Admittedly, the tail end of fall is an odd time to write about bib shorts that are designed to keep you cool. But hey, I’ve been riding in the Santini BCool Bib Shorts since July, and frankly, I’ve been a little busy lately. However, instead of chalking this up to simply being a lapse in my productivity, I’m more of the opinion that the extended test period actually adds an extra dimension to the review of these bib shorts, given that I can now attest to their dual ability to exceed expectations in both cold and hot conditions. Let’s dig into why.
The BCool fits fairly true to size in the American sense, but the bib shorts will feel a little bigger than expected if you’re used to typical Italian sizing. Keep in mind, though, that these bib shorts definitely exemplify a race cut, as compared to the club fit of the Dragon kit, so be prepared for an exceptionally close feel.
At the leg openings, you won’t find any grippers. Instead, Santini used a panel of laser cut Lycra (the white panel in the picture) that’s stitched at an angle to the nearly-mesh upper- and outer-leg. This “gripper” system is preferential to me, and if you look at fabrics, like Lazer Rev, that are used in pieces like the Louis Garneau Course Elite bib shorts, it’s the direction that the industry is eventually going anyways. Why? Because it superior in comfort, surprisingly secure, and certainly lighter against the skin.
The uppers of the bibs start particularly low on the stomach. And while the minimal surface coverage has its advantages in terms of heat control, unlike bib shorts like Castelli’s Body Paint, or almost anything from Capo, you won’t find any forgiveness for the “executive build.” In other words, I would say that the fit will be far from flattering for bigger set riders. Outside of this, the uppers are constructed in a way (not unlike Assos) so that you’ll feel a pull towards the small of the back when standing. Don’t be alarmed, though, as they’re constructed to fit while in the riding position. In fact, I’d say that outside of Assos’ _s7 system, these are the best feeling bib straps that I’ve come into contact with.
Without hyperbole, riding in the BCool feels as close to riding naked as I’ve ever experienced. They move perfectly with the body, the fit is precise, and most importantly, there’s no sensation of being hot over long rides or during intense efforts. In a word, I would describe the experience as “seamless,” in the sense that I’ve never had to think about the bib shorts once they were on. It really is a set-it-and-forget-it kind of situation.
It’s time to address the BCool’s primary function — riding in the heat. Unlike other manufacturers, Santini managed to pull off the barely-there-effect without producing a garment that was either unsightly or borderline illegal to wear in public. Sure, the side panels are sophisticated, somewhat transparent mesh, and yes, the uppers start a little too low for some people’s comfort, but all of these things serve a greater good. What I really like about them, however, is that the BCool’s aesthetic doesn’t strike you as a hot weather piece like the Froome-burn Rapha kit or Castelli’s upcoming Free Aero Race shorts. Instead, they appear just like a normal pair of bib shorts — bib shorts that are stupid lightweight and almost without branding that is.
As you can guess, the wind cuts right through these shorts. What you might not have guessed is that this, which is really just a component of moisture management, is actually an advantage in the winter — odd, I know. If you’ve read my work, you know that I often refer to sweat as death when it comes to winter layering. But when you have outer layer fabrics that attack moisture with vigor, like in the case of the BCool, you’ve actually just found the perfect layering piece over leg warmers or under chamois-less bib tights.
As we all know, bib shorts are only as strong as their weakest link, and for most bib shorts, the weakest link is in the chamois. This is not the case, however, with Santini’s MIG3 insert. For my preferences, the MIG3 is an ideal piece — its minimal, unobtrusive, relatively thin, and quick-drying. Perhaps it’s due to my narrow sit bones and overall size, but I’m disenchanted with the bigger is better chamois trend, where the insert is so broad that it extends to the inner thigh. The MIG3 features a minimal surface area with a variable density that’s reminiscent of one of my favorite chamois — Sportful’s BodyFit Pro insert that Bjarne Riis helped to design. One could call it minimal, but to me, it’s perfect.
If you’re partial to your bib shorts possessing a compressive hold on your muscles, you’ll probably feel a little off kilter in the BCool. After all, it really is kind of a naked experience. And along these lines, I can’t say that I was very fond of the shear portion of uppers directly below the belly button. I didn’t take any pictures of this small area, but let’s just say that it’s an inverted triangle of see-through fabric with an apex that falls a little too low for decency when standing. In the saddle, though, I felt it’s purpose, but when moving around at the café, it was definitely something to be conscious of. Ultimately, it’s kind of trivial point, but one that I feel is worth making — function should not always trump form.
If you’re on the thinner side, and you need a tactical weapon against the risk of overheating, these are the shorts for you. Conversely, if you simply appreciate total comfort and minimalist aesthetics, you’ll also be happy. The MIG3 chamois is a noticeable improvement to the rest of the Santini lineup, and the only other place that it’s found is in the pseudo-skinsuit Interactive kit, which I know is not everyone’s cup of tea.
So, if you value tireless performance, and you’re unable or unwilling to make the jump to something like the Assos _s7 line, it’s hard to imagine doing any better than the BCool bib shorts.