Best bib shorts 2017: here are the contenders

BikeRadar pits 11 pairs in a bib shorts battle royale

It’s that time of year again. We’re going to position 11 bib manufacturers in a head-to-head to see who is delivering the best men’s bib short for 2017.

Best men's bib shorts 2017: the contenders

Eleven brands submitted bib shorts to us for ride testing. Each pair will be evaluated through an extensive series of on- and off-bike criteria to generate a true ‘best in class’ award.

Brand

Model

Price (US)

Price (UK)

Ale

REV-1 Bib

$210.00

£150.00

Assos

Mille Bib

$159.00

£100.00

Bontrager

Velocis Bib Short

$159.00

£99.00

Castelli

Free Aero Race

$199.00

£140.00

Endura

Pro SL Bibshort II

$194.00

£119.00

Giordana

NX-G Bibshort

$400.00

£239.00

Giro

Chrono Pro Bib

$250.00

£199.00

Gore

Xenon Race 2.0 Bibtight Short +

$249.00

£159.00

Rapha

Pro Team Bib Shorts II

$295.00

£195.00

Pearl Izumi

Pro Escape Bib Short

$170.00

£129.99

Specialized

Pro SL

$180.00

£140.00

How we’ll evaluate the bib shorts

In hopes of eliminating the simple “oh these are nice”, we’ve determined a few key metrics that should minimize the subjectivity with such a task. Each of the parameters will be scored 0–5 (0 is not so good, 5 is perfection), with the highest overall score as the eventual winner. Here are the scoring parameters, with a brief description.

Panels and placement: How many panels? Are any of them located in compromising locations? Do they facilitate purposeful and directional compression, or are they just for show? And, how do they influence, or are they influenced by material selection?

Stitching: Any suspicious looking threads out of the box? Are the seams located in places of high friction? Is it traditional stitching, flat-stitch, or ‘welded’ technology?

Flatseam, traditional stitch, or welded? Seams matter, and their placement is important for comfort, durability and performance
Flatseam, traditional stitch, or welded? Seams matter, and their placement is important for comfort, durability and performance

Leg gripper: Is it worth a damn? Does it stay in place? Is there something compromising about it?

Leg grippers come in many shapes and sizes, but the only thing that matters is whether or not they work and don't fall apart
Leg grippers come in many shapes and sizes, but the only thing that matters is whether or not they work and don't fall apart

Upper (straps and construction): How are the straps? Does the upper cover the whole body or provide breathability? Are vents positioned ideally, etc?

Straps and uppers have a few evaluation metrics including coverage and materials
Straps and uppers have a few evaluation metrics including coverage and materials

Compression: A potential artifact of sizing, but does the material bunch? Are there fitment issues that result in discomfort? Do they actually compress the muscle?

Chamois: Bulk, placement, texture, and ‘diaper affect’. This is also potentially a subject-influenced metric, but better than nothing.

The chamois can be such a subjective topic — we're going to assess based on placement and bulk
The chamois can be such a subjective topic — we're going to assess based on placement and bulk

‘Male-factor’: Let’s just call it what it is — our anatomy does not look like a department store mannequin. Has the construction provided space for necessary anatomy? Or is it basically a gender neutral short?

‘Nature factor’: When it’s time for a nature-break how difficult is it to take care of the roadside business? Fold yourself in half? Or do your work with upright posture?

Manufacturing location: This can influence quality and price — an honest metric to understand the relationship between the two.

Features: UV protective? Pockets? Reflective striping? Something so cool we’ve never even seen it before, but that every rider must have?

What sorts of extra features should a bib have? Pockets for storage, reflective bits, or more?
What sorts of extra features should a bib have? Pockets for storage, reflective bits, or more?

Price: Does the price warrant the investment? Tough call, but prices will be included so you can decide for yourself.

Lots of pedaling

Each pair goes through two different ride testing routes: a 55-mile (88km) road route and a 40-mile (64km) gravel route.

We hope the evaluation process is up to your standards and we’re super excited to get through the process — now off to ride!

We'll bring you the results in a few weeks. Also, look out for an update to our best women's bib shorts list coming soon.

Until then, check out our top picks from 2016 below…

Best men's and women's bib shorts 2016

There are cycling shorts and then there are bib shorts. And, away from the bike, nothing looks quite as ridiculous as bib shorts. Stretched tight around your backside they have a pad that forces you to walk like John Wayne and braces that, without a jersey to cover them, make you look like a ’70s wrestler. Nevertheless there’s a very good reason why you’ll want to wear the best bibs shorts for cycling: they don’t have a waistband so there’s nothing to dig into your hips or gut when you’re leaning over the bars.

What holds them in place instead is a combination of the figure-hugging fabric and the braces running over your shoulders, which is why you need to pay very close attention to fit when you’re choosing a pair. Pick a pair with too little length in the braces and it’ll feel as if the crotch is trying to tear you in half.

Whichever bib shorts you end up buying, perhaps the most important thing to remember is that they work best without underwear

The braces are of even more importance for women’s bib shorts, since they have to get around, between or over breasts. Different manufacturers deal with this in different ways, with some shaping the straps so they follow a wider path and others adding more material so they almost become an integrated base-layer.

Toilet stops are arguably trickier for women wearing bib shorts so it’s also worth considering those with a buckle or some sort of fastener between the braces. That way you can get the bottoms out of the way without having to take off everything on top of them

But whether the shorts are for men or women, the reason they’re made from figure-hugging Lycra isn’t just to ensure they stay up. It also helps them provide some support but, more importantly, means they act like another layer of skin, stretching and contracting with your muscles, rather than bunching up and chafing on your most tender areas.  

Speaking of tender areas and support, the pad – or chamois – is also worth close consideration. As a rule of thumb, the more time you’ll be spending in the saddle, the denser you’ll want the pad to be, particularly towards the rear, underneath your sit bones.

Seams too need to be carefully placed so they don’t rub with every pedal revolution. And finally it’s worth looking for shorts with some sort of grip around the hems inside the legs — whether it’s rubber strips or textured fabric, it’ll help prevent the shorts from riding up as you ride.

But whichever bib shorts you end up buying, perhaps the most important thing to remember is that they work best without underwear.

Endura FS260 Pro SL

Endura's FS260 Pro SL bib shorts are very comfortable
Endura's FS260 Pro SL bib shorts are very comfortable

BikeRadar score5/5
  • Price: £100 / US$179.99 / AU$TBC

Buy now from Chain Reaction

  • Almost tailored feel
  • Multi-thickness, smooth-faced pad
  • Great panel design

With six garment sizes and three dimensions of pad to choose from it’s worth getting properly measured up for a pair of Endura’s FS260 bibs. Do so and you’re likely to end up with a pair of shorts that almost feel like they’ve been tailored specifically to you.

Despite lying fairly centrally in the bib shorts’ price range, the FS260 sit right at the top of the performance tables. At first glance the pad looks pretty simple, but that’s partly down to the way it’s attached to the crotch. Inverted, the flat face (that would normally be against the fabric) folded less than standard oriented pads in other shorts. It’s a multi-thickness, supportive elasticated pad, but these details are hidden.

What is visible is the wide gripper bands and great panel design that fits the crouched cycling position so well. The UV-protective Coldblack dye makes for great comfort once the sun is out too.

Ale PRR Bermuda

The Ale PRR Bermuda's pad has an anti-bacterial cover
The Ale PRR Bermuda's pad has an anti-bacterial cover

BikeRadar score5/5
  • Price: £95 / US$TBC / AU$TBC

Buy now from Paligap

  • Great fabric in between the braces
  • Super supportive pad
  • Wide, silicone-impregnated leg grips

The heart of this garment’s success lies in the silicone-impregnated, woven fabric used for both the 60mm leg grippers and the braces. It’s grippy without being grabby, and stretchy without constricting — functionally perfect.

The functionality of these shorts is assisted by an open-weave fabric between the braces. As well as ensuring the shorts don’t retain too much excess heat, it’s horizontally stretchy so as to allow the braces some movement while keeping them in place.

There’s also the matter of the super supportive (90kg/cm2) pad in its crotch with an anti-bacterial cover that’s retained its softness after a lot of washes. It’s enough to guarantee any hard saddle edges are well hidden from your posterior without adding any unnecessary bulk.

Velocio Superfly

Velocio's crisscrossing elastic straps are incredibly comfortable
Velocio's crisscrossing elastic straps are incredibly comfortable

BikeRadar score5/5
  • Price: £150 / US$TBC / AU$TBC

Buy now from Velocio

  • Simple but ingenious rear zip for bathroom breaks
  • Comfortable crossover braces
  • Outstanding pad

Velocio’s Superfly women’s bib shorts blow the competition away with their dream-like chamois, comfortable crisscrossing braces and an ingenious rear zipper for easy bathroom breaks.

The bathroom-break issue is a common concern for female cyclists, and Velocio has come up with an ingenious solution: a zip. The potential for chaffing seemed high with a zipper nestled so close to the skin but we were quickly sold on its addition as we barely noticed it at all during several long test rides.

The braces crossover each other on the back and as well as being comfortable across the shoulders they’re also stretchy enough to make the bathroom-break process a snap. After unzipping, just pull the bibs down without removing your jersey for a quick and modest nature break.

Velocio’s Superfly bibs also boast one of the most comfortable pads around. The medium weight chamois was perfectly positioned in the shorts and didn’t shift around while riding. Even the Superfly leg bands were a huge win in our book. Tight enough to keep the shorts from riding up but loose enough to prevent sausage legs, Velocio’s leg bands rocked.

Gore Oxygen

Gore Oxygen's bib shorts hold their place with compressive fabric and tacky leg grips
Gore Oxygen's bib shorts hold their place with compressive fabric and tacky leg grips

BikeRadar score5/5
  • Price: £140 / US$179.99 / AU$TBC

Buy now from Gore

  • Compressive fabric provides support for long days in the saddle
  • Tacky grips keeps the garment’s legs precisely positioned
  • Gore’s Power insert provides plenty of comfort

Getting into Gore’s Oxygen shorts takes a bit of effort. The compressive fabric certainly makes itself felt, with noticeable fightback from the Lycra. And the leg grips are so tacky that the best thing to do is turn them inside out until they’re in position.

You could consider this a minor inconvenience, but the flipside became apparent once you’re out on the road. These shorts hold their place with absolute precision during testing, without ever feeling restrictive — so expect sharp tan lines with these.

Gore’s compressive fabric was also a pleasure while riding, offering much-appreciated support towards the end of a hard day, while the Power insert delivered similar levels of fuss-free comfort.

Bontrager RL

Bontrager RL bib shorts have a six-panel construction
Bontrager RL bib shorts have a six-panel construction

BikeRadar score4.5/5
  • Price: £80 / US$119.99 / AU$TBC

Buy now from Trek

  • Cost-effective construction
  • High comfort at a competitive price
  • Mesh braces and leg grips

Bontrager’s RL bib shorts come in a range of colour schemes, so if the red, yellow and green/retro Bontrager ‘paw print’ logo aren’t to your tastes, there are other options.

The RL’s looks may vary but their build doesn’t and the six-panel construction is a great compromise between cost and comfort. More panels can provide a better fit, but the RL bib shorts prove six can work very well indeed. The money saved is probably what allowed such superb leg grips to be specced. They’re wonderful: no restrictions in movement, no sausage leg effect and sharp tan lines.

Subtle reflective tabs add a level of practicality and mesh braces prevent overheating up top. More expensive shorts often have a more compressive Lycra, but with a great cut and attention to detail these Bontrager bib shorts barely lose out at all compared with pricier peers.

Giro Ride Halter

The soft halter strap sits gently against the neck without added pressure or pain
The soft halter strap sits gently against the neck without added pressure or pain

BikeRadar score4.5/5
  • Price: £119 / US$161.19 / AU$TBC

Buy now from Wiggle

  • Halter-neck design makes for hassle-free comfort breaks
  • Lightweight pad supportive enough for long and short rides
  • Competitive blend of comfort, performance and quality

Giro’s Ride Halter bib shorts are among the best we’ve tested and feature an innovative solution to the problem of on-the-go comfort breaks.

These shorts were our first introduction to the halter style of straps for bib shorts. The elastic halter strap rests comfortably across the back of the neck but doesn’t rub or pull uncomfortably.

The halter-top strap style makes bathroom breaks easy. Simply unzip your jersey, lift the halter strap over your head and then pull the bibs down for smooth, hassle-free comfort breaks.

Giro’s lightweight chamois is comfortable for both long and short rides, and the elastic leg grips fit well and keep everything in place while you’re riding. This garment’s combination of price, quality and performance make Giro’s Ride Halter bib shorts an excellent choice for any cyclist on a budget.

Louis Garneau CB Carbon 2

Louis Garneau CB Carbon 2 is a high performance bib short
Louis Garneau CB Carbon 2 is a high performance bib short

BikeRadar score4/5
  • Price: £100 / US$129.99 / AU$170.98

Buy now from Evans Cycles

  • High-quality, technical fabric
  • Detailed tailoring makes for a great fit
  • Comfortable enough for the longest, toughest rides

Designed in collaboration with pro riders, the Carbon 2 is a high-performance bib short designed to cosset the legs during the longest, toughest rides.

As well as packing a high elastane content in the Lycra, additional support comes from the Carbon X Mesh fabric. The visible ‘exoskeleton’ on the surface of the material isn’t just for show — it not only prevents undue stretch but also reduces vibrations when you’re riding over rough roads.

This fabric, combined with detailed tailoring, means these fit extremely well. It’s a good thing too, because the only minor downside lies with the braces. The less structured straps are prone to folding, meaning they can potentially dig in when laying in a more narrow folded position.

Wide leg grips are split with room for the hamstring muscle groups, which is a nice touch, and the pad is technical enough without suffering from excess bulk.

Endura Wms FS260-Pro SL

Endura WMS FS260 bib shorts have softer mesh panels on the stomach and back that also aid breathability
Endura WMS FS260 bib shorts have softer mesh panels on the stomach and back that also aid breathability

BikeRadar score4/5
  • Price: £99.99 / US$179.99 / AU$177.99

Buy now from Chain Reaction

  • Soft, stretchy, crease-free pad
  • Firm and supportive fabric
  • Drop-seat feature for quick-and-easy comfort breaks

Endura’s new Wms FS260-Pro SL women’s bib shorts (men’s shorts are also available — see above) come with either narrow, medium or wide pads, designed to complement your body and saddle.

The chamois is a soft, stretchy pad with various densities across the profile, and thankfully no deep creases.

The Italian Power Lycra fabric is firm and supportive without being restrictive, and there are softer mesh panels on the stomach and back that also aid breathability. Endura has opted for a ‘racer-back’ arrangement for the braces, which sit to the outside of the breasts on the front.

The zip on the back is part of Endura’s drop-seat feature that allows you to pull the shorts down for comfort breaks without completely stripping off. It’s easy to open and close one handed, and was highly appreciated during some cold, rainy comfort breaks on wintry rides.

The fit is pre-formed to suit the forwards riding position, with the legs sitting smoothly thanks to the wide elastic hems, which have an asymmetric shape and silicone grip strips to keep them in place. A pocket at the lower back is well positioned for stashing small bits and pieces.

Etxeondo Women’s Olaia

Etxeondo Olaia's medium thickness pad is suitable for all types of riding
Etxeondo Olaia's medium thickness pad is suitable for all types of riding

BikeRadar score4/5
  • Price: £109 / US$147.15 / AU$194.02

Buy now from Wiggle

  • Secure and flattering leg grips
  • Medium thickness pad that’s suitable for all types of riding
  • Work well with leg warmers for potential year-round use

Etxeondo’s Olaia bib shorts stand out because of the flattering leg grips that keep the shorts from riding up without squeezing or pulling on the skin. They even manage to hold knee and leg warmers securely in place without causing sausage legs.

With a medium thickness chamois, these shorts are comfortable enough for all kinds of riding. The chamois has plenty of padding for a long or bumpy ride, but it doesn’t feel bulky when sprinting in and out of the saddle.

Despite the awkward strap design (the single strap up the middle feels awkward and splits too close to the neck, causing pressure on the shoulders) the Olaia shorts are some of the most comfortable and flattering bibs we’ve tested. They’re also one of the strongest options out there for year-round cycling, since they work so well with leg warmers.

Castelli Women’s Free Aero Race

Castelli Women's Free Aero Race are ideal for summer riding
Castelli Women's Free Aero Race are ideal for summer riding

BikeRadar score4/5
  • Price: £125 / US$168.75 / AU$222.50

Buy now from Wiggle

  • Lightweight and breathable — great for summer riding
  • Comfortable against sweaty skin
  • Generously thick pad

For summer riding, Castelli’s Free Aero Race bibs are some of the best women’s shorts we’ve tried. Stylish and lightweight, the Free Aero Race bib shorts are tremendously comfortable for hot days on the bike. With hems made from a thin, semi-sheer material, they’re perceptibly breathable and feel great against sweaty skin.

Castelli’s seamless chamois is a bit thicker than other bibs we’ve tested, but it doesn’t feel bulky or slosh around on the saddle. Also, the Free Aero’s laser-cut braces provide a straightforward and comfortable fit for everyday riding.

Like nearly all Castelli gear we’ve tested, the Free Aero Race sizing comes up a little small so we’d recommend choosing one size larger than your normal size for optimal fit.

This article was last updated on 23 June 2017.

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