It’s taken a while for me to get around to giving these knickers a good few tries, up until two weeks ago they’d been sitting in their packaging, staring accusingly at me for a few weeks, waiting to be reviewed. The last few months haven’t been particularly fun for me, back problems causing knock-on pain in my left knee has prevented me from riding for far too long. Even my short commute has had to be walked, and stairs have been avoided.
But as of the last few weeks it’s eased enough that I’ve taken a few tentative rides and in doing so, I’ve had a chance to test out these knickers. That’s the last time I’m calling them knickers though, I’m English and we don’t talk about our knickers on a public forum, so I’m calling these “Scarlets”.
My first impression of the Scarlets was a good one. They appear well put together, the outer material has a familiar soft-shell feel to it, and the inner material also feels technical, in fact it looks like that’s where your money is going. It’s made with “X-Static”, a silver lined stretchy fabric which amongst other things, helps prevent odours. Now I’ve owned some cycling socks for several years which share the same silver threads. I can definitely speak for their longevity and lack of odour, they are easily the best cycling socks I own, and I’ve amassed quite a few more pairs over the years to compare them to, so I’m sold on the X-Static material.
On closer inspection of the outer material I was surprised to note that it has almost no stretch to it. This panicked me a little at first because looking at the size of them I wasn’t sure I’d squeeze in unless they were stretchy, but I needn’t have worried, trying them on they were snug but comfortable. I like the reflective strip down the sides although I would have liked it more if there was some sewn onto the back, perhaps a strip on the back pockets. I’m more worried about drivers not seeing me as they approach from behind rather than the side.
On to how they ride. My first ride in these was a cold one. A really cold one actually, the temperature was hovering around freezing, and to be honest I think it was a bit below what these were intended to be used in. I was suitably wrapped up but my shins and my feet were uncomfortably cold after 20 minutes or so, and that was a bit distracting. However it was noticeable that from the knee up, the Scarlet’s outer material was doing a fine job of blocking the wind, and the inner lining was insulating my upper legs against the cold.
The Scarlets were also noticeably comfortable. I like how snug they feel around the middle, without cutting into you when you’re leaning forward on the bike. They have a nice wide waist band which fits comfortably high at the back and a little lower at the front. There’s no stitching digging in anywhere either, the stitching of the lining seems to have been thoughtfully laid out.
The pad in these shorts is minimal, it’s not a traditional bulky foam affair, its basically several layers of slightly cushioned silky material. According to Harlet’s website the decision not to use a traditional pad was very much a conscious one, and it seems that feedback from the women who wear these ranges from “the pad is great for all length of rides” to “the pad is only good for shorter rides”. After this first ride I went on, I’d agree with the latter statement – on my race bike with a 135 gram Selle Italia saddle, I needed something bulkier between me and the thinly padded leather.
Since that ride though, the freezing temperatures have subsided (for now) and I’ve been able to take the Scarlets out in some positively tropical 10ºC (50ºF) weather. For the purposes of giving them a fair test, I also swapped my rock hard race saddle for a Charge ‘Spoon’ off one of my fixed gear bikes. I figured it’s more like the kind of saddle that fits the style of riding these …shorts… were intended for. Sure enough, sit-bone comfort was no longer an issue. On my warmer rides I was practically unaware of even wearing the Scarlets, which is they way it should be.
Today’s ride took me over to my parent’s house, my anterior motive being to watch the RBS 6 Nations game on their huge tv, and after showering I was somewhat dismayed to realise my stash of slouchy clothing usually kept in the spare room for such occasions had been moved/thrown away, so I threw the Scarlets back on to watch the game. That’s clearly going to be one of the better features of these shorts, especially compared to all the Assos lycra shorts I own – these are not only comfy to sit around in, they look casual enough to not feel self conscious in when you’re off the bike, and even with my parent’s dog climbing al over them, the dirt and dog hair was easily brushed off when I left. In warmer months I will definitely be rocking these on my rides to pubs / back yard BBQs.
I think the Scarlets will really come into their own when the weather warms up even more. I’d like to see how they deal with a bit of sweat and some rain, so no doubt I’ll do a longer-term review eventually, for for the time being I’m pretty satisfied with them, both from a technical and an aesthetic point of view.