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De Soto 400 Mile Short: The People’s Choice.

By Tom Demerly.

De Soto's 400 Mile Short, sold in both a bib (shown) and a short has become a common recommendation on triathlon internet forums as the "best" short.

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Debating the “best” in any equipment category is a staple of internet forums; until you come to bike shorts. Post the question, “What cycling shorts should I buy?” on any tri forum and chances are the first- and most answers are: “The De Soto 400 Mile short.” It’s the only thing people on a forum can agree on. A key word search on the forum with the words “400 Mile Short” returns 1,389 results- nearly all positive.

The De Soto 400 Mile Cycling short is an icon in triathlon. For six years the De Soto 400 Mile Short has been the go-to choice, and recommendation, for cycling shorts in our sport. How has the De Soto 400 Mile Short received such universal acceptance in a sport known for fast changing equipment trends?

“A search on the forum of “400 Mile Short” returns 1,389 results- nearly all positive.”

Before there were M-Dot tattoos, long lines and 20 minute sell-outs at Ironman, there was Emilio De Soto. Waterman, sportsman, entrepreneur; De Soto is an original, an icon in our sport. Along with characters like Scott Tinley, Paula Newby Fraser, Dan Empfield and John Cobb, De Soto has defined what a triathlete looks like, trains like, races like and dresses like- and even lives like. He is an authentic in our sport.

Emilio De Soto is an original in the sport: As a an athlete, entrepreneur, and icon. His brand is designed and made in the United States in California.

Emilio De Soto conceived the 400 Mile Short around an Ironman training regimen of packing 400 miles of riding into 4 days- a ritual in the build phase for Ironman going back to the early 1980’s. De Soto was among the first to combine the subtleties of fit, fabric, pattern and pad and specifically tune them for the triathlon cyclist. Even thoughtful details like useful stretch pockets for electronics and gel packets are built into the triathletes’ own uniform; the 400 Mile Short. Even with the incursion of European pro cycling brands in to the U.S. market the 400 Mile Short has held its ground.

Four key technologies differentiate the De Soto 400 Mile Short from all other cycling shorts. Like any one product that dominates its category, all four features are not found on any other single pair of shorts:

  • Anatomical Curvilinear™ Seams on the shorts follow the major muscle groups for optimal comfort and appearance. These influence comfort, fit and support in the riding posture- not just at first, but even as the rider becomes fatigued.
  • Contrast Stretch Flat Stitching allows seams to act like fabric, enhancing fit and comfort and making the shorts feel like a seamless second skin that is barely there.
  • The Stretch 400-Mile™ Pad is one of the first stretch, seamless cycling pads available. The pad reduces friction, dissipates heat and manages moisture while moderating pressure. While the athlete moves the stretch pad moves with them, optimizing comfort and eliminating hot spots or skin distress. A gender specific female pad is built into the women’s short.
  • Forza Compressor™ fabric enhances fit and muscular support as the athlete fatigues without feeling too tight. The fabric works with shaved legs or body hair and does not need silicone leg grippers to maintain optimal fit. It is a moisture management fabric that dries quickly and manages temperature.

Two of the features that differentiate the De Soto 400 Mile short: (Left) Forza Compressor fabric provides compression, support and optimal fit. (Right) The stretch, non absorbent, 400 Mile Pad provides adaptive fit and is even swim-able.

In addition to those four key features the De Soto 400 Mile bib short uses a special abdominal panel in front above the pad to make breathing easier in the lower stomach. Another benefit of the stretch front panel is that natural breaks are easier to take without removing the bibs. Men can simply pull the front of the short down to use the restroom.

A female specific version of the De Soto 400 Mile Short (but not bib) uses a gender-specific pad optimized for women. That feature, combined with the women’s cut and the Forza Compressor fabric make it a go-to recommendation of female cyclists and triathletes at all levels- from entry level to pro.

The Female Specific De Soto 400 Mile Short uses different seam pattern, cut and most importantly, the female-specific 400 Mile pad.

When I asked Emilio De Soto if he preferred the bib short or regular short his answer was the same as mine: “My preference is the Bib Short simply because I have gotten so used to riding in bibs. There is nothing binding around my waist.” While most other professional shorts rely on the bib for accurate and consistent fit over long distances, the Forza Compressor fabric in both the Bib and the regular shorts means both shorts stay in place well. The advantage of the bib is greater comfort with no waist. This si such a significant feature De Soto recently introduced the first ever bib tri short for race day at shorter distances.

My preference is the Bib Short” – Emilio De Soto.

Another tri specific feature of the De Soto 400 Mile Short is the non absorbent pad. In addition to managing moisture on the bike the short is actually swim-able for ultra distance races. You can wear De Soto 400 Mile shorts under a wetsuit then go through T1 and ride with them, changing to a De Soto tri short or run short for the run. At Ironman distance this is a comfortable strategy.

A key feature of the fabric, seams and overall patterning of the shorts is to keep the pad in place on the cyclist. The bib shorts are even more effective at maintaining pad position.

The combination of features unique to the De Soto 400 mile shorts isn’t accidental. The design, testing and manufacturing of the De Soto 400 Mile Short is done in-house at De Soto’s California manufacturing facility.

“We don’t design them and give them to an athlete who knows a lot about cycling, but nothing about apparel design.  We manage the entire process, from design to testing to adaptation and final production.”

De Soto’s logic in developing the 400 Mile Short is solid: most athletes know what works and doesn’t work- but don’t know why. Most manufacturers can engineer solutions for any problem- if they know what problems to engineer for. De Soto’s in-house, domestic test, development and manufacturing team possess all those resources in one place.

Features unique to the De Soto 400 Mile Short include side pockets for gel packs and wrappers and a back pocket for electronics or nutrition.

With the success of the 400 Mile Short and the reputation De Soto has earned over the previous six years an obvious question is if De Soto ever considered making a De Soto 400 Mile bike saddle to compliment the shorts:

“I have always said that a good saddle is like a good baseball mitt or a pair of hiking boots.  Most people don’t keep a saddle long enough to appreciate the comfort of having it broken in to their body over time.  I have been racing triathlons for 30 years and in that time, I have owned 3 saddles.  My current saddle has been the same saddle I raced on since 1999.”

The Women's 400 Mile Short is a moderate inseam with mid-rise waist and female-specific 400 Mile Pad.

De Soto has a pragmatic philosophy about saddle comfort, one shared by most top professional triathletes and cyclists:

“The truth is that- like nutrition for example, there is an arsenal of things one can do to improve comfort:  Good quality shorts with a pad that stretches with the shorts, like the 400-Mile Pad, the right saddle in the right position, proper pedal stroke, and of course, saddle time are the keys to saddle comfort. It isn’t just the saddle.”

Solid blue and gray are two color options in addition to black. The fabrics are opaque even when wet.

De Soto’s perspective is proven throughout the history of cycling since most top riders tend to arrive at a consensus on saddle design. You don’t commonly see saddles without noses, with cut-outs or other unconventional features at the highest level of the sport. You do see lots of high quality bib shorts. As athletes get better, lose weight and log saddle time they tend to use better shorts and more similar saddles- and have less saddle distress.

Three colors in two styles for men, with the bib style in black being the most popular version. Sizes on De Soto 400 Mile shorts run very "true"- a Medium fits me at 170 lbs and 5'9".

I’ve used the De Soto 400 Mile Bib Short since it was introduced six years ago. Other shorts I’ve used include Assos, Castelli, Bellwether, Pearl Izumi, Descente, Louis Garneau and others. While many of the others have strong features, no one short model merges the features and benefits of the De Soto 400 Mile Short. In preparation for this review of the De Soto 400 Mile Short I tried to find one negative, one compromise, one ‘give-away” that may temper my praise of the shorts. If I had one, it may be that the bib section of the shorts runs long- but even that is moderated as the rider bends over bike to reach the handlebars- pulling I the fabric and improving the fit. Emilio De soto reminded me, “The shorts are designed for the riding posture. The fit is optimized for pedaling on the bike.”

Because of constant evolution and varied tastes, there are almost no “perfect” products in our sport. The De Soto 400 Mile Short is a rare exception to that axiom. De Soto is the de facto choice of triathletes in cycling shorts for seven years, a track record not shared by any other product in our sport. It is also an original in a sport filled with trends, born in the hotbed of triathlon and made here in the USA by the man who conceived it. In this age of fads and outsourcing the De Soto 400 Mile Short not only leads the category in design and manufacturing, it also has soul.

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