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Ashmei's Winter Merino 3/4 Bib is as close to perfect as you'll get for cold-weather riding. A perfect balance of warmth, windproofness, water-shedding and breathability, coming together in a package that will leave your lower body happy for many, many cold, windy, rainy miles.
We've known for many years that merino wool is pretty much perfect for baselayers, socks, gloves, beanies and jerseys. The thermal regulation and smell-reduction properties of merino are legend. But merino is far less commonly seen in bib shorts. A few brands make them, but they aren't common and tend to be only a small percentage of actual wool.
Ashmei took three years developing its merino fabrics, and the time was well spent. The end result is akin to witchcraft. Or wizardry, take your pick. Whatever it is, it's amazing. The lower panels (meaning from the waist down) are 51% merino, the rest a mix of synthetics. The hems are laser-cut, with the bottoms comprising six panels, each shaped to provide a very close fit overall. Ashmei calls it 'compressive' – I wouldn't go that far, in that I didn't feel compressed like some shorts aimed at actual muscle support do, but they are certainly very snug.
The upper panels are 65% merino – so like another baselayer, really. They come up high in the front, with a zip to aid getting on and off. The zip is backed with a flap and garage at the top for comfort, and once on you can't tell it's there. The straps are wide, soft and proportioned just right so as not to be noticeable.
Talking of fit, I was on the cusp of Medium-Large according to Ashmei's sizing, and definitely needed to go Large to get the pad feeling right. (It's not me in the photos, that's Adam, who's 6ft 2in and 75kg). The pad is another great effort, consisting of a high-density foam which Ashmei says is designed not to absorb excessive amounts of water, and I can vouch for that.
Doing a few test hand-washes after long rides, as you would if cycle touring off-grid, the pad came up clean without absorbing loads of water, and was dry again next day at normal temperatures. Certainly any dampness wasn't noticeable if it were present, and the ability to use small quantities of antibacterial wash to keep things healthy on long trips is a real plus (merino's natural anti-odour properties again make the Winter Merino Bib a winner in the multi-day riding stakes).
The pad initially feels pretty thick, with what feels like a firmer raised area under each sit bone – so more sitting 'on' than 'in'. Once riding, this feeling disappears.
Ashmei says the Winter bib is 'optimal' between 6 and 15°C. The fabric is the traditional winter 'Roubaix' brushed interior, and I've been a fan of Giordana's Roubaix'd FormaCarbon Red 3/4 bibs for five years now. I can attest the Ashmei version with a merino top layer is a lot warmer and more windproof than Giordana's or any Roubaix fabric I've tried. Now, many companies make great bib shorts for cooler weather. Many make Roubaix fabrics, and DWR fabrics, and pads you can ride in all day. But what Ashmei has done here is special. Really special.
Out in 2 or 3 degrees on frozen trails, with 20-30mph headwinds, my legs never felt cold – at all. Even moving through heavy snowfalls, with half-an-inch piled up on my thighs, needing brushing off every few minutes. Nor did they feel sweaty or too warm on long, sheltered 300m+ gain climbs in breaks of sunshine. As previous, this is witchcraft, this is. Ashmei has redefined what high-end bib short material can do; wool is back on your bum after Lycra took over in 1977, and not in a saggy, baggy way. The fit is impressive, with no feeling of fabric bunching behind the knees – always a risk with a thicker material.
Across several months of deep Highland Scotland winter rides, the Merino Winter Bibs never left me feeling cold or hot. But the real test, the moment these bibs went from great to amazing in my estimation, was on a ride that eventually got so grim my body decided it had had enough – but not before a chance to prove just how good the Ashmei bibs are.
Starting out in 5°C, we headed into the hills. After a few hours ranging up and down the snowline on estate 4x4 tracks, we headed up the new Duntanlich Mine Road – an evil, evil gravel grovel just off the A9 south of Pitlochry, with long stretches in excess of 20% gradient, some 25%. In the sheltered sections there was no wind, clear sun and the Garmin was saying 15°C – all this while working at or close to 100% max heart rate, faltering between lactic acid overload, lung failure, arm burnout and maintaining traction both front and rear. Yes, an unrelenting VO2-max test on gravel.
Through this anaerobic hell, the Ashmei Winter Merino 3/4 bibs never felt too hot, with not a trace of sweat left unwicked. I was left alone with my thoughts, regretting a winter of sloth, unable to blame this relentless misery on anything other than my own failings.
The gradient mercifully eased around the 500m altitude mark, as we began to crest the ridge looking over Strathtay, 10 minutes of soft pedalling giving welcome respite. But any feeling of relief was tempered by the view ahead through the mature pines, to an area of road where recent felling had left a lost-tooth gap in the protective tree belt. Just as we emerged into the open space, a front rolled in, lashing us with borderline-unrideable 40-50mph sidewinds and matching horizontal sleet. The temperature plummeted from 15 down to 5, along with the wind.
A harsher test of a cycling fabric I cannot imagine, with cooling large muscles now pedalling along the flat ridge fully exposed to the gale. But again, the merino blend did its magic. I could scarcely believe that my thighs and glutes didn't feel cold – I could definitely feel the biting sting on the thin band of exposed flesh between where the bibs ended and my waterproof Dexshell Ultra Dri Sports Socks began – but the rest of me was literally toasty warm.
The sleet balled up on my windward legs, forming thousands of droplets that could be shaken free, or brushed off if of a more frozen nature. After about five minutes of this pummelling we re-entered shelter and sped along at a good lick, legs feeling good with no hint of the cooling-toffee sensation when cold muscles are asked to work harder. Yes, the merino had absorbed some water by then – it's not waterproof, after all – but I honestly don't recall thinking anything uncomfortable, and after 30 minutes any trace of moisture had evaporated thanks to body heat.
Stu really liked the £215 Santini Merino tights, full-length bib tights with 'power wool' – a different take on the Ashmei fabric in that the merino is on the inside, not the outside. And Mat's a fan of Ashmei's £188 padless Merino Winter tights – but didn't find the fabric as wind-blocking as I did. Katusha sells €200 merino bibs, but they're only 24% wool in the lower section. Tasmania's Breathe Velo sells semi-merino bib shorts, with somewhere between 0 and 50% of the fabric being wool – but they clearly aren't built for a European market.
Which brings us to the only possible point stopping Ashmei from taking over the winter bib knicker market completely, in my view: price. At £218 these are about the most expensive 3/4 tights you can buy. Even Rapha doesn't manage to sell full bib tights over £210. (I will ignore the £345 Assos Bonka, because it's – er – bonkers.) The closest comparison here has to be with the Santini Merino tights above. Of course they are full tights, so if you actually want a 3/4 merino knicker – preferred by many for the lack of lower legs that can soak up water/mud – it's the Ashmei or nothing.
It seems weatherproof wool costs, regardless of manufacturer. What I can vouch for is that in the case of the Ashmei Winter Merino 3/4 Bib, they're worth every penny spent, every time you pull them on.
Excellent choice for long, long rides through any weather barring midsummer
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road.cc test report
Make and model: ashmei Winter Merino 3/4 Bib
Size tested: Large
Tell us what the product is for
They're for going far and long in awful weather, across a range of temperatures from freezing to T-shirt.
"Where performance meets sustainability, the Merino, Capri length, 3/4 Winter Bib. This garment has been 36 months in product development to create the perfect fibre combination suited to endurance, deep Winter and early morning rides.
"The 36 months in development starts with a blank piece of paper. We knew the product required a Merino Rich fibre to provide excellent thermo-regulative and anti-smell features, but also provide a product with high eco-credentials. We set out to develop a fabric that offered all of this but also offered excellent windproofing, water-resistance, durability and a next to skin fit. A complex engineering challenge.
"The result is a highly engineered piece of kit, with the simplicity and elegance of ashmei design. The close to skin fit offers a semi-compressive fit which hugs the body, providing the perfect thermal micro-climate. When exposed to the elements, a PFC free water-resistant finish keeps raindrops at bay, while the close-knit of Merino Wool offers excellent wind protection. The upper body is made using our Merino + Carbon blend, acting as the first layer of core protection.
"To excel over longer Winter rides, you will come to appreciate our bespoke high-density foam chamois. The chamois is also ideal if you are riding over the course of a week as the high-density foam doesn't absorb moisture like traditional foam pads. This means you can wash your bibs at the end of a hard day's ride and in the morning it will be as dry as a bone. This drastically reduces the chance of saddle sores.
"To finish, the laser cut hem sits at the top of the Calf, below the knee, offering thermal protection in this critical area. Reflective detailing on the right calf enhances the rider's visibility when in urban areas."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Merino rich, 3/4, Capri length
Bespoke High-Density Foam Chamois
Next to skin fit, water, and wind-resistant fabric
Precision laser-cut leg cuff
Reflective ashmei branded print for enhanced visibility
Enlarged ashmei zipper puller with Alcantara guard
C0 - PFC Free Durable Water Repellent finish
Merino + Carbon Upper Body
Thermal weight – 340g (Size Medium)
Compressive, next to skin fit.
Fabric: Top - Top - 65% Merino Wool, 35% Polyester. Bottom - 51% Merino Wool, 38% CDPL, 11% Elastane. Exclusive of trims.
Machine wash cool 30°C
Do not tumble dry
Do not use fabric softeners
Do not dry clean
Do not iron
Do not bleach
Super build quality.
Simply cannot fault any aspect of this.
Early days, but the top layer of wool wears really well and doesn't show marks.
Sculpted, snug and supportive. Just right.
You'll likely need to size up to get the pad fit just right.
For what they do they are fine – these aren't trying to be super-light.
So comfortable. Very nice to wear.
No, they're not cheap, but for the performance they justify the outlay. For what they do, in weathers good and bad, you'll not regret a penny of it.
How easy is the product to care for? How did it respond to being washed?
Washing out deeply-ingrained mud sometimes took two goes on a gentle wool wash.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Can't fault it, at all, in any aspect. They kept me warm, and cool when needed.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
The combination of windproofness and snug fit.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
About on par, looking at the Santini Winter Merino tights.
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
The *only* thing I can mark them down on is price. In every other way they're 'exceptional'.
About the tester
I usually ride: Merida Ride 5000 Disc My best bike is: Velocite Selene
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: A few times a week I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: cyclo cross, club rides, general fitness riding, mtb, Dutch bike pootling.