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Santini's Gravel Bib Shorts take the performance and fit of its top-end road shorts but add easy-access storage pockets and a much more durable fabric to take the abuse of brambles and spills on rough surfaces. They might be a bit too race-orientated for some, though.
More and more brands are bringing out gravel-specific clothing now, typically with a slightly more relaxed fit or a thicker pad than their road line-up, but Santini's Gravel bib shorts don't follow that. At the same time as testing these I was also wearing Santini's Redux Istintos, its top-flight race bib shorts, and when it comes to fit there is very little in it. The Gravels are cut close, and they also share the same C3 pad. These are definitely shorts for the performance gravel rider.
The pad is very good on the road, but even with its minimal thickness it still works on the gravel when you are riding quickly with the majority of your weight on the pedals rather than the saddle.
A lot of my gravel rides are like that – 90-minute to 2-hour blasts, mixing up the terrain – and it's on these sorts of routes that I've found the C3 to work best. With minimal bulk it allows you to easily move around on the saddle when changing position for technical sections, and there are definitely no issues with bunching of the gel padding.
Its size also allows for plenty of feedback to come up through from the ground, so you know what your tyres are up to.
Santini says the C3 is an endurance pad for rides up to 8 hours, and after some long outings on the road bike wearing the Redux Istintos, I can agree. But on the gravel, especially if you are taking things a bit easier, it's a little lacking in the padding department. It all comes down to the type of riding you predominantly do.
As for the rest of the shorts, there is a lot to like.
For the main shorts section, Santini uses an exclusive 200g/m2 Gabardine fabric, which includes 25% elastane. It feels thicker than that used in many road shorts, but not so much that it feels weighty or affects breathability. There is a lot of stretch in it, and compression, which I find has a good impact on muscle fatigue as rides get longer.
When on the bike the shorts move well with your body, while the leg grippers stay in place thanks to the silicone dots on the inside.
The material is standing up well to the added rigours of off-road riding, too. Some of my routes have become overgrown during the summer months, so the shorts have been snagged by all sorts of thorns and brambles as I've weaved my way through.
There is the odd pull of the fabric here and there, but way less than you'd get on a standard pair of road shorts. All of the stitching is holding up well to miles in the saddle too.
Size-wise, these Gravel shorts come up smaller than typical UK brands. Santini addresses this in its size guide, though, so just follow that. You'll probably need to go up a size or even two compared with the likes of Lusso, dhb and Rapha.
Personally, I'd like the stomach section to finish a little higher for comfort.
The straps are wide, which reduces pressure points, but they do change material halfway through so there is a seam on the shoulder. It caused me no issues, but might if you don't always wear a baselayer.
I often use bags on my gravel bikes, even on short rides I like a handlebar bag and a saddle pack, but because of the terrain I'll often need to stop to retrieve anything from them. With shorts like these you can stash food or gel sachets in the mesh leg pockets, or anything else you might need to grab on the fly.
The pockets might look a little flimsy and like they won't hold anything when the shorts are just hanging up, but pull them on and the pockets are pulled taut against the shorts.
The rear pockets let you carry stuff you'd normally put in a jersey, which I found handy on hot days when I might have my jersey unzipped for long climbs.
Also, if I'm out riding purely on the trails then I might go for a technical T-shirt or cross-country jersey without pockets. The pockets become a boon then.
Priced at £169 the Santinis aren't cheap, but they are very well made.
That's a bit higher than the PEdAL ED Odyssey Bibshorts which I was very impressed with a couple of seasons back. They were £145 at the time, but look to be around £153 now.
Rapha's Cargo Bib Shorts are £195, although they do come with a dash of water resistance for when the weather is a bit iffy.
Overall I'd say the Santini Gravel bib shorts are good, but not quite as versatile as some. If you are the type of rider who likes to smash the pace out on the rough stuff then they are definitely worth a look.
Robust and comfortable gravel shorts aimed at the performance rider
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Santini Gravel Bib Shorts
Size tested: Medium
Tell us what the product is for
Santini says, "Our Gravel bib shorts are the perfect choice for long rides on your gravel bike or for all off-road adventures.Made with the exclusive 200 g / m2 Gabardine fabric with 25% elastane with a typical dense diagonal rib design, they have excellent abrasion resistance while remaining incredibly soft on the skin and guarantee a light compressive action.The front bibs are in ribbed elastic with back in breathable mesh. Two pockets on the bottom of the leg and two additional pockets on the lower back offer an excellent load capacity to carry the essentials for your rides. Reflective logos offer better visibility in low light conditions.The elastic grip at the bottom of the leg has a honeycomb silicone structure that guarantees perfect sealing and the C3 seat pad offers maximum protection from shocks thanks to its gel structure making it ideal for long hours in the saddle.Designed to match any jersey from our collection, the Gravel bib-shorts are perfect for all your off-road adventures"
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
200 g / m2 Gabardine fabric with 25% elastane
Two pockets on the bottom of the legs
Two pockets on the lower back
C3 seat pad
Overall, pretty good, but I would like a higher front section.
They size up small in relation to UK brands, but Santini's size guide is accurate.
How easy is the product to care for? How did it respond to being washed?
No problems at all when following the instructions.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
A quality pair of shorts for the racer, with added pockets.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Pockets carry plenty of kit securely.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Chamois isn't quite padded enough for me for more relaxed rides.
How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
They are a fair chunk cheaper than Rapha's Cargo gravel shorts without giving much away in the performance stakes, and a little more expensive than PEdAL ED's Odyssey shorts, which I'm a big fan of.
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
An all-round decent pair of bib shorts with some great attributes for riding off-road, though they do lack some of the versatility of others to suit more riding styles.
About the tester
I usually ride: This month's test bike My best bike is: B'Twin Ultra CF draped in the latest bling test components
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: time trialling, commuting, club rides, sportives, fixed/singlespeed,
With 20 years of road cycling and over 150,000 miles in his legs it's safe to say Stu is happiest when on the bike whatever the weather. Since writing his first review for road.cc back in 2009 he has also had a career in engineering including 3D-CAD design and product development, so has a real passion for all of the latest technology coming through in the industry but is also a sucker for a classic steel frame, skinny tyres, rim brakes and a damn good paintjob.
His fascination with gravel bikes is getting out of control too!