08 April 2008

bikefix Exclusive Review: Castelli Free short

Is this what it feels like to wear sexy underpants? Here's what I mean: When I wear Castelli's Free shorts, which are part of their top-flight Rosso Corsa range, I'm not thinking about them the whole ride, but when my thoughts turn south, they make me feel good- even sexy. It may be the new-for-2008 AC pad. It may be the fantastic cut, which is all but unnoticeable on the bike. It may be that the leg grippers are red (the sexiest color) inside. Whatever the reason, after a couple of months' use, these are far and away my favorite shorts- and they make me feel special whenever I wear them.

I've done a number of 30+ mile mountain bike and 50+ mile road rides in the Frees and really have no complaints. Even after several hours on the bike, the Free shorts are all but invisible. While the legs aren't quite as snug as those on Descente's Aero shorts, they are among the more supportive I've worn. The leg gripper band seems to be made of a slow-rebound fabric which takes a moment to find its place, but once it does, the internal leg grippers keep everything in place without pulling at unruly leg hair (man that stuff grows fast) or irritating freshly shaven skin. They also don't leave unsightly post-ride seam lines on your thighs. There are also scorpion-patterened grippers on the outside of the short, which I have a feeling are mainly for decoration, but help keep tights (or knee warmers, if you feel compelled to wear them on the outside) from moving around too. There is a reflective tab at the back of the leg, which isn't noticeable when riding but should hold up better than a screened-on reflective logo. According to Castelli, "to bear the Rossa Corsa logo, a product must represent a categorical breakthrough in technology." A multi-density 3-D, anti-microbial pad, the AC used here is unique not just for being very comfortable padding-wise, but also for what's being called ComforTemp technology- said to maintain a constant 98 degree temperature in use. The Free use several different fabrics, playing on the strengths each. A durable and seamless Action inner panel is used where wear is expected, compressive Energia compressive fabric is used on the sides to support the leg muscles and lightweight and breathable Breathe fabric keeps things cool in the front and on the upper back. Surprisingly, there are only seven panels total (plus the leg grippers), but the cut and choice of fabrics seem to more than makes up for the lack of seams.

While these are easily the nicest shorts I've ever worn, direct comparisons will be difficult. Retail for the Free shorts is a somewhat alarming $199. My personal cycling short experience had previously topped out at $130 or so, so these are in another realm altogether. The Free short and ($230) bibshort are Castelli's flagship product and the company has clearly spent quite a bit of time getting them right. I would attribute part of the price to the flailing US dollar, but these are hecho (very well, I should add) en Mexico. Landmark birthday coming up? Been training extra hard for that century and want to treat yourself? Given the times I've been disappointed by other companies' $100+ shorts, I probably could be tempted, though more easily by the Cronus (which use the same AC pad and the more durable Action fabric throughout). As is our schtick, I will keep riding in the Free's throughout the season and let you know how they're doing, particular after weekly washings and in 90+ degree temperatures. Will they still make me feel hot (in a good way) in August? Until then, though, there are far worse ways to spend $200. Bicycling's recent buyers' guide did suggest dropping money into shorts more than any other piece of clothing... Just keep it rubber side down.



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