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Santini Impact bibshorts review

7 Nov 2017

Any added protection is welcome in the event of a tumble

Cyclist Rating: 
The added protection doesn’t undermine the comfort or wearability of the shorts
The jury is still out on how much extra protection the special panels offer

Some products are easier to test than others. Give me a waterproof jacket and after a few rides in the rain I’ll tell you if it’s any good or not. But when I am presented with a pair of bibshorts that claims to offer added protection in the event of a crash, the testing protocol becomes somewhat trickier.

Italian clothing brand Santini’s latest bibshorts are called Impact and they come with panels of a super-tough material on the hip and lower back areas, which are designed to not rip when you crash, giving you a better chance of walking away without leaving layers of your skin attached to the tarmac.

Anyone who has been in a bike crash or seen the pros crash on TV will be all too aware of what usually happens. Your body hits the floor and skids along the road, shredding the wafer-thin layer of Lycra and turning soft flesh into a bloody patch of road rash mixed with grit.

It’s gruesome, painful and frighteningly common. So when I first considered how I was going to test the Impact shorts I concluded that if I simply rode in them frequently enough there would be a statistical chance that I would crash while wearing them and be able to properly assess their efficacy.

The special side panels on the shorts are made using Dyneema, a material that maker DSM claims is the strongest fibre in the world. It is used in stab vests and military protective clothing, as well as for making ultra-strong crane ropes and deep sea fishing nets.

It’s particularly resistant to abrasion, so when a rider is sliding along the tarmac, it should stay in one piece.

However, after quite a number of rides while wearing the Impact shorts, I still couldn’t confirm if they worked or not, as I had resolutely failed to crash.

Test dummy

The weeks passed and every ride ended in test disappointment. That is, I returned home entirely unscathed, having remained upright for the full extent of my journey. I did consider simply hurling myself off my bike at the bottom of a fast descent, but I couldn’t muster the bravery (or stupidity) to do it.

In all other aspects, the shorts performed admirably. The fit was neat and comfortable. The company’s top-end C3 pad was highly cushioning and I never felt any rubbing or chafing, even after long rides. The Dyneema panels were soft and stretchy, so didn’t undermine the feel of the shorts at all.

I’d have liked a bit more length in the leg, but I say that about almost every pair of bibshorts I’ve ever worn. Santini bibs do tend to come up on the short side, which seems to be the case with a lot of Italian brands. I can only assume it’s because Italian riders want to show off their glistening mahogany legs, while us Brits want to hide away our pasty pins.

Eventually I gave up on trying to engineer a crash. The more I wore the shorts, the more it became obvious that I am just too safe and sensible a rider compared to the hot-headed pros for whom the shorts have been developed.

I needed to find some other way to test the abrasion claims of the Impact shorts – one that didn’t involve me being ferried to A&E in an ambulance.

Toll of the bell

In an attempt to replicate a crash scenario, I decided that the role of me should instead be played by a 20kg kettlebell, which lives in the Cyclist office, gathering dust through lack of use.

To be fair, it wasn’t the most scientific of tests. The idea was simple: stick the kettlebell in the shorts, drag it along the road and see what damage it did.

The kettlebell was pretty heavy and very solid, so it presented a serious challenge to any material, but possibly no more so than my bony hips hitting the floor at high speed. A gentle tug of the shorts, weighed down with the kettlebell, didn’t seem to affect the material much, so I gave the shorts a proper drag for a couple of metres across some fairly rough tarmac.

On inspection, the protective panels had ripped through at one point, creating a sizeable hole, while in other places the material had scarred but not actually torn apart.

My inexpert conclusion was that the panels offered much better resistance to crashing than standard Lycra but were far from impervious to damage. In the event of a high speed tumble, the chances are you are still going to lose some skin.

Having failed to assess the shorts in a true crash situation, I have to be fairly reserved in my judgement, but I reckon that for racers who spend a lot of time fighting for position and picking themselves up from the floor, the Impact shorts could prove to be a valuable protective measure. For those of us who just like to ride, the best protection still remains to just not fall off.

€185 (UK pricing tbc)

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