Bib Shorts Buyer’s Guide + eight of the best

The right shorts make a difference here's how to find the best ones for you whatever your budget, from £30 to £230

by David Arthur   May 16, 2014  

dhb TRACE bib Short

road.cc reviews

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 shorts available - baggy, urban and waist shorts - for any rides of that combine distance and speed bib shorts are hard to beat for comfort. Althought they're shorts 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 (and if you’re riding frequently, you’ll want to have a couple of pairs). The pad is where a lot of the money goes, but don’t always assume that the more expensive the short 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 as much as £240 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 though, because when it comes to comfort bib shorts win hands down against all other shorts if you want to ride far and fast.

There’s some important things to know first if you’re in the market for a pair of bib shorts, so here we’re taking a look at the key aspects to consider before spending your hard-earned dosh.

Women's shorts

The main difference with women's shorts is in fit and the insert, it's 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, however the benefit of bib shorts is there is no elastic wasitband digging into your tummy. Most manufacturers offer women-specific shorts and there is plenty of choice available.

Padded insert

Inside the bib shorts is the most important part of the shorts, the pad. The main job of the bib short is to support the foam pad between body and saddle. It’s often called the chamois, on account of early bib shorts using a real leather pad (yes, really - you used to have to treat them with chamois cream to keep them soft) or insert, and 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 a golden rule. In theory, and in practice too most of the time, the more you spend on a pair of shorts, the better the pad, but 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 pads 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 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 deformity 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 designed for endurance riding, and ones that are slimmer better suited for shorter rides or racing.

Pads comes in men's and women’s versions, with shapes to suit the different anatomies. No two pads are the same though, they can vary hugely 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, weights and riding styles 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. Lycra is the dominant fabric choice these days but there’s a huge variety.

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 fleece-lined 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

Bib straps

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 into your shoulders, 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-specific shorts there are a few different solutions, some joining 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.

Grippers

To keep the shorts in place on your legs - you really don’t want them riding up and exposing your tan line - some sort of gripper tape will usually be used. Silicone tape or dots is the most frequent solution, along with elasticated hems, to keep the shorts in place.

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 into the skin either.

Other features

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 pockets at the back of the shorts is designed for use by professionals, but it can double up as phone/MP3 player pocket.

What are your options? Here are eight priced shorts from £30 to £230

Now that you know what you’re looking for when you purchase a pair of bib shorts, here are six bib shorts priced from £40 to £230 to give you an idea of what your money gets you. Each of these products has been reviewed by the road.cc team, so hit the heading link and go through to the full review if you’d like to learn more.

Tenn Outdoors Pro bib shorts  £29.99

Proving bib shorts don't have to cost a fortune, these £30 shorts are surprisingly comfortable and fit well.
Buy these shorts here

dhb Aeron Bib short £39.99

The Aeron bib-shorts from dhb are an entry-level budget option, with several excellent features. These are available for both men and women. Buy these shorts here

Lusso Pro Core Bib Shorts  £49.99

These are comfortable and well-fitting shorts, ideal for long summer rides and also very good or for spring and autumn conditions when teamed up with knee-warmers. Buy these shorts here

Howies Leadout bibshorts  £59.00

The Howies Leadout bibshorts are part of Howies' new 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. Buy these shorts here

 

Sportful Gruppetto Classic bib shorts  £85.00

These £85 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.
Buy these shorts here

 

Castelli Free Aero Race bib shorts  £135.00

With the comfortable Progetto X2 insert, very few seams and widely spaced bib straps, Castelli's Free Race Aero bib shorts are exceptionally good. Buy these shorts here

Rapha Pro Team bib shorts   £170.00

Rapha's Pro Team bib shorts are luxuriously comfortable shorts that happily go the distance, with a great fit and smart appearance. Buy these shorts here

 

Storck Pro Bib Shorts £159.00

Storck's Pro Bib shorts are a comfortable choice for getting in the big miles. Buy these shorts here

40 user comments

Latest 30 commentsNewest firstBest ratedAll

I find the standard Rapha ones excellent too - much better padding than my previous Campag or dhb bibs and priced accordingly but you get what you pay for when it comes to chamois at least...

posted by Yennings [205 posts]
7th June 2013 - 19:00

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Really like both the mondo evo shorts and my Rapha 3/4 cross pair, but my fave of the minute are the Morvelo a bloc set, did 117 miles last weekend with barely a complaint, even with 8500 ft of climbing. Excellent article, David, thanks, I'd definitely hunt out the laser cut wide elastic shorts in the future', so much more comfortable, they're a real advance. For winter, wrong season I know, I'd strongly recommend pad-less bib tights over favourite shorts.

Cannondale CAAD10, Condor Terra-X and an orange Brompton.
Ride for East London Velo

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posted by zzgavin [205 posts]
7th June 2013 - 21:12

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For me after a lot of trial and error, Assos are the only ones that fit properly. They are expensive but considering the discomfort other bibs give, it's a price worth paying for me.

posted by Jakal79 [50 posts]
7th June 2013 - 21:26

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dhb are great value for money and perfect for my regular 50-60 mile rides, but the best fitting bib short and pad I've tried is the Castelli Bodypaint with progetto X2 pad, just a different level altogether. If you're patient and can wait for a good offer to appear then they come down to the 'affordable' level.

posted by Metjas [274 posts]
7th June 2013 - 22:23

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Agree with the Castelli Velocissimo, keep an eye on Wiggle etc as they often reduce to £60ish rather than usual £90 mark. I am not a skinny bloke and still find them a great fit.

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posted by eden park roller [10 posts]
7th June 2013 - 23:03

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Castelli shorts are perfect for 'lanky skinny gits'.
The Free Aero or Body paint are proper pro level fit.
I'm a small or an XS in any short I've ever bought, but have to use a medium in Castelli shorts.
IMO there is no better insert than the ones in these shorts, I actually prefer the fit of the free aero to the more expensive Body paint.

posted by matthew2689 [2 posts]
8th June 2013 - 10:40

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Skins ones for me, the compression is super and the pad works well. I actually have more difficulty finding a vest / base layer to fit under them that doesn't replicate the digging in of shorts around my waist.

posted by Whirlio [13 posts]
8th June 2013 - 11:47

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Black, black, black, black with white stitching, black, black, black....

Why can't they take some inspiration from the MTB world and make something a little more interesting?

posted by Ham-planet [82 posts]
9th June 2013 - 8:48

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Second for the Howies here, done a couple of centuries in them, one very wet, and they've been very comfy under my heavy arse.

posted by Scowel [26 posts]
18th June 2013 - 22:28

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I always used Assos bibs until a while back. Was a bit short on funds so picked up a Primal Evo Corsa bib. If anything I prefer the Evo Corsa and have so far got 3 years out of this one.

posted by MPMax [9 posts]
7th July 2013 - 23:00

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+1 for Evo Corsa.

posted by OlaviHjertstrom [1 posts]
21st July 2013 - 13:56

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I wear my shirt on top of the shorts - seems to avoid the funny looks Smile Maybe Smile

You want something high backed as in the picture under "Fabric and Fit" above. I have some old "Gore" ones which are low front and back and keep falling off the shoulders when I get off the bike.

posted by m0rjc [35 posts]
3rd August 2013 - 21:54

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Do Wiggle actually ever have the 'sale' items in stock or in a remotely useful size ?

Je vie dans l'espoir constant

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posted by Strathlubnaig [113 posts]
3rd August 2013 - 22:29

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Zipvit bibs for me. Comfiest bargain bibs I've found, and they make a change from black, black, black.

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posted by PJ McNally [580 posts]
3rd August 2013 - 23:29

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Hi all,

+1 on Primal Evo corsa I was given a code by a guy at bike show to try them out, I wont wear anything else now.

not sure if it still works but it is EVO25 and the site is primaleurope.com

posted by james100 [2 posts]
5th September 2013 - 13:32

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I saw these recently - reckon they are old stock but great shorts - http://www.superactive.co.uk/panache-eleven-bibshorts/

posted by SimpleSimon [109 posts]
16th May 2014 - 12:39

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Looking at the comments for "lanky" cyclists made me smile. It's always the other way around for me. I want cycling clothes that fit the more robust cyclist.

Yes, I'm a little heavier than I should be but I'm never going to be really thin; my body just doesn't work that way.

So I'm always battling the need to fit the width, both upper body and quads, against the extra length that I don't need. Especially in the upper body where it can either be too loose or there can just be too much fabric higher up on the back.

So far dhb, Altura (not the latest versions) and Sportful (although the full bibs are a little long in the leg) are ok but other makes not so good.

Any other suggestions? Other than starve myself thin... Smile

posted by akmbikes [4 posts]
16th May 2014 - 13:04

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+1 for the Santini Slice, though looks like Prendas may have discontinued them.
Great feel, got me through the full length Paris-Roubaix sportive without any problem.
I'm certainly not "tall & lanky": 180cm / 83kg

posted by gavben [24 posts]
16th May 2014 - 13:08

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The bodyFit pad in the Gruppetto and BodyFit shorts from Sportful is by far the most comfortable I've tried, though I'd probably go for the 'limited' version of the shorts 'cos the bibstraps on those are so comfy. I'm a skinny/lanky climber shape and find those are good for me.

posted by sethpistol [29 posts]
16th May 2014 - 14:02

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Glad you have grippers highlighted - for me, this is make or break, that solid rubber line (sometimes with a big vertical seam too) on cheaper to mid-level shorts gets hideously uncomfortable for really long rides, especially if hot. I'd second the santini recommendations, I tend to ask myself 'Assos or Prendas?' for most things and the latter normally wins on price vs performance.

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posted by G-bitch [302 posts]
16th May 2014 - 14:03

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Thanks for this good review. I've just Wiggled a pair of DHBs.

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posted by Username [47 posts]
16th May 2014 - 14:22

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Ham-planet wrote:
Black, black, black, black with white stitching, black, black, black....

Why can't they take some inspiration from the MTB world and make something a little more interesting?

Because Rule#14 is clear on this subject: "Shorts should be black."

http://www.velominati.com/the-rules/

Rule 15 provides some elaboration:

Black shorts, or at least standard team-kit shorts, must be worn with Championship jerseys and race leadership jerseys. Don’t over-match your kit, or accept that you will look like a douche.

posted by mpdouglas [7 posts]
16th May 2014 - 15:00

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mpdouglas wrote:
Ham-planet wrote:
Black, black, black, black with white stitching, black, black, black....

Why can't they take some inspiration from the MTB world and make something a little more interesting?

Because Rule#14 is clear on this subject: "Shorts should be black."

http://www.velominati.com/the-rules/

Rule 15 provides some elaboration:

Black shorts, or at least standard team-kit shorts, must be worn with Championship jerseys and race leadership jerseys. Don’t over-match your kit, or accept that you will look like a douche.

Or:
http://www.vulpine.cc/Blog/humour/rules-of-the-vulpinati

posted by farrell [1305 posts]
16th May 2014 - 15:13

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Yeah, I got that in the email post the other day. What a tedious waste of time. They obviously don't get that 'The Rules' are an in-joke. There are ways of parodying them and then there's that.

Anyway I think the Rapha pro-shorts are £190 at the moment....sadly.

At a risk of sending this board into over drive, why no mention about what to wear under your bib shorts...... Thinking

posted by Colin Peyresourde [1086 posts]
16th May 2014 - 18:53

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dhb all year round for me the whole range is fantastic. love my roubaix ones Love Struck

'Don't look back. Something might be gaining on you'

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posted by livestrongnick [1706 posts]
16th May 2014 - 20:34

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ZipVit gets my vote here too.

Tried loads but the ZV's are the best I've had, the pad is some kind of honeycomb with lots of depth. I did the Jurassic Beast epic last week and was comfy all the way round.

In terms of value they're great, I've paid more for vastly inferior stuff elsewhere.

2013 Focus Cayo Evo --- 2013 Boardman CX Team (hit by car, RIP) Sad

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posted by IngloriousLou [3 posts]
16th May 2014 - 21:54

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I tried bib shorts years ago and hated them. The pair I bought did not fit closely around the waist, so when leaning forward my unmentionables were just swinging around unsupported. A couple of weeks ago I was persuaded to try Altura ProGel and I'm completely won over.
They fit around the waist just like normal shorts, the pad is incredibly comfortable and isn't bulky, the straps don't chafe and the leg grippers work as they should. For those who want a dash of colour, they are also available with either red or white seams. I'm 5'7 and a slim 10 stones and the medium is perfect for me. Wiggle are knocking them out for £44.99 (If you're a small you can get last years version for just £25.00)
http://www.wiggle.co.uk/altura-progel-bib-shorts-2014/

posted by average_joe [5 posts]
17th May 2014 - 10:41

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Bib shorts all the way! I own many pairs as I do a lot of year round riding. And they vary from relatively cheap to expensive. I tend to use my best ones for longer distances and the cheaper ones for commutes, short trips and racing.
I had some Danny Shane bib shorts which I bought a couple of years ago in the States - they were favourite shorts - very light material, superb pad and straps. I was gutted when I lost them whilst travelling. But hooray - they are in the UK now www.dannyshane.co.uk
But more to the point - I'm a firm believer in comfy bibs & comfy saddle. Just say No to anorexic saddles!!

posted by HTTP404 [9 posts]
23rd May 2014 - 9:54

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Dhb all the way for optimum price versus performance. Lovely pads.....

cheers m'dears

2011 Rose Pro-SL 3000 Road
2006 Lemond Alpe d'Huez Broken
1997 Marin Sausaulito Urban bimbling/shopper
1980 Orbea project

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posted by daviddb [120 posts]
23rd May 2014 - 12:16

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With nigh on £100 at stake here and lots of 'try before you buy' warnings, how does one approach this? Should you expect a LBS to let you try on pair after pair, nipping outside to have a spin around the block? Do you promise to leave your undies on? This is the unspoken sort of thing people new to cycling never get to hear.

Any LBS staffers care to comment? Anyone done the full-on comparison ride test? Or do you buy 5 pairs from Wiggle and return 4?

I was told there would be Cake. Luckily there's http://TestValleyCC.org.uk

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posted by KiwiMike [437 posts]
25th June 2014 - 22:56

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