07 December 2007

bikefix Exclusive Review: Descente Optima Short

Everyone's ass is different. Don't know if you've been paying attention, but I assure you that's the case. Even if your best riding buddy has the exact same build, does the same kind of riding, and possesses the same amount of masochism as you do, chances are as good as not that you'll hate his saddle and he yours. With that said, let's talk about some shorts. As you may know, we really like Descente's D-Vente baselayers (I have and enjoy wearing both the short and long sleeve versions). With that in mind, after inexplicably losing a pair of my favorite Campag shorts, I decided to give Descente's Optima $150 short a try.

I was attracted in the shop by the nice construction, high-compression outer panels, and moderately dense stretch 'Strata' chamois. They're made in Canada, which helps to justify some of the cost. I was curious, too, about those flashy silver gripper-less leg bands. They claimed to be more comfortable, but felt sort of odd at first- like something was missing. The more I looked, the better they looked, though, and Stevie gave me a deal as he hadn't sold many yet. The thighs of the smalls were far too tight, so I went with my usual mediums.

A couple of years ago, a DuPont (makers of Lycra) sponsored a study that showed that high-compression fabrics can help to support leg muscles, improve blood flow, and reduce fatigue. By up to 30%, apparently. In any case, the outer thigh panels of the Optima short feature an oddly-textured high-compression Eschler fabric toward that end. When wearing these shorts on my (admittedly average-sized thighs), the snugness is initially noticeable, but if quickly forgotten on the bike. Unfortunately, what isn't forgotten are the loose fit around the waist and unusually stiff pad.

Never before have I worn medium-sized shorts that were so loose around the waist. Admittedly, with a 30in waistband, I'm at the small end of what could be considered medium, but it's never been an issue with other brands, even with
Pearl Izumi's big-ish cut. Of course, there's also no drawstring around the waist either, so I was stuck, rolling the waistband but still feeling it move around quite a bit.

The pad, also, was annoying in its own way. While the multi-density and multi-thickness pad seemed quite nice on the hanger, once worn, it was very noticeable. Noticeable like a cardboard duckbill protruding from and drawing attention to each of two rather private areas. Even under jeans, popping into the store for a pre-ride coffee, the pad could be seen, not conforming to the body as it should be. Of course, a tighter fit through the waist and buttocks might have held it closer to the body, but this wasn't to be. Of course bike shorts feel and look odd off the bike, but on the bike, the stiff pad acted like a shelf for my unmentionables, allowing them to roll around like a bottle on the deck of a sailboat. With all the standing and sitting that mountain biking and fixed gear riding entail, that made me a bit nervous, though nothing but my bum was sat on. While I hoped that it would break in and begin to conform, after a few months' regular rides, it just hasn't.

Honestly, for the price, I'd have hoped for details like these to have been sorted out before production. The pad is comfortable enough for 3-4 hour rides, but the fit issues are hard to overlook. If you're an unusually paunchy rider (with average thighs) who has trouble finding shorts that fit around your belly, they may work out well. Otherwise, I'd have to recommend you steer clear. There are just too many other good shorts out there, especially over $100.




rguezz said...

"rolling around like a bottle on the deck of a sailboat..." Are you missing summer so soon? Beautiful...

Matt said...

Have you ever tried ASSOS?