Highly recommended, comfortable bib shorts that will lend themselves to everything from relaxed evening gravel rides to fast-paced club runs. There's no comfort break solution, but this might be a plus for some riders, and the value is good.
Comfortable level of compression
No comfort break solution
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At the dawn of every season, the Cycling Weekly tech office is flooded with clothing. Fabric cascades from the letterbox, and we do our utmost to put as much of it as possible through its paces whilst continuing to be thorough. But unavoidably, there will always be a few pieces that quickly become favourites. The offerings from Santini have become my firm friends.
This year, Santini sent in its Tono Sfera women's bib shorts (£129/$150) as well as the Redux Istinto bib shorts (£209/$240). I’ve tested both - and for a race effort, I’d choose the latter for its super close fit, but on a sunny relaxed summer ride - where comfort is the aim of the game - the Tono Sfera shorts have been an absolute winner. Paired with the Delta Pietra jersey, these have been a go-to for everything from post-work rides to club runs and video shoots (see below for a moving depiction of the shorts in action).
Santini Tono Sfera bib shorts construction
Santini calls these its ‘unbeatable comfort bib shorts’. There are a lot of good bib shorts out there (Assos' T.Laalalai scored very well, and won our last women's shorts test), so unbeatable feels like a stretch to me - but they are very good.
The focus has been on ‘light compression’ - the fabric hugs close enough to feel supportive and confidence inspiring, but it’s not got that constrictive quality of an aero garment. Santini has called on external fabric experts Polartec, using its Delta material for its quick drying and breathability. I’ve yet to find kit featuring Polartec fabric that isn’t impressive - so seeing the expert brand name there confirms, in part, why these have been quite so good.
These shorts have a UPF50+ rating too, if you're lucky enough to be riding somewhere sunny.
The leg gripper measures 6cm in height, providing plenty of space to spread compression, and is silicone printed to keep it in place.
As for the chamois, this is a GILevo construction with a gel core. Comparing directly to the C3W chamois on the Redux shorts, it feels a little narrower and less bulky.
The bib straps are a breathable mesh, with a story inscription on the inside. There's no easy comfort break solution, with Santini opting for the traditional y-shape.
I opted for a size small, and at 166cm/56kg found the fit spot on. You don't have to opt for the grey pictured, these come in black and blue, too.
Santini Tono Sfera bib shorts: the ride
In case it wasn't abundantly clear, I really like these bib shorts. I've ridden them on gravel rides, where the position is much more upright and setback, as well as club runs with some substantial climbing efforts.
The chamois, as mentioned, does not feel as thick as the C3W on the more expensive shorts. It's possible it might 'bottom out' sooner than the more robust alternative, but I think you'd need to ride a really long way. I've ridden in these for 4-5 hours without feeling like I needed more padding.
The balance of compression, comfort and breathability really is spot on. Whilst Covid means we're stranded in the UK, and not able to get out to the warmer temperatures, at a pre-storm muggy 25°c these kept sweat at bay. The elasticity creates a snap-to-fit feel, but without hugging too close.
The grippers stay in place, and don't dig in to create the dreaded Michelin man effect at all.
My only criticism is the lack of comfort break solution. Santini does offer the Legend shorts, which feature a central clasp. Interestingly, these are £119 - so the omission doesn't appear to be cost based. This is a case of personal preference, so maybe Santini's designers aren't big fans of adding clutter up top. Case in point, CW tester Hannah pulled the overhead strap out as a con.
Santini Tono Sfera bib shorts: value and conclusions
At £129/$150, Santini's shorts are more expensive than an offering from an in-house brand, like the dhb Aeron's at £75.
However, they come with a premium feel that really can very comfortably compete against much more expensive pairs - like the Assos T.laalalai shorts_s7 bib shorts (£165) (opens in new tab) and Rapha Classic Women’s bib shorts (£170) (opens in new tab).
If you're after a go-to pair of bib shorts, with a premium feel alongside a not-jaw-dropping price tag - and you're not too fussed about having a clasp/droptail/other - then these are a great investment.
- RRP: £129/$150
- Sizes: XS-XXL
- Colours: grey, blue, black
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Michelle Arthurs-Brennan is a traditional journalist by trade, having begun her career working for a local newspaper, where highlights included interviewing a very irate Freddie Star (and an even more irate theatre owner), as well as 'the one about the stolen chickens'.
Previous to joining the Cycling Weekly team, Michelle was Editor at Total Women's Cycling. She joined CW as an 'SEO Analyst', but couldn't keep her nose out of journalism and in the spreadsheets, eventually taking on the role of Tech Editor before her latest appointment as Digital Editor.
Michelle is a road racer who also enjoys track riding and the occasional time trial, though dabbles in off-road riding too (either on a mountain bike, or a 'gravel bike'). She is passionate about supporting grassroots women's racing and founded the women's road race team 1904rt.
Michelle is on maternity leave from July 8 2022, until April 2023.
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