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In one form or another, Castelli's Free Aero Race bib shorts have been around since 2007, when they were the brand's top-tier offering. They're still its 'premier race short', and even though they're not exactly cheap at £140 I'd say they represent a good investment, with an extremely comfortable pad, lightweight fabric and a great fit.
The best feature about these bib shorts is the chamois. Castelli's Progetto pads have sat within the Rosso Corsa-spec (that's race-spec to you and me) bib shorts for a number of years, and are among the very best performance chamois in the business. The X2 Air pad features graded densities at the sit bones and perineal region, and dimpled perforations in the upper 'skin care' layer for breathability. It's light too.
This results in performance suitable for long and warm days in the saddle, yet manages to feel plush without adding excess bulk. The goal of reducing 'chamois time' is a common theme among cyclists who ride day-in-day-out, but with the Progetto X2 Air, you feel like you can bear it for longer than normal.
The Free Aero Race bib shorts are also about helping you get the most out of yourself in a competitive situation. So, there are aero dimples on the leg panels and hips to smooth airflow around the body, while at 160g in a medium size, the fabric is also lightweight too. These are summer-weight bib shorts, no question, offering good cooling on the move as you slice through the air.
As ever, it's impossible to accurately judge the effectiveness of aero dimples, but I can say that in tandem with the Free AR jersey I tested these shorts with – a perfect accompaniment if you ask me – the ensemble comes together to 'feel' fast.
The length of the leg is slightly longer than most bib shorts – I prefer a cut that extends to just beyond halfway down my thigh – in part because of the long flat textured gripper section. Castelli says it's supposed to distribute the gripping action around a wider area, improving comfort; I can't disagree with that, in fact the gripper surface is incredibly comfortable, but it does seem a bit overkill given the total leg length might not suit those with shorter legs or thighs.
The bib section is designed to be low profile, featuring comfortable flat straps and a mesh back for additional cooling. The bib section as a whole fits my long back incredibly well as it's very stretchy. There's a neat little pocket for a radio included too. I was impressed with how it distributes tension evenly without pulling up the bottom section too much.
As with the majority of Castelli kit, there's no skimping on quality. Materials are top level, from the Forza elastic fabric on the inner thighs to the Doppio V waistline support, and the former is surprisingly resilient to things like wooden garden furniture that can snag. The seams have proved reliable, with the whole garment able to stand up to 40-degree washes without shrinking or degrading in any noticeable way.
For all this, you might be expecting a price tag nearing the £200 mark – not unheard of for premium bib shorts, such as Rapha's Pro Team II shorts for £195, the Assos T.FF-1s, now £230, or Fizik's Link R1 Snake shorts for £250 – but these sit beneath Castelli's Premio flagship bib shorts (now £185) and are a pretty competitive £140.
For my money that's a sound investment bordering on good value, and I'd recommend that they feature on your new summer bib shorts shortlist.
Excellent bib shorts at an acceptable price for the quality and performance
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Castelli Free Aero Race Bibshort
Size tested: Medium
Tell us what the product is for
"The Free Aero Race short has been engineered as our premier race short. Our first Free Aero Race debuted in 2007 and has undergone continuous improvement as we develop new fabrics and construction methods and respond to feedback from our professional teams. We designed the Free Aero Race to be fast by concentrating on helping you get the most out of your body and by optimizing aerodynamics. The other main goal in this short is comfort, because the pros will be riding 30,000 km per year, and a four-hour ride isn't even considered long. While the Free Aero Race short has been engineered for top-level racing, all its features make it an ideal short for whatever your cycling challenge."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
- Vortex dimpled fabric on legs for aero performance
- Forza fabric on inner legs with 38% Lycra® content for perfect fit
- Carré engineered lie-flat bib strap construction for minimal coverage, maximum comfort
- Giro Air mesh-like leg gripper elastic for better grip distributed over larger area
- Doppio V construction in front for increased support and comfort
- Flat-lock stitching
- Reflective detailing on back
- Progetto X2 Air seat pad for even greater comfort
I'm very impressed with the quality – right up there with the best I've seen from Castelli.
I can't comment on the aero claims, but they certainly don't feel slow.
Seams and joins are well manufactured, and the fabric is resistant to snagging.
I really liked the fit of these bib shorts. The leg is arguably a touch long, but that's continental styling for you.
As you might expect, Castelli sizes the bib shorts on the performance side of things. Sizing is good, but expect to fit snugly.
160g is light in my book, feeling like a second skin.
The fit is perfectly performance-orientated, which in itself needs to be comfortable.
£140 for this level of performance and quality marks these as pretty good value. They'll become a staple of your summer wardrobe.
How easy is the product to care for? How did it respond to being washed?
Very easily, you can throw them in with your normal kit wash.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Practically perfectly – some of the best performance bib shorts I've ever worn.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Excellent pad, comfortable gripper, aero features.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Not much, but the leg length could be a bit long for those with shorter thighs.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your overall score
Typical Castelli high performance and quality married to a not-extortionate price tag.
About the tester
I usually ride: Canyon Ultimate CF SL 9.0 SL (2016) My best bike is:
I've been riding for: 5-10 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: time trialling, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding