Sugoi uses a clever combination of fabrics in its RS SubZero Bib Knickers to keep you warm and dry in unfavourable conditions. They're a bit pricey, but a great halfway choice for milder days, especially with their water-resistant properties.
This warm and wet winter I've ridden less in full bib tights than most years. Three-quarter-length tights, or bib knickers, offer a good solution for the sort of conditions we've been enjoying, keeping your knees warm with less of a risk of overheating compared with wearing full tights. There are fewer 3/4 bibs on the market than shorts, and fewer still that offer built-in water-resistance.
SubZero is an odd name for a three-quarter-length bib – these do offer better than average protection from cold, but if it was really below freezing I would very much want to be wearing full length tights. I found these worked well in the 5-14°C temperature range, which has meant plenty of use this winter, which should continue into spring.
They are made using two different fabrics, SubZero (which is what Sugoi calls Polartec Powerstretch) and Firewall 180 (Polartec Powershield softshell).
SubZero is a stretchy insulating fabric made from 90% polyester and 10% Lycra, and here it's treated with a durable water resistant (DWR) coating. It is used for the majority of the garment, and feels very similar to the sort of fleece-lined Roubaix material commonly used on winter bibs.
Firewall 180, on the other hand, is a softshell fabric made of polyester with a polyurethane laminate. It's used for the panels on the outside of the thigh and right across the front of the knees. It's the same stuff as used in the RPM Windblock tights that Dave reviewed, as well as the very likeable RS180 jacket.
Whereas the SubZero panels are stretchy in both directions (the industry likes to call this four-way stretch, for reasons that elude me), the Firewall 180 fabric is only elastic in the horizontal direction. This means that it has enough give for different shapes of leg, but that it doesn't always sit as smoothly around the knee, as can be seen in the photographs.
That's not me in the pictures, and I found that it didn't crease quite as much on my legs. In my experience, any bibs made from a softshell material tend to do this. In use, you can feel a tension across the front of the knee when it bends, compared with a more elastic fabric, but it doesn't really impact significantly on comfort.
What these bibs do very well is keep you dry. It's quite interesting to watch how the two different fabrics deal with water. Raindrops bead up and run off the DWR-treated SubZero panels, in the same way they do on similar materials used by other brands, meaning that if you're riding through showers most of the moisture will stay on the outside. By contrast, water soaks into the outer layer of the Firewall fabric straight away, but doesn't penetrate the polyurethane membrane for a lot longer.
I found that I could use these on a rainy commute without any significant amount of water getting through. Keeping your knees dry is a real bonus, as they'll feel the cold a lot more if they're wet. On longer rides, especially if rain is heavier, water will start to get through after a while. As ever, it's the seams that offer the primary chink in the armour.
The use of a softshell material makes these warmer than most winter-weight bib knickers, and once the temperature was into the mid-teens I found I'd sometimes be too warm. They are cut high at the front, a fair bit higher than I'd ideally like. There's a zip at the front, presumably intended to make them easier to get into and out of. Unusually, it's off to one side, and angled. An unfortunate consequence of this is that it is not a lot of help when taking comfort breaks – I can't really understand the logic of this. One positive note on the zip is that Sugoi has sewn a patch of fleeced material over the lower end, on the inside, to prevent irritation from the zip ends.
The pad used in these knicks is Sugoi's own male-specific Formula FX, although curiously it's not quite the same as the one shown on Sugoi's website (see here). We've seen this pad before in the RS bib shorts, and, like Mat, I got on with it pretty well. There's significant thickness variation, such that there's lots of padding under your sit bones and rather less in the places you don't want it bunching up. There are some perforations down the central channel, but it's not a pad with holes all over it, so sweat doesn't escape quite as easily as some. That said, I found that for rides of five hours or so I was very comfortable, so that gets a big thumbs up.
One area which can really affect my comfort in longer legwear is behind the knee. Here the Sugoi designers have done an excellent job, positioning the seams away from this critical area and avoiding irritation as a result. Around the leg openings there are elasticated gripper strips with a line of tacky silicone on the inside. They don't stay in place as well as the wider bands that lots of brands are switching to now (for example on Alé's PRR bibs). This is a shame, as I find that three-quarter bibs need really effective grippers, because they're sat on the top of your calves doing a difficult job on account of the knee articulation.
The bib straps are made of a mesh material which is light, stretchy and breathable. They are nice and wide, and I had no complaints about their comfort at all. Between the shoulder blades is a very small reflective tag. This is the only reflective element on the whole garment, and it seems a rather strange place to put it, as it will never be visible.
In general, then, I found that the RS SubZero bibs offer really good protection from the elements and are pretty comfortable to boot. If I was going out into the rain, I'd pick these over the likes of Castelli's Nanoflex knicks as they do a better job of keeping the rain out, even if the fit isn't as good on account of the inelastic nature of the softshell panels. Some of the details are a little odd, and the price is higher than alternative products from both Castelli and Morvelo, although they are less than Gore's Oxygen Partial 3/4 bibs. You can buy the full-length RPM tights for a lot less too, which is strange.
Comfortable if pricey three-quarter-length bibs that offer better than average protection from the rain
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Sugoi RS SubZero Bib Knicker
Size tested: Medium, Black
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?
RS level performance and fit with mixed materials for comfort and protection in inclement conditions.
SubZero DWR material provides a high level of insulation and water repellency
Strategic placement of Firewall 180 at the thighs and knees for 100% waterproof protection in critical areas
Formula FX chamois for all day comfort in the saddle
Flat seams for increased comfort
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Formula FX Chamois
The Formula FX Chamois features the best technical details and innovations for superior performance option.
Perforated forward ventilation.
4-way stretch side panels mold to the body.
High density vibration dampening relief pads.
Welded center channel with perforation for ventilation and pressure relief.
V-notch for ventilation and flexibility.
Advance lamination process for smooth seam-free surface.
Well made from quality fabrics and with good detailing including very neat flatlock seams. The angled front zip is just stupid, although I do like how Sugoi has sewn a small patch of soft material over the end of it to prevent irritation.
Does a good job on colder days - these are 3/4s for the days when you very nearly went for full-length tights. Firewall fabric offers useful obstacle to water ingress.
I've had good experiences with Sugoi products in the past and all the indications are that these should last well.
The Firewall fabric is somewhere between a typical fleecy winter fabric and a softshell. It yields a bit more than a softshell but is still definitely less stretchy than a Lycra or Roubaix fabric, though I could have gone up a size.
I tested an M which was a fairly close fit on me - I'd probably be more comfortable in an L, which agrees with the sizing chart.
Not overly heavy for a winter-weight garment.
The pad worked well for me and general comfort is good. They are a bit more restrictive than some, due to the use of less elastic softshell Firewall fabric in some areas.
They're a bit more than other water-resistant bib-knicks from Castelli and Morvelo, but also offer more protection from the wet.
How easy is the product to care for? How did it respond to being washed?
No problems - the Firewall material retains water-resistance better than simple DWR fabrics.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Pretty well - I was comfortable and warm, and stayed drier than when wearing other water-repellent legwear.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Comfortable pad and bibstraps, Firewall fabric with enhanced water resistance in key areas.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
The front was a bit high for my tastes, and I don't like the angled zip. Less significantly, the logo gripper strips are a bit 2004, and I'd like to see some useful reflectives.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes - I really like 3/4 length bibs and the rain protection is a definite bonus.
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your score
Very good option, when the weather means you don't need full length tights. Water resistance is a great bonus.
About the tester
I usually ride: On-one Bish Bash Bosh My best bike is: Rose X-Lite 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, mountain biking
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.