Protection, Compression and Performance
2XU Steel X Compression Cycle Shorts
Text by: Margaret Mielczarek
Cycling shorts – we all know they’re one of the most important pieces of cycling apparel when training for a triathlon because being on the bike makes up the bulk of tri training. I’ve said this in the past and I stand by it – the type of cycling shorts you wear can be the difference between a good training ride and an uncomfortable one. I’ve worn good ones that have meant great training rides, and I’ve worn cycling shorts that have been too big, the chamois didn’t sit right and the grippers were such poor quality that I spent the whole ride adjusting the shorts. Not ideal! Cycling shorts can ensure performance and comfort, both on and off the bike, and now, with the release of 2XU’s Steel X Compression Cycle Shorts, they can also protect you, both inside and out.
Said to be the ultimate cycling solution to keep you protected inside and out, when the 2XU Steel X Compression Cycle Shorts landed at AT HQ this month I was immediately intrigued by this prospect of ultimate protection and was eager to give them a go. The abrasion-resistant, cut-proof hip panels, which are said to be ‘engineered from fabric 15 times stronger than steel’ (I know what you’re thinking: “WOW!” right?) are designed to protect you from road rash and tears. Amazing! So much, well, protection! “But how does this all work?” I thought to myself, “And, most importantly will this stronger-than-steel material affect the comfort factor of the shorts?”
I wore the shorts on two training rides. One ride was a super sweaty windtrainer session – literally, sweat was pouring out of me like Niagara Falls! Our living room floor was covered with pools of sweat – sorry Mum. And the other ride was ‘Thursday Hot Laps’ aka ‘Lady Bombs’ around Albert Park Lake. This is typically a speed session, during which I do not want to be worrying about my clothing – it needs to fit well, be comfortable so that all I have to do is concentrate on, well, riding.
So, how did the shorts stack up during these rides? And did they live up to their promise of ultimate protection?
Firstly, before getting into the details of fit and feel, and whether I felt protected, I have to admit; I am a bib shorts gal normally. To me, bib shorts feel more secure, especially for long rides on my TT. I really don’t want to be worried about what’s happening at the back when I’m riding in TT position and I find bib shorts provide that extra guarantee that riders behind me won’t get more of a view than they bargained for. I also tend to find that the waistband of some bib-less shorts I’ve worn in the past has been too tight and narrow, which increases the chances that the band will either cut into your midsection awkwardly or that any wobbly bits will come over the top of the band when you bend over – not very flattering and come on, even female athletes want to look OK when out training, right? It’s largely for these reasons that I typically gravitate towards bib shorts.
So, given my past experience with bib-less shorts and my personal preference for bibs meant that the 2XU shorts would have to be great to win me over. And I’m happy to report that the waistband of the 2XU shorts is nice and wide, which helped to hold everything in place during my road tests. There were no jiggly bits wobbling over the top of the shorts; the shorts sat snuggly
OK, tick – so far, so good. Next up, the fabric.
Firstly, the shorts are made from PWX 105D compression fabrics (they feature 105 denier LYCRA® yarns), which are said to be lightweight and powerful, aiding the reduction of muscle fatigue through the increased stabilisation of the quads and hamstrings, allowing less vibration – the ultimate goal here being enhanced performance. The fabric is also said to be moisture wicking to keep you dry and comfortable throughout your rides.
On first wear the shorts, due to their compression properties did feel firmer compared to other cycling shorts I’ve worn – it really did feel like my muscles were being held in place. I’ve never really been sold on the idea of wearing compression garments (e.g. calf guards etc.) during training or racing. I’ve seen a lot of athletes wear them but I’ve never, personally, understood the point? That is until I tried these shorts and effectively tried compression in training for myself. I’ve got a few races coming up and have been training like a mad person over the last few months – this has led to overall muscle soreness and fatigue. I’m happy to report that these shorts really did feel like they provided me with extra stability during my road test rides and also during my run off the bike on the two occasions. As far as muscle stability and less vibration go, I think these shorts definitely deliver on their promises.
Next up, were the shorts moisture wicking? I can confidently say yes to this. As previously mentioned, one of my road test rides was an incredibly sweaty wind trainer session – sweat was literally pouring out of me. And yet, the shorts stayed largely dry. The other road test ride was a speed session – hot laps around a racetrack – and again, I felt dry. There was no issue with discomfort caused by wet, sweaty bike shorts.
Onto the grippers.
The shorts come with ‘premium Italian engineered silicon grippers for secure fit and comfort’ – tick! Secure fit and comfort achieved. Good quality grippers are so important and the 2XU shorts certainly didn’t disappoint in this department. The shorts stayed comfortably in place – there was no adjusting needed mid ride (no pulling, no tugging). Using silicon grippers also means the shorts don’t dig in around your legs – nothing worse then having shorts that dig into your quads.
The material that the shorts are made from is also said to be anti-chafe. Again – tick! I experienced zero chaffing on both rides from the shorts or the well-padded chamois, made with quality stitching and paneled to suit a women’s anatomy. In fact, before both rides I forgot to put on chamois cream (normally – ouch!) but despite this I didn’t experience any discomfort or chaffing – during or after the rides. This is exactly what you want from good quality cycling shorts – you want to be able to wear them, comfortably without the need for any extras, like chamois cream.
Lastly, the most important feature of these shorts – the ‘ergonomic, high abrasion cut resistance and tear resistance paneling’ – the STEEL X COMPRESSION. Well, admittedly this feature was hard to test – I wasn’t prepared to launch myself off my bike during my rides to find out if the material prevents high abrasion cuts and tears. So, only time will tell with this particular feature. However, despite this material being said to be stronger than steel, it still felt light, comfortable and was moisture wicking (like the rest of the shorts).
Now, full disclosure – I was given these shorts to road test for the purposes of this article. This means I didn’t have to pay for the shorts. But, would I spend my own hard earned dollars on them? Absolutely. They were comfortable, stayed dry and held me in. They supported my sore, tired muscles (protected me from the inside) and ultimately assisted my performance on and off the bike – a big win for me. Whether they would protect me from the outside (against cuts and abrasions in the event of a fall) is yet to be seen but overall I’m impressed. And after wearing these shorts I might also be sold on bib-less shorts.
2XU Steel X Compression Cycle Shorts
Size: XS – XL
2XU Steel X Compression Bib Shorts
Text by: The Test Lab
Whether you call them 2 ‘ex’ U or 2 ‘times’ U, the latter being correct, 2XU are anything but a new name in triathlon. In fact, they have been around for well over a decade now and, are known for being an innovator in triathlon and cycling clothing. As triathletes, these are two product lines we, surprisingly, find very useful for both racing and training. Recently, 2XU released their STEELX Compression Bib Shorts and Elite Cycle Jersey and we got our hands on a set to test.
First up are the STEELX Compression Bib Shorts because, well, they are the more impressive sounding garment. What’s so impressive about them? Let’s start with the ‘STEEL X’. The description sounds pretty badass. A material that is made of ‘polyethylene fibre with ultra-high molecular orientation, the result is 15 times stronger than steel’. It certainly is a unique material and has a scratchy type of feel to it. Luckily that’s on the outside only with the internal side feeling quite smooth and comfortable. Supposedly, this material not only offers high-level protection should you crash or fall from abrasions, cuts and tears but it does so without compromising comfort and moisture management. To be honest we had no plans of testing this out, and we didn’t, so how well this feature works we will have to leave up to others to find out. The STEELX is, however, limited to the hip panels – it’s hardly all over protection – so our advice would be to keep it rubber side up.
The next feature of these shorts is the PWX 105D – not quite as catchy a name as ‘STEELX’. While it may not be as flashy, it is probably more useful, as most of us don’t aim to come off our bikes, by being a very firm compression material. In fact it’s 2XU’s lightest and most powerful compression material to date. Having used 2XU compression tights for years, and being impressed by not only how firm and comfortable they are but just how long they last this new compression material really interested us. And, to be honest, they seem to have excelled again. You can notice the difference between the firmness of these shorts and others on the market, and with the material being multi-directional in stretch; they are super comfortable when you pull them on. The fact that they are antibacterial and have UPF 50+ sun protection is an added bonus.
The last feature of these bib shorts is the Stelvio Chamois and being named after the famous Italian climb, as you can imagine, it is an Italian made chamois. It’s a pretty cool looking black, dimpled chamois with all the typical features like multi-zone padding, antibacterial properties and pre-shaping that you tend to see in high-end chamois. The dimples are actually for breathability and enhanced moisture management and surprisingly, do a really good job at it, to the point where even after a hard Wahoo Kickr session, where everything is usually soaked, the chamois still felt relatively dry and comfortable. You can’t get much higher praise than that.
So, does all of this add up to an enhanced riding experience? Well yeah, in a way it does. When you pull them on the bibs are a really firm fit but that compression feeling is quite comfortable and the fabric while compressive isn’t restrictive at all. In fact, the material moves really well with each pedal stroke and they do feel quite light when on. A real highlight is the wide leg grippers and wide shoulder straps, which overall enhances the comfort and allows the bibs to move better with your whole body. Moving on to the aforementioned chamois – as we said, it is comfortable without being bulky – like some chamois’ – while giving just the right amount of padding to make rides of all distances feel good.
Overall, the STEELX Compression Bib Shorts are undoubtedly a top end bib with the fit and comfort to put them up with the best. If we could we would probably use them every day. You will however pay for that privilege to the tune of $290. So, you just need to decide if they are in your budget or not.
The Elite Cycle Jersey our bibs were paired with came in the burnt olive/black paint stroke colour way, which definitely stands out from normal designs. In contrast, to the primarily black bibs, the colours are probably not our first choice but there is a black and white version to suit the conservatives amongst us. While the bibs we tested have an abundance of technology to aid protection, compression and performance, the jersey has the primary goal of moisture management and cooling. The Italian made HI FIL VELO fabric wicks moisture from the inner layer to the outer layer, to keep you as dry as possible, while the mesh allows the fabric to breathe, increasing the cooling effect as you ride.
Interestingly, the jersey feels quite different to the bibs when out riding due to the extra compressive properties of the latter. When we ride in our usual kits we are quite used to the tops matching the bottoms, but there is quite a noticeable difference here. We, personally, would like to see some more of the compression characteristics of the bibs migrate north to the jersey, and especially through the arms. Maybe 2XU is working on a matching STEELX jersey for us to test out in the future? Despite us being ultra-picky about our fit, the arm length on the jersey is a great length, matching the bibs for coverage from the sun. The jersey is also noticeably shorter in the neck to waist length (zipper length) than some of the older 2XU kits, which we love, ensuring it doesn’t bunch up much at all when in the riding position, keeping the fabric close to the skin. This adds to the kit as a whole being more anatomical, giving us a feeling of a better fit, which also reduces any unwanted drag from loose-fitting materials.
Overall, the jersey is very comfortable and does a great job at keeping us as cool and dry as any kit we’ve tested. At $180 the Elite Cycle Jersey comes in at a bit less than the bibs, which is about on par with most high-end cycling tops. We’d certainly love to see some of the STEELX technology make its way into the jersey as well as the tri kits, to ensure we had the most protective, comfortable and high-performance kits available.
2XU Steel X Compression Bib Shorts
Size: XS – L