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Cafe du Cycliste's Mathilde Audax Bib Shorts are excellent when it comes to performance and comfort for extra long days in the saddle. However, not everyone wants a full mesh upper, and this particular one isn't the most functional either.
The Mathilde bib shorts are the second piece of kit I've tested from Cafe du Cycliste's Audax collection, a range designed with long distance riding in mind, prioritising all-day comfort. The Irma jersey got a mixed review from me; the whole collection is dripping in style, and if these two pieces are anything to go by, the quality is second to none. However, considering that this Irma-Mathilde combo will set you back no less than £440, it needs to be something pretty special to justify it.
Cafe du Cycliste has used 'premium' fabrics, specifically 72% polyamide and 28% elastane, to create the Mathilde. Each leg is cut from a single section of material with just a single leg seam (running up the inside), and the shorts are exceptionally comfortable.
Support is well judged – enough to know you have it, but not so much that they feel excessively compressive.
The leg grippers are part of the single panel, being fully integrated and woven into the fabric itself. I've found them effective without being aggressive – a balance that many manufacturers can't seem to strike. Appearances are slick too, with a ribbed effect at the leg end. They feel great against bare skin but work equally well to hold leg/knee warmers in place.
Leg length is certainly more generous than average – something to be aware of if you prefer short shorts.
There's a doubling up of fabric at the lower back, which is great for longevity and appearances – no one wants see-through shorts. But I'd say there are compromises where breathability is concerned – it's just another layer for body heat to permeate and a sweaty lower back is never pleasant.
Up top, there's a full mesh bib, but no kind of comfort break system. With quick-pee designs improving all the time, I'm certainly being won over by the convenience that they offer. However, a 'quick' stop isn't necessarily a priority if you're committed to a full day in the saddle – indeed, a prolonged break might be welcomed.
Comfort breaks aside, (bib) straps are definitely my preference up top. A full coverage setup is simply an extra layer that I don't have the the option of removing. I've been testing in cooler conditions and haven't suffered from overheating, and I certainly can't complain about it being uncomfortable – I didn't really know it was there.
However, I do have a big gripe about the small arm holes that make it awkward to get on and off. They might not look it in the pics, but the openings are simply not deep enough – a more generous cut would make life so much simpler. It's mildly irritating when you're getting ready for a ride, or undressed after one, and even more annoying when you want a swift comfort break in nature.
One redeeming feature is the clasp (rather than zip) that's used to secure the bib, leaving an opening above and below it. Anything using a zip here invariably results in 'layered zips' and also has the potential of trapping a baselayer in it.
Between the actual shorts and mesh bib there's a panel of soft-to-the-touch, waffle-like fabric designed to help with ventilation. I'm not convinced it's any more breathable than the main shorts, but I can't deny it's a comfortable fabric to have directly against the skin – great if you aren't wearing a baselayer, as you might not be on account of the mesh bib section, or have one that comes up short.
The shorts feature an endurance-specific pad from well-established Italian company Cytech. It has high-density foam across all pressure points, and five-hours-plus was a breeze for it as far as my experience goes. It's unnoticeable in terms of bulk, but works well to prevent chafing, irritation and discomfort that can occur with long days in the saddle.
Support is heavily graduated which really helps with compliance and flex. Comfort is definitely the overriding quality, but breathability isn't as good as some high-performance, race-orientated pads. I really noticed this in the final days of testing, when the temperatures were reaching the high teens and I was out with a group, making a few efforts. On summer days of 20°C or more, I wouldn't want to be wearing these for anything more than a steady ride.
Cafe du Cycliste has included decent reflective logos at the hems, which also seem to be very well attached.
The overall look is unique and eye-catching; I'm often asked 'what jersey is that you're wearing', but these are the first shorts I've been asked about. The navy option will please many – it's a refreshing change to black, provided you have the kit to complement it – though they do also come in black.
The Mathildes are available in five sizes, XS to XL, and I've been testing a medium. According to Cafe du Cycliste's size chart, my hips are a small, my waist a medium. I could definitely have sized down and coped with something tighter.
Full-bodied bibs can make sizing more of a lottery, but in this case I'd advise being guided by hip measurement over waist.
Set road.cc's price filter from £180 to £280 on shorts reviews and you're comparing with the likes of Le Col, Velocio, MAAP and Castelli. The quality of the Malthildes is unquestionable, justifiying the 'premium' label often associated with these brands.
MAAP isn't too far behind with its Women’s Alt_Road Cargo Bib at £235, nor is Velocio with its Women's Concept bib shorts at £225, but Castelli's Premio Bibs got plenty of praise from Anna when she tested them last year, and Pactimo's Summit Stratos 12 Hour Bibs seem a comparable option too – Iwein was impressed by the men's version – and both undercut the Mathildes, by £52 and £57 respectively.
So, I've just been testing the most expensive women's shorts to have landed on the road.cc doorstep... Is it worth paying £252 for a pair of cycling shorts? I'm not afraid of spending money on quality, and that's certainly not in question here, but I'd want everything else to be perfect too. The Mathilde's all-day comfort, styling and leg length are big winners, the latter being a matter of personal preference, but the mesh upper and its poorly considered cut is a deal-breaker for me. Consequently, there's no way I'd consider paying full price for these, especially given there are a number of very good alternatives that cost less.
Unquestionable quality and comfort, but the full bib won't be to some riders' liking, and then there's the price...
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Cafe Du Cycliste Mathilde Women's Audax Bib Shorts
Size tested: Medium
Tell us what the product is for
Cafe du Cycliste says, "Inspired by distance, women's Mathilde bib shorts blend innovative design, premium fabrics and a raft of exacting detail. Each leg is cut from a single section of material, reducing seams and the risk of chaffing or discomfort while also providing improved support. The grippers are also part of this single panel, being fully integrated and woven into the fabric itself...
"The latest female specific Cytech endurance chamois features their highest density foam across all pressure points while the mesh bib section aids core temperature control and is cut slightly wider for increased support and a more even pressure distribution. At hip level, a high wicking panel ensures the effective evacuation of perspiration during period of high effort, further increasing comfort and performance."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
-72% polyamide | 28% elastomere
-female specific cytech pad
-mesh bib section
-integrated woven grippers
-single piece leg sections
-reflective AX logo
-made in europe
Doubled-up fabric at rear will help with longevity. Logos might or might not be prone to peeling.
While these felt very comfortable on, the small arm holes make getting the bib element on more of a faff than it should be.
Using hip measurement as a guide, over waist, they're fine.
They are admittedly supremely comfy, stylish and well made, but so are others, for significantly less money.
How easy is the product to care for? How did it respond to being washed?
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Ideal for long days in the saddle, providing you don't mind a faffy comfort break.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Leg grippers and styling.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Small arm holes, which made getting the shorts on and off a real faff.
How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
Most expensive we've tested – MAAP and Velocio aren't far behind with their £235 and £225 offerings, but Castelli and Pactimo undercut them.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? No
Would you recommend the product to a friend? If they don't mind full bibs and have plenty of money.
Use this box to explain your overall score
The quality and comfort (and price) scream premium, with styling to match. They are genuinely a super choice for long days in the saddle. However, for me, the cut of the full bib and the breathability of the pad drag down the score. Given that there are comparable options for significantly less, the price is also a sticking point.
About the tester
I usually ride: Road My best bike is: Carbon road.
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: commuting, touring, club rides, general fitness riding, Getting to grips with off roading too!
Emma’s first encounters with a road bike were in between swimming and running. Soon after competing for GB in the World Age Group Triathlon Championships in Edmonton in 2001 she saw the light and decided to focus on cycling.
After a couple of half decent UK road seasons racing for Leisure Lakes, she went out to Belgium to sample the racing there and spent two years with Lotto-Belisol Ladies team, racing alongside the likes of Sara Carrigan, Grace Verbeke, Rochelle Gilmore and Lizzie Deignan. Emma moved from Lotto-Belisol to Dutch team Redsun, then a new Belgian team of primarily developing riders, where there was less pressure, an opportunity to share her experience and help build a whole new team; a nice way to spend her final years of professional racing.
Since retiring Emma has returned to teaching. When not coercing kids to do maths, she is invariably out on two wheels. In addition to the daily commute, Emma still enjoys getting out on her road bike and having her legs ripped off on the local club rides and chain gangs. She has also developed an addiction to touring, with destinations including Iceland, Georgia and Albania, to mention just a few. There have also been rare sightings of Emma off-road on a mountain bike…