You’ve heard that old saying? If it ain't broke, don’t fix it? Well, Castelli has chosen to ignore that. The designers clearly spend too much ‘thinking’ time on their bikes.
The 2018 Castelli Free Aero Bibshort, beloved by pros and amateurs alike, was the brand’s best-selling bib short of all time. Back to the drawing-board for 2019 then, obviously...
If you own a pair of the old version, you might be wondering why bother. Well, I’ve been lucky enough to get my hands on a pair of the Women's Free Aero Race 4 Bibshorts and I can tell you why you need these shorts in your life.
Castelli is one of the oldest names in the business, tracing their roots back to the fine tailor Vittore Gianni back in 1876 in Milan. They've clothed some of the biggest names in cycling, with greats such as Coppi and Bartali amongst their illustrious list of clients.
Throughout their history, they’ve pushed innovation to lead the way in performance kit. In 1948, they produced the first ever skinsuits for Coppi’s time trials. LYCRA®shorts, sublimation printed jerseys, thermal performance kit, that ubiquitous Gabba – all innovations we can thank Castelli for.
I’m still rocking a pair of the Body Paint 2.0, a cousin of the Free Aero, that was out way back in 2012. As my first ‘proper’ pair of shorts, they are still my go-to for ‘Sunday best.’ In fact, I’ve trusted them over long distances so much that my first ride out in the new Free Aero 4 was a 180km jaunt on my three-day Festive 500. I wouldn’t normally trust new kit on such distances, but they didn’t let me down.
They’re not based on pro feedback
With so many pro-teams kitted up in Castelli, the brand have access to feedback from some of the top names in cycling. When Grand-Tour-winning-machine Team Sky love your product, you must be doing something right.
What’s good enough for the pros has evidently been good enough for you, too. The 2018 iteration of the Free Aero Race has become Castelli’s number-one selling bib-short ever, with glowing reviews across the board? I mean they practically sell themselves. Why change?
Well, for some, the best clearly isn’t good enough. ‘For 2019 we've made some dramatic changes.’ Castelli says. ‘Not because Team Sky or you were asking for it, but because we've been riding in it a ton and thinking constantly about how we could make it better.’
They make you go fast
OK, that might be an exaggeration. But they make you feel fast, or at least more capable of putting the power down and going for it, and that goes a long way.
Castelli makes no secret of the fact that the women's version, which I was riding in, has not been designed from the ground up for women (in contrast to the rest of their women’s range). They have instead been designed from the ground up for racing.
At the top end, when marginal gains are everything, the ‘Vortex’ dimpled fabric enhances air-flow over the thighs, decreasing resistance and optimising aerodynamics. It’s the same idea as those skin-suits that Team Sky got in bother over – serious stuff.
The fit is definitely ‘racey’ - skin-tight with raw-edged leg-grippers that lie flat against the skin. As a kit-junkie, I ride in all sorts of brands; dhb, Rapha, Morvelo, Gore, Black Sheep, Twin Six, you name it. My pair of Array are my usual size but they do feel a bit ‘snugger’ than the ones I wear from the other brands. Don’t panic – they're cut for aerodynamics, but if you’re nervous you might want to try a size up.
They’re actually comfortable
OK so they’re snug, they’re racy, but they also somehow manage to be comfortable.
I wouldn’t normally be stupid enough to head out for a long ride in new kit. A testament to the great design of the Free Aero Race 4s is that I not only managed 180km in them, I also then headed out for the next two days (obviously in other, clean bibs) and bagged another 320km. No post-ride discomfort from chafing - perfect!
The cuffs stay firmly in place thanks to the super-deep Giro4 leg gripper. The vertical silicone strips provide extra security whilst still allowing stretch so you’re not going to cut off blood flow.
The shoulder straps have enough stretch to feel secure without digging in. At 5’9” I sometimes have issues with shoulder straps but the ones on these shorts have enough stretch to feel secure without digging in. They’re also made from a lovely stripy mesh, so they’ll be ultra-cool in the summer. The shorter leg length will also be great on warmer days (for the record, leg warmers are necessary if you’re wearing them in December. Brrr).
That seat pad though
When you’re racking up the hard miles, your seat-pad can make or break your day. It’s a good thing Castelli are experts in this field then.
Ever since they innovated with the first modern anatomic seat pad back in 1998, they’ve been on a continuous search for improvements to keep your bottom happy.
For the Free Aero Race 4 they have updated the Progetto X² Air seamless seat pad with the softest surface fabric you've ever felt in a seat pad. A seamless skin-care layer feels lovely against the skin and reduces abrasion.
A separate saddle-shaped cushioning layer with progressive damping through high-density foam and gel inserts provides comfort without feeling bulky when you’re out of the saddle.
The women’s version, the Progetto X² Air Seamless Donna, has all the same features as the men’s but obviously it's designed specifically for female anatomy.
You'll look awesome
OK so Team Sky didn’t ask for it, but they’re getting the Castelli Free Aero Race 4 Bibshort Team anyway, and we think they look pretty smart.
The new fabric allows better print quality - important when you've got sponsor logos to show off. The pair I wore had a rather sharp white stripe around the leg and it certainly didn’t look like it was in danger of peeling or fading after the first wash.
The seams have also been updated to provide a better fit so they look even slicker.
For me, the leg length is a bit shorter than what I’m used to (but no shorter than the previous Body Paint) so make sure you use extra-effective sun protection if you’re precious about tan lines (or you can just get Neapolitan-ice-cream-striped legs like I did last summer!).
There’s a secret snack pocket
OK so it’s actually a radio pocket – essential if you’re a pro racer but honestly how many of us are pro racers?
On the other hand, if you need to carry an emergency gel or fun-size pack of Haribo...