These superb bib shorts are far from cheap, but their quality and attention to detail justifies the steep asking price
At around UKP130 or US$229 a pair, many potential buyers will think twice about handing over their hard-earned cash for something that could be had for around half the price, but the Castelli Free bib shorts have several advantages over cheaper alternatives.
When you first put them on, you instantly notice that the shoulder straps fit differently to those on other bibs. Castelli has moved as much material as possible away from the front of the stomach and upper torso area, so that instead of rising vertically from the waist to the middle of the shoulder, the straps curve from the outside of the hips and around your chest. Castelli says that leaving more of the chest uncovered makes the shorts feel less restrictive and cooler in warm conditions.
This approach was certainly effective in practice: the lack of material around the stomach made the Free bib especially comfortable and arguably aided our breathing as we desperately hung on to the last wheel. They were noticeably cooler in very hot conditions – the main testing was done in an Australian summer – particularly when riding with the jersey zip completely open. Adding to the airy feel are the unique wetsuit-like bands at the leg openings that kept the shorts from riding up without the need for the usual grippers.
Castelli claims the ComfortTemp® material in the triple layer chamois is able to maintain a constant 37°C (98°F), meaning a cooler feel and a slightly less hospitable environment for harmful bacteria growth - at least in theory.
The chamois was still comfortable on even the roughest roads. Sydney lacks cobbles, so we can't vouch for performance over old road stones, but they were fine on 'ordinary' bad roads, of which we have no shortage. The chamois is also thinner than usual so wearing the Free bib feels less like a giant nappy and more like a comfortable pair of slacks.
It also doesn’t hurt that Castelli’s Italian designers have arguably nailed the Free bib’s multi-tone look, too. As anyone who has ever spent a few hundred dollars on a pair of jeans can attest (come on, you know who you are), sometimes it not just all about function.
We were impressed by these bibs and can easily understand why they're more expensive than many others.
If you spend almost as many hours on your bike as you do at work, a pair of these would make those long days in the saddle a little more bearable.