When buying cycling clothes price is a major factor, especially when knicks are involved. How can companies justify charging over $300 for a pair of knicks? The episode uncovers some reasons, but not the ones you may first think of.
Why Are Knicks So Expensive?
There are three points of contact you have with your bicycle, don’t worry about the nut connecting the handlebars to the seat. We’re talking pedals, handlebars and saddle. And today I’m talking knicks, shorts, bib n brace. Whatever you want to call them, the difference between a crap pair and a killer pair can be the difference between fun and fast and painful and slow.
I can call up nearly every pair of knicks that I’ve own in my lifetime. My evolution follows a traditional path of 8 panel knicks, that I strangely had a weird reaction to the rubber on the legs. So much so that my mother insisted on sewing some material over it. It wasn’t but it solved the problem, and hey I was wearing a t-shirt on top anyway, so no style awards there either.
My next couple of pairs were 4 and six panel knicks, but it wasn’t until I was thrown some swag that my first pair of bib n brace knicks entered the scene. Looking back they were quite rudimentary compared to today’s standards. Only one layer deep, but like everyone that puts on their first pair, there is no turning back. If we fast forward to the past 5 years or so, I have been able to get hold of some more advanced versions. Some team wear, some racer wear and plenty of internet mistakes, but I have never owned a high quality, high-cost item…so I decided to hunt around and try and find the difference to assess whether they are worth the extra coin?
The evolution of the humble chamois has come so far in the past 10 years it’s hard to call it a chamois at all. A pad is more accurate and used by the big manufacturers. The term chamois is a relic of the past, where before spandex was invented, a leather chamois was the only option for riding in comfort. Another relic of that era that has held on is chamois cream, which has made its own evolution from clothing care to body care. Or in the case of Dave Zabriskie’s brand, nut care.
Marketing plays an interesting role in the hype that surrounds a high quality and high-cost product like the chamois. When I think of the top 2 brands in the expensive bracket, I think Assos and Rapha. Funny that they share the same chamois manufacturer though. Albeit with their own custom takes the positioning of the formed foam, the company that makes them is called Cytech.
Cytech’s claim to fame is the Elastic Interface. Developed with Assos around 2001 the elastic short insert perfectly follows the body in motion, expanding and contracting with every pedal stroke, to eliminate the friction that causes irritation and skin rashes.
Here’s the funny part, Assos was Cytech’s partner in creating Elastic Technology Interface (EIT for short). The Elastic Interface trademark and logo belong to ASSOS of Switzerland SA and are licensed, exclusively, to Cytech SRL. So in a round about way Rapha pads are actually Assos pads.
But, and this is a big butt and I cannot lie, not there are 59 different designs. So the name itself is not a guarantee that you are getting the goods when you buy a pair of knicks.
The big focus on Cytech is comfort which equals performance.
Dr Paoli, he works for Cytech to make their scientific claims about the pads they develop. And in some ways, he has a point. If you your not sitting right and comfortable you won’t get the best out your body. You’re wasting energy on an inefficient system and maybe even doing some damage…
Did you ever see the Assos campaign? Their main selling point is comfort…at any cost.
Talking of the big guns, what makes them so much more expensive. Other than top tier luxury goods, aspirational in most cases, their development process is more involved than you might think.
You can start to get a sense of the detail that goes into the knicks. Or at least the cost that goes into the making videos and marketing that adds to the bottom line.
But seriously, it’s one thing to line up the pad with pressure points, an interesting bit take on race knicks is done by Rapha where the pad their top line knicks is positioned to be most effective when you are on the drops or on the hoods. Kind of like a moto GP suit, it doesn’t work until you are in the race position.
Another development in the past couple of years is the ability to fuse the pad layers together and then sew the pad directly into the knicks. the chamois is formed into a single unit by the use of a bonding agent, and/or by the application of heat and pressure that operates to fuse the various pieces of the chamois together into a single unit.
the application of heat and pressure to the chamois in accordance with this invention operates to form the chamois into a three-dimensional shape that generally matches the pelvic girdle of a male or a female.
This again means all the effort put into pressure point alignment is not wasted as he pad does slip when you are getting off the saddle.
What to look for in a chamois? I have touched on where the majority of point of difference lies but…
Dr Paoli recommends the following properties in cycling short insert pads:
1) Cycling short insert pads should be elastic, to allow the full range of movement for the cyclist in the saddle contact zone.
2) Cycling short insert pads should have different densities to provide support and protect the cyclist’s saddle contact zone according to the different compression levels felt on the saddle.
3) Cycling short insert pads should have different shapes for men and women cyclists because of the different conformation of the men and women’s perineal & GPUG zone.
4) Cycling short insert pads should have a specific design that allows proper fit between the saddle and body of the athlete.
Also, here is run down of some of the terms that companies invent…
- Anatomic or 3D: A chamois that is shaped according to the rider’s anatomy, rather than sewn in flat.
- Antimicrobial: The pad is made with materials such as silver ions and bacteriostatic carbon to fend off germs.
- Four-way Stretch: The chamois moves in all directions with the shorts to help prevent bunching and binding.
- Moisture Wicking: Uses technical synthetic fabrics to speed moisture transfer away from the body and keep you dry.
- Multidensity: The foam in the padding is denser in certain places, usually under the sit bones.
- Multithickness: Made with variable amounts of padding—thicker under the sit bones and slimmer in the sensitive perineal region.
The other things to consider are the overall fit. Cycling tips do a good job of this by reviewing assos, capo, castelli and Rapha.
There are a bunch of different ways companies manufacture the outer part of the knicks, such as Castelli body paint knicks.
Don’t bother sifting through that junk though when you are on the hunt…I recommend going to your nearest bike shop and trying on as many pairs as it takes to find one that fits…even with the top of the range products, they may not be built for your shape. Saying that my next purchase may be Rapha. Online. Mostly cause they are one of only a handful of companies that will ship to me. Don’t hate on me too hard.
Massive marketing budgets, strategic positioning and development time may explain the cost more than comfort, fit and performance. I’m not sure if they are related directly to price. Do you own a cheap pair of knicks that rocks your world? I’d love to hear your thoughts.