03 June 2009

bikefix Initial Review: Canari Evolution shorts

When your least favorite cycling shorts become your favorite, its usually because the old standbys have been worn out from use. Well before the outer fabric frays, fades and sags, I find that shorts' pads, like running shoes' soles, lose their ability to do their job effectively. This spring, I came to the realization that most of my favorite shorts were 3 and 4 years old- and slowly working their way to the bottom of the shorts drawer. With warm weather and big rides just around the corner, it was time to do some short shopping.

Lately, The Dans have been excited about picking up Canari's domestically-produced line of cycling clothing. Between their enthusiasm and my experience with a very nicely made Canari long-sleeved jersey, my interest was piqued. Part of the Dans' initial order was the company's range-topping Evolution short. A cool looking (save the logos- more on that later) 8-panel short, the Evolution features the company's perforated "King" chamois. The construction looked very good and, at $99, the price even better. I grabbed a medium pair and resolved to get riding.

I've commented in the past that many high-end shorts seem oriented more toward the racer than the epic rider. Their dense, thin, conformal pads stay put and don't get in the way during hard efforts but aren't necessarily designed for long days training or on the back side of beyond. As if in response to my complaints, Canari's elaborately terraced 5-layer King pad is thicker than most and contains a number of perforations claimed not only to provide ventilation but also to act as little bum suction cups (I'm not clear how they can do both). I'll second the hang tag's description of the microfiber top layer as delicately soft, and the deep channel down the pad's center promises to ward off the dreaded sleepy peepee.

The Evolutions have got one of the more unique fits that I've experienced lately. There are a lot of things that I like about the fit of the Evolutions as well as a few I'd change. As someone who habitually rolls the waistband of my shorts down, the way that the low-slung waistband sits below my belly is really nice- especially when in the drops for long periods of time. That said, they seem a bit too low at the rear, or at least not tight enough to feel secure. I'm not sure how shorts can feel a bit tight at the front but somewhat loose at the back- but the Evolutions do. The legs provide a good level of compressive support for the lowest 4-6in, but on my legs they are noticeably less snug higher up the leg (I never thought I'd be asking for more bum support, but...). This looseness could also account for the insecurity I feel at the back of the waistband. All of that said, while they feel odd compared to my other shorts, they aren't particularly annoying after 15 minutes in or so the saddle. Talking to Erik from Canari, it turns out that the roomy trunk was the result of moving a seam that was irritating more voluptuous riders. With a 30in waist, I'm at the small end of the usual 30-32in medium size range, so those with larger waists or a bit more booty may not have the same problem. Still, if you're on the small end of your size range, you might want to go down one.

The leg grippers are substantial, built of a soft, thick woven elastic material. This is a bit surprising given Castelli and Descente's move toward more minimal grippers. They're not hot, but I do notice them there at the beginning of rides and see some wrinkling of the lighter fabric just above them as things shift (grippers up, shorts down) around during the ride. I know that pro-style logos are in, that looks are subjective, and red is the de facto color for every company's range toppers, but I'm plain over it and the Canari logos are just too much. White or (better still) the contrast stitching's grey would have been fine, as would smaller text. There is no color but red that these shorts will look good with. Of course, wear them with a red jersey and you'll look like you're trying too hard. A lose-lose proposition. I was concerned about the logos when considering the Evolutions but realized that a few minutes with a black Sharpie would take care of things. Mine are now sorted, but Canari are down one pair of shorts' worth of advertising.

What about that fancy King chamois? Its added bulk is noticeable but far from distracting. The danger with that much padding is that it will migrate (as with gel pads) from where you want it (under the sit bones) to where you don't (interfering with essential man bits). So far, on 3-4 hour rides its been very nice, especially for long mountain rides. On road, the Evolutions play better with certain saddles than others, (especially those with a cutout) but for longer rides I already reach for them just as often as shorts costing twice as much.

So far, it seems like Canari are only a few tweaks away from making my ideal big day short- regardless of price. If they could bring the rear and upper thighs in a bit (to be fair, I haven't tried their size small) and tone down the logos, I'd have virtually nothing to complain about. Taking into account the US manufacture and very reasonable price, the Evolutions are pretty darn amazing now. I'll be riding these loads this summer and be back with a final review in a few months...



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