The Santini Tono Puro bib shorts offer a level of quality, comfort, performance and appearance that justifies the relatively high price. The combination of lightweight, breathable fabric, a low-cut front and mesh rear also makes them as good for indoor training as they are for sunny outdoor rides. It's just a pity the logo is peeling prematurely.
The compressive fabric, low-cut front and long, stretchy, seamless straps are similar to – and also what I like best about – the Assos T Equipe Evos, which have been my favourite bib shorts for the last year or so. But the Santini Tono Puro is more than just a me-too product: the leg grippers outgrip any I've ever worn – zero risk of accidental Sean Yates – and the front, although still low, flatters the waistline rather than mercilessly pushing any stomach muscles that may have become slightly more 'relaxed' during the lockdown upwards and outwards, the way the Assos shorts tend to.
With their raw-cut cuffs and smooth fabric the Tonos are going after a sleek, minimalist look, so it's a pity the Santini logo on the right leg is peeling after a month of use, despite care instructions being duly followed. They now look decidedly scruffy. Thankfully the lettering is black, like the fabric, so it's not as obvious as it could be, but it's disappointing nevertheless. It looks as though the lettering will lift off completely after another few washes and I've pulled the edge of one of the letters off a bit further to check whether it would leave a mark – it didn't. However, by comparison the black lettering on the Assos shorts has only suffered a small amount of fine cracking in a year and a half.
In terms of performance, the Santinis have kept me in total comfort on everything from a well-shaped but unpadded leather Cycles Berthoud saddle to a slightly unforgiving ultra-modern Selle Italia SLR Boost Superflow via an ageing San Marco Rolls (on my turbo bike) – surely there's no sterner test of a pair of shorts.
The chamois is Santini's GITevo, which it says is its most versatile gel core pad. I found it neither too mattress-like nor too Spartan – even with the stiff leather saddle it supplied adequate shock absorption. It simply got on with its job with minimum fuss and I can't say I particularly noticed it, which is how a good chamois should behave. As with many shorts, especially ones designed for performance cycling like these, the pad is positioned so that more of it is at the front. There's more cushioning when you're in an aggressive position than there is for sitting on the back of the saddle taking it easy and chatting.
The most important job of a pair of bib shorts is to keep the chamois in the right place, and it's surprising how many fail here. The Santinis do such a great job of it by simultaneously stopping the legs riding up and by letting the straps stretch.
The insides of the raw cuffs have a 5.5cm band of silicone made up of thousands of tiny tessellating hexagons and they are incredibly sticky from the get-go. So sticky that they don't even move once you sit on the saddle – it was important to 'set' the chamois and cuff ride height before riding, because they won't move. Although the logo is perishing (pre-perishing pic below), the cuffs haven't lost any of their stickiness in the wash.
Additionally, leg length is good. Italian shorts – and Swiss ones too – can err towards the shorter leg, which doesn't always go down so well outside the Continent.
Meanwhile, the bib straps, which are made of single strips of 5cm-wide ribbed elastic, have loads of stretch so that they don't pull the chamois upwards when you lean forward into the drops or pedal out of the saddle, and they don't dig into your shoulders either. It's surprising that more shorts aren't made like this. It's common to find bib shorts whose polyester straps have considerably less stretch than the fabric of the shorts. It doesn't make any sense to me.
My only criticism of the straps is that after washing, the wide elastic bunches more easily, folding on the longitudinal ribs. Maybe a non-ribbed elastic – as used by Assos – would solve this.
Santini seems to have toned down its go-faster colour schemes to suit a more chic, black shorts-wearing crowd. But if you did want to add a splash of colour, they are also available in 'Vineyard' (burgundy), VM (olive) and Blu Nautica (navy blue).
The Santinis are priced lower than the £155 Assos T Equipe Evos although the excellent Assos T.MilleShorts_S7 are cheaper at £115, now £80 via Assos directly. Compared with other premium-priced shorts they're pretty good value: the Rapha Classic Bib Shorts II are now £170 and Le Col's Pro Bib Shorts are £150 (I have the updated version of these on test at the moment – watch out for a new review).
I would say the Santini Tono Puros can hold own against Assos and Rapha and are carefully priced to match or even undercut them – and are still made in Italy. I've been very impressed with the comfort, quality, fit and appearance and would recommend them if you're looking for a pair of high-end bib shorts. I've only really marked them down because of the peeling logo – of course comfort is more important than aesthetics, but if you're paying £140 for a pair of shorts from a famous Italian name it's not unreasonable to expect the name to stay there for the life of the shorts.
Italian-made shorts offering great performance and decent value – shame about the peeling logo
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Santini Tono Puro bib shorts
Size tested: Medium
Tell us what the product is for
Santini says: "TONO, our most-popular lightweight and breathable summer kit, gets an aesthetic overhaul for 2020. With mesh-like fabrics to help you manage punishing summer heat and designs that are anything but ordinary, TONO offers an elite fit for the dedicated and demanding cyclist. Slim fitting for performance cycling and made mostly from ultra-light Think Opacity fabric, TONO is perfect for the hottest summer rides. TONO's colour blocks, patterns, and graphics draw inspiration from the roads around our hometown of Bergamo and give you the option to define yourself on the road this summer."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
From Santini's website:
Taking comfort to new levels
Legs made in Thunderbike Power fabric with built-in 'tattoo effect' honeycomb shaped silicon gripper
Seamless elastic braces cling to the body without restriction. Mesh rear allows perfect ventilation
NAT chamois absorbs shocks steadily and gradually for comfort on long rides
Beautifully made in Italy, can't be faulted.
Great performance on all types of saddle.
The fabric and the chamois are looking as good as new after some hard use. However, the elastic straps tend to fold in slightly on their rib lines after washing and the Santini lettering on the right leg is peeling.
Perfect fit – nailed it.
The size medium was perfect for me – 178cm and 68kg.
These shorts are lightweight and for hot weather riding.
Really excellent comfort levels.
For a high-quality pair of bib shorts that are made in Italy and perform as well as these, £140 strikes me as pretty good value. It's possible to pay much more and not necessarily see an increase in performance or comfort.
How easy is the product to care for? How did it respond to being washed?
After washing, the straps bunched more easily. On the turbo without a jersey they did need to be flattened out manually. Also, the peeling Santini logo is not ideal. Eventually it will lift off completely and hopefully the sleek look will return but until then it looks scruffy.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Santini says these bib shorts are for 18-35°C, are slim fitting for performance cycling with an elite fit. I would go along with that – they are lightweight racing shorts that work best in an aggressive position – as well as any I've ridden.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
I've never come across such grippy legs. Paired with the very stretchy bib straps you can get perfect chamois placement and no pulling on the straps when changing position on the bike or the turbo. Leg length is just right, the fit is racy but flattering – there's a lot to like.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
I didn't dislike anything, but would like to see the bib straps made of flat rather than ribbed elastic that can bunch once washed or sweaty.
How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
The price is high end, but against other high-end brands and similar products it's pretty good.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your overall score
It's really hard to fault the performance of the Santini Tono Puros. I've been choosing them for my indoor and outdoor cycling over the last few weeks and have got to know them well. As I've mentioned, I would like to see the design of the bib strap improved or reworked as they bunch or fold after washing more easily because of their longitudinal ribs, and I'm also slightly disappointed that the Santini logo is peeling after relatively few washes. Taking those two issues into account, I'd say overall these are very good.
About the tester
I usually ride: Racer Rosa custom alu My best bike is: Colnago Master Olympic
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: time trialling, commuting, touring, club rides, sportives, School run on a tandem
Simon finished his Masters in online journalism back in 2003 when the internet wasn't very exciting or popular yet. So he got a job as a sub editor on Britain's biggest weekly cycling magazine, where as well as taking out commas and putting them back in again he got to review a lot of bikes and kit.
As a keen time triallist he has spent many hours riding up and down dual carriageways early in the morning and has a national medal, a 19-minute 10 and a few open wins in his palmarès.
He and his seven-year-old son do the school run on a tandem, beating the traffic in car-choked Reigate and getting a great workout at the same time (for one of them).