I recently spent 13 days straight in the all new 2XU Steel X bib shorts cycling down the length of New Zealand. In this review I will discuss my personal experiences wearing these cycle bib shorts during back-to-back 8-hour days in the saddle, including the comfort factor of the new Alta Badia chamois and the compression design. In addition, I’ll tell you about the side panels that are claimed to be “15 times stronger than steel”. I put these shorts to the ultimate test, coming off my bike in wet and slippery conditions on New Zealand’s harsh South Island.
See the video:
But before I get technical, let me tell you a little story.
I think you’ll agree with me when I say – bum issues are high on the agenda when you’re riding for long periods on end (when I say “bum” I’m referring to my behind, for those of you who don’t speak the queen’s English).
I won’t go into gory details because there’s a fair chance you’ve got your own personal story to tell about a time you could barely sit down on your bike seat.
It’s almost as disabling as a serious injury, inhibiting your ability to ride.
So when I planned to cycle down the length of New Zealand in the middle of the 2017 winter, comfortable bib shorts were high on the agenda.
A close friend of mine connected me with 2XU, and by mid 2017 they fast-tracked the production of their test Steel X bib shorts so I would wear them on my journey.
I was literally the first person in the world to be wearing a garment that was 15 X stronger than steel.
Given the slippery and snowy conditions I would encounter on New Zealand’s South Island, the new side panel technology sounded ideal. In addition, the compression design would assist with the extreme muscle fatigue I would encounter.
Despite the 2XU reputation and the latest technology that these bibs proclaimed, I was a little nervous.
I’d never worn these bib shorts before, and I started to ponder if my bum would become a major issue as I tracked down the length of New Zealand.
The 2XU Steel X “Stronger than Steel” technology
To be clear:
The entire bib short from 2XU aren’t 15 X stronger than steel.
It’s the side panel technology running around both hip sections, or what 2XU say are ‘hip panels’. This section of the bib is made from ‘polyethylene fibre’ and ‘ultra-high molecular’ orientation.
The result of these side panels is to offer protection from tearing and/or cuts without compromising comfort, lightness, moisture and aerodynamics, according to 2XU.
When you feel the fabric on the hip panels it does kind of feel a little scrunchy, like it might even rub on your skin during a ride.
Physically I did not notice the panels at all once the bibs were on. It appears 2XU have created a softer feel on the inside of the panel versus the outside.
The ultimate purpose of these panels though is to protect your hips from skin tear during an incident. While most of us don’t like to think about falling off our bikes, it happens.
It was day 10 of my 13 day journey down the length of New Zealand.
It was hammering with rain; so bad I could hardly see in front of me. It was also freezing cold.
I had stopped at a café where my wife was waiting with a fresh set of clothes. I got changed into a dry set of 2X Steel X bib shorts and waited for the rain to subside.
I sat by a window sipping on a nice warm long black coffee.
The rain hadn’t stopped, but it was no longer pouring. With almost 2,000 kilometres in my legs I stepped out of the café into freezing cold conditions and started back on the bike.
A few minutes later as I was exiting the town of Greymouth. There, I slipped on an old industrial train line and came off the bike at around 30 km per hour.
I bent the derailleur quite badly, smashed my shoulder – tearing the side of the jacket.
The Steel X bibs and my hip?
I was obviously sore, but had no cuts or tears on my skin and the Steel X bibs remained all in one piece. In fact, after the incident I couldn’t tell which bib short took the pavement from the five pairs 2XU had provided me. It was like it never happened (from a bib short perspective).
While I was a little stiff and sore in the right hip for the remainder of the ride, not having to manage skin damage rubbing against lycra for the last 3 days was a godsend.
The Steel X side panels work. There’s no question in my mind.
The Compression and comfort factor
The main fabric used by 2XU for the Steel X bibs is called ‘105/CK’ which features denser lycra yarns that are supposed to create leading edge stabilisation of the muscles, with ‘less vibration and fatigue’.
2XU also claim that this blend of fabrics “keeps the wearer dry”, with moisture management properties that promote comfort and keep the rider focused.
I can’t say I experienced dry bibs during some of New Zealand’s torrential downpours, although I doubt many would ride in those conditions unless it was tied to a serious cause.
With a premium Italian engineered ‘silicone gripper’ to add further cohesion to the Steel X compression bibs, I won’t say it’s a smooth process getting these bibs on before you head out the door.
It’s not difficult by any means:
However, the way the 2XU bibs hug the legs and provide that ‘stabilisation’ effect, initially means you might have to escort the bibs into positon, particularly on the first few wears.
The low-profile one-piece bib strap worked in nicely, and once the bibs are on I definitely felt well compressed around the hips and legs. Like no other bib short I have ever worn.
While it’s hard to pinpoint the impact of this compression structure on muscle fatigue, I did surprise myself over the course of New Zealand (in terms of my fatiguing state).
While I sustained an injury on day two – inflicted by a farm dog attack – my working muscles never let me down during the 180 km day averages. I just kept soldiering on. Could the bibs and post ride 2XU compression wear have been the silver bullet? Maybe.
The Alta Badia chamois & my bum
The Steel X bib shorts have a new Italian engineered Alta Badia chamois, which utilises dimpled fabric technology and “120 density” foam for maximum breathability and comfort.
Boils, blisters, and strange lumps can often form part of the physiological state of any cyclist riding big distances. And even if you’re not riding big distances, it can just happen!
I was blown away by the state of my rear when I arrived in Bluff; the very bottom tip of New Zealand.
I had only one morning where I found it a little difficult to sit on the seat, but after I attended to the issue (something that needed to be popped – sorry, I had to say it), I was perfectly good.
I experienced limited lumps, and perhaps what I was most concerned with leading into the last part of the ride – no rawness to contend with, at all! This was very surprising to me and speaks louder than any words written on paper.
I was sitting on a small seat for 8 hours a day for 13 days straight. You would think I’d be complaining – right? Nope.
For me, this is the clincher for most people reading this article.
If you’re like me, the Steel X panels are a nice to have. But we ultimately don’t want to be thinking about falling off our bikes.
The compression technology is also a nice to have. Most of us won’t be riding 180 kilometre back-to-back days, so for the regular rider, compression isn’t overly high on the priority list.
That is #1 on most people’s list.
The Alta Badia chamois. in addition to the way the bibs tightly hug your quads, glutes, hips etc – which is a side effect of the compression design – makes these bib shorts an incredibly comfortable and reliable proposition for any rider out there.
Check our the 2xu product page or
Buy the Steel X bib shorts HERE.
The 2XU Compression Wear (for recovery)
To finish off this piece, I wanted to point out the importance of compression wear for muscle recovery.
While the Steel X bibs are designed to compress and aid with muscle fatique, you’re clearly not going to wear them post ride.
For me, traveling down New Zealand with my wife – staying in little towns with very little infrastructure – meant that I had limited access to masseuses. In fact, I had two massages the entire ride.
Given the intensity of my days, recovery at the end of the day was paramount. I would immediately have a shower which included 1 minute of 100% cold at the end. I’d then hop into my 2XU recovery compression leggings and do my stretches. The 2XU leggings would stay on for the rest of the evening, including my sleep time.
They acted as a very critical component to my recovery aid and ensured my journey to Bluff could be completed without muscular cramping, injury, or serious fatigue.
You can watch a video of Cam Nicholls entire ride down the length of New Zealand in the Steel X bib shorts here: