29 March 2010

bikefix Initial Review: Louis Garneau Alveo 3K shorts

It only takes one pair of really nice shorts to essentially ruin the experience of riding in those shorts that have always been good enough for everyday use. A close friend who is relatively new to the sport said recently that she was ready to give away all of her other shorts after picking up two moderately-priced, well-fitting pair. Though I can sympathize, few of us can justify riding every day in our best gear (especially if any of that riding is done off road). When many of my standby shorts had plain worn out by the end of last summer, I set out to find a moderately priced short that would serve me well for all but the longest rides.

Looking at what I've owned and what is available on the market, it seems like the sweet spot for shorts lies somewhere in the $90-120 range. While there are exceptions to any rule, below that range, simpler construction and less expensive materials don't function or wear as well as shorts costing only a few dollars more. Above $120, the return on each additional dollar spent seems to drop off quickly. A couple of years ago, I wrote about my $130 Louis Garneau Alveo shorts, "if I had a shorts basket full of Alveos, I'd be more than happy." For 2010, the Alveo and subsequent Alveo 2 have been replaced with the $100 Alveo 3K. I was thrilled when the folks at Garneau sent out a pair with last fall's care package and was excited to see how they would stack up against the fancy pants now in my basket.

Still made in Canada, the Alveo 3K shorts use a slightly different waffle-weave fabric than the original Alveos. It's a bit more comfortable to the touch as the old material and less slick and shiny than most shorts' material- which will no doubt appeal to those still uncomfortable with the Lycra aesthetic. The 10 panels of appropriately-named Alveo 3K fabric are sewn together with handsome and comfortable charcoal colored flat seams. The Airzone multi-density pad is on the soft side and uses four-way stretch, antimicrobial and memory foam materials to run interference between arse and saddle. As is my preference, the Alveos have no distinct leg grippers, just a double layer Powerband of material keeping the legs in place. A pair of large triangles as well as the company's logos are printed in reflective ink to provide an added measure of nighttime visibility.

While not particularly compressive in my case (the 3K seem to have grown over the original Alveos- I'd recommend sizing down if between sizes), the Alveo 3K fabric is extremely comfortable in both warm and cool temperatures. The waffled texture feels nice and reportedly helps the shorts maintain their shape over time.

The Airzone chamois took me a while to warm to, however. Not as extensively dimpled as the original Alveo's pad, the Airzone has a good number of perforations at the front and never feels as damp as other brands' can. Initially, the padding felt a bit on the thin and soft side. For some reason (possibly the memory foam), though, the Airzone chamois actually feels better to me the more that I ride it. While it wouldn't be my first choice for 4 hour road rides, the Airzone pad feels very good on medium-density saddles (like Bontrager's InForm RL and Fi'zi:k's Aliante Gamma/Sport). Off road, where positions are shifted more often, the Airzone pad feels awesome and for the first few hours of riding gives up nothing to those in more expensive shorts. As the Alveos are sized a bit generously for their label, they do tend to allow a bit more unwanted movement between the legs than I'd like- again, if you can see yourself fitting two different sizes, order the smaller one.

The more I ride the Alveo 3Ks, the more I like them. While the shorts' construction seems first-rate, the printed-on reflective logos and patches can't keep up with the fabric's stretch, resulting in some premature cracking- my only negative comment quality or durability-wise. I can't help but think that the reflective triangles would be more effective if moved a bit more to the sides of the legs- but as far as visibility goes, I'll take whatever I can get. Despite being on the big side for me, they've become my favorite day after the big ride shorts. Now that the pad has formed to my behind (or vice versa) the Garneaus do a great job of protecting already sore sit bones and supporting tired thighs. The fact that they're made in a first-world country is an added bonus. The Alveo 3K's have quickly become my favorite mid-priced shorts and in the next size down, I could quite happily see them making up more and more of my riding wardrobe.



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