By Ed Pavelka
Being a frugal guy (OK, cheap), I never expected to spend $165 for a pair of cycling shorts — or even $130, which is what this test pair cost on sale at World Cycling Productions. But I was seduced by the FI Mille shorts because (1) they’re from top-shelf Assos so I figured they must be good, and (2) they’re promoted as “the ideal long-distance short.” Distance is my thing.
Also enticing: Even as some companies boast of shorts being sewn from 12 separate pieces of material (“panels”) for supposed anatomical advantages, Assos makes a virtue of using only 4 panels for the FI Mille. It used to be that 4 panels meant cheap shorts. Now 4 panels cost $165. Assos’s angle is that fewer panels means fewer seams, and that means less risk of irritation as pedal strokes stack up.
Incidentally, the shorts I received do not have the pronounced seams shown in the above photo. Instead the seams are normal — thin, flat and much less noticeable. Otherwise, my shorts look the same as those pictured.
Being early spring of 2009, the longest ride I did in these shorts was 5 1/2 hours. Most others were around 3 1/2. That’s not very long compared to the duration of centuries and 200K or lengthier brevets, but I found no reason to think FI Mille shorts wouldn’t be as comfortable if the clock kept running. They were comfy on all rides after my second one, and of course comfort is the bottom line for any shorts.
On that second ride, however, I got a touch of skin abrasion — enough to make me want to stay off the bike the next day. I didn’t want to risk that again, so on subsequent rides I used my current favorite happy-chamois lube combo — Lantiseptic Skin Protectant on my crotch, then Beljum Budder over that and on the chamois. No more irritation.
Fat & Flat Foam Padding
The FI Mille shorts have an almost day-glo orange liner. It houses 2 long pieces of thick foam, left and right with only fabric between. The foam is the same ample depth throughout. It doesn’t taper to various thicknesses as many pads do nowadays. Nor is it curved to fit the anatomy. Instead it’s flat, which makes these the bulkiest feeling shorts (off the bike) I’ve worn. Talk about the “loaded diaper” effect.
I bought size L, which the Assos chart says is right for my 34-36-inch waist. The overall fit is snug, and that’s the way I like it. But on the bike, the pad size is barely big enough to reach the sides of my Fizik Aliante saddle. I prefer having enough peripheral margin to accommodate slight shorts shifting as a ride wears on. With these shorts, I need to remember to re-center the pad during stops so one side of my butt isn’t over the edge.
The shorts are cut tall in back so there’s no risk of a gap to the jersey. All of the wide elastic waistband is in the rear half; across the abdomen there is only a double thickness of stretchy Lycra — a good way to ensure comfort. There is no drawstring.
The legs are a medium length. If you like your shorts to extend nearly to the knees, you won’t be happy with these. Wide elastic gripper bands keep the legs from riding up and warmers from sliding down.
These shorts come with a small mesh laundry bag. Instructions say to put them in it (inside out) when machine washing, and then line dry. I did that 3 times but the thick foam pad wasn’t drying overnight and I couldn’t wear the shorts the next day. So I switched to my normal routine that hasn’t seemed to harm any other shorts I’ve owned: I toss the FI Mille into the washer (sans bag) with my other ride clothes, and then they go into the drier on medium-high. No problems so far.
Care instructions are included on one of the 2 tags inside the shorts (the other tag is an amazing 11-cm long, proclaiming, “Engineered in Switzerland by Assos; Made in Bulgaria”). These tags are concealed and not a problem, but externally there are 3 more tags plus one Assos iron-on logo. The last looks likely to peel off some day (maybe that drier is having an effect after all). The other tags are just silly, including an orange one protruding from the rear center seam and a small rectangle of reflective material sewn to the inside of the right leg, as if that’s going to help at night.
Other decoration can be found around the outside of the leg-gripper bands. Some of these gray squares contain the Assos logo or Swiss cross. Perhaps a designer felt compelled to make such pricey shorts stand out in a group.
These are the first Assos shorts I’ve worn. The FI Mille model is undeniably well made and the materials seem top-notch, as they should be for the price. But the design leaves something to be desired. Although the overall cut is good, the thick pad (actually 2 pads in parallel) is flat and bulky but undersized. Even a slight shift off center can put a butt out of bounds. The external tags and gripper decoration seem merely an inane attempt to make the shorts look like something special. The prestigious Assos logo should be enough for that.