It is probably best to start out by saying that bib shorts are one of the more personal and subjective products to test. Things like anatomical variations, use of chamois cream or not, and saddle choice (to name a few) make it a tricky item for which to give a definitive answer for all riders. So with this in mind, here is my experience with the First Ascent Podium bibs.
At the core of any bib short is the chamois pad. First Ascent have sought the services of an Italian manufacturer to supply the chamois. It's constructed from three layers: the outer soft layer with anti-bacterial properties, a flexible perforated foam that spans the length of the chamois, and the inner, thicker foam (120kg/m² density) where you place your weight over the saddle.
The chamois provides a comfortable, supportive platform. The placement of the chamois suited me with most foam around my sit bones where pressure can build up. The thinner foam around the high impact areas is soft and supple. The chamois was well shaped for me, without bunching or wedging itself into a position where it rubs with the thigh.
Fit and Comfort
The material on the front and back of the shorts is fairly thick and gives the impression that it won’t be turning transparent anytime soon. A fate that is more terrifying for other riders but you definitely don’t want to be that person with their untanned regions on show. This material does trap a small amount of some heat but it dealt with moisture well. The side panel that runs on the outside of the leg is thinner with a porous texture which helps with cooling. The front section sits fairly high with a few centimetre gap between my navel.
First Ascent has gone with reliability over smooth looks on the stitching with some obvious lines down the bibs. The placement of these seams is good as they caused me no irritation while riding.
The shoulder straps are a regular width running over the shoulder and over the nipples. The strap material has a reassuring thickness to it without being rough or uncomfortable or hot. The straps attach to a mesh on the back that regulates moisture and heat well.
The leg cuffs were an ideal size for me, not too loose or too tight. They are held in place by a number of small diamond-shaped grips. The leg length is generous without being overly long.
The branding is fairly subtle with black plastic First Ascent and Podium gel-like stickers down the right side and small red First Ascent tab on the back. Each leg has a tiny reflector strip on the side.
Whether a bib can withstand more than a season or two of riding is a the true indication of value. The Podium shorts are brand new. We've been riding them for just over two months. So, unfortunately, I simply can not answer this part of the review.
If you give any weight to appearances, there are signs that the Podium shorts are built for the long haul. The stitching is thorough and strong. The materials on the side and rear panels appear to be durable and good quality. Even the chamois gives the impression that the foam isn't a one year wonder. I will continue to wear the Podium shorts and give an update on the conditions in due course.
For reference, I tested the Podium shorts in combination with a Specialized Power saddle (155mm on a mountain bike and 143mm on the road). Ride lengths varied from an hour to four hours both on the road and mountain bike. I've managed to avoid the rain, so all riding was done in mostly dry conditions.
I wore an extra large pair of Podium shorts. I'm 192 cm tall and weight around 85 kilograms.
First Ascent has priced the Podium cycling shorts at R1,999. It is a hugely competitive price bracket. In terms of performance and comfort, the Podium does match the competition and in some aspects, like leg cuff feel, it surpasses them. Durability is going to be key to the Podium's long term success though. While it appears to be thoughtfully built to last, only time will tell.
First Ascent has done an admirable job in elevating the quality and performance of their cycling shorts with the new Podium bib shorts. The chamois provides hours of comfort and the fit suited me ideally. The material and construction point towards longevity and quality materials but only a season of riding will truly tell.