The 2011 season marks year number three in which Bontrager have provided a top-flight road team with cycling clothing. And the Race Thermal bib short is just the type of item you expect to see come out of such a relationship. The surprise, however, is the bib’s price – just US$109.99.
Thermal bib shorts are one of those polarizing items of clothing that are best appreciated once you’ve used them in the conditions they’re designed to combat; yes you can get away without them, but the comfort they provide is significant. Basically they’re a godsend for racing or training in conditions from 60-40F.
The thicker fabric keeps some of the most important muscle groups warm, without causing you to overheat if temperatures warm up during the course of an event, like knickers or tights tend to do. Bontrager's thermal shorts don't do anything that other manufacturers' thermal or ‘Roubaix’ bibs don't, but they do the job well and at an exceptional price.
The fit of the bib is fantastic. The six lower, thermal panels feature unique cuts that do a good job of following the thigh's muscle contours. The inForm Race pad is precisely placed and is welded to a winter-specific fleece lower layer. The two-piece pad is flat stitched into the shorts; the stitching is well placed and doesn’t create any chafing issues.
The Race pad is inForm (anatomically) designed, but overall it's slightly inferior to Bontrager's RXL one-piece pad (shown right)
The Race Thermal short features traditional silicone leg gripping bands. These are sewn into the lower leg fabric rather than onto an additional band panel, which we prefer. The upper bib straps are made of a simple, effective and well-cut mesh. The shorts are finished with three simple logos and 3M reflective rear stripes just above the gripper bands.
Just about the only bit of criticism we can offer is due to a slight amount of pilling on the external flat-lock stitching and the secondary (grey) part of the pad; neither issue affected performance during our test.
The panels are uniquely cut, but provide plenty of comfort; the flat stitched seams pilled up after a season of use
Judging by this and other recent samples from Bontrager’s clothing line, it seems that their relationships with Astana, RadioShack and the Livestrong under-23 team have accelerated their clothing development from its infancy in 2009 to a level which offers legitimate competition to any other clothing now on the market.
The biggest difference is the price; we estimate that the Trek subsidiary’s clothing costs roughly 25 percent less than equivalent items from established competitors. This is likely due to two factors: where the shorts are made – China versus Italy – and the volume that Bontrager are producing. We didn't find these to be issues that affected the performance of the product.