Review: I crashed in Assos’s crash-protecting Mille GTO C2 Winter Bib tights
Protection from the cold and the ground comes at a price. Are Assos's new bib tights worth the staggering price tag?
Protection from the cold and the ground comes at a price. Are Assos's new bib tights worth the staggering price tag?
When Assos launched the Equipe RS range in November 2020, the staggeringly priced Johdah jacket attracted all the headlines and seemingly lessened the blow for the similarly priced Equipe RS tights. When I reviewed the Johdah jacket and tights last year, I did my best not to like them, but the kit was just so frustratingly good.
Less than 12 months later Assos is at it again, recently launching the even plusher and pricier Mille GTO C2 winter bib tights. At £60 more than those already pricey Equipe RS tights, the GTOs have a lot to live up to. Can Assos have already found another performance improvement to raise the pricing bar again so soon? We decided to find out.
Before looking at the Assos tights, let me lay out what I look for in winter tights. On paper, winter tights could be one of the less complex cycling garments – just wrap my legs in warm cosy stuff to keep them warm on cold days. Breathability should be less critical than with upper-body garments, and there are none of the complications when it comes to which layers to choose.
In actual fact, things are a little more complicated. The right fit is one such complication and even more complex than with bib shorts. Bib tights need not only fit well but also remain in position as the knees whiz around at ~90 rpm, tugging and stretching the fabric with each revolution. Then there’s the question of pad or no pad and heel loops or no heel loops. Windblocker and water resistance also have their fair share of thermal pros and potentially restrictive-fit cons. And that’s all before we even get into tights over or under the overshoes.
Finding the right bib tights is like a balancing act: protection from the elements on one side, light and unrestrictive fit on the other. Personally, I lean towards lighter tights with only minimal thermal protection but an abundance of flexibility, comfort, and freedom. For years I preferred leg warmers and thermal bibs shorts rather than overly protective and restrictive tights.
That said, Assos is never a brand for keeping things simple. Check out the “technology overview” section of any garment on the Assos website, and you’ll find yourself bamboozled with high-tech fabrics and awkwardly named construction methods. I find all the Assos naming confusing at times, and it’s my job to know this stuff.
The Mille GTO tights are no different. The new tights are decked out from shoulder to ankle with all the Assos jargon we have come to expect. The Mille tights build on those Equipe RS bibs from a year ago and adopt many of the updates Assos introduced in its new GTO bibs last summer.
The main fabric in the new tights is the ‘Osmo Heavy’ carried over from the Equipe RS tights with its brushed and cosy-feeling skin-facing side for protective insulation. Assos pairs the Osmo Heavy with a two-layer front panel combining a lighter Osmo fabric with a perforated fabric. This combination is designed to provide breathable protection from the elements.
As is almost signature by now, Assos has equipped the new tights with its Rollbar external bib straps. The straps run externally down the rear panel, anchoring directly to the panel just above the chamois insert. This external bracing design is said to stabilise the chamois, retaining it in position as the rider moves in and out of the saddle.
On almost entirely classic black bibs, the Rollbar straps provide a single flash of colour. Technically the tights are available in either black or flame d’or. In reality, both bib tights are entirely black with the variations coming in the black and silver or black and gold straps. A small Assos emblem on the left leg provides the only other design cue. The Rollbar straps also feature a small reflective tab on both sides at the rear for a little extra visibility on the road.
The insert that Rollbar works so hard to keep in place is the same pad first utilised in the Mille GTO bib shorts last summer. The chamois is as plush and immediately impressive as you expect from the Swiss icons of cycling shorts. The multi-layer C2 insert seemingly features more tech than the computer on Apollo 11, but most striking is its sheer bulk, especially under the sit bones and on either side of the central channel.
Amongst the multiple layers that make up the chamois are a shock-absorbing 11 mm-thick foam and a vibration-dampening 10 mm low-density foam for increased comfort. The middle layer, or as Assos calls it, the “3D waffle”, is perforated for breathability. The final and next-to-skin layer is a highly ventilated layer with a series of “whirlkraters” (aka holes to you and I), again intended to improve breathability. The pad is attached to the tights utilising Assos’s Goldengate stitch-free mid section for greater freedom and flexibility under the rider.
Lastly, a perforated front section Assos has named the Sundeck Superlight is a foam-free preshaped cup said to provide improved support for the male anatomy while further improving breathability. The decision to include the multi-layered and ventilated C2 insert here is in stark contrast to the thinner winter-specific chamois devoid of breathability aids Assos opted for in the RS tights. Where that RS winter chamois is a race-specific insert said to offer increased thermal protection, the GTO chamois is all about ventilation and maximum comfort.
Lastly, the calves and ankles feature a 20 cm Geoprene cuff for enhanced water resistance and a snugger fit. Geoprene is said to be lighter, warmer, more durable, and less permeable than neoprene. Assos has made the entire Geoprene cuff section reflective for further improved visibility in the presumably darker weather these tights are most at home in.
While functionally and visually very similar to neoprene, Geoprene was developed by Japanese neoprene manufacturers Yamamoto as an improved and more environmentally friendly material alternative to neoprene. Fans of Geoprene point to its less energy-intensive manufacturing process and the use of limestone rather than oil as in neoprene as the environmental benefits of the material. As is often the case, though, these matters are rarely as clear cut as these claims and there are major concerns around the manufacturing of Geoprene, given the mining process and the use of limestone – an already limited resource.
All that technology sure sounds impressive, but for once the Assos fabrics are playing second fiddle in the new garment. The stand-out feature of the new GTO tights is not the thermal protection or comfy chamois, but rather the impact-protection pockets built into the hips.
Assos has developed what it calls “Impactor”, a two-layer system providing targeted hip protection in the event of a fall. The Impactor is said to provide abrasion resistance, impact protection, and frictionless comfort. The impact protection pads are housed in Assos Dynerope fabric taken directly from the brand’s off-road collection. Dynerope is said to be more durable and designed to provide abrasion resistance. Assos then re-engineered its removable impact pads specifically for road riding with increased flexibility and breathability.
The result is two large oval-shaped TPU pads designed to sit at the side of each hip ready to absorb some of the impact in a fall. The impact pads are not cushioned or soft like you might imagine. Rather they feature an interconnected honeycomb-like design creating a pad flexible enough to curve with the body yet solid enough to absorb impacts. Think bike helmet rather than car airbag. Whether it actually works or not I will get to later in the review.
The Equipe RSs launched last year were, and still are, great bibs tights. Providing excellent protection on winter rides, the Equipe RS tights established much of the basis from which the new Mille GTO bibs grew. However, the Equipe’s “aero fit” and heavy fabrics meant those tights fell on the slightly restrictive side of my winter tights protection: that fit/freedom balancing act again.
The new Mille GTO tights, on the other hand, are much more forgiving, comfortable, and offer a free and unrestrictive fit. Where the Equipe RS tights were great tights with a slightly heavy and compressive reminder of how good they were, the Mille GTO tights are almost pyjama like. I know because I spent two days wearing the tights in a hospital bed (we’ll get there, I promise).
The fit is relaxed, and combined with that brushed fabric, offers a warm, snug, and cosy feeling. I swapped between both tights to check I hadn’t shrunk, but despite the same sizing, the Mille GTOs are certainly more forgiving. This differing fit isn’t some sizing error; Assos has intentionally created the Equipe RS with a racing-focused aero fit, while in contrast, the GTOs fall into Assos’s GT endurance range intended to offer a much more relaxed “regularfit”. The GTO is all about increased insulation and thermal protection for endurance rides, while the Equipe RS tights offer increased breathability for harder-paced rides.
As for all that Assos lab technology, it may sound funky, but a lot of it adds noticeable improvements to the tights. Most notably, Assos has carried over and further refined the tapered leg Louvretec construction found in the Mille GTO bib shorts. Similar to the darting sewn into fabric, the Louvretec is Assos’s proprietary stitch construction designed to remove extra material that could lead to wrinkling/friction in key areas. This extra tailoring undoubtedly contributes to the new tights’ increased comfort and tailored feel with a hug-like fit and zero riding up or friction at the back of the knee.
The Goldengate stitching and the Rollbar external bibs all seem a little gimmicky, but these features do work, complementing and improving an already excellent chamois. The bib straps do an unexciting job well, offering the right fit to be unrestrictive yet still providing plenty of support. The wide seamless straps spread the support for a comfier fit. Assos adds its “X-Frame” to the rear of the straps. This almost stretch-free section contrasts the otherwise forgiving bib straps.
Assos says this addition improves comfort while eliminating vertical stretch to help keep the chamois in place. While difficult to test, it is noticeable that adjusting the bib straps can alter the fit around the shoulders without affecting the straps on the lower back.
Out on the road, the tights performed great. The comfort and fit on the bike is amongst the best I’ve tried, and the thermal protection is everything you would expect from Assos. Across a few rides in literally freezing temperatures, I never felt the chill in my legs. While great at lower temperatures, as you might expect I found that things get a little too hot and sweaty in the Mille GTO tights above 6-7 °C (42 ºF).
My feelings on the Mille GTO C2 chamois are as layered and complex as the insert itself. Undoubtedly this is an excellent chamois and one that does an admirable job of reducing road vibrations and increasing comfort. Whether this is thanks to the shock- and vibration-absorbing layers or just the sheer thickness of the chamois is impossible to say for sure as the two factors are inextricably linked. The cushioning extra layers add to the bulk, and the bulk adds to the cushioning.
What I can say is I am not a fan of thicker, bulkier chamois. In fact of all the bibs I own (a lot) the Assos Mille shorts and tights are the only two with a thicker chamois. I have had other bibs with chamois just as thick, but I could never get along with them, and they got donated fairly promptly. I find a thicker chamois creates an extra layer between the saddle and me, resulting in a slight feeling of detachment from the bike and a chamois that collapses and moves beneath me. I prefer the connection with the saddle a thinner chamois provides and I like some road vibration to feel what’s happening under me.
But therein lies the paradox for me: the Mille GTO C insert is certainly the thickest chamois I have used, yet I like it. Impressively, the insert dampens a considerable amount of road buzz, increases comfort, maintains its structure, and remains in place throughout a ride.
“How thick is it?”, I hear you ask. Using a micrometre, I measured the new pad at 14 mm thicker under the same compression than the Equipe RS pad, an insert that could hardly be described as slimline itself.
Just as with the Mille GTO shorts, Assos has done an excellent job of ensuring the chamois stays in place throughout the ride. Even as I stood on the pedals, sat in the saddle, hopped on and off the bike, the big chamois never felt like it was sagging or straying from exactly where it should be. Assos says this stability is thanks to the external Rollbar bibs and the compression fit, which combine to hold the chamois in place. Given a choice, I still would prefer the thinner chamois from the Equipe RS tights, because that 14 mm is still 14 mm of saddle height difference playing on my mind. But just as with the Mille shorts, this insert has pleasantly surprised me.
The GTO Mille tights feel like protective equipment designed for long, challenging rides in the harshest conditions. So, wearing the tights for short easy rides felt wrong; almost like wearing a welding mask to light a candle. Wearing the tights for anything less than long rides in horrible winter conditions felt like a waste and had me feeling overdressed for the occasion. I don’t want to criticise the tights for doing their job very well, but if it weren’t for the need to do this review, I certainly would save these for special occasions – i.e. only the coldest or longest winter rides.
If I am to level any real criticism at the tights, it’s those Geoprene calves/ankles. The Geoprene itself was not the issue. On the bike, the Geoprene calf does provide plenty of water resistance to keep spray from soaking down into your shoes, without any noticeable trade-off in thermal protection. However, off the bike, the design does make for a noticeably more awkward dance to get your foot and leg in and out of the stretchy, and almost sticky-when-wet, fabric.
I feel a zip would be a great addition here. On that point, Assos did say “Simplifying the construction at the ankles leads to less bulk and less potential friction/abrasion. Zippers can also create an entry point for water, which the neoprene-like ankle material eliminates.” On a positive note, I did expect the Geoprene cuff to create a clammy, sweaty region around my calf. While I did notice this after some rides, it was never an issue or even noticeable on the bike.
As for that impact protection, I was concerned the Impactor might create some pressure and discomfort on the hips, or at very least be somewhat of a nuisance. Those initial fears proved to be entirely unwarranted. The Impactor created no issues for me while riding. The pads seemingly added an element of slide into the waist area, allowing my hips to move more freely beneath the tights.
That said, the pads do add some bulk. This wasn’t an issue for me but perhaps could be an issue if someone is between sizes and opts for the smaller. I found the added bulk to be a nice addition, increasing the overall feeling of security in the bibs and, much like the tapered legs, felt like a big hug for my waist.
I’d advise placing the pads in the pocket before putting the tights on, but I always forgot. As such, adding the pad while wearing the tights meant an undignified half-naked hop, skip, and a dance to get the pads into the Impactor pocket. Kind of a me problem rather than a fault of the tights.
I think I joked about skipping the impact test review in my article following Assos’s announcement of the new tights. I had considered a few options for testing the pads effectiveness, but ultimately none could produce repeatable and reliable results. I also didn’t really fancy subjecting my hips to countless needless impacts. I decided that provided the pads didn’t add any pressure points or discomfort, any additional protection couldn’t be bad.
Little did I know that, despite skipping the impact protection tests, I would unintentionally put the impact protection to the ultimate test.
As many of you might have heard, I had a fall in December and suffered a nasty broken leg. Ironically, at the time, I was wearing the only kit I had that was designed with crashing in mind, taking the tights out for one final ride as I was midway through writing this review.
I wish I could tell you the crash was some extreme dedication to the job, but unfortunately, it was just extreme irony. Worse yet, in a level of irony Alanis Morissette surely could have written a whole verse about, my unprotected lower leg sustained all the injuries, while my impact-protected hips escaped virtually unscathed.
Whether Assos’s Impactor played any part in ensuring my hip escaped uninjured is impossible to say. I was sure I hadn’t hit my hips until I inspected the tights and found a large dirt stain on the left hip. Evidently, I must have landed on my hip in some way. I’m confident the dirt surface provided a soft enough landing to ensure I avoided any hip injuries, but, there is no way to exclude the Impactor’s role in softening my fall and so I am happy to leave this like an open-ended film. I fell. I landed in dirt. I was wearing impact protection pads. Did they help? You decide.
Call me a marketing sucker, but pre-fall and pre-broken leg, I did find myself reaching for the Mille GTOs and their impact protection for rides on loose (gravel) or slippy (potentially icy mornings) surfaces. While I still think the nearly £400 price tag provides greater protection from crashing than any pads ever could, I do feel any additional protection is undoubtedly no bad thing. Furthermore, the pads’ flexibility and comfort mean they create no restricted movement, pressure points, or other side effects.
Sticking with the safety theme, I previously expressed my dislike for all-black winter garments in my Johdah jacket review. I won’t go into that detail again, but a brighter colour option would be nice for these tights, even if I am slightly more OK with darker lower-body garments.
If you should suffer a crash, Assos offers a free-of-charge crash replacement or repair on the GTO tights, but only within the first 30 days of purchase.
Going back to my light, comfy, thin chamois preferences for winter tights, the Mille GTO tights have certainly thrown a spanner in the works. On paper, almost everything about the Mille GTO C2s defies what I like in a pair of tights. That said, The GTOs work so well I could say Assos has redefined my preferences and the GTOs are now my go-to winter bibs. Even if only for longer rides and clearly no time soon with this broken leg.
Sure you might have to eBay an arm to afford these tights, but I’d almost suggest it’s worth it. Just don’t break a leg.
For more information, visit Assos.com.