Anyone who's been into cycling in the last few decades knows the name, Assos. You will find their wears on the shelves of reputable cycling shops around globe, and on riders in every club. It's safe to say that those who try Assos, swear by Assos. When I myself returned to a serious focus on road cycling, Assos was a brand I gravitated to because of their reputation and my past experiences. In fact, Assos is one of the brands I often find myself recommending to new riders who are unsure of where to look, as well as to experienced riders looking for an upgrade - especially from club bibs.
Right around the time I was wearing out my Assos Uno S5 bib shorts, they released their new S7 line. I replaced the outgoing base level bib with the newer T.milleShort S7. Since then they have been in heavy rotation as a regular favorite. So, when Assos approached me in late fall 2017 about reviewing some more of their winter and spring S7 gear, you know I jumped at the chance. When the first package arrived, it contained the new chart toping LL.bonkaTights S7, and a pre-production pair of the T Equipe Evo. Since the weather had already turned to winter’s worst, I focused on riding in the bib tights.
The following is my in-depth review of the jaw droppingly $550CAD priced luxury LL.bonkaTights S7 bib tights. Are they worth it? Read on to find out.
A Brief History of Assos
While many people know of Assos, their products, and their reputation, it seems at least from my investigations, most people don't really know who Assos are as a company. So, let's start with a little bit of background.
Assos was founded in 1976 by, Tony Maier-Moussa, who began testing his own carbon frame design in the wind tunnel. During that testing he realized that his frame design had superior aero performance over the round steel tubing of current day bikes, but it was the massive aero drag of wool cycling clothing that captivated his attention. It was this realization that led Tony to develop the first (contested by Castelli) lycra cycling shorts.
Shortly after its inception, Assos began to receive recognition when their revolutionary shorts were seen worn by Swiss riders in the worlds of 1978. Assos continued on as a family run business until 2015, when a majority stake was sold to private equity and venture capitalist firms TZP Group and Summit Partners, and Greg Avis also took over as CEO.
In the time since the management change, a lot and not a lot, has changed at Assos. Thankfully the product quality has remained high while the brands visibility in the pro circuit and media has been reprioritized. Assos are now the kit sponsor of the Global Cycling Network (GCN, the YouTube cycling channel) and of the BMC professional UCI racing team. But it may not be that they ever really left the pro ranks. Rumors have always been abound that pros would have the stock chamois of their sponsor bibs replaced with chamois’ taken from Assos bibs. If true, that says a lot.
The personal experience of any product begins with the packaging. Too many brands seem to not understand the importance of this. Not Assos though. The LL.bonkaTights S7 come packaged in a well-designed box that is evident of the Swiss brands design aesthetic. Inside the box I found the wrapped and tagged tights, a cool little plastic valuables pouch, and a marketing brochure/catalogue. In a world where you hand over a lot of your money and get handed back a piece of kit in a plain plastic pouch, the packaging design of Assos sets a different tone for sure.
Upon taking the bibs out of the package I started to inspect them. In hand, there was a confidence inspiring weight and heft. The LL.bonkaTights S7 felt like they were ready for winter weather - even the Canadian kind. Looking closer I noticed that they share the same upper that's familiar the milleShort S7 bibs I wear. And inside I found the familiar Cento chamois, with a difference. Compared to the Equipe Evo S7 bibs, the chamois in the LL.bonkaTights S7 has all the bells and whistles. Including (or excluding) a front man-hole section they call the KuKu Penthouse. Will my junk freeze out there? More on that later. On the outside, I was impressed by the noticeably reflective neoprene lower section of the legs. It was slightly reminisce of the neoprene in the FUGU S5 socks that I've got a love hate relationship with. But I was eager to see if neoprene was a better answer to my plaguing problem of cold shins.
My first attempt at trying on the LL.bonkaTights S7 was…. interesting. The combination of its close fit and the neoprene leg openings made it feel like I was pulling on a dry wet suite. But once on though, it felt really good. In fact, I almost immediately got an indication of just how warm they would be out on the road. Now I was excited to get riding - always a good sign.
As a tech and gear nerd, this is my favorite section of any review. I love trying to help people understand how a product is made and why some of that matters. And why some of it doesn't. With the LL.bonkaTights S7 there is a lot of Swiss inspired marketing speak in the design tech. I'll try to get past the fun words and on to what it really means.
As full ankle up bib tight, the Assos LL.bonkaTights S7 are a dedicated winter solution - they call it winter proof. This is for all intents and purposes, Assos' ultimate winter tight. And for a piece of winter gear, the coverage is adequate. Starting down at the ankles the thermal backed fabric extends up to the midriff where the new S7 edition ditches the zipper and now allows for easier mid ride nature breaks.
At the mid-section, the bib tights are held in place by 50mm wide Y sharped straps that go up the front before meeting a mesh backing where the yoke sits nestled comfortably between the shoulder blades. Each strap features a horizontal tab that is there to increase stability and to help them sit flush on the body. The tab also serve as a place to store your sunglasses when climbing. While I find this handy on their summer bibs, I find this odd because I don't foresee a lot of open jersey climbing in the winter. But maybe that's just me.
Each of Assos' proprietary fabrics are made in close collaboration with their suppliers and in the LL.bonkaTights S7 the overall make up is 70% polyamide (nylon), 13% elastane (Lycra or Spandex), and 17% polyester. Before I overview each fabric I will briefly explain why each of these materials are ideal for cycling;
- Polyamide, or nylon, is the world’s first synthetic fiber chemically derived from petroleum and is used in fabrics for its lower denier weight (linear mass) and a higher strength to weight ratio than polyester. Nylon is very durable and hydrophobic. This means it retains less water in the thread when wetted out. The downsides are that nylon is environmentally unfriendly and is UV unstable meaning colors will fade over time.
- Elastane, or Lycra, is a synthetic polyurethane fiber used for stretch and elasticity to support movement, and to help achieve a tight formed fit. Elastane is permanently elastic and will not completely fatigue over time. You can visibly see the inclusion of elastane in materials as a reflective sheen on the surface of the material.
- Polyester is a synthetic compound fiber that can be both woven or knitted. It is naturally hydrophobic and retains almost no water in the thread to prevent wetting out. Polyester is faster drying, UV stable, and stretch resistant, but is less breathable than alternatives.
Knowing what a product is made from is important to understanding how and why it performs the way it does. These three different fibers are used in the two proprietary fabrics of the Assos LL.bonkaTights S7. These are the ASSOS RX Heavy and the Stratagon Ultra. Information on both is not readily available but I was able to piece together some key points.
The RX Heavy is a thermal backed synthetic material (85% nylon, 22% elastane) with a fleece like interior and a smooth exterior. This is similar to the Roubaix fabric. The RX Heavy is made with a single layer warp knit where the yarn zig zags the length of the fabric rather than its width. It also has a DWR (Durable Water Repellent) coating. This hydrophobic chemical treatment is added to the fabric after knitting to help aid in beading water on the surface while maintaining its breathability.
The Stratagon Ultra is a lighter and thinner synthetic fiber (85% nylon, 15% elastane) composite material that can be easily identified by the higher degree of stretch and the lack of fleece like backing. Assos have used the Stratagon Ultra in the crotch, abdomen, and behind knees for lower bulk, increased movement, and weather protection. Stratagon Ultra is more breathable while it’s claimed to be wind and waterproof thanks to thermo-response membrane. According to Simona Febbi, R&D Textiles Officer at Assos, this non-porous hydrophilic (spreads water evenly across the surface so it can flow off rather than bead and remain) membrane is impermeable to 11.2mm of water and features molecule gapping technology which has a "flexible barrier function."
Resources: Hydrophobic or Hydrophilic?
If Assos is known best for any one part of their bibs or tights, it's the chamois. And the two-piece integrated, Elastic Interfaced (EIT) made, Cento_S7 insert does not disappoint. This particular variant of the S7 chamois is designed for long distance riding thanks to the 3-layer foam composite construction comprised of 10mm of memory foam topped by a further 3mm of air circulating perforated foam (the Assos Waffle) - all capped by a ribbed fabric layer. This open-cell viscoelastic polyurethane high density (memory) foam is temperature sensitive and thus molds to body shapes in response to your body heat. Memory foam was first created by NASA in 1966 for aircraft cushions before being used in everything from mattresses to cycling chamois'. The crux of memory foam is that while its shape is heat sensitive, it is very poor at disipating heat and breathability. This is why the signature Assos waffle is so critical to the performance of their chamois. This perforated foam layer aids sits between the main foam and the ribbed top lay to increase air flow and moisture wicking…. Because nobody likes a sweaty chamois.
What's different when comparing the Cento_S7 insert to the base model insert or to the S5 versions, are the Golden Gate and KuKu Penthouse features. Yes, those are real names. The upgrade from S5 to S7 models introduced the Golden Gate. This is where the chamois is left unsewn from the inner thigh of the bibs. This is done to try and improve the movement of the chamois with the body by allowing the chamois to stay closer to the skin and somewhat untethered to the bibs.
The KuKu Penthouse is indisputably unique to Assos and their higher end inserts. For the male lineup, the Cento_S7 chamois insert has an appropriately sized and placed triangular void in the front of the chamois. This is for storing and securing your… giggle bits. The idea is to give your anatomy an unrestricted space so you're not all jammed up behind a bulky wall of chamois.
That last bit of distinct tech in the Assos LL.bonkaTights S7 is the neoprene lower section. The neoprene with the reflective outer is what Assos call Geoprene. Because of its higher compression tight seal around your booties, Assos call this the "waterBarrier." The reflective outer provides extra visibility to drivers in low light conditions - remember the sun rises later and sets earlier in the winter.
One thing that seems to draw polarizing opinions about Assos gear is the graphic designs. Arguably, while Assos has always seemed to be on the front line of cycling apparel tech, their visual branding and design aesthetics have lagged behind - even pushing some potential customers away. It's the most common rebuttal I get to a recommendation of their kit. The good news is that this has seemed to improve over the last few years with the new management, but it's always been less an issue with the bibs.
In specific reference to the the Assos LL.bonkaTights S7, they are visibly devoid of branding, save for two the small circular rubber logos affixed to the right rear and left lower front. And the small purple tab in center rear. There are further brand placements on the strap stabilizers and on the mesh backing, but unless you’re riding jersey open or walking around jersey-less in the café, nobody is going to notice them. So if you're into an all-black brandless kit experience, the LL.bonkaTights S7 should work for you.
Maybe most importantly, how do the Assos LL.bonkaTights S7 fit? Short answer: In a very familiar way if you've ridden any of their other bibs. Just with more coverage and more high compression. This is thanks to the familiar pattern, chamois, and bib straps. And I find the sizing runs true to their summer bib line.
Getting into the LL.bonkaTights S7 is maybe something you want to do in private. I already mentioned that the act of suiting up is about as elegant as slipping into a dry wet suite. The overall fit from the midriff down is close and snug to the skin without any bunching. This creates an ideal next to skin insulation. Up top, the straps have a bit more room because they are meant to be worn as part of a layering system along with base layers, jerseys, and a jacket. Remember these are solely intended to be winter weather bib tights.
In back, the Y shaped yoke secures the bibs tight well and prevents drooping. The mesh backing sits flat and flush on the back and allows your shoulder blades to move freely in the riding position without irritation or restriction.
The Golden Gate seems to work as well as it does in the standard bib shorts. But I do find that it can require some manipulation to get it to sit properly into place. Because it's not affixed at the sides, you may need to slide a hand into the bib tights to lay the sides of the chamois flat when getting dressed. This is a pretty key answer to a problem I'll mention in the critiques.
On the Road
I'd confidently sum up the feeling and performance of the Assos LL.bonkaTights S7 as comfortable and familiar. There is no doubt that they are a winter bib tight, but they are not the warmest I've ever used. It's my opinion that they have traded some warmth for performance in order to strike a balance. On the road, I noticed this chill mostly around the inner thighs where the thinner Stratagon Ultra material is used. However though, the LL.bonkaTights S7 are very warm in the front of the legs and shins which take a lot of the brunt from cold winds. The shins at least can thank the Geoprene material for the adequate winter protection.
In terms of determining when to reach for the LL.bonkaTights S7, I tried to push the boundaries on both the warmest and coldest ends of the winter season. Although the bib tights worked well in all Canadian winter temperatures, they did quickly bottom out at around -30 degrees Celsius. That test ride was soo cold in fact that even my Garmin gave up and shut off. To be honest thought, I don't think anything really works well in that kind of cold. A more realistic bottom end to the range for the Assos LL.bonkaTights S7 is somewhere around the -20 degrees Celsius - depending on wind and cloud cover. On the top end, I started to feel stifled when temperatures neared 0 degrees Celsius and when the sun was shining. Especially in the areas protected by the Geoprene. A bit of wind and cloud cover did help keep this feeling at bay. As a somewhat odd and random side note, I was fully expecting particular male anatomy areas to be cold due to the lack of chamois in the KuKu Penthouse. But surprisingly, it never really happened!
Winter riding isn't only about cold temperatures. There's always a mix of rain, sleet, snow, or road spray mixed in. Whether you like it or not. That's exactly what the DWR coating is for and I will attest that it works really well. More times than I'd like to admit, I found myself caught out riding in the winter rains. And even though I started to feel cold, the Assos LL.bonkaTights S7 always beaded the water well and never wetted out. In fact, they barely felt damp and event that was probably due to me sweating.
The most dramatic design change from the S5 model is the removal of the zippered front. There is improved nature break support and still a good amount of lower ab coverage, but it could be higher and fleece backed above the chamois. At times, I felt that even with a winter base layer, jersey and a jacket, my midriff was cooling too quickly. Evidence of this is the harsh red itchy area on my abdomen post ride.
The various panels of the LL.bonkaTights are sewn together with a serger stitch. A serger stitch is a type of overlock stitch which sews over the edges of the two pieces of material to bring them together and close the seam. A serger stitch doesn't result in a flatter seam profile inside the bib like the more common flatlock stitch used in high end bibs. These bulkier seams can cause friction and irritation. The serger stitch is quite large and could be improved with a micro stitch instead.
The Geoprene (neoprene) leg openings work well to create a tight seal around boots and socks, but they are a smidge too narrow for my tastes. It makes getting dressed and undressed overly complicated and could easily be addressed with a neoprene backed weather resistant zipper such as a Vislon or Aquaseal from YKK which are used in wet suit designs.
Something I noticed and has bothered me in the higher end S5 bib shorts has made its way to the LL.bonkaTights S7. Durability may be a bit questionable. The inner thigh material started to show pilling, and did so quite quickly. Even through the season it never worn through or tore open, but it eventually will. I was just surprised at how quickly this appeared inside the thighs of the bib shorts.
The unsewn edges (Golden Gate) of the chamois at the thighs seems to work well but I do find that it can bunch up in the groin. When it does, the chamois has the opposite of the intended effect. When it happens, the bunched-up edge accelerates skin irritation. Sometimes the bunching happens mid ride if I'm not squarely on the saddle or if I don't sit back down on the saddle cleanly. And it can be hard to adjust one handed while riding. This critique isn't unique to the bib tights because I experience the same issue with the standard bib shorts too.
And finally, quality control could be improved. There is no doubt that Assos, especially the LL.bonkaTights are a premium product. And so with a price tag of $550CAD you expect nothing but the best. That's why it was disappointing to find untrimmed stitching in a few places inside the bib. For example at the chamois I found a 4" long piece of untrimmed thread. Thankfully there's no effect on the performance from this and it's quickly fixed, but it unfortunately effects the clean finish and tarnishes some of the luxury.
The Assos LL.bonkaTights S7 are super crazy expensive. At a retail of $550CAD they are a definite investment. The design and tech is geared towards those looking for summer like performance in dedicated winter apparel. With that, the LL.bonkaTights S7 not may be suited to the casual winter rider. While it's definitely a 'treat yo self' piece of kit, it's one that won't let you down.
They are a single purpose solution with performance centric designs. The Cento_S7 chamois is still by far the most comfortable on the market despite any issues with the Golden Gate. And I gladly recommend it. Anyone who is using and enjoying Assos products will appreciate the familiar fit and feel.
If you are searching for a full-length bib tight to ride in varied winter temperatures and conditions, when it's clear that leg or knee warmers won't cut it, the Assos LL.bonkaTights S7 should be on your consideration list.