by Chris Petrick
With the rise in popularity of gravel cycling over the past few years, many cycling clothing manufacturers are providing apparel options optimized for the many particular characteristics that gravel riding presents. Santini's gravel bib shorts are the best in the category, and arguably one of its best overall cycling bib shorts in its price range that we've seen here at Cento recently.
I picked up a pair in June 2021 and rode them all through last season, putting a little more than 2,000 miles (3,200km) on them. They were my go-to bibs for rides ranging anywhere from 5 to 15 hours in length. And to be honest, they're still in pretty decent shape considering their use. The chamois still has considerable life left. The pad will likely long outlive the elasticity of the cycling bib shorts.
The first question you might ask yourself is: I have pockets on my jersey - why do I need cycling bib shorts with pockets?
I found them to be very useful when needed and totally out of mind/out of sight when not needed. When empty, they cut a very low profile if you could say they cut a profile at all. Not at all like cargo pants with noticeable added bulk even when empty.
When I am riding hundreds of miles in a day and utilitarianism usurps aerodynamics on my list of priorities, I really like having extra pockets available for carrying things like:
- Energy bars, gels, chews, hydration tablets
- Wallet (in one of the two back pockets-more secure than jersey pockets)
- Phone charge chord
- Backup battery
- Glass lens wipes, hand wipes
- Headlight, taillight
- Gloves (taking them off mid ride)
- Arm/Knee/Leg warmers/Shoe Covers
- Food wrappers (in the side pockets)
The side pockets are so convenient for ultra quick access storage because they are so accessible-both in sight and reach. Ten hours into a ride, I can't always remember what pocket my AirPods are in or where I put the aspirin. At that point, the last thing I want is to rummage through my jersey's back pockets and have an empty wrapper go flying or an arm warmer end up in the road never to see its mate again.
There are also times in the morning when it has warmed up, the rear pockets are still full of uneaten food and there isn't time to stop and sort myself out right away; the gloves or the vest come off, they go in the side pockets until further down the road when adjustments can be made. It's nice to minimize those little variables by literally being able to see the contents of two of my seven pockets (four on the shorts, three on the jersey).
Another question might be: They might be fine for gravel, but how do they perform on the road?
Most of the riding I did with them would be in the randonneuring, cyclotourism, ultra cycling-type categories and almost all on the road. On the point of the utilitarian nature of both, I don't see a need to differentiate between road and gravel. At the end of the day if you're doing a long ride, you will need to carry supplies with you whether you're on tarmac, gravel or dirt and these bibs will solve all of the above.
Putting them On:
I find that putting them on and getting them seated in place goes best when flipping the grippers inside out before pulling them up. I put them on around my ankles, flip the bottom 3 inches or so upwards (so the grippers are facing outward) and pull them all the way up and get the chamois into a comfortable position and pull the bib straps over my shoulders.
Then when I am satisfied with the position I flip the grippers down and position them at the correct height on my thighs. The grippers are way too grippy to drag them across your skin all the way up. It could even be painful if you don’t shave your legs. Minimizing the amount of unnecessary pulling and tugging on the fabric will certainly prevent premature loss of elasticity and help them keep their shape and fit over time.
The chamois is none other than Santini's top of the line C3 pad. This pad is rated by Santini for rides of up to 8 hours. But as mentioned above, I rode the C3 nearly double that on a few occasions with excellent results.
This is the pad the professional Trek-Segafredo team ride in all of their training kits as well as their race kits which they use over cobbles, road and time trial applications. Santini works very closely with their pro riders, listening to their feedback to guide product development. While these gravel cycling bib shorts are optimized for gravel cycling, the C3 is the same C3 pad you will find on Santini's other top of the line cycling bib shorts and bib tights.
With anti-shock gel inserts in the sits bone area, the pad maintains its shape and comfort over extended use exceptionally well without being bulky. Adding unnecessary bulk to a pad oftentimes results in a pad that doesn’t breathe well and/or doesn’t dry quickly. This can be crucial on a multi day excursion.
At Cento, we often say that chamois fit and preference is ultimately subjective. My experience with the C3 in the Santini gravel cycling bib shorts (as well as in other Santini cycling bib shorts) is one of unbelievable comfort for long ride after long ride. With the most recent ride being just as comfortable as the first. When you consider what that region of one's body goes through on a long bike ride, that ability to maintain comfort consistently is nothing short of a miracle.
They have a more compressive fit than most cycling bib shorts, which I like. That tends to translate into a more snug fit. If you were on the large side of the cusp between sizes (and were not able to try on both sizes), I would recommend erroring on the larger side in choosing your size. But remember also, that cycling bib shorts should fit snug at first as they will relax slightly though repeated wear.
Wash and Care:
Machine washing is fine. I avoid any harsh detergents, fabric softeners and petroleum based chamois creams. I always hang them to drip dry. A chamois is exposed to enough abuse from riding, it doesn't need any extra from the dryer.
I've also worn them for riding around town doing errands paired with a technical T-shirt (utilizing the pockets on the shorts rather than a jersey) or riding indoors on Zwift. The side pockets are great for an extra head band, sweat towel or snacks.
Regardless of what kind of riding you prefer, I can't think of a better piece of kit to have in your closet than Santini's gravel cycling bib shorts.