If you sometimes venture off tarmac but prefer the style of road cycling, Castelli Unlimited cargo bib shorts provide a solution, with features catering to both disciplines of riding
Quality chamois with plenty of coverage
Castelli logo can't peel off
Lots of pockets
Inner thigh seam
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Gravel cycling represents so many different things to so many different people. For some, it's a way to race with a community that makes more sense to them than road cycling. For others, it's a little like touring but with more gravel and less gear. There is also a group of people who have been riding gravel for years and the only thing that has really changed is the bike. The routes haven't changed but instead of skinny tyre road bikes, there are now gravel bikes with disc brakes and wider tyres.
With all this variation in rider type, there's just as much variation in equipment. For the group that sees gravel riding as no different than road riding after the pavement ends, the Castelli Unlimited cargo bib shorts are an intriguing option. Castelli took the features that gravel cycling has brought to the table and combined them with the expertise that it has with going fast on the tarmac.
The Unlimited cargo bib shorts are an option that work just as well with a race-fit aero jersey as they do with a technical t-shirt. If that sounds like it might be a winner, keep reading to see what we think of them and how they compare to the best cargo bib shorts on the market.
Design and aesthetics
There's a little bit of a split between the marketing from Castelli and the real-world reception of the Unlimited bib shorts. On Castelli's end, the focus of these seems to be all about durability. If you look at them through that lens, the first thing you might notice is the fabric - it's heavy for a bib short. Castelli refers to it as the "extremely durable Unlimited Lycra fabric" and also quotes specs of "200 g/m2 nylon/Lycra fabric with best-in-class abrasion and tear resistance."
In the Unlimited bib shorts, that fabric gets put to use in a less complex pattern than the race-focused Castelli Free Aero Race 4 bib short. Each leg consists of a front panel and a rear panel and they meet at the inner thigh and at the centre line of the bibs. The front panel extends from the waist to the end of the leg but stays mostly vertical. The rear panel stops lower down on the back then extends to the bottom of the leg where it wraps all the way around to the front. That leaves space for a panel at the hip and it's this hip panel where the magic happens with the Castelli Unlimited bibs.
If you've ever slid out on your gravel bike, you'll know the place you hit is your hip. With that in mind, Castelli doubles up the fabric in the hip panel. The brand says, "we use double-layer side panels for the old track rider’s trick of fabric-sliding-on-fabric should you fall." It's with this feature though that the real-world experience and the marketing diverge a little.
Instead of just doubling up on the material at the hip, Castelli has left an opening at the top of the outer layer, thus creating a pocket, which effectively turns these into a pair of cargo bib shorts. Castelli never actually uses the term 'cargo', but despite this, the Castelli Unlimited pocket design is one of the best on the market.
With a slit in the top layer of fabric instead of an added pocket, this results in more space when you need it and a less conspicuous design when you don't. If you don't put anything in the pocket it sits flat against the leg, then when you need to use it, the space is huge - it extends from the top of the hip to about three-quarters of the way down the thigh. At the top of the lower section, there's a fabric edge with extra stitching. Then at the bottom of the upper section, it's a raw edge but it's folded over and there's a stitch holding the fold. These details make it so that something like a jacket that you roll up to be long and thin would fit well with no worry about it coming out.
There are other pockets in the Unlimited bibs as well. The whole upper section of the bibs, including the straps, uses a lightweight mesh material. In the rear, the last panel using the thicker fabric from the legs has a U shape, which supports a mesh panel with two additional pockets. These upper pockets are narrower than jersey pockets but they have a lot of stretch. If you prefer to wear something like a technical T-shirt, or a looser jersey, you'd have no problem finding enough space in the bibs for everything that might otherwise be in a jersey.
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Castelli has a reputation for its fit and almost every discussion about Castelli clothing features the advice to size up. It's not something I personally need to do, but their sizing is definitely on the tighter end of the spectrum. Conceptually understanding this is one thing but when you compare the Unlimited bibs back-to-back with a race-focussed item like the Free Aero Race 4 bibs, the difference is stark. The Unlimited bib shorts still provide a compressive fit but it's much more relaxed - they are both comfortable and they both fit but it's an entirely different feeling.
The Kiss Air2 seat pad is bigger than the Progetto x2 Air and the focus leans towards long-distance with a less racy posture. The top of the Kiss Air2 is soft and feels great but what I love about it is the long, relatively wide, front section. This means that when leaning forward but still on the hoods, there's plenty of width to pad the sit bones and keep things comfortable.
What I appreciated most about the Castelli Unlimited bib shorts is their dual nature. I rarely wear loose jerseys or technical t-shirts. I prefer tight jerseys so that there's enough structure to limit bouncing with stuffed pockets. Some cargo bib designs don't feel like they match that style but the Castelli Unlimited bib shorts feel suited to all riding environments. Wear them on a road bike with a tight jersey and it's unlikely that anyone would notice them, and the comfort is plentiful. Then wear them on a gravel bike and your loose-fitting t-shirt and they'll store everything you need to carry, whilst continuing to offer comfort, despite the slightly different riding position.
The Castelli Unlimited bib shorts have a name that matches their best use. These aren't gravel bib shorts and they aren't road bib shorts - they're bib shorts without limits. They would work well if you find yourself crossing a continent and rarely touching the pavement. They would also work well spending a few hours riding hard through the city with friends. The fit is a little more casual than the expectation from Castelli and the chamois is excellent for long-distance rides.
They aren't perfect for the hottest rides, since the fabric is heavier and doubled up on the outside of the thigh - this isn't a big drawback but there are options specifically designed for hot weather.
And while aero optimisation is something that people have mixed feelings about, if you are looking for every possible advantage, there are better choices than the Unlimited bibs.
- Gravel bike clothing guide: the best kit for gravel riding
Tech Specs: Castelli Unlimited bib shorts
- Materials: 200 g/m2 nylon/Lycra® fabric
- Size availability: S-XXXL
- Price: $139.99/€130.00
- Weight: 200 gr
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