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Madison is a large distributor of cycling equipment with its own brand of clothing and accessories, mostly focusing on reasonably-priced gear, but starting to move up-market thanks to the tie-in with the Madison-Genesis race team. I've been testing these Sportive bib shorts and the matching short-sleeved jersey.
As you can see, they're a black set of bibs, enlivened by white logo flashes on the outside of the thighs. They're also available in a few other colour schemes, like the Sportive jersey, so you can choose ones that match your favourite jersey or your bike.
They're made from an Italian lycra material and use Madison's own 4G-Race pad. Construction features a higher number of panels than some similarly-priced bibs. In theory this makes for a better fit but this is equally determined by a host of other factors such as the characteristics of the fabric and so on.
All of the seams are flatlocked. This is particularly worthwhile on bib shorts as they are generally tighter fitting than a jersey and your legs move much more than your upper body. In any case I found the fit to be reasonably good. Sizing is perhaps a little on the small side, and in particular I found the gripper strips around the bottom of the legs too tight on my thighs so maybe a Large would suit me better. It's worth trying them on, then.
The pad is a different shape from the pads in most of the bibs I use regularly, and felt a bit odd when I first put the bibs on. As you can see from the picture, the long curved sides of the pad make it less naan-like than most. I felt that areas which were normally covered by the pad (at the top of my inner thighs) weren't covered here.
In any case, once on the bike, I didn't notice anything really amiss, and found that it was comfortable enough for rides of three hours or so. It uses variable thickness foam with the usual pressure-relieving channel down the centre. There's an anti-bacterial treatment on the fabric, designed to help avoid skin irritation. It's hard to gauge the effectiveness of this but it sounds worth having.
For longer rides, such as - say - a Sportive, they probably wouldn't be my first choice, even among similarly-priced bibs. Shorts are a personal thing, a bit like saddles, but I didn't find the pad comfortable enough for all-dayers; discomfort would set in as the miles racked up. There's no ventilation designed into the pad - it's just made of smooth foam - so for really hot days it may get a little clammy down there.
Madison's bibs all use own-brand pads until you get to the £90 Road-race model used by the Madison-Genesis team which has a TMF pad. This is where I don't think the Sportive bibs are particularly good value. Howies' excellent Leadout bibs are priced similarly to the Sportive shorts but have a really comfy TMF pad, which I definitely prefer to the one used here. Similarly, the Cytech pads that dhb uses in its shorts in this price range are also a cut above, at least as far as my posterior is concerned.
On the rear of the thighs are some reflective flashes. They're well-positioned to catch the eye of other road users. They've remained in place without peeling during the test period too, which is more than some can manage. Towards the front of the thighs are white non-reflective strips with Madison branding. These appear to have been applied via some sort of printing process (very similar to the white text on Castelli nano-flex arm warmers) and almost look like they're made of paint. You can't really tell in the photos, but the "paint" has bled a bit and (unlike Castelli's) looks a bit crap.
On the positive side, the uppers are mesh and pretty comfortable. The straps are a medium width, neither overly narrow or particularly wide, and didn't cause me any issues. The multi-panel cut is well-designed to fit the riding position, with not much bunching when you're in the saddle. At the bottom of the thighs there's a sticky silicone strip to keep them from riding up. Whether you like this or not might depend on how hairy your legs are. Mine are pretty hairy, and the combination of the sticky silicone and the tightness of the leg bands tended to become uncomfortable for me.
All in all, I couldn't say I really fell in love with the Madison Sportive bib shorts. In most respects (bar the panel-count) they're more like a £35 set of bibs, on a par with other options at that price. At £55 they are quite frankly trailing behind the competition; the sheer quality you can expect in comparatively inexpensive cycling gear has really skyrocketed in the last few years, and these aren't good enough at this price.
Not as comfortable as most of the competition; at this price there are much better options
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Make and model: Madison Sportive Bib Shorts
Size tested: Medium
Tell us what the product is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
Stylish bib shorts ideal for warm weather riding
At home both on an all day training ride and in a race situation
Constructed from the finest Italian Lycra and pre-curved into the riding position, this bib short gives great fit and all day comfort in the saddle
Custom Madison 4G-RACE gel chamois pad with anti-bacterial fabric help keep you comfortable
Y-form leg binding with silicone gripper avoids irritation and keeps the shorts in place even on the longest of rides
Soft mesh panels on the waist, hips, back panel and over the shoulders give extra comfort and prevent overheating
Limited lifetime warranty
Higher number of panels gives a decent fit. No issues with stitching. "Paint" logos don't look very classy. I also take issue with the "finest Italian lycra" claim - it felt a bit cheap to me.
No issues during the test. In fairness I only tended to wear them when my other bibs were all in the wash.
I found the pad was comfortable for rides of up to 2-3 hours. Not for longer rides. I didn't get on with the leg grippers, which were uncomfortable.
Made in China, unbranded pad - hard to see why these shorts cost more than about £40.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
They were ok for shorter rides like commuting, but I certainly wouldn't wear them for a sportive.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Flat-locked seams ... I'm clutching at straws here.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
I didn't get on with the leg grippers and found the pad only worked for me for a couple of hours or so. But strangely (given that I didn't pay for them) the thing that irked me the most was the price. I just don't think these are £55 bibs.
Did you enjoy using the product? Not enormously.
Would you consider buying the product? No.
Would you recommend the product to a friend? No.
Age: 36 Height: 190cm Weight: 78kg
I usually ride: Boardman CX team for the daily commute My best bike is: Rose Xeon CRS
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, time trialling, cyclo cross, commuting, touring, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed, mtb,
Jez spends his days making robots that drive cars but is happiest when on two wheels. His roots are in mountain biking but he spends more time nowadays on the road, occasionally racing but more often just riding.