With shoulder straps to hold them in place and a pad to prevent chafing, bib shorts made from a Lycra-blend fabric are very comfortable for long rides.
In general, more expensive shorts are better, in that they're more comfortable for longer, but there are some bargain exceptions.
Winter variants are made from thicker, warmer fabrics, often with water-repellency built in.
Bib shorts for women are cut for a woman's shape and often have straps designed to make toilet breaks easier.
Good bib shorts start at about £25.
When it comes to performance cycling, whether it’s long rides on Sunday mornings or road racing, and sportives, bib shorts are where it’s at for outright comfort. The pad provides comfort so you can sit in the saddle for hours at a time, the straps avoid a waist band digging into your stomach, and there’s no excess fabric to flap about.
While there are other styles of shorts available — baggy, urban and waist shorts — for any rides of that combine distance and speed bib shorts are hard to beat for comfort. You can wear them year-round, under tights in the winter, on their own in the summer. And no, you don’t wear underwear under them, if you’re wondering. They’re designed to sit next to the skin.
Bib shorts are the cornerstone of a cyclist's wardrobe, and it’s worth investing in a good pair. If you’re riding frequently, you’ll want to have a couple or three good pairs.
The pad is where a lot of the money goes, but don’t always assume that the more expensive the shorts the better the pad. Posher fabrics and more panels can contribute to higher costs as well.
Fortunately these days you can get really good bib shorts from about £40 which are good if you’re just starting out in cycling. You can spend over £300 if you’re feeling particularly flush, but you do begin to get diminishing returns in extra comfort.
They sure look odd though, and to non-cyclists they will definitely raise an eyebrow. Ignore them. When it comes to comfort bib shorts win hands down against all other shorts if you want to ride far and fast.
Let's take a look at the things you need to know if you’re in the market for a pair of bib shorts.
The main difference with women's shorts is in fit and the insert, which is usually a different size and shape, typically narrower and shorter. While the bib straps on men's shorts go straight up the torso, some manufacturers take different approaches with bib straps on women's shorts, either pushing them out to the sides or having a single central strap.
Some have bib straps that can be easily unclipped which can make toilet stops easier. If you don't like the idea of bib shorts then there are lots of regular Lycra shorts available. The benefit of bib shorts is there is no elastic waistband digging into your tummy, but many manufacturers have solved that problem with wide, carefully shaped waistbands that spread the pressure. Most manufacturers offer women-specific shorts and there is plenty of choice available.
Inside the bib shorts is the most important part, the pad. The main job of bib shorts is to support the foam pad between body and saddle. It’s often called an insert or chamois, on account of early bib shorts using a real leather pad made from chamois goat skin. Yes, really: you used to have to treat them with chamois cream to keep them soft). These days they are mostly made from synthetic materials.
When buying your first pair of bib shorts, remember that most of the money goes into the pad, though this isn’t an absolute rule. In theory the more you spend on a pair of shorts, the better the pad. This isn’t always the case, so it pays to do your homework carefully. The road.cc bib shorts review archive is a good place to start.
The pad is shaped to conform to the body, and provide padding where you make contact with the saddle. The most important areas are where the sit bones make contact with the saddle. Cheaper shorts might have a single thickness pad, while the more expensive pads use variable levels of foam thickness and density to keep the pad thinner where you don’t need much cushioning, and more padding where you do need it. Such pads are generally more comfortably as a result.
Look for a pad with antibacterial finish for hygiene, to things from getting messy down there. Some pads have channels or perforations to wick away sweat; there’s nothing more uncomfortable than a soggy pad. The pad should feel reasonably soft and have some flex to it, so it shapes to your body. It needs to sit flush with your curves so in a way it’s part of you. You don’t want to sit on top of the pad. The better pads we’ve tested tend to feel like they’re not there at all.
Manufacturers are now aiming shorts at different riding types, so it’s possible to choose a pad that has more padding for endurance riding, and other, slimmer pads that are better suited for shorter rides or racing.
Pads come in men's and women’s versions, with shapes to suit the different anatomies. No two pads are the same. They can vary in thickness, shape and other factors, so the best thing is to try them on before you buy. Just like saddles, what works for one person won’t necessarily work for another. We’re all different shapes, and your weight and riding style can influence the type of pad that will work for you.
Fabric and fit
Moving away from the pad, the fabric and fit are really important to your comfort. The fit is influenced by the number of panels used to make the shorts. There more panels there are, the more complex the shorts are to make, and so they cost more.
The most common fabric for bib shorts is some sort of stretchy synthetic mix, usually a blend of Nylon and Lycra, ad variously described as spandex or Elastane. There’s a huge variety of thickness and weights of fabric, though.
Manufacturers are now combining different fabrics at the top-end to achieve a good fit and a level of compression. Some shorts are designed to work better in hot weather with more breathable materials, and some are better suited to the winter with a thicker fleecy-backed Roubaix fabric. It’s even possible to get shorts made from water resistant fabrics, ideal for the British climate.
Sizing is crucial and varies from brand to brand, so we’d really recommend trying them on before you drop your cash if at all possible. As a rule of thumb, all cycling clothing from Italian companies will come up small for its nominal size. American and UK brands tend to be more generous.
The shorts are held in place with twin straps that stretch over your shoulders. They need to be stretchy and wide so they don’t dig in, and also so you can manage toilet stops without having to bend over backwards.
Men’s shorts typically have widely spaced straps, but for women's shorts there are a few different solutions. Some manufacturers join the straps in the middle of the chest, with a buckle to allow easy removal for toilet breaks.
Often the rear of the bib section will be a large panel of mesh material to aid cooling.
You really don’t want shorts riding up and exposing your tan line so they usually have some sort of gripper to keep them in place on your legs. Silicone tape or dots are the most frequent solutions, along with elasticated hems.
Some manufacturers are moving away from this approach to broad highly elasticated hems that rely on compression to keep the legs in place. They’re typically more comfortable with less skin irritation, and they don’t dig in either.
Another detail to look out for is the use of reflective material on the back or legs. It’s possible to get shorts designed for night time riding with large areas of reflective material. A race radio pocket at the back of the shorts is designed for use by professionals, but it can double up as phone/MP3 player pocket.
The one-piece alternative
For years pro and elite cyclists have worn one-piece Lycra skinsuits for time trials and some important races. They're aerodynamically efficient and very comfortable, but look even sillier than regular bib shorts and lack conveniences such as pockets. A few years ago, Castelli introduced its Speedsuit concept, combining shorts and jersey into one garment that still looked like you were wearing separates. The idea was better aerodynamics, but Speedsuits have turned out to be very comfortable.
What are your options? Here are 22 great shorts from £25 to £235
Now that you know what you’re looking for when you purchase a pair of bib shorts, here are six bib shorts priced from £20 to £235 to give you an idea of what your money gets you. Each of these products has been reviewed by the road.cc team, so follow the link and go through to the full review if you’d like to learn more.
We've deliberately spread our selections across the price range here. If you want more options in cheaper shorts take a look at our guide to the best cheap cycling shorts.
B'Twin's 500 Bib Shorts are designed for regular riding and continue the French giant's reputation for dependable kit at favourable prices. The 500 bibs are what we'd class as staples for everyday training and rides up to around the 50-mile mark. Much past 65 miles and we've found the otherwise compatible pad a little wanting; especially when riding more upright bikes.
A penny shy of £25 buys you lightweight though reassuringly rugged six-panel polyamide/elastane mix shorts, while the mesh bibs are 100% polyester. Tactile elastic and silicone leg grippers do their job impeccably – better than some big brands' mid-range offerings – with no hint of discomfort or unsightly branding.
Seriously impressive performance for the price — shorts that'll serve you well on all but the longest rides.
The Caratti Sport Bib Shorts are the budget offering from the UK company, but perform far better than their price tag might suggest. They manage to combine an effective pad, really good fit throughout and an excellent cut.
When you first step into the bib shorts, the first thing you notice is that the cut and quality of the Cooldry fabric material used is unexpected on such a relatively inexpensive pair of shorts. The fit is good, with no excess material or tightness anywhere around the legs or straps. Caratti have used a material that allows for four way stretch, which genuinely provides a really forgiving fit. They have minimal branding with the name written in white up the leg. Combined with the cut, this makes them look like they are far more expensive than they are.
B'Twin continually manages to impress us and these Aerofit Cycling Bib Shorts are no different. Ridden in the pro ranks by FDJ, these bibs offer a great fit, superb comfort, and just all-round excellence, all for a penny under 55 pounds. Astounding.
One of the main reasons they instantly feel so good is the make up of the legs. The bottoms of the legs use a thicker material than the rest of the shorts, and has its threads running around the circumference to create a kind of band. Add a silicone gripper to the mix and this stops them moving.
They're supposed to be sixty quid, but you can currently (late March 2017) pick up these excellent women's bibs up for just £33, which is a staggering bargain.
It's pretty safe to say that at this price range, usually reserved for mid-range waist shorts, many women's bib shorts are basic at best. Not so the Peloton Progels. These are easily the best value for money women's bib shorts we've ever tried.
It's the fit and comfort where they really come into their own, with the gripper tape at the thighs producing minimal bunching and 'sausage leg', and the broad, well-shaped mesh straps sitting comfortably around the outside of the bust, making them suitable for even bustier women.
The Howies bibs shorts are part of Howies' technical cycling range; gear for riding, rather than just looking cool. And they're really pretty good — comfortable, impressively hard-wearing and sensibly priced. A women's version is available too.
Howies eschew big logos and bright colours for a sober black look. All-black is a fairly standard colour for bibs, however, so it's not that radical here.
These bib shorts are made with a 'seamless circular knit technology' though there are still seams here. Not nearly as many as most bibs, it is true, but seams nevertheless. Those seams are flatlocked, so at least they're pretty unobtrusive. The fabric is matt rather than shiny, which I think looks good here. The pad is a Professional CNB 90 from TMF in Italy, the same supplier used by Adidas and Chapeau in their bibs. It's a good'un.
The dhb Aeron bib shorts are an evolution of Wiggle's house brand's Aeron Pro shorts and boy are they good. It kind of makes you wonder why you need to pay more really.
It's the MITI Granfondo fabric that makes the Aeron's a winner which according to Wiggle is a mixture of Mititech Power and Interpower fabrics. The Power gives you a compressive style material with the Interpower providing the breathability and wicking capabilities.
Whatever the fabrics are up to, the moment you put these shorts on they feel like a second skin. They're supportive for the muscles and smooth against your legs moving without crease or bunching. They're ideal for those long rides when the tiniest little irritation can become a real issue.
The Lusso 2-Zero Thermal Bibs are warm, comfortable shorts that pair perfectly with Lusso's Max Repel Leg Warmers. Just be aware the shorts come up a little smaller than usual Lusso fare.
Being made in Britain, they've not been clobbered by the pound's post-EU-referendum plummet; they were £70 back in 2015 when we reviewed an earlier version and they're still that RRP – often available for closer to £60. Made from quality Italian Roubaix fabric, they represent excellent value.
The finishing is excellent, with flatlocked stitching where it counts and breathable back/shoulder material. This is important as Lusso positions the 2-Zero as suited for 'Racing or Training with Leg Warmers' – these are shorts for going hard and fast in.
Sportful's Classic bib shorts are made from the same fabrics and cut to the same shape as the kit the Saxo Bank team wear, which means you're getting proper race fit clothing, but without the garish logos, and at a decent price.
Without doubt the most important part of the shorts is the bit you can't see, the padded insert. Sportful produce a range of their own inserts, picking the third-tier BodyFitPro pad for these shorts. Sportful describe it as their most comfortable long distance pad, and we would agree with that. It is perfectly shaped and has variable thickness padding so there is more cushioning where you need it more, and less where you don't need it.
They're made from the same Aeroflow Compress and Lycra Power material that Sportful use in their more expensive Bodyfit Pro shorts. That makes these shorts very good value. It's an excellent fabric with just the right degree of stretch, they claim compression benefits but in reality that means they're just a snug well-fitted pair of shorts.
The dhb Aeron Speed shorts are very good value for money with no compromises, and come highly recommended if you want a long-lasting, tech-packed pair of bib shorts for training and racing in the warmer months.
dhb says the Aeron Speed is its most technical bib short to date, with 'over ten years of experience and development' going into the finished product. They're at the top end of its apparel range, and for a brand more associated with budget clothing its technical performance wear really holds its own with pricier products.
The dhb Aeron Rain Defence Bib Shorts are an excellent pair of bibs for chilly days. The Rain Defence just adds to a well fitting and comfortable pair of shorts, repelling all but the heaviest and most prolonged rain. Lycra is near to useless in cold rain so I was pleasantly surprised to find that my legs didn't freeze to useless lumps when the rain came down.
The shorts are also very well proportioned, with comfy bibs, and the pad is also excellent. While riding I experienced no bunching of material and the dense pad stayed just where it should.
RRP is normally £80, but they're on special at £60 until April 6, so grab a pair now for chilly mornings and and next winter.
Some bib shorts just feel right from the moment you pull them on – and that's the feeling I got with the Endura M90 Graphics bib shorts I've been testing since spring, writes tester Neil Gander. Luckily, that feeling stayed with me right through the test.
I can't really see much that's revolutionary about these bibs to account for the ride quality; I think Endura has simply done all the basic things well and the outcome is a fit and all-day wearability that I wasn't convinced was really out there.
Once again Manchester-based Lusso hits a home run in value, understated style and long-distance performance with the Carbon Bib Shorts. I like to think of Lusso as the Volvo estate of cycling apparel.
Lusso doesn't even describe what the Carbon bib shorts are for beyond 'usage: long distance'. That's it. No hyperbole, no marketing waffle. Not even an explanation of what the 'Carbon' does.
The pad feels thick initially, but unlike some others I never felt it pinch or bunch. As the pad-arse interface is such an individual issue, all I can say is that over a 300km ride on a not-broken-in Brooks saddle, I was perfectly comfy. On fast training runs aboard the carbon racer and modern saddle they were perfectly good as well.
All in all I cannot think of a reason – technically, sartorially or value-wise – not to make these your next pair of bibs. In fact, if you slapped a boutique brand logo on it and added a 1 to the front of the price tag, I reckon they'd still sell well.
Santini's Mago bib shorts just might be the most comfortable bibs I've ever worn, writes tester Mike Stead, and the minimalist styling should pair with any top. With 10 – yes, 10 – sizes to choose from, you can dial the fit too.
With an RRP of £105 the Mago is towards the higher end of the market, but not overly so, and they're frequently for sale online for £80-90. They're very good value should your fit work out. This was a large on test – measurements say I'm on the borderline of XL for height and medium for girth, the Mago coming up snug but with no bunching or tightness around the shoulders. The fit for me was definitely close, bordering on compressive, although Santini doesn't claim them to be compressive, with the various sport science voodoo that entails.
These great-value Kalf Flux Chevron bib shorts, from the new brand available exclusively through Evans Cycles, offer very good comfort levels married to a quality chamois. That's vital. If the pad can't stand up to the punishment of long rides and damp out harshness from the road and saddle, the rest of the garment is relatively superfluous.
Happily, the Elastic Interface Flux chamois is well up to the task. It's a decent size, and the covering fabric is dual density, which Kalf claims helps collect and expel moisture. Kalf must have faith in the fabric, because there aren't any ventilation holes, and it's well-placed it would seem: I had no sense that I overheated or sweated more in this key area than I otherwise would.
Rapha's Core bib shorts are an impressive mix of know-how from premium ranges, giving good quality, comfort and a great fit.
The Core range from Rapha is aimed at simplicity: no frills, just good performance and elegant design. The men's bibs achieve those aims convincingly.
The most vital part of any bib shorts is the chamois. Rapha has used the same pad you find in its Classic range of bib shorts, and it's a well-regarded design. It's not as comfortable as the Cytech pad seen in Rapha's Pro Team and Pro Team Lightweight bib shorts, but it's certainly adequate for most rides.
Finding a comfortable pair of shorts is vital for any woman (or man) looking to ride regularly and spend long days in the saddle. The Assos T.laalalaishorts_s7 fit the bill perfectly, offering top quality and exceptional all-day comfort. If you suffer from a sore derrière or excessive chafing after hours in the saddle, these are well worth considering – they're the most comfortable shorts I've ever worn.
One of the first things you notice about these bib shorts is the unusual magnetic fastening on the bib. This makes the bib straps sit much closer together than on the majority of shorts, and I found that when riding I barely noticed them.
The Bontrager Ballista bib shorts are expensive but they're an example of the old adage, you get what you pay for. With a comfortable pad and a performance orientated fit they are a top choice for the racer or rider who likes to put the power down.
The inForm synthetic chamois is a good 'un. It's narrow in section and has the padding positioned exactly where you need it. Increasing layers at the sit bones towards the rear of the chamois offer comfort when you're in a more upright position without causing any bunching once you slip into the drops.
They don't feel as fragile as a lot of top end shorts, either. The material is strong and you can really yank them on without tugging a seam or anything, so they should last well, too.
Overall, the Bontrager Ballista bibs are designed with the top level racer in mind and it's that quality of cut, fit, material and comfort that comes through when wearing them. You don't need to be a sponsored pro to wear them, but you'll get the same benefits.
These top-end Santini Photon 2 Bib Shorts are exceptionally comfortable, with a C3 padded insert that is ideal for longer rides, and a great fit and fabric construction.They make use of high-quality fabrics and the latest thinking in terms of panel shaping and construction
Santini says that the measure of a good chamois is you don't notice it when cycling, and with the C3 padded insert in these shorts, that is certainly the case. For me, it's right up there with the very best padded bib shorts from the likes of Assos and Castelli.
The padded insert achieves this impressive comfort thanks to gel inserts located under the sit bones, along with two layers of overlapping perforated multi-density foam, which provides a slimline pad yet with the comfort you need for rides in excess of four or five hours. It's impressive that the padded insert provides such generous comfort without excessive volume; you notice the lack of bulk immediately you get on the bike.
With the comfortable Progetto X2 insert, very few seams and widely spaced bib straps, Castelli's Free Race Aero bib shorts are exceptionally good.
Castelli combine three fabrics in the construction of these shorts. The side panels are made from Energia Micro which has a high stretch factor, the front panel is Breathe Micro to prevent overheating, and the area in contact with the saddle is made from tougher Action Micro fabric.
The three fabrics are combined in a very well shaped and cut short, with very few seams, and in particular none in the inner thigh area. This contributes to a great on-the-bike comfort that is up there with the best bib shorts in this price range.
Rapha has redesigned its popular Classic bib shorts and improved every aspect – no mean feat given that the original shorts were next to perfect and have gone many years unchanged. Updating such a classic was a risky decision, but critically Rapha hasn't messed around with the magic formula too much but instead has made small changes in key areas. It's less a radical redesign and more a refinement. The biggest change is found in the chamois/padded insert, which is the most important component of the bib shorts for obvious reason.
The Mondiale bib shorts are Castelli's top of the line design, promising to be the most comfortable and luxurious bib shorts it's ever made. In a departure from how these things generally work, you won't see any of the pros wearing them because you can't sublimate graphics into the new fabric. They're missing out – these are the best bib shorts I've used. Comfort from Castelli's excellent Progetto X2 Air pad is a given, but the fabric used is unlike any that Castelli has used before, combining comfort, support and a seriously classy feel.
The major news in terms of the construction of the Mondiale bibs is the use of a brand new fabric called Cinquanta. It's 50% Lycra, a higher percentage than seen on most shorts, with the balance being polyamide. It's pretty classy looking and feels super primo too.
The Ashmei Men's Cycle Bib Shorts are very well thought-out and superbly executed, but there's no getting away from the high price.
The Ashmei clothes that we've seen and reviewed on road.cc are about as far from 'me too' products as it's possible to be. The brand seems to examine every detail. Hence, these shorts are made from a densely woven polyamide/elastane fabric that feels quite different from that of any other shorts we've used.
[This article was last updated on August 11, 2017]
David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.