When administered with ideal timing, the gel packs that set the SubZero shorts apart are useful, and they do make tough sessions feel that tiny bit easier. I'm not convinced it's a solution most riders will really get the maximum benefit from during day-to-day sessions - freezing the packs and applying them after a warm-up adds yet another hurdle on top of what has already become a much more involved process than it was in pre-Zwift days. However, indoor racing is gathering steam as a sporting pursuit, and those aiming to be competitive in Watopia will no doubt want to hunt out and utilise every performance gain they can. For those taking indoor racing seriously, this system could certainly help make the discomfort of max efforts indoors a little more palatable.
Breathable fabric of shorts
Gel ice packs require pre-planning
NoPinz is not a brand that holds back from innovation, and for 2020 the manufacturer responsible for the number pocket skinsuit has brought forward another seeming game-changer: SubZero indoor training kit. (opens in new tab)
One of the major struggles of indoor riding (opens in new tab) is overheating. To combat this NoPinz has created a capsule wardrobe of kit featuring internal pockets expressly designed for housing frozen gel packs.
The notion of shoving ice packs down the back of cycling kit is not a new one: pros are often seen wearing ice vests ahead of time trials in hot climates. However, NoPinz seems to have been the first to have designed garments with this purpose in mind.
The range consists of shorts, 'suits' (like tri suits), and sweatbands (which we will be reviewing soon). The shorts - available in men's and women's fit - can be purchased on their own for £109.99 or, as reviewed, with the gel packs included for £139.99.
NoPinz SubZero bib shorts construction
The SubZero shorts come with 'FreezePockets' at the shoulder blades and lower back. The backing of the pocket is thick enough to prevent chill burns once the frozen gel packs are inserted, but not so thick that the cooling goes unfelt. NoPinz recommends replacing the gel packs every 40-60 minutes for maximum effect.
The shorts themselves are made of extremely breathable fabric, with the majority of the lower leg covered by a lightweight honeycomb mesh. A bit like a mesh base layer, skin can be seen through the holes, though there's a healthy degree of elasticity providing compression. Of course, modesty is protected with heavier weight fabric at the central panel.
The leg grippers are pretty narrow, with a plasticated strip to keep them in place. This doesn't create the flattering look of a wide band, but then these aren't for wearing outside.
Inside the shorts is a pad NoPinz says is optimised for indoor cycling, with extra padding and improved moisture management vs a standard chamois.
NoPinz sent me the kit in a size Extra Small, based on my height and weight (166cm, 57kg). I would probably have asked for a Small but the sample fitted perfectly so I'd suggest customers use the scale provided on the website rather than their typical sizing inclinations.
NoPinz SubZero bundle: the ride
Testing this kit wasn't a simple 'dress up and go' procedure.
During my first test ride, I froze the gel packs overnight and slotted them into the pockets before getting on the turbo for a one-hour high-intensity session.
As soon as I turned the fan on to begin my warm-up, I became acutely aware of the cold patch at my lower back, which was being further chilled as the now icy circulating air seemed to catch and stick to it.
Once the intervals began, I was warm enough that the gel pack ceased to niggle at my consciousness and became a welcome addition.
However, the window was brief. Nearing the latter half of my session, the packs were beginning to melt, rendering them little more than a slightly warm extra layer against my skin.
For round two, I was more organised. Rather than slotting the gel packs into my kit at the start of the session, I loaded them into the accompanying cool pack and placed them on a table next to my turbo set up. I completed my warm-up without the chilling aid and slotted the packs into the kit just ahead of the first interval.
This approach was much more successful – the packs were welcome from installation and stayed cool throughout. Of course, were the session longer, I'd want to swap in a new set as the minutes ticked by into a second hour.
Would I use this kit again? If I was just aiming to get a workout done when the world is too wet, dreary or locked-down to pedal outside, probably not. However, for a Zwift race where overheating is a major limiting factor, I absolutely would. I'd just need to hope there was a long enough lull in the race to swap the gel packs should they melt to oblivion.
The shorts themselves retail at £109.99 alone. The pad is comfortable and, clearly, the fabric is breathable, though the near-naked appearance means you'd not be able to get additional use from these by wearing them outside. The leg gripper is a little basic but these absolutely rival the more expensive Wahoo x Le Col pair (opens in new tab) that we awarded 9/10 – so if you're just looking for breathable indoor shorts, purchasing a pair without the packs could be an option. You could even pop some frozen peas into the pocket...
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