Minimalist, form-fitting bib short with well-executed chamois; very comfortable (for this test rider) for long indoor and outdoor rides
High compression may not suit all riders, and limits fit range of each size; no modesty paneling on the front
It used to be, counting panels on shorts was like counting thread on tires — the more, the better. Castelli has flipped this on its head with the new Premio Black bib shorts which have just three panels. The bigger story here, though, is the use of woven fabric — instead of knit — which not only feels different but sounds different than your regular bib shorts.
The ultra-thin, woven material fits snugly, hardly bunches, and retains very little moisture.
The two-layer pad is comfortable and stays in place thanks to the compressive bib even when you’re sopping in sweat. This, in my estimation, helps reduce the chance for irritation or saddle sores, as friction is your enemy.
It all adds up to a lightweight, minimalist, highly comfortable bib short.
Two-layer, 3D chamois
Castelli won’t reveal its secret sauce on how it 3D-molds the foam pad, but it doesn’t use heat molding.
“This is very different compared to a pad which is simply die-cut, which results in big steps from thick foam to nothing,” said Castelli U.S.’s Steve Chapin. “Your body is not like this and the position of a chamois will vary from person to person so these gradual transitions help so that you don’t feel the pad. A few other folks create different thicknesses by heat molding the shapes, but we feel this is counter-productive because when you compress the foam and set it into a thinner shape you’re also increasing the density so you really haven’t changed anything as far as your butt is concerned — it may look nice but doesn’t increase comfort. And any time you add heat and pressure to these synthetic fabrics and foam then you’re making them less soft and less stretchy.”
In my experience, chamois placement is also key. Thick padding doesn’t make a difference if it’s behind where your sit bones contact your saddle. Castelli’s relatively short pad fit me spot on, and the absence of heat welding makes for a pliable, comfortable perch for hours on end.
While I appreciate the pad not extending high up the back (the end of the saddle is fine, thank you), I would appreciate a bit higher coverage on the front as some short makers do for modesty. This doesn’t affect comfort, just aesthetics.
The sound and feel of woven fabric
Almost all bib shorts are made with knit material, which is stretchier than woven material like, say, jeans. Not that Castelli is making these bibs out of denim, but just for a reference point.
My first contact with a woven bib was from Q36.5, the high-end Italian boutique brand started by Luigi Bergamo, who worked for Assos for two decades. Woven material in bib shorts is light, thin, and sounds papery and crinkly when you pick it up.
On the body, woven bibs feels more purposeful than super-stretchy knit bibs. Even getting them feels different, like pulling on compression socks versus thin cycling socks.
And like carbon fiber for your body, clothing designers can tailor the characteristics of the material by location. On the Premio Black, the leg endings have rubberized yarns woven in to keep the short in place instead of a silicone gripper. This makes for a flush finish.
On the thighs, the material feels almost sheer in thickness but with some compression. And around the hips, the fabric is snug to keep everything in place.
Lastly, the elastic bib straps have logo tabs on the chest to help keep them flat over the shoulders. They work well.
There is also a women’s Premio Black with shorter legs and a different pad, but I can’t speak to that one.
The Premio Black compared to other bib shorts
Doing a number of Zwift rides and races has been a good testing ground for bib shorts, as it’s sweaty and relentless in terms of cadence. Castelli has an ‘Insider’ bib aimed an indoor riding, but I wouldn’t recommend it, as it lacks any compression and the pad is just so-so. I’ve found the brand’s summer options like the Inferno or Superleggera to be excellent inside bibs for the same reasons as they’re excellent outside: They keep everything in place, minimize friction, and provide a pliable pad that disappears under you.
With woven bibs, there is much less material to absorb moisture than normal bibs. Whether you are soaked in sweat or soaked in rain, this is a good thing. That said, the high compression may feel constrictive to some. A good fit is key here.
After Q36.5 set the early high mark with woven bib shorts, a few other brands have followed, using woven material for part or all of the construction. Bergano consulted with Giro, for example, for some of its bib shorts a few years ago.
More recently, Rapha has a Pro Team Powerweave bib short ($375) that uses woven fabric and has seven panels. Rapha’s pads are typically thicker than Castelli’s. I can’t say which is more comfortable for you, but I generally prefer Castelli’s.
As for paneling, I can’t really make a strong argument one way or the other for a perfect number of panels. Stitching around the chamois can be lousy — especially if there is a discrepancy in how two adjoining areas of the short move; this is where friction comes from. But stitching down the side of the leg? I haven’t really been bothered by that when done well. When leg grippers are sewn on, and the resulting band is tighter than the rest of the leg (hello, sausage casings!), then yes, that is annoying. But side panels on high-end shorts? Not typically an issue.
In any event, the Castelli Premio Black is an excellent bib short that offers even compression, excellent wicking, and a sculpted pad that stays in place. It is definitely among my favorites now.