MY INTRODUCTION TO SERIOUS CYCLING was around 1974, a time when shorts were roughly knitted woollen affairs with real chamois, just a millimetre or two deep, sewn in to them. Riders then as now complained about a lot of things, but I don’t recall shorts being one of them; in short, we just got on with the riding – hours and hours of it, using braces to keep shorts in place as the bib-short as we know it today wasn’t introduced until 1998 (by Castelli).
The mid-70’s was also a time when just 6 new pence could buy you a Fry’s Chocolate Cream. So even today, the idea of paying £140 for a pair of shorts, maybe Assos-branded, is an outrageous one to me.
Nevertheless this summer I’ve spent £261 of my own money on a quartet of bib-shorts from Alé, Castelli, dhb and Sportful. My thinking? That surely, even in 2016, £75 should be sufficient to get a well-made, well-fitting, comfortable and long-lasting pair of bib-shorts? Let’s see.
Now I’m no chunky-monkey (only today a chap said of me that he’d ‘seen more meat on a butcher’s knife’) – the circumference of my thighs and waist is only 34″ and 18″ respectively (87cm and 45cm in pre-Brexit metric measurements) – but all of these shorts fit snugly in the modern ‘compression fabric’ way, forcing you to wonder if they’ll even fit over your calves let alone thighs as you begin the contortion of hoisting and cajoling these garments over the knee and up towards the hip in an imitation of Widow Twankey doing a bit of sartorial re-arranging.
Sportful Giro – Sportful say I’m a ‘Large’, so that’s what I now have, after their ‘Medium’ size proved too small and were exchanged. Their Giro shorts are still snug though, a bit too snug after a couple of riding hours, I’d say – you certainly wouldn’t forget you were wearing them. However they look nice to my eyes, being well made (in Croatia, if you care) and modern without appearing fussy.
dhb Aeron Speed – The Aeron Speed from dhb, even in the ‘S’ for small size that I ordered, have 32cm of material from my hip bone down to the bottom edge of the shorts. This is a centimetre too long for me and the result is that the leg elastic (a piece of material with what’s described as ‘silicone particle grippers’) has no leg to sit against and so curls untidily and unaerodynamically at its lower edge unless hoiked up a bit. Note that the Italian-made Alé PR.R 2.0, at 31cm for the same distance, are perfect for me in this respect. The straps and mesh backing of the Aeron Speed ape the higher-priced Alé PR.R 2.0, so quite ‘premium’ then, and comfortable. Made in Bosnia-Herzegovena, btw.
Castelli Evoluzione – Despite being made in Romania, Castelli’s Evoluzione’s are almost 25% more expensive than the Sportful or dhb shorts, and would just about justify their price were in not for some threads coming away from the hem after just a couple of wearings and washings. A sign of things to come, or nothing of consequence – it’s too early to tell. The pad was great though, which meant that like a good saddle I just forgot about it as it didn’t intrude into my consciousness – and with this article in mind I was actually trying hard to think about it!
Alé PR.R 2.0 – The £74 Alé PR.R 2.0 shorts, by contrast, had a pad that I felt was just trying a bit too hard. At times it felt more of a nappy than a garment to help fast endurance cycling. I should probably consider lowering my saddle a few millimetres when wearing them, but of course that ain’t never gonna happen. They are nicely made though, with interesting materials for the webbing and straps, and have great wardrobe appeal.
Each of these shorts weighs in at around the 167 grams mark (about 10g less than my previous generation shorts), and after two or three machine washes for each of them so far (30 degrees, synthetic, non-bio, no conditioner, air dry) they all still look good.
Are the Alé shorts worth the 30% uplift on the Sportful Giro’s? Does the unobtrusive Castelli pad make up for the fraying hem after just a few rides? I have to say, if you can live with the dhb logo (and its ‘own-label’ proclamation), and if your femur is long enough, then the Aeron Speed is the one to go for. I’d put the Sportful Giro in last place only because they are so damn tight, but if you’re super slim or prepared to test their sizing (which goes up to XXXL) they’d make a good buy. Otherwise it’s swings and roundabouts between the Alé PR.R 2.0 and Castelli Evoluzione, with the less obtrusive pad of the Castelli’s edging it into favourite place for me, despite the PR.R 2.0 begging most strongly from the wardrobe. It does seem though that I may have to move up a price-point next time around, although the idea of a £100+ gamble is less than appealing.