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Pas Normal Studios' Women's Essential Thermal bib shorts will be appreciated by those who love to venture outdoors in temperatures close to freezing. They are exceptionally warm, protecting your hips and thighs from biting temperatures, but while the quality is outstanding, £225 is a significant outlay for something with a potentially narrow window of use.
If you prefer to have your knees and lower legs covered in the cold, check out our guide to the best winter bib tights.
It's undeniable that cyclists have their own personal temperature tolerances and clothing habits. I'll admit to covering my knees as the mercury dips into the teens; I value my knees and feel the cold. Keeping my muscles as warm as possible has always helped, particularly on chilly winter training rides. But if you're happy using shorts and warmers in winter, or exposing your knees completely, read on...
Forget conventional bib short Lycra, these are made of MITI Superroubaix fleece that is comparable to substantial winter tights. The four-way stretch fabric compresses exceptionally well, to the level of a performance racing pair, but still feels luxuriously soft against the skin. It moves well with the body too.
I've been testing a size medium, just as I did with PNS's Essential bibs back in the summer. I'd say the leg grippers are tighter on the thermal bibs and, as a result, the silicone gripper feels more aggressive.
Pulling these shorts on over leg warmers is a challenge as the grippers really drag on other layers. I could do with an extra few centimetres to the grippers' circumference, or more give in the elastic. Also, once I'd got the shorts on, I could sense (and see) squeezing around the thigh that wasn't present with the Essential bibs.
Otherwise, the shorts fit well around the thighs and hips, and in body length (where bib straps are concerned).
Following PNS's size guide is a good idea for overall fit, but I'd say size up if you are in between, unless you have exceptionally slender thighs.
PNS says the shorts are optimal for riding in temperatures around zero, but claims a good 10°C window either side. I don't tend to risk riding on icy roads, so took to the rough stuff for much of the testing.
I tend to cover my lower legs quite quickly in anything under 15°C, and so I've been using leg warmers throughout testing. I was keen to find some that could match the insulation of the Superroubaix fleece and not leave my knees feeling 'left out', but even my thickest warmers still left my lower legs sensing chilly air in temperatures just above freezing. Off-road, where airflow isn't always as much of an issue, things were tolerable.
The shorts repel very light rain and wheel spray well, somewhat adding to their off-road (or gravel) credentials. If your leg warmers don't do the same, you will at least have warm thighs. The fabric's DWR treatment won't handle a full-on downpour, but they dried out quicker than I was expecting, a real positive.
In slightly milder temperatures, unless I was riding at a tempo that just kept me moving, I began to overheat in anything above 6-7°C. The thick fabric isn't that breathable and was simply too much around the midriff and hips if I raised the intensity to anything above zone 2.
I found the pad good enough for any kind of ride, long or short. It's not the most cushioned out there but offered sufficient support for outings of up to three hours, on or off road.
It is tapered and well finished at the edges, so I didn't experience any discomfort, rubbing or chafing. Indeed, it's the same pad as that in the Essential Shorts and, just as I said in that review, I didn't notice it was there.
Women's shorts offering this level of insulation seem to be few and far between. Pearson does a pair for £90 (currently reduced to £59) – Ben tested the men's version last month, but wasn't overly impressed with the fit. He also tested a thermal merino pair from Universal Colours, which he preferred, but they're only available for men. They're £160.
Cafe du Cycliste offers thermal 3/4s for £206, making PNS's look rather expensive given you'll need to invest in warmers if you want to protect your knees.
While these shorts are undoubtedly high quality and comfortable, the days I've found them most effective are those when I'd prefer to pull on tights that provide even coverage. I only really appreciated the shorts on cold recovery rides: think 4-5°C and a heart rate under 120bpm.
If you prefer a shorts-and-warmers combo to tights, though, even on the coldest days, these are certainly up to the coldest temperatures we get in the UK, as well as the damp atmosphere and incessant road spray that hangs around even when it's not really raining. They are expensive, though, especially as their use is limited to a very narrow temperature range.
Exceptionally warm shorts for those who don't tolerate tights in winter months
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Pas Normal Studios Women's Essential Thermal Bib '' Black
Size tested: Medium
Tell us what the product is for
PNS says, 'The Essential Thermal Bibs, constructed with a soft fleece lining and featuring an anti-abrasive finish, will keep you warm and comfortable for hours when the temperature drops.'
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
M.I.T.I SuperRoubaix fabric
DWR treated and anti-abrasive
Innovative four-layer chamois pad
Essential-branding on back
Made in Italy
In line with the price tag – premium.
Great in cold weather when teamed with warmers.
Holding up nicely to regular washing and wearing, but too early to comment on long-term durability, particularly the water-repellent finish.
Snug – leg grippers a little too much so.
Medium felt spot on everywhere except around the leg ends.
These are heavier than conventional shorts because of the nature of the thermal fabric; they don't feel overly weighty when you are wearing them, though.
Feel good on the bike, but the leg end was a small issue for me.
How easy is the product to care for? How did it respond to being washed?
Fine in a 30 degrees cycle.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
It does what it should in cold temperatures, but if you like to look after your knees and lower leg muscles, you may need to find some pretty thick leg warmers to complement the shorts. And then anything above about 6°C and these had me overheating if I was making an effort.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
The leg grippers.
How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
We haven't tested any women's thermal shorts, but Pearson does a pair for £90, and Cafe du Cycliste has 3/4s for £206.
Universal Colours also does a pair of thermal merino shorts, but for men only, and they cost £160.
Did you enjoy using the product? Not really; I prefer tights.
Would you consider buying the product? No
Would you recommend the product to a friend? If they are a shorts-in-winter rider, yes.
Use this box to explain your overall score
Overall, I'd say these are good. Their quality is unquestionable, and they certainly protect the hips and thighs from biting temperatures, but intense riding in anything above about 6°C may result in overheating, depending on your own internal thermostat. And for their narrow window of use, they're very expensive.
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…