Assos Bib Shorts Shootout
Assos has this habit of defining "premium" upward. They probably have to, as others are trying to nip at the Swiss company's heels. It's an arms race where cyclists are the ultimate winners. Assos pioneers something, their competitors figure out a way to imitate, then Assos improves, and the process repeats. We have here the tested, refined, improved, impeccable FI. Mille A.360 Bib Short (aka Mille) and the new FI.13 S-2 Bib Short (aka S-2), its successor at the top of the Assos product line. We have worn the two one after the other, day after day, wash cycle after wash cycle, for some time.
(BTW, our Mille short came in a mesh wash bag. We wish more shorts would come packaged this way, as the bags are a good way to lengthen short life for those who machine wash.)
The FI. Mille A.360 is a short that has been on the market for several years now. It pioneered the elastic chamois in 2001. The name is FI for Friction wear Interface and the 13 is for thirteenth attempt to find a great chamois. It's the rare lucky 13; unlike pros, don't wear it upside down. Now just about everyone has an elastic chamois somewhere in their line, which benefits all.
The Mille is effectively a six-panel short. The seventh and eighth panels are the non-Lycra front panels. Assos came to fame with eight-panel shorts, but the argument here is that the panels are curved to better fit the body and thus fewer are needed. This is another increasingly common trend in shorts.
This short also has compression Spandex. They call it Type A.360. At first blush, it's hard to believe that there could be a difference between regular stretchy material and material that presumably stretches less, but anyone who has tried compression hose can vouch for the difference. Other companies are using compression Lycra these days as well. The material is supposed to be more durable than standard Lycra, and while we'll need at least a year to evaluate that claim, it's one we'd like to believe. We'd love it if we could wear out the chamois before the Spandex goes.
The shorts also have more breathable panels on the front, just on top of the quads and a mesh back panel that starts in a V shape just above the jersey line and extents over the shoulder straps and finishes just below the collarbones. Breathable leg panels are not showing up in many other shorts, though the mesh back is now very common.
The leg grippers are stitched to the exterior of the short and feature Assos logos. This is a trend that is slowly catching on; the former, not the latter. Assos claims it's more expensive and fits the leg better because it doesn't offer unwanted compression.
As with all Assos garments there is a proliferation of logos: the traditional "A" on the right cheek, an orange chevron tag sticking out of the seam between the two cheeks, a patch on the lower left quad, and a tag on the right front bib strap. There is a single reflective tab on the back of the left leg.
As with other Assos bottoms, we found that Medium was the right size for us. Insofar as cycling bottom sizing goes, this qualifies as "true." The compression Spandex feels close, but we didn't notice a greater squeeze. We also didn't notice any greater cooling thanks to the different material on the front panels. Still, the fit was close and felt great whether on a short ride or long. The bunching at the hip flexors that is common in many shorts that have straight panels seemed nearly non-existent.
The big thing with this short is the chamois. We already tested out this pad in the Assos Roubaix Knickers and loved it. The stretch is great. It feels as if the two more thickly-padded sections adhere to one's bottom and become one with it, working as a single unit when the short is fresh, when it's wet with sweat, or soaked from rain. The time the padding is most obvious is immediately after pulling on the shorts. The chamois feels big and ungainly. It's hard not to notice the difference when first perching on the saddle, but the sensation goes away within a few minutes.
While old-school natural chamois were a pain to care for, one of their big pluses was how they stuck to the rider. It took many years for the top scientists to get synthetics back to that original idea.
Overall, the Mille shorts made for a great ride. It took us a while to get used to the front quad panels, because it seemed like it made our legs look shorter, though when we see these shorts on others, we feel the panels help make the riders look like they have longer legs. We have an ongoing issue with reflective material on shorts. We think it can't hurt, and since Assos is a company that doesn't seem to care about cost, we can't understand why they limit themselves to one reflective tab on one short leg. It couldn't hurt and couldn't cost much to put one on the other leg.
By comparison, when pulling on the S-2, the first thing we noticed was how the legs seemed tighter. Odd to think of when the Spandex is the same compression material as in the Mille. The difference seems to stem from the flat-panel stitching on the front of the short. These shorts feel a bit tight when standing upright. It's as if the panels are pulling the rider into a riding position. We definitely liked this feel before we even put on our socks.
The second thing we noticed was the chamois. The S-2 is thinner than the Mille, and that's including a totally smooth top layer. The new pad has a lower section that is stitched around the pad to the short's Spandex. The top layer is stitched around the outline of the lower pad around the outline of a traditional chamois. When looking from the inside, it appears to be a throwback to older pads, save the indented lines that seem to help the pad fit against the body. From the outside, it looks like there are two pads stitched to the shorts.
The idea of the top layer is that it contacts the body and sticks to it while the lower layer is independent. The design is intended to work so that there is be no binding or unwanted rubbing and the pad will always be in the same place. And it does work. The pad, being thinner, doesn't seem as big when standing around and there's no adaptation time when settling down on the saddle. In terms of ride comfort; while we liked the concept of the dual-layer pad, we didn't really notice a difference. We could not tell if one was more comfortable than the other, even on long hilly rides, even when doing the high-power, low-speed in-saddle super-steep-hill climbing where weight is shifting and rocking in an effort to keep momentum up is absolutely necessary. It did seem that the pad peeled off our bod with ever so slightly less effort. We've been wondering if this means that moisture is transported away from the body better with the S-2 pad design, but haven't come up with an answer.
In neither case did we use Assos' Chamois Cream on a regular basis. We tried it with both, and while it felt reassuring, it didn't seem to add anything to our comfort when our sensitive skin was in good shape. With saddle sores, yes, it helped, but these shorts didn't induce the sores to begin with.
Like the Mille, the S-2 is a six-panel short, uses external leg grippers, has a mesh back panel, a proliferation of logos and an orange tag sticking out from the butt. The mesh back panel is slightly smaller on the S-2, though it didn't make a noticeable difference. The S-2 also has two reflective tabs one each on each leg's exterior side seam.
In terms of the shootout, it's hard to pick a winner. At this moment, we're leaning towards the S-2, not for the chamois so much, but for the fit. The chamois is ever-so-slightly more comfortable, but for us, the fit is where a difference can really be felt.
Lo those many years ago when we started growing our shorts collection, we found that some shorts just weren't built to take the distance. Some were only good for an hour or two; early-generation Hind shorts come to mind, as well as some discount-brand two-panel shorts that never fit well. Others we saved for the long rides. Nowadays, all our shorts can do the distance, though some can do it better. Both pairs of Assos are in that camp. They aren't hot, fit great, and the chamois can go forever. These are almost "special occasion" shorts, for the longest days in the saddle. These are also shorts that we instinctively avoid when the weather turns wet. While this sort of reasoning is natural, a hoarding instinct that goes far in protecting us, it's wrong-headed. Even though we ride long plenty of the time, busting these out only for the longest, hardest days is a way to not enjoy comfort as much. And keeping the best chamois inside when it's rainy is a great way to create unnecessary saddle sores.
We're going to have to remind ourselves to enjoy ourselves more often. It will be hard work, because the joy of suffering is part of what makes cycling one of our passions.