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 25 great shorts from £40 to £235
Now that you know what you’re looking for when you purchase a pair of bib shorts, here are 25 bib shorts priced from £40 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.
British designed and made, Lusso's DRS bib shorts are easily on a par with the well known European brands. They're comfortable, look great, and aren't as damaging to your wallet as some. They might even make you faster, with their 'Drag Reducing Fabric'.
The top billing with these shorts is the DRS – Drag Reduction System – or as I like to refer to it, 'golf ball' dimpling in the main material. The Italian Celona fabric also provides an element of compression. It's used for the whole body of the shorts, with just the very lower leg and gripper being different material, along with a much softer and thinner fabric for the back and bibs – very similar to baselayer fabric.
The Primal Dawn Men's Bib Knickers are a real masterclass in how to create a simple, quality product at a very good price. Multiple panels for a great fit, high quality fabric and a highly comfortable pad make for a pair of 3/4-length tights that can be worn for hours.
The Dawns use a material called Traverso, a brushed-back fabric that is composed of 90% polyester and 10% spandex. It's warm, very warm... even in the 3-4°C early morning temperatures I've been riding in. Primal gives a range of use from -7°C to 24°C which is plausible at the bottom end, though you'll be pretty uncomfortable with anything above about 17-18°C.
The fabric has a decent weight to it and offers a close fit without being compressive, just sitting nicely balanced between the two. It is very soft against the skin, especially with that brushed finish on the inside.
The Lusso Carbon Bib Shorts are a UK-made classic: highly comfortable, cool and stylish. The 2018 update is even better – they're hard to go past for the money. A classic just got better.
Back in 2016 we gave the previous model of the Carbon shorts 4.5 stars, saying they were 'an excellent choice of bib shorts for all-day rides, and very good value'. Since then tester Mike Stead has worn the Carbons many, many times. They've become his go-to shorts for rides long or short. Two years on and probably 100 wash cycles later, they still look like new as well – testament to Lusso's selection of material and build quality.
If you've managed to make a borderline-classic, you don't want to be faffing with it too much. The fabric on the straps is the same quality material as in the previous Carbon, and also used in its excellent Dryline baselayer, meaning you look co-ordinated. The black shorts material is still the same too. The major update is the triple-density pad, from Italian brand Elastic Interface, owned by cycling short giant Cytec. The pad is designed for long-distance rides, the perineal cutout removing pressure where you don't want it, the triple-density foam providing it where you do.
dhb has long been known for its value for money clothing and nothing has changed here. Yes, they're £130 – but bear with us: these dhb Aeron Lab Raceline bib shorts are phenomenal and even with that price tag they knock the spots off others that cost much, much more.
They boast amazingly soft fabrics, a very comfortable pad, and great fit though you'll have to be happy to show a bit of skin, and the mesh material isn't the strongest.
Lab is dhb's latest range that focuses purely on speed and performance – but without sacrificing comfort. The fabrics used for the legs are just so impressive. Often when I wear a pair a shorts and I don't notice them then that is a success – no irritating seams or tight leg cuffs for instance – but with the dhbs you notice them constantly purely because they are so comfortable.
Polish brand Podia might not be the best-known marque out there, but its Club bib shorts can hold their own against the very best. They're excellent: one of the best examples of premium bib shorts that we've come across this year.
For true martyrs to saddle discomfort, the combination of Orro's Bibshorts and GreenLime's Unico pad may be the answer to your prayers. With their only shorts offering this small, high-end British bike maker has played a blinder; their fit and comfort is lovely.
The C5 Optiline Bib Shorts+ are part of a new range from Gore (formerly Gore Bike Wear) aimed at enthusiast road cyclists. They provide outstanding comfort, while a panel of Windstopper fabric in the front of the shorts gives a little added, ahem, protection from cold winds.
To ensure good breathability they are made entirely from a lightweight meshy material that is thin and comfortable next to the skin. Flatlock stitching is used throughout, with seams strategically place to prevent irritation.
The fit is excellent, with a perfect shape around the legs and hips. The material sits flat next to the body in all areas and the bib straps are stretchy and comfortable over the shoulders. No complaints. There's absolutely no restriction anywhere, they feel like someone has painted a pair of bib shorts onto your body.
Sportful's Fiandre NoRain Pro Bib Shorts are excellent when you're cycling in cold and damp weather, with superb comfort backed up by impressive fit and durability. They are a good three-season, possibly four-season, choice for UK cyclists. Wear them on their own or pair with knee or leg warmers and you have a versatile and solid bottom half of your winter wardrobe.
The fit of the shorts is perfect. The leg length is longer than usual, providing more coverage and warmth, and the soft lining of the NoRain Thermal material adds a luxurious feeling that definitely makes you feel a bit better prepared when stepping out with the bike in the morning when you might rather be tucked up under the duvet.
These great-value bib shorts, from Evans Cycles's own brand, offer very good comfort levels married to a quality chamois.
As Kalf rightly points out, any bib short is first measured by the quality of its pad. If it 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.
The Castelli Premios are a pair of well made, high quality bib shorts designed for long hours in the saddle.
Castelli is keen to emphasise that these shorts are not for racing, they're for the hard miles you put in before you join the peloton. One of the key elements it mentions is that rather than minimalism, it has added more to make these shorts more suitable for long rides. So, how do they shape up?
They're very comfortable to wear on longer rides. This is thanks to a lack of seams, compression material used not only on the leg but also to give lower back support, and the Progetto X2 seat pad, a well tested pad used in many Castelli shorts.
The Summer Bib Shorts from Italian brand La Passione appear relatively simple at first glance – with a relatively low panel count and a chamois that initially looks like nothing particularly fancy. However, they really surprised me – offering hours of comfort and a great fit. With La P's direct sales policy, they are pretty keenly priced too.
Formerly known as B'Twin 500, these 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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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.