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review

Castelli Free Aero RC Bib Shorts

9
£175.00

VERDICT:

9
10
Excellent all-round performance and one of the best seat pads out there
Excellent seat pad
Loads of comfort
Plenty of support
No more flaking logos
The lack of leg grippers won't suit everyone
Weight: 
200g

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Castelli's updated Free Aero RC bib shorts are its best ever, combining a superb level of comfort with plenty of support and some neat features. Plus, the Progetto X Air seamless seat pad is among the best out there.

Castelli has simplified its Free Aero shorts in some ways, halving the number of panels used in the lowers from 10 to five – and so reducing the number of seams. The danger with doing that is that you don't get such an anatomic fit, but these are superbly comfortable throughout.

The lowers are made from what Castelli calls Forza 2 which is apparently 'a brand-new 215g/m2 double-face circular knit fabric with a 32% elastane content' (the other 68% is nylon). That's quite a mouthful but the bottom line is that I found the shorts to feel supportive without being at all restrictive, although any matters of fit will depend to some extent on the individual.

The fine gauge of the yarns is designed to wick moisture away quickly. Although I've not had the chance to wear these shorts in super-hot weather, I've used them indoors on the turbo and they put in a good performance in this respect. They're a good summer weight.

The gripper panels at the ends of the legs on the previous generation Free Aero shorts are among those things that have been ditched. In fact, Castelli uses no gripper, no silicone, no elastic, no nothing to keep the ends of the raw-cut legs in place. It's an approach that the brand took for the Omloop Thermal Bib Shorts a few years ago, but smooth, lightweight summer fabrics are more likely to slip than thermal fabrics. Castelli says that it went through 28 different fabrics to get the right one.

2022 Castelli Free Aero RC Bibshort Men's - cuff.jpg

I must say that I was a little suspicious, wondering whether this was just a way to save a little money in production costs, but Castelli is adamant that the idea is to prevent any discomfort from elastic or silicone. I expected the legs to ride up from time to time but, fair play, this never happened during testing – and I've been using these for about three months now both with leg/knee warmers and without – so the design certainly worked for me.

2022 Castelli Free Aero RC Bibshort Men's - cuff rear.jpg

You get two small reflective tabs around the back which are pretty noticeable in car headlights, and the Castelli name is subtly embossed on the right leg. Castelli's scorpion logo comes on a badge that's sewn in place. That might seem like a small thing but, to me, is a step forward. Heat-on logos on Castelli shorts have been cracking and flaking off for years, making them look tatty even when relatively new (despite following the washing instructions scrupulously). You're not going to get that here.

2022 Castelli Free Aero RC Bibshort Men's - logo.jpg

The previous generation Free Aero shorts had a little pocket sewn into the back of the bib section. This has now gone, replaced by a larger and more easily accessible pocket right at the top of the lower section. Assuming most of us aren't going to stick a race radio in there, it's big enough for a mobile phone, keys, emergency Snickers bar, or whatever.

2022 Castelli Free Aero RC Bibshort Men's - pocket.jpg

The straps are super-light and highly breathable, and they don't get heavy with sweat. They're also very stretchy so they'll work for a range of different torso lengths, and they're reinforced with thicker elasticated bands over the top of the shoulders.

2022 Castelli Free Aero RC Bibshort Men's - strap.jpg

The straps join together at the yoke between your shoulder blades and a narrow mesh panel provides the back section that holds the shorts comfortably in place. It's a bit of a cliché but you really don't feel the bib section in use. It just gets on with its job without adding any noticeable pressure or heat.

2022 Castelli Free Aero RC Bibshort Men's - straps back.jpg

Castelli's Progetto X Air seamless seat pad is up there with the very best in the business. You get 3mm-thick viscous (gel-like) padding in the perineal and ischial areas and two different densities of foam. The thickness of the pad varies and it slopes away gradually towards the edges.

2022 Castelli Free Aero RC Bibshort Men's - chamois.jpg

The soft and seamless top layer sits independent of the rest of the seat pad and it's stretchy enough to move with you as you pedal. Overall, I find the pad extremely comfortable and highly breathable, and I know loads of other people feel the same.

2022 Castelli Free Aero RC Bibshort Men's - legs back.jpg

Something we can't measure is the aero performance. Castelli says that the drag of the Free Aero RC bib shorts is very close to that of the outgoing pair at 0-degree yaw but that the new versions make 'significant gains' when even minor crosswinds are brought into the equation. I'm just reporting the claim, though, not verifying it.

Priced at £175, the Free Aero RC bib shorts aren't cheap, but bear in mind that these are a high-level offering with a superb seat pad. You can buy shorts much cheaper, of course, but we've reviewed far more expensive shorts too, such as the £235 MAAP Pro Bib 2.0 that George tested last month and the Santini Redux Istinto shorts that Stu tested last year. Although each is very impressive, I think that the Free Aero RCs offer better value.

> Buyer’s Guide: 10 of the best bib shorts

If you're attracted by the Progetto X Air seat pad, it's available on Castelli's Endurance 3 bib shorts which cost £130, but the Free Aero RCs do enough to justify the extra spend.

Overall, the Free Aero RC bib shorts put in an excellent performance. The pad is exceptionally good, the comfort elsewhere is similarly impressive, and the price... well, it reflects the high quality.

Verdict

Excellent all-round performance and one of the best seat pads out there

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road.cc test report

Make and model: Castelli Free Aero RC Bib Shorts

Size tested: Large

Tell us what the product is for

Castelli says, "The Free Aero RC Bibshort is our top race short, which also means that it's insanely comfortable even if you never pin on a number.

"It's fair to say that we've been working on this short for the past 15 years. That's how long it's been since the original Free Aero Race Bibshort was first introduced, initially as our top-of-the-line race short. Since then it has won three Tours de France, three editions of the Giro d'Italia, one Vuelta and San Remo, but it also became the best-selling product in the history of Castelli because, simply put, this is the short that does everything well.

"The concept is quite simple: start with the best pad we know how to make, surround it with a supportive short with good muscle compression, and then remove everything else that's not absolutely necessary.

"You feel Free thanks to the reduced number of panels and the reduced number of seams. In fact, the short portion has just 5 panels compared to 10 in the previous generation.

"You feel Free because of further refinements to the Progetto X2 Air seamless seat pad. The two densities of foam plus the gel pads provide progressive damping, while the separate Skin Care Layer is soft and stretchy to move with your skin.

"You feel Free thanks to the most minimal bibs you've ever seen in a short, including open-weave straps for maximum airflow. But we reinforced the yoke so the straps stay in place and made the mesh back narrow for coverage that is minimal yet just enough to hold the shorts in place. And the bib elegantly frames a convenient pocket at the centre back.

"You feel Free because this is the first high-end short that doesn't need any sort of gripper or elastic at the end of the leg to keep the leg in place. Getting this right meant 28 prototypes and our most extensive test program ever, and it results in the most comfortable leg ending we've ever made.

"The Forza 2 fabric has 32% Lycra® with a high modulus for exceptional muscle support and just the right amount of compression. There's reflective piping on the back. And all logos are either stitched or embossed for durability."

Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?

Castelli lists these features:

* High-compression 215 g Forza 2 fabric with 32% Lycra content provides exceptional muscle support and compression

* Progetto X2 Air seamless seat pad is soft against the skin but well padded for long-distance comfort

* Minimalist bib straps allow maximum airflow, while a reinforced yoke keeps the straps flat over the shoulders

* Rear mesh pocket

* 5-panel construction for reduced seams and less chafing

* Stitched scorpion logo patch and embossed Castelli wordmark for durability

* Reflective piping on back of legs

* Raw-cut edge at waist for extra stretch and comfort

* Raw-cut leg ending engineered to stay put without silicone grippers

Rate the product for quality of construction:
 
9/10

The construction is excellent throughout. The way Castelli spreads the load at the end of the straps, for example, by cutting them in a V-shape and so extending the length of the seam, is indicative of smart thinking.

Rate the product for performance:
 
9/10

Fabulous performance.

Rate the product for durability:
 
8/10

The high-quality build will extend durability. I like that Castelli has ditched the heat-on logos – which always flake off sooner or later – and gone with a badge that's sewn in place.

Rate the product for fit:
 
9/10
Rate the product for sizing:
 
8/10

As expected.

Rate the product for weight:
 
9/10
Rate the product for comfort:
 
9/10
Rate the product for value:
 
7/10

You can buy much cheaper shorts, of course, but these are better than average value considering the quality.

How easy is the product to care for? How did it respond to being washed?

Easy. You stick them in the machine at 30°C. The logos won't flake.

Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose

These shorts put in an excellent all-round performance.

Tell us what you particularly liked about the product

The seat pad and the level of support in the fabric.

Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product

Not a lot.

How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?

Priced at £175, the Castellis aren't cheap, but bear in mind that these are a high-level offering with a superb seat pad. You can buy shorts much cheaper, of course, but we've reviewed far more expensive shorts too, such as the £235 MAAP Pro Bib 2.0 last month and the Santini Redux Istinto shorts last year. Although each is very impressive, I think that the Free Aero RCs offer better value.

If you're attracted by the Progetto X Air seat pad, it's available on Castelli's Endurance 3 bib shorts which cost £130, but the Free Aero RCs do enough to justify the extra spend.

Did you enjoy using the product? Very much.

Would you consider buying the product? Yes

Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes

Use this box to explain your overall score

I think that the excellent comfort and all-round performance mean these deserve a 9 overall.

Overall rating: 9/10

About the tester

Age: 48  Height: 190cm  Weight: 80kg

I usually ride:   My best bike is:

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: commuting, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding,

Mat has been in cycling media since 1996, on titles including BikeRadar, Total Bike, Total Mountain Bike, What Mountain Bike and Mountain Biking UK, and he has been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. Mat has been road.cc technical editor for over a decade, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer. Now over 50, he's riding road and gravel bikes most days for fun and fitness rather than training for competitions.

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