The Castelli Free Unlimited Bib Shorts are the brand’s dedicated cargo bibs, made for epic gravel rides or endurance mountain biking. The compressive bibs provide plenty of support, comfort, and most importantly, easily accessible pockets, making them a serious contender in the best women’s bib shorts category.
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Castelli Free Unlimited Women's Bib Shorts - Technical details
The Castelli Free Unlimited Women’s bib shorts are made with a high-compression 215g Forza 2 fabric and feature robust Dyneema side panels for added protection in case of crashes. On the thighs, there are two light cargo pockets that Castelli claims are fast-wicking.
The pad on these bibs is the same as on the brand’s top racing shorts; the women-specific Progetto X² Air Donna seamless. The chamois is built with two densities of foam and gel pads, which Castelli say are, “strategically placed in accordance with the female anatomy to absorb vibrations and improve ride quality.” The pad is made for longer distances and has a soft top layer that moves with the skin to prevent any friction.
The legs and waist have raw cut edges and the straps are free-floating, meaning they can be worn crossed at the back or front. The bibs also offer an easy-pee break feature which is enabled by the stretch from the straps.
Castelli Free Unlimited Women's Bib Shorts - Performance
Castelli is known for quality bibs and these are no exception. They offer excellent build quality and comfort, but what got me excited was the cargo pockets because, well, there's no such thing as too many pockets.
The first noticeable thing about the Castelli Free Unlimited bibs was the compression they offer - but in a positive way. I was testing size XS - I'm very much in between S and XS in the size chart, but I prefer a snug fit and that’s what these shorts delivered. They were comfortably snug, keeping any wiggle to a minimum without making me feel suffocated. The front of the shorts is slightly lower than I'd prefer, disappointingly so, as the back comes up to a perfect height on the waist.
The sides of the thighs are reinforced with Dyneema material, which Castelli claims is stronger than steel. I luckily did not crash once during the test period, but I rode through some bushy and thorny paths and they never showed any tears or scratches. The Dyneema material feels a lot rougher to the touch than the rest of the bibs but didn't irritate the skin or affect ride comfort.
The legs are finished with raw cut hems, which I absolutely loved. No silicone grippers, no sausage legs, just a very smooth transition from the fabric to the skin. They also make pulling the shorts on a lot easier.
Materials and fit aside, the greatest feature of the Castelli Free Unlimited Women's Bib Shorts is the cargo pockets. There are two of them, one on each side of the thigh. They’re made of stretchy material and easily fit a phone, banana, GoPro, energy bars or such. They are slightly smaller than for example, Rapha Bib’s cargo pockets, but they do the job and are nicely placed.
The straps are again, comfortably snug despite having enough stretch to allow a comfort break if needed. The comfort-break feature works, but I found myself worried about tearing some seams. I would only use it if I really didn’t want to strip my jersey off. That said, I think this feature makes the bibs excellent for race scenarios. I also like that you can cross the straps at the back or front, meaning you can get them off your breasts for more comfort.
Overall, the ride quality in these bibs was stellar. They are a pair I have reached for on gravel and road rides as they simply don’t need any adjustment after they’re on. The chamois is soft, and not too thick or thin. There are different amounts of padding used; it’s thicker at the sit bone area and thinner towards the front.
There was one issue, but perhaps only because of my liking for these bibs, and the 1000+ km I’ve already ridden in them - I managed to wear the chamois seam out on the right side. However, this is something I manage to do with most bibs and I think is linked to the fact that I always clip off my right foot and thus rub the seam onto the saddle. There is barely a pair of bibs (bar Assos, who leave the stitching away from that specific part of the pad) that I don’t wear out like this, so I would not immediately say this is a design fault - it might be just me.
Castelli Free Unlimited Women's Bib Shorts - Verdict
These are excellent cargo bibs for women. The chamois and comfortable fit make them good for long days on the saddle, and the cargo pockets are great for carrying anything you want easy access to like phone, snacks, money, keys etc.
These bibs retail for £195, meaning the quality and comfort come at a price. Then again, most cargo bibs are around the same price; 7Mesh MK3 Cargo Bib Shorts retail for £180, whereas the Assos Mille GTC Kiespanzer C2 bib shorts cost £210 (not available for women). Similarly, MAAP Women’s Alt_Road Cargo Bibs are more expensive at £235, and Rapha’s Cargo Bibs also retail for £215.
The Castelli Free Unlimited Women's Bib Shorts are reasonably priced when compared to the competitors, and they do offer everything they promise; crash protection, cargo pockets, comfy chamois and gripper-free legs.
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