By Brandon Bilyeu
Free Aero Race 4 Bibshort:
A/C Cycling Cap:
Espresso Jersey: $150
Free Aero Race 4 Bibshort: $200
A/C Cycling Cap: $20
How obtained: review sample from company
Available: online, retail, Castelli website
Espresso Jersey: Black, Red, Dark Steel Blue
Free Aero Race 4 Bibshort: Black, Dark Steel Blue
A/C Cap: Black, Red, White
RBR Sponsor: no
Tested: 20+ hours
Sizing: All kit available in S – XXXL, cycling cap is “one size fits all”
Reviewer Measurements and Fit Comments: 5’10” (178cm), 150 lbs (68 kgs), 33″ (84cm) waist, 38” (96.5cm) hips, 33″ (84cm) inseam, 37″ (94cm) chest. I choose size large for all pieces, please see below for specific fit comments.
Espresso Jersey – Companion to the Premio Bibshorts
- Extra capacity rear pockets and a bonus chest pocket
- Classic styling in solid colorways
- Elbow length sleeves
- Luxuriously soft fabric
- Fabric too stretchy, can’t support heavy pocket loads comfortably
The Espresso jersey is not designed as a race piece to save you watts, but as an ultimate comfort and function jersey. In place of mesh panels mixed with dimpled fabric, no collar, and laser cut sleeves, the Espresso is made entirely out of one fabric with a generous extended collar and solidly hemmed sleeves. It’s a nice understated classic design, the only concession to modern day style is sleeves that reach almost to the elbow.
The Punto fabric is very soft to the touch and has tons of stretch. It is micro-perforated for added breathability, but does come across as a bit heavier than a jersey built with more open-mesh panels. Riding in temperatures up to 90 F (32 C) I remained comfortable enough, but definitely had to rely more on the full-length zipper for cooling than airflow through the fabric. The collar is a multipiece affair that provides extra back of neck protection from the sun, though Castelli does not claim any UPF rating.
The three rear pockets utilize a new bellowed construction that allows them to expand at the bottom edge for more capacity while still allowing the rear hem of the waist to stay planted. This design also allows bulky items to sit deeper in the pocket which works great for keeping jackets and warmers contained. A fourth, zippered pocket is located on the chest and is a great place to keep cash, credit cards, and other small items. For the requisite mid-ride coffee stops it is nice to have quick and easy access to money as opposed to fumbling blindly through a rear pocket.
The one drawback I found was that the fabric choice did not always play well with the extra-large rear pockets. There is so much give in the fabric that if you really load up the pockets the whole jersey stretches down and feels saggy, pulling at the shoulders. This was mainly an issue on longer rides when I carried a lot of food and extra clothing. I will sometimes carry a third water bottle in the center rear pocket, but found it was just too much weight for this jersey.
On Castelli’s size chart I am a medium, but based on previous experiences I sized up to large. The jersey fit was a little loose, but some of this can be attributed to the stretchy fabric. I would not size up for this jersey.
Bottom line – excellent jersey for comfort, style, and coffee stops, but not the right choice for epic days with stuffed pockets.
Free Aero Race 4 Bibshort – Not Based on Pro Feedback
- Perfect second-skin fit with a good balance of compression and stretch
- Super comfortable updated Progetto X2 Air Seamless chamois
- Doppio V construction up front for support
- Leg grippers might be too aggressive for some
- Skinny bib straps with hemmed edges
The first line on Castelli’s website introducing the Free Aero Race 4 Bibshorts reads “Not Based on Pro Feedback” and I thought to myself that leading with a typo is not a good start. It turns out that the 2018 Free Aero Race Bibshort was Castelli’s best-selling short of all time and the pro rider feedback was basically all positive. But in our world of ‘innovate or die’ you have to make continuous improvements to keep customers engaged and their wallets open, so Castelli forged ahead and make some tweaks in an attempt to make their best bibshort even better.
The biggest update is the new Progetto X2 Air Seamless chamois. I have the previous version X2 Air in several pairs of bibshorts and as I noted in the Premio Bibshort Review it is very comfortable. As the new name suggests the construction is now seamless to avoid any unwanted rubbing (previous X2 had a ‘v’ seam at the front of the pad for shaping). The most noticeable change is a new microfiber top layer that is the softest chamois cover I’ve ever felt and should also help reduce the risk of chaffing. Variable thickness padding is used in conjunction with viscous inserts for cushioning and support. The result is the same as the previous X2, endless miles of comfort.
My only complaints about the FAR4 bibshorts are minor, but they also happen to be the other ‘improvements’ Castelli made. The raw cut leg openings are held in place with new vertical silicone stripes that don’t interfere with stretch and lock onto the leg with tenacious grip, but the grippers are quite thick and leave indentations on the skin. Not especially bothersome to me, but consider yourself warned if you don’t like aggressive grippers or have sensitive skin. Leg length is three-quarters of the way to the knee.
The bibstraps are my other niggle. The straps are constructed out of a very thin but strong mesh and then hemmed along the edges. This makes for a very light and breathable strap, but Castelli claims this new construction lies flatter and my experience is that the mesh collapses and allows the two hemmed edges to come together. Not uncomfortable, but a disappointment when they were re-engineered to lie flatter.
The bibs are built with a mix of soft lycra and dimpled fabric for a little aero gain. The combination works well to provide an excellent fit that hugs every curve and doesn’t bunch up anywhere. Personally, I’m a big fan of the ‘Doppio V’ construction up front. Most bibs have a single seam that runs right up the center of the shorts which acts as a divider making you choose between left, right, or smooshed for your manly bits. The ‘Doppio V’ is two seams that form a nice cradle keeping everything centered and happy.
According to Castelli’s fit chart I’m dead on size medium, but based on past experience I went with size large. This was a perfect sung fit for me, so if there is any doubt I recommend sizing up.
Bottom line – super comfortable bibshorts, worth the investment.
A/C Cycling Cap – Modern Version of Classic Cycling Kit
- Made of polyester, not cotton
- Open mesh for breathability and some sun protection
- Bill keeps sun out of eyes
- Not the best sweat control for heavy sweaters
Headwear under the helmet is a personally choice with lots of options; commando, bandana, skull cap, cycling cap, or any one of the numerous ‘keep sweat out of your eyes’ products. I have switched from a skull cap to cycling cap over the last year because the bill keeps the sun out of my eyes. I never realized how much sunlight was getting to my eyes through the gap between my eyebrows and sunglasses until I randomly tried wearing a cycling cap last summer. Now I can’t ride without one.
Classic cycling caps are made out of cotton and tend to get hot and soggy which is why I’ve avoided them in the past. When it gets hot out the tight knit cotton fabric does not breathe and just compounds the sweating problem. Castelli makes a whole range of cycling caps and I tested out the A/C, which as the name suggests is their hot weather cap. Instead of cotton it is made out of polyester mesh, incorporates a thin headband sewn into the edge, and of course has a bill to block the sun. It’s “one size fits all” and given the size and stretch I do think this cap will fit comfortably on most heads.
The mesh construction does a decent job of allowing airflow through and works better the faster you go. It can get pretty hot when climbing, but still better than a cotton cap. The headband is tall to avoid any pressure points and does a decent job of wicking sweat away, but once saturated it will slowly leak sweat down your face. I find this more manageable than just helmet pads that tend to soak up all the sweat like a sponge and then dump it in one deluge into your eyes. While the cap is not advertised as a sweat solution, I don’t think it would take too much effort for Castelli to improve the wicking from the headband to the mesh upper.
For sun blocking the bill doesn’t need much explanation, it’s solid and blocks the sun. As a ‘hair challenged’ individual I have always worn something under my helmet to protect my head from the sun. I don’t put sunscreen on my head as it always ends up in my eyes and have never gotten burned with a cotton cap. I was a little worried about the sun protection of the mesh A/C, but after many hot and sunny rides I can report no burning. Note that Castelli does not give any UPF rating for the A/C.
Bottom line – if you like to wear cycling caps in hot weather the A/C is a big improvement over cotton and only costs slightly more.