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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Lusso Pro Core Bib Shorts £49.99
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.
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.
With the comfortable Progetto X2 insert, very few seams and widely spaced bib straps, Castelli's Free Race Aero bib shorts are exceptionally good.
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.
Storck Pro Bib Shorts £159.00
Storck's Pro Bib shorts are a comfortable choice for getting in the big miles.