In my previous 7mesh reviews I’ve spent a lot of time covering the unique approaches and philosophies to this Canadian company. Over the past few years, 7mesh have continued to evolve at a steady pace and in this evolution there are two key things to note. First is growth. More and more people are starting to take notice of who 7mesh are and what they do. Second, their product range is continually expanding, improving, and exceeding expectations.
How do they do this time and again? It’s a complicated answer. 7mesh does things very differently to much of the cycling industry. One such example is how they turn R&D discoveries into customer benefits. Much of the industry uses a trickle down approach where the best features and benefits are reserved for top of the line offers and everything else will wait until the next refresh cycle. However by testing often and failing fast, 7mesh use an agile iterative process to push the boundaries in sharing new ideas across the entire range wherever and whenever possible. If they can make a tweak, they will. The benefit to you and I, the consumer and cyclist, is that we always get the best as soon as possible. This is the benefit of in-house prototyping and having the staff and designers being the field testers. In the following review I’ll explain how this translates to a real world product through the 7mesh MK1 bib shorts.
If I had to pick a single piece of cycling apparel where the details are critically important and at the same time where the consumer has seen very little evolution in recent years, it would be the bib short. Why? It’s the single garment with the greatest next to skin contact while also being the most in motion while cycling. For these reasons the bib short is the garment where a beneficial change would be the hardest to accomplish, but also the most important to get right. Not go give too much away but as you’ve probably come to expect, 7mesh got it right. But it wasn’t easy. Ian Martin, Vice-president of Research and Design at 7mesh explains that their first ‘final’ version didn’t meet their expectations and thus was scrapped just about a month before the launch at Interbike 2014. To make sure it was right, they went back to the design table and had it completely rebuilt based on their personal experiences and tester feedback. Ian explained that they were down to the wire and the final samples for Interbike were sewn in-house.
For the past few months I’ve put the 7mesh MK1 bib shorts through my own testing methodology and so much more. Riding along with me for more than 1000kms they have seen everything from chilly spring mornings to scorching summer heatwaves, from blue sky sunshine to torrential downpours, and from high spirited descents to tear filled ascents. Below is my full in-depth review of the 7mesh MK1 bib shorts.
The very first time I heard about the 7mesh MK1 bib shorts was in the press news surrounding their launch at Interbike 2014. However, it wasn’t until the summer of 2015 while visiting Vancouver that I had the chance to try on a pair. Looking back at my notes from that time (yes, I make notes for everything), my initial impressions were “Woh!” So when 7mesh sent me a pair of MK1 bib shorts for review in early 2016 I was really curious to see how my initial impressions may have changed.
At a retail price of $200USD ($250CDN) I was ‘wowed’ once again. A definite first impression I got both in hand and on the bike was that the 7mesh MK1 bib shorts hold a lot of value for their price. From a purely aesthetic perspective, the 7mesh MK1 bib shorts look the business. They are in line with all the current trends for color (all black), length, and chamois style. Throughout my first few rides I was confidently comfortable, well supported and unable to identify any hot spots of concern.
Design & Construction
If there are two critical parts to a proper review of any bib shorts they’ve got to be the design & construction as well as the fit. Why? Because the performance of any bib short is inherently tied to the refinement of its design, construction, and fit. But in particular with 7mesh, the drastically different approach they take to design means that getting it right is critical. This is going to be a long section in the overall review but I’ll start by best summing it up by saying that from a design perspective, the 7mesh MK1 bib short is just short of being an engineering marvel.
The intended goal in designing the MK1 was to build a better bib short interface with your skin. This meant eliminating skin chaffing and abrasion caused by exposed stitching. This would require hiding the details in new construction methods. A great idea, yet far from simple. Getting to the final MK1 wasn’t easy. The development cycle took over 30 prototypes to perfect and Ian Martin explained that they were working through prototypes right up until about a month before the debut at Interbike 2014. What they ended up with is a well-constructed high end pre-articulated 4 panel bib short that has a fresh connectivity with the rider. The pre-articulation shape means that the MK1 best matches the position of the rider in mid pedal stroke and adds comfort while also reducing stress on the garment seams.
To create an articulated bib short with only 4 panels, 7mesh have had to intentionally break a few rules. One of which is stitching through the fabric to sew darts for tailoring its shape. This is where traditional convention would achieve shape and fit with additional panels. The benefit of darting is that it reduces the number of panels and seams but the tradeoff is further complications to the material selection. Think about what that means. Different material GSM (grams per square meter) weights, knits, and yarns already behave differently and adding darts will change how and where the fabric is being pulled. To do this right, 7mesh designers have made strategic calculations to match ideal fabric tensions so that they work together while considering the forces applied by darting, seam construction, and those applied through motion while riding. The material selection and the tensions plays an important role to avoiding unwanted wrinkles, creases or stress.
At just 202 grams (210 grams claimed) the MK1 bib shorts weigh little more than the average jersey. But don’t mistake them for simple. The main 4 panels of the 7mesh MK1 bib shorts are made from a MITI Alpha textile which is a warp knit material comprised of 80% nylon and 20% elastane (aka spandex) which was chosen for its duller sheen appearance and its particular power traits. Warp knitting zig zags the yarns in a parallel pattern across the length of the raw material, rather than its width, which gives it that bit of needed stretch and durability. What’s really cool is that 7mesh have actually used the MITI Alpha textile inside out. Although it’s intended to be on the outside, the soft gridded texture is used on the inside to aid mechanical wicking of sweat and moisture away from the skin. It does this by presenting itself to your skin with channels that help draw and pull moisture to the outer surface where it can evaporate.
There is more to the story of why 7mesh chose the MITI Alpha fabric with its 80% nylon base. When comparing synthetic fibers of nylon to polyester, the most logical choice would be polyester because it will hold its tension and power when wet (aka sweaty). Whereas nylon absorbs more moisture and has more stretch when wet. But with further considerations to the intended use of the fabric in a bib short, 7mesh chose nylon because it has a softer tactile feel and is more durable than polyester especially when used in a high abrasion application.
The high performance road chamois from EIT (Elastic Interface Technology) is made of high density open cell foam and is laminated to a brushed 82% polyester, 18% elastane warp knit mesh liner that is not fully attached to the bib. Unlike traditional construction which sews the chamois directly to the panels of the bib, using and mounting the chamois to a mesh liner puts the chamois more directly against the rider’s skin by floating it inside the bib. This allows the chamois to remain fairly static against the rider and thus reducing travel as the legs move during the pedal stroke. While mounting to a chamois to a mesh liner may not be entirely unique, it is how 7mesh have done so that that make it compelling. They call their approach ‘Clean Finish Construction’. This is a seam free connection between the rider and the bib as the stitching is all behind the liner. To achieve the ideal next to skin feeling the chamois it is thermoformed (heat molded) to a gender specific shape.
The 7mesh MK1 bibs are held firmly in place thanks to elastic gripper leg bands and soft brushed straps. The generously 40mm wide leg grippers prevent the shorts from annoyingly riding up while on the bike. At the top end a set of 45mm wide soft Italian fabric straps keep the bib shorts from sliding down. Often overlooked, these bib straps are a defining feature of the MK1 bib shorts. It’s one of those things where the combination of the selected material, its sizing, and its application lead to an effective detail that would otherwise ruin the whole bib short if done incorrectly. A unique technical detail of the bib straps is that they are not pre-stretched. Similar materials will be tensioned during manufacturing which means they are already under tension when you put on your bibs. Having the bib strap material not pre-stretched means that the MK1 bib shorts won’t feel tensioned until you are in riding position. Thats a key to the comfort for the pre-articulated shape. You may also notice that the connections between the single back and dual front straps at the Y junction are laminated rather than stitched for more of the complete Clean Finish Construction.
As always, branding and graphics on the 7mesh MK1 bib shorts are kept to a very subdued minimum. There are two reflective logos which are both applied through a heat transfer process. This process transfers preprinted graphics from a stencil to the final fabric with the controlled application of a low and localized heat. To be specific, the external logo placement on the MK1 bib is a large logo on the lower front of the right leg. There is also an additional 7mesh logo on the back of the Y junction of the bib straps. While there are two brand placements, only one is visible and the use of a reflective silver color adds some extra visibility and safety for the cyclist on the road.
The second of the most critical parts to a bib short review is the fit. If the bibs don’t fit then they are not a good bib for you. And a bad bib is a very very bad thing. When I was recently pressed to quickly describe the 7mesh MK1 bib shorts I used the phrase “these are not your typical club bibs” and I meant that in the most endearing way.
The overall fit of the 7mesh MK1 bibs are comfortable yet definitively different. They fit very close to the body but without that 'stuffed in a sausage casing' feeling of a high compression bib. The panels and darting used to create the pre-articulated shape make the 7mesh MK1s plenty form fitting for all day riding or even well suited if called upon for racing. This wide range of use cases makes the MK1 an incredibly versatile part of your cycling closet.
When sliding the MK1 bib shorts on you’ll notice it’s a sort of two step engagement. First is the contact with the chamois on the floating liner. This makes first contact and allows you to get it positioned in the right place before the body of the bib shorts wraps around. What it leaves you with is a more tuned fit and closer contact with the chamois. It’s a very defining feature to the fit of the 7mesh MK1.
The leg length is in line with current trends and covers the legs well. The top of the shorts is fairly low cut but provides good support to the mid-section. The EIT Pro Performance chamois is larger than many and provides a bit of modesty coverage up front. The strap design with one in the back and the Y junction means a lot less contact and resistance across the back. The straps are just the right size to ensure they always lay flat and don’t bind. Overall, it makes for an almost near naked feel to the bib straps.
The best thing I can say about the fit of the 7mesh MK1 bib shorts is that they fit well. You can definitely get a sense of the time and attention paid to achieving this next the skin fit. The articulated shaping fits well off the bike but all but disappears completely when on the bike.
Tip: Buy the shorts a bit tight. All materials will stretch and much of that will happen in the first or second ride.
On The Road
If the design, construction, and fit of the MK1 bib shorts live up to the expectations of 7mesh then the next logical question is ‘how well do they perform?’ Over the past few months I’ve put the MK1 bib shorts through every situation I could think of. They’ve been with me from short to long rides, slow rides to fast rides, from fair to foul weather, and everything in between. The original fit has held well with minimal stretch. Nearing 1000kms later they show no signs of early fatigue, no broken stitching and no balling in the saddle area or inner thighs. At the end of each ride I’ve rolled home impressed. When my legs have been tired I’ve been very appreciative of how well the chamois liner and the outer panels move independently of each other and how the Clean Finish Construction eliminates skin contact with abrasion inducing stitching. Placebo effect or not, it feels good to my skin.
To test how well the breathability and moisture wicking of the textured MITI alpha material works, I took the MK1 bib shorts out for a 120km ride in temperatures nearing 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit). Throughout the entire ride I felt comfortable and didn’t get that trapped inside a neoprene wetsuit feeling. On the inverse side of the temperature scale, I started the review by riding the MK1 bib shorts in temperatures around 0 to 10 degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit) for about 6 weeks. While the MITI alpha has kept me dry it also kept me warm. I was able to ride without over pants the entire late winter/early spring seasons. The leg grippers do a fine job of keeping shorts in place but also have done a second service in keeping leg and knee warmers in place when the weather calls for them.
In regards to long ride durability there is one thing I did make note of. There seemed to be a point around the 100km mark where I would prefer to have a bit more compression to the fit. At this point there seemed to be additional slack in the bibs which I suspect is caused by hydration loss and the stretching of the nylon material as it absorbs sweat. It never prevented me from continuing or completing a ride but I made note of it.
The MK1 bib short from 7mesh is a clear and meaningful shot across the bow to the standard quo. It’s nice to see that as the popularity of cycling continues to rise, so does the attention paid to building better products that ultimately lead to increased customer value. Amongst all the various pieces of cycling apparel, the bib short is by far the most complex and with that it carries the greatest possibility for reward and the smallest margin of error.
Like all things 7mesh, the MK1 bib shorts employ a differentiated approach to design and manufacturing which leverage best practices of the larger outdoor industry and the deep expertise of their in-house team. The complexity in which 7mesh have constructed the final MK1 produces a technical bib short with innovative details that lead to a comfortable, supportive, and performance oriented bib short. What 7mesh have brought to market is a clearly differentiated staple piece to a cyclists wardrobe.
Never resting on their laurels, 7mesh is currently working on a new and revised version called the MK2 to be released soon. This new iteration will have tweaked details throughout and a new interface as part of a new layering system that will add to their overall versatility.
In my opinion, the 7mesh MK1 bib shorts sit deservedly amongst the best of the premium bibs.