world and I just didn’t get around to it until this winter. I tried one of their top pairs of bibs. On my first ride, I cut a three-hour ride short because my ass hurt. How could that be? I was wearing the pride of Belgium. What gives?
In objective terms, I’ve been riding 143mm-wide Specialized saddles, though it was recently suggested to me that I might do well to try the 155mm-wide version of the Romin. Not the Incredible Hulk, but not bantam, either.
Well, as it turned, out my sit bones are wider than the widest portion of the densest foam in the pad. I was writing out of the margins, so-to-speak. It doesn’t mean they are bad bibs at all. It just suggests I’m seven feet tall and the owner of a new Mini Cooper.
While this won’t be complete by any means, I wanted to note my experience with some of the different lines out there to help give you a better basis for comparison. For the record, I’m 5′ 11″ and currently weigh 163 lbs., which I hate to admit, is heavy for me.
- Assos—the Uno and Mille bibs are fairly consistent in their style of fit, though the Unos are a bit more snug on me. Like I said, I’ve got enough of a butt that I can’t do straight-leg jeans. The Mille in particular is a fantastic fit for me. And with both pads, my sit bones come down squarely in the middle of the densest foam. I wear a large.
- Castelli—these are cut for riders with a slighter frame. For me, by the time I’ve crowded my ass into them they are a bit tight across the front. I’ve experienced this more with some of their bibs than others, but I do get it to some degree with all of them, save the Claudio (thermal) bibs. In my mind, most are climbers’ bibs. I wear a large.
- Capo—This line is pretty remarkable for its middle-of-the-road fit. I’ve had no issues with their bibs, nor have any friends reported issues with their stuff. I wear a medium.
- Voler—I’ve had issues with being sort of between sizes. I was too big for the smalls but the mediums weren’t as snug in fit as it seemed they ought. I can’t recall ever being between sizes with another line. The quality has come a long way from what it once was, but the pad will only stay put if the bibs are tight enough that you don’t catch the bibs on the nose of the saddle. I wear a medium.
- Panache—this is another line that offers ample room for my bumper. In addition to being roomy enough to accommodate both of my glutes, the pad is one of a handful that can rival Assos’ for comfort in terms of width and placement of the densest foam. I wear a large.
- Rapha—I’ve just begun wearing the new Pro Team bibs and have been impressed with the fit. They are cut with plenty of room for my glutes without being loose up front, which is what happens if the butt is too roomy (which I did experience once). I wear a medium.
- Hincapie—like Castelli, these tend to lack a bit of room in need in back. I wear a medium.
- Giordana—Giordana has so many different product lines, there’s no one essential truth to their fit. Most of their stuff fits me pretty well, though the FormaRed Carbon bibs use the same narrow pad in the Vermarc bibs I tried. I wear a medium.
- Vermarc—overall the fit was good; I just need a wider pad. I wear a medium.
- Etxe Ondo—these could use a bit more room in the butt, but overall the fit was pretty good given the Power Lycra panels. I wear a medium.
- Specialized—these had a very traditional fit. It may be that the Lycra they used was just particularly forgiving (I believe it was 6-oz. throughout) and that what made the fit. I wear a medium.
- Primal Wear—not quite enough room in back, so it ended up being a bit snug in front. I wear a medium.
- Nalini—another pair of bibs that needed more room in back to keep the front from being too tight. I wear a medium.
- Assos—all the Assos jerseys I’ve worn have been cut on a pretty noticeable taper. However, there are always materials with such great stretch utilized that the fit ends up being remarkably forgiving. distinctly short, lengthwise. I wear a medium.
- Castelli—the jerseys I’ve tried are cut a bit more straight than Assos jerseys, though it appears their top-shelf stuff is cut on more of a taper. Mid-line stuff is somewhat long, but the pro stuff appears to be shorter. It’s really easy to buy a size too big with Castelli. I wear a medium.
- Capo—cut on a slight taper and cut on the short side, though not as short as Assos. I wear a small.
- Voler—cut remarkably straight and nearly as short as Assos; it’s a unique fit, but one I like when I’m not in perfect shape. I wear a small.
- Panache—these jerseys feature a significant taper and run short. Out of season I need to wear a medium; when I’m fit and want a pro-style fit, I’m a small.
- Hincapie—these are cut straight and long. They’ve got to fit the man himself. I wear a small.
- Giordana—again, Giordana offers so much stuff their fit is all over the place. Inexpensive stuff is generous in fit, while primo stuff like the FormaRed Carbon is short, snug and tapered. I wear a small.
- Vermarc—they feature a tapered cut and run slightly short. I wear a small.
- Etxe Ondo—yet another tapered cut, but these run on the long side, though not so long as Hincapie. I wear a small.
- Specialized—this is a remarkably straight cut with a little more length than some stuff. A conservative, fit-almost-anyone cut. I wear a small.
- Primal Wear—cut pretty straight and with a fair amount of length. I wear a small.
- Nalini—tapered cut, almost as short as Assos. I wear a small.
Bottom line: I’m not trying to steer you into or out of any one clothing line. I have my personal likes, but the value in this is to give you a greater frame of reference for choosing clothing next time you go to buy something. Fit is at the root of comfort. Go be comfortable and ride well.
The knock against Assos is always their cost. The Swiss manufacturer is famous for nothing so much as their pricing that makes Mercedes seem as affordable as Kia. Sure, they are known for their over-the-top models and pimped-out images of said models in their clothing, but the prices can make you forget the models, at least until you put your injured Visa away.
But here’s the thing: While everyone I have spoken with about Assos has exclaimed, “Dude, that’s a lot of f***in’ money for a pair of shorts,” everyone I know who has actually plunked down said money has rendered the same verdict—”Best shorts I’ve ever worn.”
The F.I. Uno S5 is Assos least-expensive pair of bibs. At $200 that’s a good deal more than almost all of their competitors’ most expensive bibs. This is Aston Martin territory, wherein every vehicle they offer is more expensive than anything Lexus offers. That can be hard to wrap your head around. It doesn’t so much redefine the term “luxury” as render it useless.
And while I’ve driven very few Mercedes and only ridden in a single Aston Martin, I have this suspicion that after a fortnight in a fine example of either, going back to my Subaru would be like drinking Two Buck Chuck after having spent a weekend in the Russian River Valley. You’d wonder what the point was.
That’s a bit like my reaction to the Uno bibs. My recollection is that the most I’ve ever paid for a pair of custom bibs was $120. The material was pretty good and the fit was good, but the pad was just so-so. (The best pad ever included in a pair of custom bibs, by contrast, was not the most expensive pair.) You’d hope that the $200 Unos would be better than that, right?
Well, the Uno bibs are unsurprisingly better. They are also so superior to most of the custom stuff I’ve worn that I wish they did my custom kit. But then I don’t suppose many people would buy it. Here’s the crazy thing: If you told me that Assos made only one pair of bibs and the Unos were they, I’d believe and would never dare wish for something superior; they are that good.
But Assos positions these as their all-purpose training and racing bibs. Which may undersell them, kinda like having a dressy tux and then a casual tux.
When I compare the Uno to other shorts in the $180 to $220 range, the Uno is the hands-down winner. Now, I can’t claim to have worn all of the offerings from Capo and Rapha out there, but against Giordana, Castelli and Hincapie, the Uno is the clear winner. That’s not to say I don’t like the others, but the Uno is just superior.
Take the pad in the Uno. It isn’t curved like that in the Mille, but it still fits very well. It’s also more comfortable than the pad in comparable shorts from Castelli and Hincapie. And the pad in the Giordana Forma Red Carbon? This is the same pad that Vermarc uses, the same pad that graces the powerful hindquarters of Philippe Gilbert. That pad? It’s too narrow for my ass. My sit bones fall beyond the thickest portion of the pad. I have no such trouble with the pad Assos puts in the Uno.
And how a six-panel short can fit so well and offer compression over an evenly distributed area is as surprising to me as a pharmaceutical with no side effects. As much as I love Castelli products, I think their shorts are cut for people with less caboose than me; as a result the fit just isn’t terrific; they are a bit tight up front.
Let’s consider for a moment that I’m discussing each of these products in relatively newish state. My experience with Assos is that these bibs, now eight months old, will still be in rotation in five years. I’ve never had a pair of shorts last as long from any other manufacturer. For that reason alone they are worth comparing against any similarly priced shorts.
But here’s the kicker: Had I never worn Assos’ Mille bibs or the T.607 thermal bibs, and only knew the Unos, you could have lied to me and told me these were the very best shorts out of Switzerland and I wouldn’t have had reason to doubt you. I’d like to try the rest of the comparable bibs out there, if only to test my belief that these are the very best value in shorts you can get for $200. Given what else is on the market in this price range, this is one time when you simply can’t knock Assos as too expensive.
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.
Some things in this world are inevitable. Baby-kissing politicians, people going “aw” at pictures of baby animals and Assos introducing its own line of ultra-premium (and expensive) eyewear. How could they not? Whether you like the Swiss company’s style or not, theirs is a unique statement, a flair as impossible to reproduce as it is to anticipate.
I’ll be honest and say that at first blush, my initial viewing of them at Interbike, I briefly flashed on the idea, “My God, this time they’ve gone too far.” It’s the same thought I had when Oakley introduced the first M frames, the initial Zeros and, come to think of it, countless other models. Eventually I got used to seeing strange stuff from Oakley and I was no longer surprised. But the Zegho was something new, more alien than fresh, more Beverly Hills than Boston.
If you’ve ever been wowed by packaging, be prepared to be wowed by this presentation. The box folds open to reveal a number of shots that depict the construction of a set, from unmelted beads all the way to final assembly. Natrually, they come with a first-rate case
As cool as the packaging was, I couldn’t stop looking at the glasses.
The cascade of details that makes them distinct is hard to take in all at once. The first thing I tried to take in were the lenses. They are huge; not quite diving mask huge, but seemingly Oakley Factory Pilot huge. Where’s Davis Phinney when you need him?
When you pick them up you can’t help but notice how light they are. Were they helium-infused? Most bottle cages weigh more than the 27g these come in at. And as you’re trying to process just how light they are you notice how that they are as flexible as a yoga instructor. Then there’s the frameless design, making them ideal for head-down efforts at the front so that you can look straight up your brow to the road ahead.
When I put them on I expected to look in a mirror and see something ridiculous, like when my son wears my wife’s sunglasses upside down, or when my cat plays Jack Johnson songs on the bongos. That first look in the mirror? No gasp. It was different, but not heart-stopping. I’ll admit that I joked how I wanted to get a pricey golf shirt, my best wool slacks and Cole Haan loafers and just walk around Rodeo Drive. I figured it was my best shot at being mugged by people who make enough to buy and/or sell me.
Back to the actual details. The Zeghos are available in three models. There’s the Werksmannschaft (factory team) which features predominantly white temples with Assos-green details. The lenses are a charcoal gray gradient. Next up is the Amplify which features black temples, the same Assos-green details and a high-visibility yellow lens perfect for riding in lower-light conditions. Finally, there’s the Noire which features the same black temples as the Amplify paired with the charcoal gray (Assos calls it black) gradient lens of the Werksmannschaft. I’ve been riding with the Noire.
I live in a locale that is exact opposite of Boulder, Colorado, based on available light. By the time the sun comes out in the South Bay, my ride is over and I’m doing something else. So I was curious if on ordinarily overcast days there would be enough light for me to see. I don’t mind saying I was pleasantly surprised the first time I wore them on one of the early weekday rides and the gradient gave me more than enough visibility. I was surprised; I honestly thought that I wouldn’t be able to wear the Noires that early in the day except around the time of the summer solstice when the sun rises, well it rises too damn early at the end of June.
Part of the visibility puzzle is solved with a really key piece of information. The lens is made by Zeiss. If that doesn’t ring a bell tolling “ultra-high quality”, this one will: Nikon. Zeiss makes the elements in Nikon lenses. In general, lenses are much better than they were a dozen years ago, but these are exquisite; I’m accustomed to noticing a gradient and with these I can’t tell just when they start they are so gradual. Assos materials tell how this eyewear is less an Assos project than a collaboration with Carl Zeiss. What that means is that they made full use of Zeiss’ considerable knowledge, and it shows.
The Zeghos have an unusual degree of wrap to them. Assos touts how they offer a true 180-degree field of vision. I haven’t measured, but I can say they offer the most complete and unobstructed view of any eyewear I’ve ever worn. They call the fit ClickFace, which refers to their claim that once on the glasses don’t move even if you look straight down as your tongue lolls on your bike’s top tube. That’s certainly my experience (not the tongue thing but the glasses not moving bit). The optics have been certified as Class 1, top-of-the-line and distortion-free.
All the best eyewear that I use these days also feature lenses with hydrophobic coatings. I wore the Zeghos on Levi’s Gran Fondo (more about that in a sec) and when the day turned foggy and occasionally misty I was impressed at how well the lens remained clear. On the often dark descents out at the far end of King Ridge Road the gradient treatment really allowed me excellent vision. Part of the reason I chose to wear the Zeghos was also to see if other riders would look at me and ask, “Did you lose a bet?” “What’s that on your face?” “Dude, do you know you look like Elton John’s deranged nephew?”
I can’t tell you how many people saw them on me that day, but it was easily in the hundreds and no one said a thing against them. I did get a few inquiries from folks who wondered, “What are those cool glasses?” Not a lot, to be fair, but there were some.
Because of their unusual shape one concern I had was whether they would rise high enough above my eyebrows to bang into my helmet. It’s a problem I’ve had with Bell Helmets and all eyewear I own. I hate that that happens with Bell helmets; I love their designs. I’ve worn the Zeghos with three different helmets from Giro (including the Aeon) plus two from Specialized (including the Prevail) and didn’t have that problem with any of them. I was also able to find a good way to tuck them into both the Aeon and the Prevail.
You may recall that I mentioned just how flexible these are. That little feature became a serious selling point any time I wanted to pull them from my helmet and then get them on my face without getting the temples caught in my helmet straps. They are so flexible I can simply hook a temple over one ear and pull them across. Don’t try that with your Jawbones.
I can feel some of you queueing up to report your disdain for the styling. I respect not everyone will like them. Better yet, Assos knows some people won’t like their stuff and they are more than okay with that. They don’t want to be the ubiquitous clothing line out there. That may tell you a bit about why their stuff features what seems to be the most expensive materials they can find and why their products can carry prices that would make Vera Wang blush. Which brings us to the damage, chief. The entry point for the Zeghos is the Amplify at $399. The Werksmannschaft goes for $429. The Noire I recently found out are limited production and go for an unflinching $469.
Giro and Specialized both pulled out of the eyewear market because Oakley is less an 800-lb. gorilla than an 8000-lb. one. To have two fabled companies pull out of the market tells you something about the uphill battle it is to go head-to-head with Oakley, but to enter the cycling eyewear market is to do exactly that. You really don’t have any choice. Assos is taking an approach that isn’t unusual for them, but really hasn’t been tried by anyone else. Rather than try to compete at the same or a lesser price point, they are going above. I’ve got a few buddies who will buy some because that math makes perfect sense to them.
Are they perfect? No, but they sure do aspire to it. What could be better? Other than the price, I’m not sure. Are they worth it? Given what we pay for some of their competitors, without a doubt.
Of all the cycling garments made I need to be honest and say that long sleeve jerseys are my least favorite. They hold plenty of promise, at least in terms of concept. Don a single garment to be worn over a base layer, no messing with arm warmers. They never work out that way, though.
First, sizing rarely works out. When I find the right length in the torso, the arms are either too long or, more common, too short. I tend to go on the smaller side for a more form-following fit. Even so, the sleeves are often baggy and end up flapping in the wind—unlike a good pair of arm warmers. So many of the ones I see lack a full zip, so should the day heat up unexpectedly, you can’t ventilate enough to keep from roasting. Yet another knock.
And then there’s the material. Most of the long sleeve jerseys I’ve worn that feature a brushed finish inside don’t really begin to breathe until you’re moving faster than 20 mph. That probably works for actual PROs whose base mile speed is undoubtedly several miles per hour above my own. Using the same material both front and back ensures that it won’t breathe adequately. I need a long sleeve jersey that will breathe once I’m moving faster than 15 or 16 miles per hour. Finding the right garment that allows you to strike that balance is more challenging than finding a Texas governor not on the take.
Enter the Assos iJ.tiburu. The iJ desgination stands for insulated jacket, but this is much closer in weight to a long-sleeve jersey, hence the comparison. New for 2011 (it replaces the elementOne), the tiburu is a piece I’ve been seeking since my first New England fall in 1989. Yeah, that far back.
The fit is, well, it’s an Assos fit, as you can tell from the photo (and I’m using their photo because it’s damn cool and does a better job of showing the piece than any photo I might shoot would). The fit of the tiburu is based on the Uno summer jersey. I wear a medium in Assos jerseys and jackets. The hem comes to my waist, maybe a centimeter below. The sleeves reach to my wrists, exactly. And while the jersey isn’t tight, it gives a non-flap fit so it won’t attract attention in the peloton. That, right there, is my biggest beef with loose clothing. In the peloton a long sleeve jersey or jacket that’s a size or two too large, or was given some just-in-case extra room, flaps around like a flag in a tornado and is distracting both to the eye and ear. As sure a mark of a Fred as there is.
Another mark of the Fred is the skirt. That is, the jersey purchased two sizes too large and ends up covering the rider’s butt. Sure it makes getting into the rear pockets easy, but it makes hooking the hem of the jersey on the nose of the saddle easier than getting wet in the ocean. Here’s the challenge though: I’ve worn a great many fleecy garments that sag over time. Not years, I mean in the course of a single ride. A jersey or jacket that fits at the start of the ride becomes a skirt three hours later. Not cool. One of the tiburu’s greatest features can’t be recognized on the rack or even in the first hour of riding. I’m not sure what constitutes the rear stabilizer panel design, but what I can tell you is that between the hem grippers and that stabilizer panel, the back of the jersey moves neither up nor down, no matter how long you’re out.
Naturally, the tiburu has all the details you’d expect from Assos. Three pockets rear plus a fourth zippered security pocket, and thanks to the stabilizer panel design, they are in the same place every time you reach back. Full-zip front. Big zipper pull to ventilate on the fly. Heavy-ish, somewhat breathable fleece, a material called RX, is used on the front of the arms and chest while the backs of the arms and the back of the garment receive a more breathable material, RXQ. You can think of RXQ as a cross between traditional waffle weaves and fleece, the combination of which results in what is arguably the fastest-wicking fleece I’ve ever worn. I put my belief to the test the last time I washed it. Twelve hours after I pulled it from the washer, I checked the garment hanging on the drying rack. It was fully dry.
Quick-dry is an absolute necessity, not just to keep you comfortable on the road, but because this is a $350 piece of gear, you’re going to want it to dry quickly so you can wear it frequently. I don’t know many riders who’ll buy two or three of these and stay married. If you happen to see someone with the full complement of black, white and red colorways, I bet they’re single.
I went with the red pictured here. Assos understands red the way Ferrari and some lipsticks understand red. It’s one of those colors you can get wrong. But notice, if you will, that the designs on the sleeves are not just simple black and white patterns but mirror image, reverse designs; the white blocks on the left sleeve become the black blocks on the right sleeve. It gives the tiburu an attractively asymmetric design without looking chaotic. Very PRO.
There are nights when I sit up and pray that Assos will start offering fully custom clothing. This is yet another example why.
For all the talk of electronic shifting at this year’s Interbike, the overwhelming winner was Shimano’s Ultegra group. My media contacts confessed a few weaknesses in the Dura-Ace system (such as the fact that it wasn’t 100 percent waterproof) and stressed that Ultegra Di2 corrected for any perceived issues, even if it was roughly one pound heavier.
It’s fair to ask how I define a winner. The answer is simple, really. Nearly every bike company of note had at least one bike spec’d with Ultegra Di2. From Bianchi to Specialized, the stuff was easy to find, which indicates it’s in real production. And despite its reported price tag, I happened to notice this bike below:
The German brand Focus is best known as the brand that Milram rode before the sun set on their sponsorship. What they are less known for is spec that kills at the bike’s given price point. This Cayo was equipped with Ultegra Di2.
Big fat hairy deal you say. Well, the bike has a suggested retail of $4300. I didn’t see a bike with Di2 carry a lower suggested retail while I was at the show. It’s possible that I missed something (I missed a lot, including—quite deliberately—the entire Taiwanese Pavillion), but almost every bike I saw that was spec’d with Ultegra Di2 had a suggested retail of $5000, so $4300 is a pretty big discount.
This Pashley display took the verisimilitude approach to marketing the brand. It caught me less for how evocative it was of the brand heritage than for its apparent authentic the appearance was. I found myself looking at details to judge just how correct they were. It was a fresh take on the use of booth space. Next year they should do a collaboration with Brooks. I’d pay an entry fee if they erected an English country manor inside the Sands Convention Center.
The best jersey I saw at Interbike. Full stop.
This is Mark Cavendish’s bike from the Tour de France, at least, it was his bike for those stages he raced following when he assumed leadership of the points competition. I see lots of bikes that were raced at the Tour, but this was interesting because unlike most bikes, it shed a little insight on the rider who raced it.
Cav’s Venge was interesting for the fact that he was actually running Dura-Ace Di2. You might be surprised how often I receive press releases about something a sponsored PRO is allegedly riding, only I don’t see it in any of the images of said rider I receive from John Pierce. Hmm. Cav’s bike featured the outboard shifters mounted high in the hooks of the bar and just protruding through the tape.
For all the talk we hear of Specialized lending its sponsored teams the genius of their in-house fit guru, Scott Holz (literally the best I’ve ever seen in action), it hasn’t been hard to guess that some riders reject objective knowledge in favor of old-school Euro fit stylings. Cav’s 52cm frame paired with this monster 14cm stem belongs in the hall of fame on Slam that Stem. Very PRO, though not particularly agile. It does, however, confirm something Chris D’Alusio told me he learned about Cavendish from riding with him: The rider does generates all his power and steering from below the waist.
Assos, in their inimitable Swiss style showed me a cornucopia of items I lusted for. Unfortunately, of the offerings I was most interested in (below) I never got a real look at.
I mean, what the hell is this? Why don’t I know more about it? I got sidetracked by a new offering I can’t discuss until mid-November; well, that and a gin and tonic.
I have friends racing cyclocross who obsess about tires the way stoner college friends of mine obsessed about the best strains of pot. Neither of those do it for me. Similarly, there’s no chance I’ll lose any sleep from thinking about what I’ll wear to a friend’s party. I’m not a slave to fashion. At least, not in the traditional sense.
In fact, where cycling is concerned, I’m a complete clotheshorse. I check weather forecasts less out of a sincere concern for the weather than to give me my starting coordinates for the next day’s choice of clothing and embrocation.
Will it start cold and stay cold? Or will it start cold but clear and warm rapidly? Will it be wet? Or will it become wet? Each variation gives me the opportunity to consider the best response and maybe wear a piece of gear I haven’t pulled out in a few weeks. The fact that my local climate will spend most of the year hovering between 50 and 70 degrees gives me ample opportunity to vary my wardrobe between short sleeves, arm warmers, long sleeves, light base layers, heavier base layers, knee warmers, all manner of embro and, occasionally, the thermal bib.
Last fall at Interbike I noticed the Mango top in the Nalini collection. Nalini is one of the best-respected Italian manufacturers of cycling clothing going. They’ve made more clothing for more teams over the years than I could cover in this review. To this day, they are the default selection for many Italian pro teams. Points for innovation aren’t often awarded to companies other than Assos and Castelli, but Nalini is a reliable source of fresh ideas—for instance, they produce both red and white leg warmers, but the trick there is that only the front panel is either red or white; the back, always-spatter panel is serviceable black.
With a suggested retail of $250, it’s not a cheap piece, but then specialty items never are. I’ll get to that, in a minute, though.
This is a spring-weight top. While windproof, it features no warming insulation. It’s good down into the low 50s for me, which would probably translate into the upper 40s for those of you in more northern climes who are more accustomed to riding in objectively cold temperatures. The back of the top is adequately breathable, which is to say, when I wore it on a rainy day my back was only wet from perspiration, not soaked from the downpour, but on hard rides it doesn’t turn into a greenhouse on the inside; a feeling uncomfortable enough for me that I’ve skipped weekend post-ride coffee sessions to get home to remove the offending piece.
The cut on this may be my single favorite among its many great features. There’s just enough room inside that I can choose how heavy a base layer I wear beneath it, but it’s cut slim. While the back of the Mango bunched up a bit in the photo above, once I was stretched out on the bike, the fit was form-following and the sleeves were slim enough they didn’t flap and just long enough to reach my gloves. Sizing on these is typically Euro; I wore the medium, the same size I would wear in tops from Castelli or Assos.
The Mango is a cyclist’s cabriolet. By that I mean you can remove the sleeves. For the record, Nalini calls this a jersey and while I suppose that’s technically accurate, it strikes me a a hybrid sort of product; not really a jersey and not really a jacket, but perfect for changeable days. I’ve seen a dozen or so variations on this theme and in each and every circumstance I disliked them because they always had some sort of collar-like flap of material to cover the zipper. That extra material, meant to conceal the jagged-edge appearance of the zipper would flap in the wind; no bueno. Alternatively, the zipper would stay exposed and would look as attractive as corn smut. You can see the black zipper just at the outer edge of the white trim. The contrast helps to hide the appearance of the zipper. Sharp.
The Mango takes an unusual approach in that concealed beneath the removable long sleeve is a short sleeve, turning the jacket into a wind-front jersey. The upsides to this are numerous. First, there is the fact that when you remove the sleeves, you are left with a garment that keeps its design-sense intact. You don’t get some mismatched jersey sleeve poking out, so there’s no chance for the green of a club jersey curdling the red of a good-looking vest. Admittedly, my review sample is black with white and red accents, which would be hard(er) to spoil, but I like that the appearance of the top can’t be disturbed by removing the sleeves.
What makes the Mango especially trick is the way you remove the sleeves. A small reflective tab, reachable over your shoulder opens the zipper. The red portion of the zipper features unusual teeth that can be pulled apart. It works well enough that you can do this on the fly, though it may not be as easy as pulling down arm warmers. I found the right sleeve to be easiest to remove and the left sleeve to require me to hold the zipper pull in place with my thumb and index finger while I pull the end of the zipper out with my other fingers. I suspect it would have operated a touch more simply if a left-handed version of the zipper existed.
While sitting around having coffee I’ve messed with the sleeves just to see if I could zip them back on without removing the top. The answer is yes, it is possible, but it was difficult enough that I was distracted from the conversation at hand. Maybe not one of my more sociable moments. I wouldn’t suggest trying it on the bike.
Of course, there is another option here and that is that simply pulling the zipper open part way on each sleeve can offer a noticeable jump in ventilation. I’m generally the last guy on a ride to push my arm warmers down, but I’ve pulled the zipper part-way open on a few occasions and found that to be a terrific way to regulate temperature. However, once I did this, the zipper was open for the duration. To re-zip the zipper, you have to completely undo the sleeve first, which is not a big deal post-ride.
For those among us whose identities aren’t completely vested in team kit, this is a terrific piece for spring or fall. I wish I’d had something like this for those nasty spring rides I suffered through in the Berkshires.
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.
The concept store business model takes a certain amount of heat from cycling enthusiasts. On the one hand, they tend to be beautiful stores. Merchandise is well-displayed, everything is clearly priced and their stock is often relatively consistent (i.e. they tend to keep your favorite tire in stock). Of course, the critical view is that they are homogenized, expensive and squeeze out any line that is remotely competitive with the primary line, be it Trek, Specialized or Giant.
Cynergy Cycles is a Specialized Concept Store in Santa Monica, California. In an attempt to help break the perception that a Specialized Concept Store has very little that isn’t Specialized, they invited customers and representatives of a few of their European lines to come and mingle one evening. As I’m a fan of anything a shop can do to break up the business-as-usual approach, I made sure to drop by.
The Buru promises to be the only top you’ll need on a moderately cool day.
Handlebar Coffee Roasters is a new line of coffee and café in Santa Barbara.
The owners are former PROs Kim Anderson who won the Route de France in 2009 and Aaron Olson who won stages of the Tours of Ireland and Poland among other achievements. Both are alums of Bob Stapleton’s High Road (previously T-Mobile) formation. They are genuinely charming folks with a real passion for coffee.