06 January 2008

bikefix Exclusive Review: Ibex El Fito knickers

Come winter, I like wool socks and a nice sweater as much as the next guy- maybe even more. It's natural, cozy and continues to insulate even when it gets wet. There's also something appealing in its weight- a good piece of wool clothing or a wool blanket can be quite dense and solid feeling. On the flip side, its not particularly tolerant of mistreatment, and care should be taken when handling and washing. Before high-tech fabrics like Lycra and polypropylene emerged, most cycling clothing was made of wool. It breathes well and (according to Ibex) is "the temperature-regulating, anti-microbial masterwork of nature." Hot damn.

Ibex makes outdoor clothing out of wool. Exclusively, as far as I can tell, though sometimes it's blended with other materials to make it stretchier, more wind-resistant or sturdier. There's also some organic cotton thrown in for the more casual stuff. Like everyone else, I reach for wool cycling socks when its cool, cold, or the forecast even hints at precipitation. Until recently, though, it didn't go beyond that. Last spring, somewhere between bib knicker and knee warmer weather, I ordered up a pair of Ibex's el Fito knicker (or 3/4 length short). $120 and made in the USA, they're made mostly of a dense wool/nylon/Lycra blend, with extra-stretchy (read: not actually wool) panels in the bum and behind the knees and Climawool knee patches. They're padded, so you're stuck with their pad, which isn't bad at all

It's always hard to order clothing, especially if you don't know what a company's fit is like. At 6' tall with a 30in waist and what (I like to think of as) good-sized thighs, I usually wear medium shorts from more 'euro' companies (Craft, Campagnolo). Unfortunately, Ibex aren't particularly 'euro', and have a more American fit- think Pearl Izumi. They looked really cool [warm?] and well made, though, so I pawned the mediums off on a friend and ordered a small pair.

While the fit was nowhere near as odd as Descente's Optima Short, it does have a couple of shortcomings, which both my friend and I experienced. Probably because wool isn't as stretchy as synthetics, the knickers don't support the thighs nearly as well as other shorts and knickers we've tried, but that's acceptable. What's odd is the cuff, which falls a couple of inches below the knee. It's about 1/2 to 1in too large, and actually lets a bit of a draft in. The whole knee area, in fact, seems to have been taken from the next size up. While my knees are smaller than some folks', these are small shorts, and there shouldn't be bagginess around the knees, at least not for this price. What look like windproof knee patches aren't quite- they're denser than the rest of the wool in the knickers, but one can easily blow through them. The waistband could be a little tighter, too, but I don't think that everyone will have that problem.

So what's good? These things are warm. Take today for example. Riding temps between 40˚ and 50˚F with lots of single speed-induced sweating. Oh, and a bit of rain and sleet thrown in. The bib-less knickers kept by stomach or back from overheating while keeping my legs plenty warm throughout. Cold mud and spray didn't seem to affect the Fitos' insulation either. The pad is plenty comfortable for a 3 hour ride and probably even longer. I've ridden in these shorts in temps as low as 30˚ and as high as 55˚ and those seem to be their practical limits- any colder and they just can't keep up and any warmer, and they turn into an effective little portable sauna.

Are they any better than a synthetic knicker of similar quality? Maybe, but from a functional standpoint it's probably a wash. Ibex's cut seems a bit off, which is a shame- a bit of tweaking would make them probably work a bit better for me. Proper windproof knee patches would also be nice and probably extend their useful temperature range on the road bike downward. The wool used in the Fitos could probably benefit from a bit more stretchiness, which comes with more nylon and Lycra. That would make the fit a bit more forgiving of different body types and help to support the rider's leg muscles. Do my synthetic Roubaix or Thermolite knickers do just that? Yup. Now that I've got them, though, I'll keep enjoying them.



1 comment:

bikeworks said...

I have a pair of Swobo's wool baggy nickers on the way. At $200 they might have been a bit of an impulse buy to regret, but they have lifetime warranty and I've heard good things.
I'll let you know how they turn out.