The very best bib shorts will still sometimes cause chafing and when it happens it's almost always on the inner thigh. The Assos Equipe RSR Bib Shorts S9 Targa wraps the whole saddle area in a panel of low structure fabric to solve a problem no other brand has successfully solved.
High abrasion resistance
A-lock strap design keeps chamois in place
Low structure inner thigh is genuinely groundbreaking
Signature Assos codpiece look is better but still a feature
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If you take a look at our list of the best cycling shorts, which covers bib shorts, you'll find it's expansive to say the least. There are so many good options that it's tough to narrow it down. Different products cover different kinds of riding and different situations and making the right choice is important. No matter how good your bike fit and saddle are, you need the right chamois to make sure you stay comfortable. Modern bib short designs also have features like aero optimisation and, of course, these are clothes so there’s an element of fashion in addition to the performance.
When it comes to Assos, they've got a couple of entries in our list of the best bib shorts. The brand has a reputation for making high-end products with unique design insights. The Assos Equipe RSR Bib Shorts S9 Targa is yet another entry into this same product category. These are the range-topping option that sits above even the already premium Assos Equipe RS Bib Shorts S9 Targa. After spending time with them we are ready to share what we think of the technology that Assos is bringing to market in their range-topping short design. If you are thinking about a new pair of summer bib shorts, or even just curious what these are all about, keep reading to see what they are like.
Design and aesthetics
Depending on your point of view, you might not think of clothing as technology but that's exactly what it is. 3,000 years ago ancient weavers used panels with different weaves to create pants that worked for horseback riding. Things like extra stretch in the crotch and higher durability in the knees were the height of technology at the time. Today, a brand like Assos is integrating modern technology into its designs for very similar reasons.
The Assos Equipe RSR Bib Shorts S9 Targa aren't completely new. There are some technologies that Assos developed in years past making a repeat appearance. From the outside, one of the most prominent is the A-lock design. The name is a reference to an "A" shape formed at the rear of the bib shorts and heavily integrated into the overall design. The peak of the "A" sits on the upper back where the shoulder straps cross each other before diving down to the attachment point at the top of the shorts.
The design that many companies use is one that continues the fabric of the low back up the back before transitioning to the straps. Assos takes a different approach and keeps the lower section of the bibs separated. The straps first connect at the top of the fabric and then travel a short distance lower to the top of the panels that make up the saddle area where they connect again. In both cases, the point is to stabilise the position of the chamois by tying it in across a large surface area. The Assos approach though leads into another signature design feature of Assos bibs which is the butterfly panel.
The butterfly panel is the name of the one-piece fabric panel that makes up the vast majority of Assos bibs. If you consider the back panel as the starting point, the butterfly panels spread to each side and wrap around each leg. There's a single seam in the back of the leg and there are the seams as the butterfly panel attaches to the saddle panels. In the case of this particular bib, there is also a new fabric introduced to this butterfly panel. Assos calls it Type.701 kompressor but it's unlikely to be completely unique. There are other brands using similar fabrics, including MAAP, but it's still unusual among bib shorts on the market. The fabric choice is about better compression and stability and it ties back into the overall search for stability. Both A-lock and the butterfly panel technologies work together with this new fabric to enhance the stability of the chamois.
The chamois itself is not a new design at all. It's featured in the Equipe RS bib shorts and also in the Assos Equipe RSR Bib Shorts Superléger S9 designed for indoor riding and released last year. The base is a 9mm foam pad and the upper layer uses an against the skin fabric cover bonded to another foam layer roughly 2mm thick. Like all Assos pad designs, it's free-floating allowing it to stay with the movement of your body and let the outer fabric layer move against the bike. The left and right padding are also separate allowing even further movement hugging as you pedal.
What is unique about the Assos Equipe RSR Bib Shorts S9 Targa is the design of the saddle area. In the past Assos has extended the butterfly panel to also incorporate the saddle area. Using the Type.701 fabric necessitated a change though. There are three panels that cover the central part of the bib. The lower abdomen is the same shape as it was in older designs but now there are an extra two panels that each extends into the inner thigh. All three panels use a fabric Assos calls Ossidia that has very little compressive structure and is very soft.
The explanation of why I like these bibs is going to look simple compared to what it takes to cover the technology. The reality is that it's pretty simple to cover what makes the Assos Equipe RSR Bib Shorts S9 Targa great. The biggest innovation is that they don't chafe on the inner thigh. That's it, I could end the conversation there but I'll expand a bit.
My first experience with these bibs was a trip I took to Monterey, California. It's a coastal town but like other areas in Southern California, and as soon as you head inland the coastal breeze disappears. Even this early in the year it's hot and dry. In that area, there's a river valley to follow that keeps the ride flat as you leave the coast. For the first hour or so it was flat with steadily increasing temperatures. At that point, the route started to head up and for the next 45 minutes, it was a steady 3-5-per cent climb but I knew this wasn't the main event.
As I followed the river there was a steep ridge on my left. I could tell from the route that I'd be ascending this at some point, and when it was time to turn, it ended up being about a 20-minute climb between 9 and 11 per cent, and very hot. As I reached the top there was a significant amount of salt buildup on the Assos kit I was testing. In the past, this is just the kind of scenario that can sometimes lead to chafing on the inner thighs in even the best shorts.
The Assos design is superior in that it prevents that problem. The same fabric covers the whole saddle and lower abdomen but none of that is important when riding. What matters is that in the crease of your inner thigh, right where there's the most movement as you pedal, there's a fabric that's super soft and lacks structure. Instead of being strong enough to resist the movement of your body and cause your skin to slide against it, it moves as you move.
When it comes to the rest of the design, things are more on par with other good bib shorts. Assos does a good job with its bib straps but they aren't as unique as the technology makes it seem. They do it differently but other brands have found other strategies that also work. Same thing with the chamois, it's good but so are others. Above all else, what matters is that at the end of a six-hour-plus ride, my sit bones aren't bruised. Assos does the job very well.
When it comes to bib shorts what I look for is a performance fit that stays comfortable when I go out for six hours, 10 hours, or even more. That's not to say I wouldn't rate a bib highly if it only worked for a shorter ride but it's a different level. Only the very best are good enough to spend 10 plus hours in and even then some of those will sometimes show faults. Assos is doing something truly different with these bibs and it's successful. They have stood up to the most challenging conditions I’ve put them through.
In my list of negatives, I've got two issues. One is the price. Making high-end gear is expensive and it's okay to charge a premium. Assos goes over the top of almost anything else though and not mentioning it wouldn't make sense. Another aspect I don't love is the codpiece design. Assos often highlights the area by using contrasting colours or textures. These bibs are one of Assos' best in that regard but they still pale in comparison to the much more modest design that Castelli manages.
Tech specs: Assos Equipe RSR Bib Shorts S9 Targa
- Price: £255 / $350 / €290 / AU$500
- Weight: 159 grams in size small
- Size availability: XS-XLG and TIR (XLG but wider)
- Colour Options: Black, Flamme D'Ore (a bit of orange on the straps and logo)
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Josh hails from the Pacific Northwest of the United States but would prefer riding through the desert than the rain. He will happily talk for hours about the minutiae of cycling tech but also has an understanding that most people just want things to work. He is a road cyclist at heart and doesn't care much if those roads are paved, dirt, or digital. Although he rarely races, if you ask him to ride from sunrise to sunset the answer will be yes.
Weight: 140 lb.
Rides: Cannondale Topstone Lefty, Cannondale CAAD9, Enve Melee, Look 795 Blade RS, Priority Continuum Onyx
By Will Jones