Once in a while, a technology comes along so polarizing that some condemn it as outrageously useless while others just can’t live without it.
That’s what we’ve got with Huub’s £398.99 heated pants (opens in a new tab).
The idea of these is that they keep your legs warm between your warm up (opens in a new tab) and your race. The idea is simple: why put all that effort into lugging around your trainer? (opens in a new tab) or ride with you to warm up if you’re still going to be cold before running?
Science in heated pants
The first question everyone rightly asks is: what difference will heated pants make?
Muscle temperature plays a central role in the amount of power we are able to produce while cycling. Some people feel this more acutely than others. Personally, I find it can take me at least a quarter of an hour to get into a run, but I know people who warm up both considerably faster and slower than that.
Depending on the event, the time difference between your warm-up and the start of your race can vary considerably. Even at the highest level, this time gap can be significant. Commonwealth Games cyclist Emily Bridson told me she had a 20-minute gap between her warm-up and the start of the race in the cross-country mountain bike event and is actively trying to avoid to feel cold after warming up.
A time difference of 20 minutes is large enough for a drop in muscle temperature and therefore a drop in performance.
This effect has been known for several years. I asked Jacob Tipper, who does R&D at Huub, is also a cycling coach and WattShop (opens in a new tab)analyst, what difference these pants actually make. He pointed me to a study by Steve Faulkner et al from 2013 (opens in a new tab) which shows that heated pants improve peak and relative power by 9-10%, increase blood lactate (which is good for sprinting), and keep muscle temperature higher. Since that study, there have been a handful of others who have looked into various heating methods and tried to optimize the process.
Other “governing bodies that cannot be named” also conducted internal testing, according to Tipper. They are used at the highest level because they work. Increases in peak power are also significant: between 9 and 10% is not a marginal gain.
There is less work on how useful these pants will be in a longer time trial, with all the work I could find on peak power and sprint sessions. That said, in endurance events like track racing, cyclo-cross, mountain biking, and even some road races, there are often quite a few sprints at the start.
Test the heated pants
Putting on the pants, I expected to feel like I got wet. It was not my experience at all. There are a number of temperature options available so I went all out. It wasn’t uncomfortably hot, and in the midst of the current cost of living crisis, it might be a cheaper way to warm your legs at home (although it probably won’t work if you include the cost of the pants in the first place… ).
As someone who struggles to warm up and stay warm, I thought these pants would come in very handy. I tested them with a simple warm-up, waited 30 minutes, then maxed out 90 seconds uphill with and without pants. There was some difference in the power figures, with effort including pants being about 5% better – but this was a wildly unscientific test.
The sensation in the legs for the effort with the pants was what surprised me the most, there was a marked reduction in this initial feeling of being shocked in an intense effort. I felt on top of the effort throughout. Often I find the first part of an effort of this nature very difficult, but the pants reduce that.
What do Huub heated pants look like?
They are in no way an unpleasant garment to wear when switched off or on. These are comfortable, beautiful and high quality sweatpants. Huub makes some great kits and has long been a major player in the triathlon wetsuit industry where build quality is paramount (there’s nothing more annoying than your wetsuit ripping 10 minutes before your race starts ). It’s nice to see that this attention to quality has extended to their cycling kit as well.
Washing the pants is easy. You just need to remove the battery and put it in the machine. If you break any aspect of the pants, replacement parts are available for purchase from Huub.
I fall somewhere between a small and a medium and ordered a size small from Huub. The pants fit pretty well so if you’re between sizes I wouldn’t be afraid to order a size down. The set comes in the form of two boxes, the garment itself and an associated battery. The pack is recharged with a USB cable and plugged into the pants via the pocket.
So, are they worth it?
Well, as always with a product like this, it’s not for everyone. You won’t be interested in dropping four hundred pounds on a pair of pants unless you take cycling very seriously. If you don’t bother with a warm up, this isn’t for you – obviously.
Where I would say most of their value lies (away from the track – if you ride the track, buy them) is cyclo-cross and mountain bike racing. This is because there is a hard sprint from the start for the first corner or the narrow section and the first laps are always very hard.
In road races and some crits you have a little longer to get into the race – but some are full of gas from the start. If you want, or need to be, gun ready, these pants are for you. They will make a measurable difference in your peak power.
It’s not cheap though, priced at £398.99 it costs around £42 per percentage point gain on your peak power (on average). It could be the difference between making it to the first corner first or getting caught up in trouble.
These pants obviously work great, real science proves it. Whether or not you should pay the best part of £400 for them is really up to you. If you want a 9-10% improvement in your peak power, this might be enough for you. If you’re happy running like you are, don’t.
One thing I would do is applaud Huub for making such a product. It is clear that it was never going to be for everyone, but a brand that is ready to invest in the development of a product like this is a brand that contributes, in a very concrete way, to the development of cycling in his outfit. It’s no surprise that so many recent records have been set by riders in suits bearing the Huub logo and I expect that to continue.