A pair of good-quality bib shorts should be top of every rider’s essential kit list. Despite operating in very challenging conditions, well-fitting shorts can keep you comfortable, dry and save you from soreness, however long you ride.
Modern designs have progressed a long way from the classic six-panel black Lycra shorts with elastic grippers. Many new offerings have specific fabrics in different areas for compression, cooling or comfort, bib constructions have evolved tremendously and pads now have a science all of their own.
Here, we’ve brought together a broad cross-section of the market, from budget bibs to some costing twice as much as our first bike! With average prices on the up, quality looks to be following, and some worthy features are already filtering down the ranges. The bottom line is, you generally get what you pay for, and if you ride regularly, bib shorts aren’t the place to economise.
Best bib shorts
"The Mambas are a top choice for the very hottest days in the saddle"
The Northwaves are the lightest shorts here at a feathery 161g. Unsurprisingly, they feel particularly cool and airy, with a fairly open weave fabric on the sides of the legs and mesh in the bib straps that extends right down to the small of your back. If you’re heading out on a properly hot day, these are a great choice.
Castelli Endurance X2 shorts
"Well-thought-out, super snug shorts that are a pleasure to ride in"
Castelli’s diagonal/curved seams could be thought of as a gimmick, but it can’t be coincidence that the Endurance shorts fit really, really well with no bunching or saggy bits.
The construction also includes panels in a more open weave running from the fronts of the legs right around to the small of the back, which contribute useful cooling in hot weather.
With lots of colours and design oddness going on in shorts, it’s refreshing to get into a pair of almost entirely black ones. Endura’s offering has a great fit – there aren’t dozens of panels, but each one is well-shaped. Similarly, the pad is of simple construction but well-judged thickness and shape, with no bunching or distracting edges. The leg grippers aren’t as wide as some, but still comfortable. A full-length silicone strip on the inside keeps them in place. Up top, an open weave on the bib straps ensures coolness. The shorts are a little heavier than some, but the upside is a reassuringly robust feel.
Vermarc Nationals British
Predominantly light grey shorts won’t be to everyone’s test, but Vermarc offers the same shorts in other designs too. Fit is very impressive, especially considering the small number of panels – those grey panels extend three-quarters of the way around each leg and all the way up to the waist yet you still get a race-snug fit. The stitching is also notably low in profile and entirely unobtrusive. Leg grippers are wide but thin, with woven-in grippy sections on the inside to make sure everything stays put. They’re very light, too. The bib straps are a closer-weave mesh than many, but still adequately cool.
Alé PRR Ponente bib short
The Ponente from new brand Alé (say ‘allay’) is very Italian: razor sharp styling, thoughtful design and small sizing, though its online size guide is clear. The pad is very good; it has a less dense centre section to ease pressure but the rest of it is very even, ensuring that you’re sat on dense and comfortable material regardless of sit bone width, saddle or riding position. If you find some pads too fussy, this will be a welcome change. The wide grippers are effective but don’t have the lightest touch. The bib straps reward a few moments spent arranging them flat with excellent comfort. They never move or cut in at all.
By virtue of either clever fabric moulding or black magic, Assos has achieved a really good fit with legs that have just one seam up the back – each leg is made of a single panel of fabric, with just the addition of a broad, comfy leg gripper at the end of each. And top marks to Assos for managing to include a reflective tab on both legs. Rather than mesh, the bib straps are broad, seamless Lycra – very comfortable although less breathable than mesh. You do get a generous mesh panel at the lower back, though. A well-shaped, thick but not bulky pad completes the package.
Sportful Bodyfit Pro
Sportful’s Bodyfit shorts are aptly named, with the combination of high-stretch fabric and curved seams leading to a really good fit with no odd bunching or slackness in evidence. The wide leg grippers are spot on too, with an array of silicone S logos around the inside helping to avoid any riding up. The pad doesn’t look particularly elaborate, but it’s well shaped, thicker where it needs to be and moulds itself to your shape effectively and comfortably. The rear bib panel stays wide a long way up the back but the mesh fabric means it’s not too hot. There’s even a little key pocket on the back.
Rapha Pro Team
Yes, the Pro Team shorts are prodigiously expensive – they’re three times the price of the cheapest shorts here. Value is very dependent on your budget, but there’s no denying that these are very lovely. Some features, like the name label and concealed poetry, aren’t exactly 100 per cent essential, but thoughtful nonetheless. The main thing is that the fundamentals are sorted, with great fit, top-notch construction and spot-on padding. We particularly like the ultra low-profile welded edges on the mesh bib straps, and the subtle reflective tabs on the legs are a neat touch too.
What to look for when buying bib shorts
Pad: One of the most important parts of a pair of shorts, the pad (originally made of chamois leather) gives an extra layer of cushioning between you and the saddle. A good pad is crucial to comfort, especially on longer rides. Also, where the chamois sits is key.
Leg grippers: All shorts have some form of leg gripper to stop them riding up as you pedal. This can vary from a simple elasticated hem to a specific extra stretchy panel. Slightly tacky silicone patches are a common feature.
Bib straps: Bib straps need to be the right length to hold the shorts up without giving you a constant wedgie. Wider straps spread pressure more evenly, and mesh fabric is common so they don’t get sweaty.
Construction: Traditionally, more panels meant a better fit – an eight-panel pair of shorts would fit better than a six-panel pair – but modern manufacturing techniques allow a lot more shaping of the panels themselves so some shorts deliver a great fit with relatively few panels.
Fit: Shorts should be close-fitting, with no slack or baggy bits of fabric. Sizing can be awkward – it’s best to ignore what size you think you are from everyday clothes and try a few for size.