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On test: Sportful Tour bib shorts

Comfort devil is in the details

Sportful says its Tour bib shorts are "designed and developed to be everything you want in a short, and nothing more". Dave Langley took them out on some long rides to see how they measured up.

Sportful Tour bib shorts
Photo ©: John Stevenson
Click for larger image

Italian clothing maker Sportful is based at the foot of the Croce d'Aune, the climb where Tullio Campagnolo was famously inspired to invent the wheel quick release. Surrounded by Italian cycling culture (and mountains), Sportful has been making cycling clothing since 1984 and the Tour is its top-of-the-line shorts model.

Sportful's Steve Smith gave Cyclingnews the lowdown on the Tour, describing it as "tried-and-true technology for the real cyclist looking for comfort for long rides. We wanted to make shorts that disappear once you put 'em on because they fit you perfectly and give just the right amount of padding in just the right place. It's the short that comes out for that five hour ride because you know you'll be comfortable."

While other shorts makers have recently bally-hooed single features of their shorts, such as special pads, fabrics or cut, Smith says, "This short isn't special because of any one feature." Rather, what Sportful was trying to do with these shorts was to get all the details right. The liner is anatomically shaped with thicker padding under the sit bones; the straps are the softest stretch mesh Sportful could find; the back is very light open mesh; the cut is designed to perfectly fit in the riding position and the Chicane fabric is a micro denier Nylon/Lycra that Smith says is softer and wicks better than regular Nylon/Lycra variants with, "enough compression to hold everything in place, but stretchy enough to make you forget it's there." But enough theory and marketing claims - how are they on your bum and on the bike?

The reflective logo
Photo ©: John Stevenson
Click for larger image

I have to admit it's been a while since I have sampled a new set of shorts. Typically, once I have found a set I like I buy a second pair, then wear them to death. This last happened some years ago. Hence, my present favourites have been visibly weathered by the elements with sun-weakened panels, unravelling seams, and a sorry demeanour. However, it was my increasing reluctance to track-stand in front of traffic that told me it was time to investigate something new. Enter the Sportful Tour bib shorts.

To the eye, these are a very well constructed high quality set of shorts. The fabric is of medium weight (190g/m^2 according to Sportful) and the 8 midriff panels are cut such that the stitch lines follow the contours of the body. The reflective logos are tasteful, and give the overall black presentation an understated rather than garish appearance. A wide-bore mesh is used between the upper-body braces to help keep you cool when the sweat is on. The synthetic chamois is contoured to help give you more padding where it's required (tailbones and groin edges) and perhaps allows for more breathing/ventilation in between. A reasonably sized drip tray (the bit that cushions the meat and potatoes) ensures that the boys are well supported in a modest sort of way. A continuous bead of silicone rubber helps keep the leg loops in place, and is not of the type that tends to bite the hairy legged among us (my present state).

Open-weave back
Photo ©: John Stevenson
Click for larger image

So, how did they feel? Having clocked 500 km in them, including a 6 hour ride, I have two words: bloody comfortable! Funnily enough, I found that having my backside and dangly bits well-supported actually made me want to get out and ride more frequently (It's amazing how long you'll put up with crap - my old shorts in this case - that compromises your enjoyment of the sport). And it's not simply the novelty of having a new piece of clothing to show off. Keeping the rear end comfortable is undeniably one of the factors which can make or brake your enjoyment on two wheels, particularly if you are a "miles man", or are going all-out in the gutter holding that wheel.

These shorts are undoubtedly the equal of any high-end shorts I have owned previously. They still look brand-spanking new, and there are no signs of frayed stitching and loose threads that normally accompany numerous launderings. My only gripe, and it is a minor one, is the lack of more prominent reflective tabs at the rear (just one cheek logo'd). The sample pair lacked the reflective seam-piping that is present on some brands. As a good chunk of my riding is now done in the evening, being visible is pretty important (whilst reflective tabs are no substitute for lights, every little bit helps). But I'm being pretty picky here!

If enjoying your riding and racing is your primary concern, Sportful Tour bib shorts are an A1 option. I'm now on the lookout for that second pair!

Recommended retail price: US$125, GBP 60, in Europe €85
Pros: Very comfortable, well designed, cut and finished
Cons: Could do with more reflective seams/logos on the rear for night riding
More information: www.sportful.it
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