Castelli has a penchant for making some truly desirebale clothing and as the choice of the Garmin-Cervelo professional race squad, its performance is race proven.
The Aero Race Jersey and Free Aero Race bib shorts are the same as those worn by the team, and first developed by the now disbanded Cervelo TestTeam from a couple of years ago. The interaction between the clothing brand, its designers and the riders on that team has clearly worked wonders as they’ve created some of the nicest and best performing clothing we’ve ever worn. It’s a long cry from the clothing that Armando Castelli created for Gino Bartali all those years ago.
As the Aero Race jersey and Free Aero Race bib shorts are intended to be worn together, we did just that and tested both garments together, and we’ll share our verdict on both together here in one review. Aerodynamics is increasingly an area bicycle manufacturers are developing, with sleeker frames and forks and wheels getting ever faster, but all those advantages can be quickly undone with loose flapping clothing. The Castelli Aero garments have been designed to be as fast in the wind tunnel as possible, so out on the road you can gain a real advantage.
Pulling the jersey and bib shorts out of the packaging, you’re immediately struck with the outstanding level of quality of the materials, with a paper thin feel between the fingers. Slip the shorts on and the mediums are a snug fit. Wrestling the jersey into place, it’s immediately clear that both are extremely close fitting. The only other clothing that comes close is a skinsuit. Every panel and stitch has been designed to offer a fit that can only be described as like a second skin, to avoid any ounce of material flapping and costing the rider power and speed
Aero Race jersey – £95
The jersey is the real highlight, and emphasises the philosophy behind the design direction. To say the jersey, a size medium, was a close fit would be understatement. Just getting into it in the first place is a mission. But once squeezed on, and out on the bike, performance is impressive. (We’d advise taking a close look at the sizing guide and, if possible, slipping into a pair before buying them. It’s not the most flattering kit to squeeze into if you’re carrying a couple of extra pounds around the middle…)
Despite the close fit, the jersey is incredibly comfortable. There’s enough stretch in the fabric that is sits just right, no pulling. There’s no excess material to flap in the wind. It might just be a placebo effect, but in the few road races and training rides I’ve done so far I’ve felt faster. And feeling faster is half the battle isn’t it? The Italian company reckons that, at 40kph, a rider can save up to 10 watts (or, to put it another way, a saving of 40 seconds for every hour). That’s a significant figure, somewhat hard to quantify in our real world tests and while it perhaps it might have little influence on the result of our town sign sprints, for someone like Thor Hushovd sprinting at the end of a 200km stage, it could be all the difference he needs to snatch victory.
The material used feels fantastic between the fingers and next to the skin. Its Castelli’s own Velocity fabric, used in the chest and shoulder panels, and an open mesh on the back to help dissipate heat. A Prosecco treatment on those panels facing the elements repels water. There’s a 35cm front zip, but we normally prefer a full length zip for the pro look on the climbs. Silicone gripper elastic around the waist goes someway to keeping the jersey in place, but we found the jersey did tend to ride up, as it struggled to grip on the slippery bib short material. Long sleeves feature Giro++ elastic, a wide band at the sleeves hem, for a completely flat to the skin fit.
Cargo capacity is three regular sized pockets with a small zipped one for valuables. I grumble (quite a lot probably) about jerseys with pockets that sag below your bum as soon as you put any weight in them, but this wasn’t a problem with here, the pockets refused to sag no matter how loaded they were. The pockets are finished with a couple of reflective tabs for visibility on dim evenings or riding home from the office.
It’s one of the best fitting jerseys I’ve ever worn, but it’s tight. I normally wear a medium but this is the smallest medium jersey I’ve ever worn, so caution needs to be paid to the sizing guide before you buy. You might need to go up a size. But the benefits are a great fitting jersey made from a fantastically high performance and comfortable fabric that excels in the heat. And it looks brilliant too with the black, red and white finish and muted styling – about as PRO as you’ll get without wearing a trade jersey.
Free Aero Race bib shorts – £130
The key ingredient in any bib short is the chamois. The three-layer Progetto X2 found inside the Free Aero Race is one of the best we’ve ever tested, with the multiple zones of padding and a smooth transition to the chamois edge combining to make pounding out the miles an almost luxurious experience. It’s just the right shape too, and small gel pads are placed perfectly under the sit bones for maximum comfort.
With the comfort box firmly ticked, the rest of the shorts only serve to continue Castelli’s quest for close fitting aerodynamic apparel. Three fabrics are used in the construction; a durable abrasion resistant Action Power Lycra around the crotch, Breathe Lycra designed to keep you cooler on the front panels and Energia Lycra Power everywhere else. The fabrics are soft next to the skin with just enough stretch to ensure the multi-panel design fits like a second skin.
At the leg openings the Castelli are on trend with a super wide hem, similar to the Rapha Pro Team shorts tested earlier this year. Backed with silicone tape, the shorts remain planted on the legs, with no shifting even during the most energetic pedalling, and are just the right length.
The narrow bib straps are placed further outboard than is normal. The reason for this design decision, Castelli claim, is to allow for less hindered breathing and better ventilation, but we felt the claimed benefits were minimal. They are comfortable however, and the entire bib area is made from a highly breathable mesh fabric.
There’s nothing worse than shorts that make is near impossible to take a roadside toilet stop, requiring you to bend over double just to take a leak. There’s enough stretch in the front panel that a quick pit stop wasn’t a problem. Why all shorts aren’t like this I don’t know. The stitching is designed with durability in mind too, and here Castelli uses a surge seam and cover stitch.
We’ve been hammering these shorts and they’ve impressed on every outing. Each time we jump on the bike we remember how good the chamois is, and the thought of a 5-hour ride doesn’t daunt us at all. We feared the shorts may be delicate but, despite many washes and tough use, they remain in excellent condition. They should happily last many seasons of heavy racing and training. Expensive at £130, but they’re brilliant in every respect.
Verdict: Expensive but worth it
Castelli’s Aero Race jersey and Free Aero Race bib short are a great example of the leaps forward clothing has made in recent years. Both are excellent technically, with great fit backed up with high performance fabrics and impressive durability. Pricey yes, but excellence like this doesn’t come cheap, it’s head and shoulders above offerings from other brands.
The Aero Race Shorts come in at £135 and the Aero Jersey £95.