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In the Drops: Castelli Free bibs, sensible Shimano shoes, S-Works Prevail and the end of death

Matthew Loveridge
1 Apr 2022

This week's round-up of new bike things plus another book recommendation

It's Friday, and by this point I hope you all know what that means. Yes, it's time to sound the In the Drops gong.

This week, helmet maker Lazer brought out its own clever Mips-rivalling tech called KinetiCore to deal with rotational impacts, and we published our reviews of the outstanding Shimano Ultegra R8000 pedal and decidedly good Altura Mistral Softshell jacket.

With the dust barely settled from the original launch, American Classic relaunched its tyre range with upgrades here and there, including support for hookless rims, while Biniam Girmay earned well-deserved praise in our Extremely Online round-up.

We're looking forward to the Ronde this weekend. Don't miss our complete guide to the Tour of Flanders, our guide to watching the race, Robyn Davidson's pick of the 2022 favourites, and our updated guide to the best cobbled climbs in Flanders.

Right, back to mammon.

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Castelli Free Aero RC bib shorts

Now in their fifth incarnation, Castelli's premium Free bib shorts are designed with WorldTour pros in mind, aiming to be aerodynamic, comfortable, and suitable for the hottest conditions. 

The legs of the shorts are completely gripperless, relying on carefully chosen material to stay in place.

Castelli says it tried 28 different fabrics to find the right one, testing the design on 50 brand ambassadors and team Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl riders.

I haven't had the chance to try them properly yet, but first impressions are that the leg design really is well thought-out.

Gripperless (or minimally grippered) shorts don't tend to work all that well on my skinny legs, but these actually fit.

The bib straps are unusual too, with an open design that seeks to avoid any heat build-up – they're there to hold your shorts up and nothing else. 

The chamois pad meanwhile is Castelli's latest Progetto X2 Air Seamless, which combines a soft stretchy layer of material on the skin side with a '3D-formed' foam cushioning and gel pads under the sit bones. 

Castelli says the new Free is faster than its predecessor, performing similarly in the wind tunnel at 0 degrees yaw, but making gains of as much as 0.7 percent of the overall system drag when there's a crosswind . 

We've got the men's shorts here, but there's a women's-specific version too, albeit one that uses a near identical looking bib arrangement and doesn't incorporate any comfort break features.

Shimano RC5 (RC502) shoes

Flagship shoes may stir the loins but as with so many things (groupsets, motor vehicles, supermarket own-brand tinned tomatoes...) the middle ground is where the smart money goes.

Usually available at a healthy discount from its £139.99 retail price, the RC5 (or RC502) offers all the features you actually need in a road shoe. 

The sole is made from nylon reinforced with carbon and has a stiffness rating of 8 on the international arbitrary made-up stiffness scale. Sounds great. 

You get one Boa dial and one velcro strap, and the shoes weight a perfectly reasonably 518g on my scales for a pair of 44s.

Most importantly, the RC5s looks very handsome, and if the white and black doesn't do it for you, there's a stylish blue/black option as well as an all-black version.

Shimano XC7 (XC702) shoes

Thought I was done with eminently sensible Shimano shoes? Think again. The XC7 is an SPD-compatible gravel and MTB shoe in a very similar vein to the RC5, albeit a step-up in price. 

Again sporting a carbon-reinforced nylon sole, the XC7's is apparently based on the range-topping S-Phyre RC902 road shoe.

It features aggressive tread for walking and bosses to accept toe spikes if you're cyclocross-inclined. 

The upper of the XC7 wraps some way round the top of the foot for a 'glove-like' fit and it's secured via two Boa dials. A pair of 44s weighs 668g on my scales.

Specialized S-Works Prevail II Vent Mips helmet

Billed as the best ventilated helmet Specialised has ever made when it launched last year, the Prevail II Vent Mips no longer qualifies as new, but I've got one in my hot little hands and it's a really interesting piece of design that warrants a second look.

The Prevail II Vent is all about the airflow, with a structure that mostly open spaces. 

This helmet's USP is the clever 'aramid ropes' – aramid is a generic term for ultra-stong Kevlar-like fibres – that replace some of the foam bridges between longitudinal sections. 

The result is a helmet that should be incredibly windy inside and also pretty light at 221g for this size medium – not bad considering you're also getting Mips SL safety tech.

Incidentally, with a 59.5cm head I'm officially a size large, but this medium (55-59cm) helmet just fits on my head. Will it burst like a tumescent pustule when I warm up and my head expands? I'm excited to find out. 

What we're into this week: Culling the human race

My last In the Drops included a couple of audiobook recommendations and I've got another one for you this time.

Neil Shusterman's Scythe imagines a perfect world where humanity has conquered death and as a result needs to keep the population in check by culling a quota of people every year. 

It's a premise that sounds almost cartoonish, but Shusterman's worldbuilding is outstanding, exploring the moral and logistical implications of the scenario with brilliantly thought-through detail. 

Scythe is actually the first in a trilogy, and I enjoyed the first part enough that I'm now well into book three. 

Listen to Scythe on Audible or get your paper copy at Waterstones.