Altura's Women's Firestorm Bib Shorts won't compress your legs or make you feel like you're prepped to line up for a gruelling race in the midday sun, but they are extremely comfortable and perform perfectly well in warm weather. On top of that, they're good value and can't be knocked for quality.
Just like Altura's Firestorm Waist shorts, the bib version gives very little compression around the legs and hips. The material is soft against the skin and moves freely whether you are shifting about in the saddle or out of it for a climb. Multiple panels make for a snug but in no way constrictive fit. Flatlock seams finish it all off nicely. It's all good quality construction for the price tag.
The legs are held firmly in place with wide, elasticated bands that reach about two-thirds of the way round, with doubled-over, thick Lycra on the underside of the leg to complete the hem. There is no silicone element whatsoever, which I didn't miss in the slightest. They really are 'gentle' on the legs – no post-ride indentations whatsoever. The reflective detailing here is effective too, and hopefully won't deteriorate with time – some 'stick-on' detailing can start to peel off over time.
The bib element reflects what was used on Altura's Classic Thermal Bib Tights: a full-frontal mesh panel with a rear bra-style clasp. The mesh provides some support, though it certainly doesn't replace a sports bra. It is a decent alternative to an undervest, making the shorts perfect for warm weather riding – a sports bra and the mesh panel are all the layers you need under your jersey.
While undoing a rear clasp is fine, I struggle to fasten them, and had issues with the winter tights as the clasp really needed to be opened and closed to get the tights on and off. Happily, this is not the case with the shorts – I've hardly undone it over the last few weeks.
You could ride with it undone, but then you lose some of the support/tension that the mesh panel provides. The whole setup is much more convenient and comfortable than I was expecting. I imagine it does away with the whole 'where should the straps sit' dilemma if you aren't so flat chested.
The material feels more substantial than many shorts, but I was surprised at just how cool I could remain in the recent warm weather. There are better choices out there if you are looking to do some intense riding in warmer temperatures, but the Firestorms aren't performing badly here.
Altura's Stealth pad is a flexible chamois that offers decent freedom of movement on or off the bike. I don't feel like it matches up to the support and quality of some, such as Santini's C3W in the Legend Bibs (full review to come), but it is certainly up to rides of three hours on the road. It's sufficiently breathable too – I had no real issues with moisture build-up inside the shorts.
Alternative bib setups and shorts designed with less focus on a race performance are becoming more common, and at £79.99 the Firestorms seem reasonable value. Despite what the name might suggest, I'd say that Liv's Race Day shorts are comparable, costing exactly the same as the Firestorms. You can buy cheaper bib shorts – Decathlon's Van Rysels are now £34.99 – but for what you're getting I think the Firestorms are priced well. If you happen to work for the NHS, you can currently get a 30% discount when buying from Altura, in which case they are a bargain.
If you're looking for a comfortable pair of shorts with an alternative bib design to two straps resting over your boobs, you don't want your legs squeezed into skin-tight shorts that leave their mark after a ride, and you want a pad that doesn't feel like a nappy and will be sufficient for two or three hours of riding, all for a reasonable price, these Firestorms are well worth a look.
Good quality shorts with a comfortable pad and an appealing alternative bib design
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Altura Women's Firestorm Bib Shorts
Size tested: 10
Tell us what the product is for
Altura says: 'Tailored for all-day, reassuring comfort it includes the womens stealth pad for improved performance. Engineered with a three-dimensional cutting process, the womens stealth pad strikes optimal balance between foam thickness, freedom of movement and reassuring comfort.'
'Breathability comes from the mesh upper body material that ensures you won't overheat, while flatlock seams ensure a robust comfort that is sure to last.
'For a supreme fit, elasticated hems ensure the shorts stay in place while attractive reflective details ensure you are seen by other road users in low light conditions'
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
-Womens Stealth pad
-Mesh upper body
-Reflective hem gripper
Well constructed with a tidy finish.
Sufficient breathability and a pad that is supportive enough for short to mid-length rides.
Showing virtually no sign of wear to date. Piling could be an issue, since the Firestorm waist shorts that I have tested are showing this.
Ample panelling creates a really good fit.
As expected. But be aware that these don't offer the compression that some do.
Pretty light for a material that seems to have a little more substance than some shorts – for reference, Liv's Signature bibs weigh 190g.
By the end of the test I was sold on the bib setup that I had been initially very skeptical about.
Not the cheapest but not overpriced.
How easy is the product to care for? How did it respond to being washed?
Standard 30 degrees, no softener, non-bio detergent. Pad takes longer than some to dry out after washing.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Spot on – comfortable, breathable shorts with a sufficiently supportive chamois.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Leg hems that don't feel tight or leave impressions, but still hold the shorts in place. The bib setup also grew on me.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your overall score
They're very good, with an innovative alternative to two conventional bib straps and a non-restrictive, comfortable fit, all for a palatable price.
About the tester
I usually ride: Road My best bike is: Carbon road.
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, touring, club rides, general fitness riding, Getting to grips with off roading too!
Emma’s first encounters with a road bike were in between swimming and running. Soon after competing for GB in the World Age Group Triathlon Championships in Edmonton in 2001 she saw the light and decided to focus on cycling.
After a couple of half decent UK road seasons racing for Leisure Lakes, she went out to Belgium to sample the racing there and spent two years with Lotto-Belisol Ladies team, racing alongside the likes of Sara Carrigan, Grace Verbeke, Rochelle Gilmore and Lizzie Deignan. Emma moved from Lotto-Belisol to Dutch team Redsun, then a new Belgian team of primarily developing riders, where there was less pressure, an opportunity to share her experience and help build a whole new team; a nice way to spend her final years of professional racing.
Since retiring Emma has returned to teaching. When not coercing kids to do maths, she is invariably out on two wheels. In addition to the daily commute, Emma still enjoys getting out on her road bike and having her legs ripped off on the local club rides and chain gangs. She has also developed an addiction to touring, with destinations including Iceland, Georgia and Albania, to mention just a few. There have also been rare sightings of Emma off-road on a mountain bike…