Our Early Verdict
So far we're very impressed with these incredibly comfortable and well thought-out bib shorts
- Ridiculously comfortable
- Flattering fit
- Excellent moisture and heat management
- Quick drying
- Classy aesthetic that will go with anything
- Waist would benefit from being a bit higher-cut
- Italian sizing comes up small
Today Castelli released the brand new Premio Black Bib Shorts, its biggest launch in a decade, and they come with some serious claims. The Italian brand dubs these shorts its most comfortable long-distance performance shorts to date, resulting from ten years of experimenting with weight reduction and developing the engineered-weave fabric that makes up their construction.
We were sent all three available models — the men’s bib short, women’s bib short and women’s waist short — and have between us spent some time putting them to the test to see if they’re worthy of the hype. Having only ridden in them a few times over the past month, we’re offering up our first impressions and will continue to wear them throughout the summer and update this page with a full review when we’ve had more experience with them, so stay tuned for that.
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Design and aesthetics
The Castelli Premio Black Bib Short and Waist Short are all-black with lasered logos and raw edges that create a very sophisticated and minimalist look. The only red you’ll find on these is likely to be hidden by a jersey, with a small red Castelli logo at the hip and two red tabs on the straps. More on these shortly. Castelli’s commitment to keeping things (mostly) monochrome means the scorpion logos at the back of the leg, as well as the Rosso Corsa logo on the derriere, are lasered into the fabric, offering a tone-on-tone richness that befits the premium Premio Black well.
The engineered stretch-woven fabric from which they’re constructed is thin and light, with a matte finish that gives it a papery feel reminiscent of taffeta if it were blended with elastane to give it stretch. This is a real contrast with the majority of cycling shorts made from knit fabrics, which tend to have a lot more heft to them (even the really lightweight ones) compared to woven ones. The benefit of knit is its opacity and affordability, so it’s no surprise that the Premio Black is a black label product and therefore requires a bit of investment.
Unlike most cycling shorts that are constructed from up to 10 different panels, the Premio Black Bib Shorts comprise just three panels, minimising the need for most flatlock seams and creating a large surface area without any risk of chafing. Instead, Castelli has put the woven fabric to work by varying its density and structure within a singular panel, mapping particular qualities to the relevant areas of the body.
Simply put, the fabric is slightly thicker and less stretchy around the hips, and noticeably thinner and stretchier at the thighs. This offers the support necessary to keep the chamois in place (along with everything else) and allow the legs to move freely and breathe. Then, inside the raw-cut leg, Lycra fibres are interwoven, protruding from the surface to create a rubberised leg grip without the addition of silicone.
The bib straps are wide and laser-cut at the edges, thin and stretchy enough to comfortably fit most torso lengths without digging into the shoulders, and keeping the shorts from riding down. At the front of the straps, just below the shoulders, sit two red reinforcement tabs that prevent the straps from folding over on themselves and causing irritation. Since the straps are so thin, Castelli says it would be easy for them to bunch up in this way, and it spent time establishing exactly where the reinforcement tabs should be placed in order to stop this from happening. The tabs are essentially semi-rigid labels stitched into the straps to help them lay flat once they’re in place. At the rear sits a perforated back panel designed to hold up the shorts without creating any pressure points, and help with shedding heat. It’s incredibly soft to the touch, sits very lightly on the back, and is bonded to the shorts and straps using a no-sew method to minimise the number of seams and risk of rubbing.
The waist is also seamless, low cut at the front and topped round the back and sides with flat-edge elastic. This helps everything to sit where it should, and provides a large amount of stretch to help you move about on the bike uninhibited. Remember what we said about the opacity that comes with knit fabric? Castelli has acknowledged the importance of not exposing the rider behind you to a full moon, so it solved this problem by adding an extra lining layer at the back to offer greater coverage without the bulk. We can confirm that our dignity remains intact.
Inside the shorts you’ll find Castelli’s proprietary Progetto X² Air Seamless chamois, designed from the ground up for men and women, independent of each other. Both pads are constructed from two layers — the upper Skin Care Layer and the Cushioning Layer underneath — which were designed to function differently in a way that complements each other.
According to Castelli the upper layer, which is extremely soft and very stretchy, is designed to move with the skin to prevent friction, while the lower layer is shaped like a bike saddle and is intended to stay put to provide progressive cushioning where it’s needed. It’s constructed from different foam densities, with soft foam for immediate comfort and medium-density foam for overall support. Finally there are three 3mm gel pads that sit beneath the ischial bones and the perineum.
Unlike many chamois inserts that are created using a punch and die, Castelli says it created the Progetto X² Air Seamless pad using a “3D forming process” which results in variable thickness across the pad with less pronounced ‘steps’ than punched-out inserts. It’s been in continuous development for the past 12 years and has undergone over 40 iterations to achieve the current result.
There are some differences between the women’s and men’s shorts, which are well thought-out. The men’s legs are 1cm longer than the women’s — 7cm for men, 6cm for women — while the women’s bib straps are slightly wider, presumably to help them sit flush against curves.
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Performance: first impressions
While we’ve not spent enough time with the Premio Black Bib Shorts to form a full opinion, first impressions are overwhelmingly positive between us. We’ve both found them to be supremely comfortable, particularly around the legs and torso. The straps sit flat and secure against the chest with no digging, overstretching or bunching, even on our vastly different body types.
The integrated leg grip is especially innovative. Since it uses minimal fabrics it spreads the elasticity evenly across the thigh, helping to provide both a natural look and supportive fit. We love how well the woven fabric spreads the fit across the entire leg, as opposed to localising it to the tip which causes strangulation. No sausage legs here!
The differing levels of fabric density across the leg and hips is noticeable and really effective. Having ridden so far both outside in the wind and rain, and inside on the turbo trainer, they’ve done an excellent job of managing heat and moisture.
So far we’re very impressed by the Progetto X² Air Seamless chamois as well. With the women’s chamois specifically, the majority of the dense foam is located in the middle and back, offering excellent support to the ischial bones and perineal area, and not over-cushioning the soft tissues at the front which need room to breathe.
The Progretto chamois is one of the best we've sampled. It's not too bulky but still manages to supply exceptional comfort and pressure management - a boon for thwarting saddle sores and other chafing issues. It also doesn't feel like it retains much moisture which validates its credentials as one of the best chamois pads currently on the market.
While at first the papery feel of the woven fabric was a bit strange, we’ve very quickly acclimatised and found it to be extremely comfortable and soft against the skin. One interesting side effect of using a much thinner fabric that cannot hold much moisture, particularly in an all-black garment, is that salt lines become very visible when you’ve been sweating. This is simply down to the fact that as your sweat evaporates, the salt that remains stays put on the exterior of the black fabric, prompting you to wear your salt lines as a badge of honour.
It’s fair to say that we’ve had a very promising introduction to the Premio Black Bib Shorts and will continue to enjoy them as we move into summer. However there are a couple of gripes we’d like to mention.
As you can see from the photos, we (Mildred Locke and Aaron Borrill) have very different physiques, with Aaron’s being more ‘target audience’ for Castelli. Of course, people with a variety of body shapes and sizes will likely want to try these for themselves, so it’s important to mention that if you, like Mildred, have a bit of a tummy, you may find the waistband too low on the Premio Black Bibs. They would certainly benefit from a higher cut, because even without bulky knit fabrics and hems, Mildred found the low-cut front (where there is no elastic edge) to start digging in after about 45 minutes on the bike.
This ties in with our only other gripe, which is that we’d love to see Castelli introducing a wider range of sizes to its line-up, to make these bib shorts more accessible.
Castelli’s minimalist approach to the Premio Black shorts pays off: they lack the heft of most knit fabric bib shorts, while achieving an exceptional level of comfort and coverage. Their refined and classy aesthetic means they’ll match any colourway and jersey design, thanks to the tone-on-tone lasered logos.
Plus, they’re extremely flattering, offering a smooth finish on varying body shapes (though of course that’s highly dependent on whether or not the brand’s snug sizing doesn’t prevent you from trying them in the first place).
Tech Specs: Castelli Premio Black Bib Shorts
- Castelli Premio Black Men’s Bib Short: £220 / €229.95 / $259.99 / A$369
- Castelli Premio Black Women’s Bib Short: £200 / €229.95 / $259.99 / A$349
- Castelli Premio Black Women’s Waist Short: £180 / €199.95 / $239.99 / A$299
What is a hands on review?
'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view.
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