16 October 2008

bikefix Exclusive Review Update: Castelli Free short

Hiker: There's a scorpion on your shorts!
Me: [girlish shriek that can't be described with mere letters]
Hiker: No- look, right there... Freak.

So they were. Sitting proudly atop my thighs as I sat for a mid-ride snack were two likenesses of Castelli's mascot (who, I'm told, goes by the name Gus). They weren't alone, of course- scorpion likenesses are printed in grippy silicone on the outside of the thigh grippers of my Castelli Free shorts and another warns off overtakers from its perch on my left buttock. Yes, these are top-of-the range shorts. Lest you forget who's range they top, Gus is there to remind you.

I first reviewed the Free's last April, after only a month or so worth of use. At the time, I mentioned one can't help but feel special when wearing such an indulgence as technologically-advanced $200 cycling shorts. Part of the company's ne plus ultra Rossa Corsa range, the Castelli Free's represent everything that the company feels a short should be. The multi-density/multi-thickness AC pad is not only antimicrobial (a very good thing down there), but claims to maintain a constant 98 degree temperature in use. The Free's are constructed of several different fabrics- each with their own role. Durable and seamless Action inner panels are used against the saddle where wear is expected, Energia compressive fabric is used on the sides to support the leg muscles and lightweight and breathable Breathe let heat escape from the front and upper back. The leg grippers are an odd sandwich of slow-rebounding material (sort of like very thin, breathable Neoprene), printed with a silicone gripper on the inside, the aforementioned silicone scorpions on the outside, and themselves a very cool red on the inside. There's a 1 x 1/2in reflective covering the rearmost seam as well- a nice touch that never irritated my legs as I feared it might.

Speaking of riding, how did they feel? While constructed of only seven panels total, the cut of the Free's is easily among the best I've worn, and the shorts did a fantastic job playing second skin while on the bike, never drawing attention to themselves. They were certainly above-average compression wise- something I like very much (though that effect will likely be largely dependant on thigh girth). Despite the substantial feeling fabrics at the inside and outside of the thighs, they moved moisture and heat very well, even during the hottest New Mexico summer days. I would have to describe Castelli's AC pad as racey more than plush. In that context (hard efforts under 2 or 3 hours), I'd certainly describe it as a success. There is plenty of well-placed padding where it needs to be, and it quickly tapers away to be very unobtrusive overall. While I didn't feel that it was more or less cool than other quality pads I've owned, the antimicrobial properties have kept it from getting too funky when left in the hamper too long. For more distance or comfort-oriented riders, though, there are likely more comfortable pads. As a result, I've been wearing the Free's more and more off road. The frequent position changes that dirt riding require work very will with the AC chamois- it stays exactly where it should be during all manner of maneuvers, even when soaking wet.

The leg grippers don't grip as well as I'm used to- in fact, they sometimes come away from my thighs a little bit, which is strange. I'm not sure if it's a really bad thing- I only saw the problem rather than feeling it, but am thinking that a bit of fabric could be taken in in that area. Because they're not really in motorists' line of sight, the reflective tabs might be moved 'round to the outside a bit, but that's nitpicking, really. The shorts themselves have survived a couple of scary crashes and been hip-checked into trees at speed without visible damage. In fact, after seven months and about 125 hours in the saddle, the only visible wear came from a stray Velcro strap on my road bike saddle bag, which snagged for about 30 miles before I realized where the itch was coming from. Beyond that, they look nearly new. While bomber is a term I'd never have expected to use to describe high-end Italian road gear, the Free's are certainly deserving of the term. For those race-y types who prefer the feel of an unobtrusive pad, the Free's would be an excellent choice. Century riders and disto-freaks, though, might want seek a bit more comfort elsewhere. While I expected them to be my favorite road shorts, after seven months of intensive use (at least once a week), I'm surprised to find the Free's to be my favorite mountain shorts. If $200 is a stretch, the Cronus shorts use the durable Action fabric all over and feature the same AC pad.

marc

www.castelli-us.com

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