Of all the contact points on your bike, the saddle to posterior interface is perhaps the most important. It’s certainly the one that has to bear the majority of your body weight for the majority of the time.
This puts a huge emphasis not only on finding a saddle of the right shape and padding, but also on choosing the best cycling shorts for your needs.
Prices range from around £25 for the cheapest options, up to almost £250 for the most expensive. As you might expect, there are more duds than bargains at the lower end, but if you shop carefully and pay attention to independent reviews, finding good padded cycling shorts needn’t cost the earth.
What to look for when buying bib shorts
The most important things to look for in a set of bibs shorts are:
Summer shorts use lightweight, stretchy, breathable Lycra panels. These are neatly stitched together with thoughtfully located flatlock seams to provide maximum comfort while offering support. Your shorts should feel skin tight and supportive, without causing any discomfort.
Inner pads are designed to provide relief and comfort around the sit bones. The fit should be snug to avoid chafing. Most feature varying densities and thicknesses of padding, while some use gel inserts.
Comfortable bib straps
Bib straps are designed to help keep your bib shorts in place, without the need for an uncomfortably tight waistband.
The stretchy straps need to be tight enough to hold your shorts in place securely, but not be so tight that they make putting the shorts on difficult or uncomfortable.
If possible, we’d recommend trying shorts on for size before you make a purchase.
Ten of the best cycling bib shorts in 2020
These are ten of the best cycling shorts we’ve tested this year for long distance riding and comfort. Once you’ve read all the reviews, keep reading for our in-depth buyer’s guide to bib shorts.
- Assos Equipe RS Bib Shorts S9: £175 / $260 / AU$370 / €200
- B’Twin Triban RC 100 Bib Shorts: £25 / $40
- Castelli Free Aero Race 4 Kit Bib Shorts: £150 / $200 / €170
- DHB Aeron Bib Shorts: £75 / $95 / AU$130 / €85
- Endura Pro SL Bib Shorts: £120 / $195 / €140
- Sportful Total Comfort Bib Shorts: £145 / $200 / €160
- Alé PRR Green Bib Shorts: £145 / $175 / AU$220 / €145
- Altura Race Bib Shorts: £89 / €100
- Pearl Izumi Interval Bib Shorts: £150 / US$150
- Q36.5 Salopette Dottore L1 Bib Shorts: £247 / €246
Assos Equipe RS Bib Shorts S9
- Sizes: S–XXXL
- Colours: Black, Black/White, Black/Red, Black/Green
- Price: £175 / $260 / AU$370 / €200
Assos combines a minimalist approach with technology in these lightweight bibs. With just two panels this keeps seams to a minimum.
A thin, buttery-smooth, 40-gauge fabric hugs the legs offering light compression and good support. Extra material up front provides added comfort for man bits.
The bib system sees the rear straps attach lower down the back to hold the seat pad in position. This works well at stabilising, even when getting out of the saddle.
The three-layer perforated waffle foam S9 pad has a micro-shock core and soaks up vibrations admirably. It’s not stitched at the sides, allowing it to float and sit with your body for a great riding feel.
One of the best fitting shorts and worth the outlay.
B’Twin Triban RC 100 Bib Shorts
- Sizes: S–XXL
- Colours: Black, Navy
- Price: £25 / $40
These might be budget-priced shorts, but the neat panelled design gives them a look of something more expensive. A matching jersey is also available.
The fit is impressive and tight enough around the legs to provide good muscle support without feeling overly compressive.
The legs sit in place thanks to the overall fit and wide bands that stop them riding up. Mesh upper bibs do a solid job of keeping everything in place while helping to keep you cool.
These are less stretchy than some, but fortunately the shoulder sections offer more give.
Inside, the pad performs better than expected at this price. It’s well-sized, uses a variety of thicknesses of padding and is perfectly located to soak up road feedback. There are also air channels to stop things getting overly sweaty.
Decathlon also has well-priced bib shorts for female riders under £40.
Castelli Free Aero Race 4 Kit Bib Shorts
- Sizes: XS–XXXL
- Colours: Black, Black/Red, Black/Vortex Grey, Grey, Dark Steel Blue
- Price: £150 / $200 / €170
Developed in conjunction with Team Ineos, these race bibs offer all-day comfort while remaining light.
The new seamless Progetto X2 Air Seamless seat pad has a soft, stretchy layer that sits separate to the padding. This allows it to move naturally while the pad moulds to the saddle.
The outer layer is dimpled to reduce skin contact and helps with wicking. It looks crude but it works brilliantly.
On the legs Castelli combines dimpled aerodynamic fabric on the front for efficiency while smooth stretchy Lycra on the rear helps with the fit. It feels supportive but not overly tight and the new wide-leg grippers work well without any restriction.
The neat-looking striped mesh bibs breathe well but these aren’t as wide as some.
DHB Aeron Bib Shorts
- Sizes: XS–XXL
- Colours: Black, Black/Blue, Black/Red, Black/White, Khaki, Navy
- Price: £75 / $95 / AU$130 / €85
The Aeron bibs have the look and styling of more expensive shorts with their smart colour scheme and neat leg grippers.
The big update is the Paris HP inner pad. Its wide-covering looks a bit crude, but underneath it uses three densities of foam with ultra-high density foam inserts under the sit bones. It does an impressive job of delivering hours of pain-free riding.
The panelled design looks classy and works well with a snug fit that’s true to size. Muscle support is good without feeling overly compressive and it will work for most shapes and sizes.
The wide, two-third circumference leg grippers with silicone printwork do a good job. Neatly shaped upper mesh bibs breathe well and sit comfortably. The latest evolution of the Aeron is a great-value piece of kit.
Endura Pro SL Bib Shorts
- Sizes: XS–XXL
- Colours: Black
- Price: £120 / $195 / €140
Endura’s Pro SL bibs also get an update but keep many of their top features, including the option of three pad widths and two leg lengths.
The continuously variable profile 700-series pad matches sit bones perfectly to deliver pain-free pedalling even on the longest days.
Endura uses Italian Lycra and the legs feature wide raw-edge grippers with an inner silicone print. The legs sit pretty for a supportive, yet restriction-free ride.
A Coldblack coating reduces heat build-up and there’s UPF50 sun protection. What’s completely new, and a feature we appreciated on long days, is the lumbar support panel that hugs the lower back and sides. This takes the pressure off the wide shoulder straps to the point that you hardly notice they’re there.
The best of the old and some new features have made the Pro SL kit even better.
Sportful Total Comfort Bib Shorts
- Sizes: S–XXXL
- Colours: Black
- Price: £145 / $200 / €160
The Total Comfort bibs get an update but the DNA of a comfortable, rider-friendly, all-day riding short remains.
They use thin, lightweight, stretch-fabric panels with raw ends that feature an internal silicone print, so they sit perfectly. While they’re not designed to offer compression, these bibs are form-fitting so feel tight to begin with, but this goes unnoticed once pedalling.
The overall fit is small so mortals might need to size up. The combination of fit and fabric means they do a top job of wicking, making them ideal for hot rides.
Inside, the 18mm-thick, multi-density Total Comfort pad is wide covering and rides beautifully. The newly designed bibs use stretchy, wide and airy straps. These sit flat and comfy on long rides.
High-performing bibs ideal for summer riding.
There’s also a version designed for female riders available.
Alé PRR Green Bib Shorts
- Sizes: S–XXXL
- Colours: Black, Black/Burgundy, Black/Blue, Black/Turquoise, Black/Yellow
- Price: £145 / $175 / AU$220 / €145
The Green shorts combine race performance with top environmental credentials using recycled materials.
Alé uses its smooth Denali Green fabric in the legs and this provides a good overall fit and support without feeling overly tight. The wide leg grippers use a thinner fabric with an inner silicone print to keep things in place.
Small reflective mesh panels on the rear add to their breathability. Plus, they offer UPF50+ sun protection. Wide shoulder straps help with comfort on longer days and the stretchy mesh rear prevents overheating.
Inside is Alé’s new 4H Green 12mm pad featuring high-density open-cell foam that’s made from recycled polyamide. It’s wide covering and feels cumbersome at first, but works well once pedalling. Perforation holes and stitching channels help with ventilation and breathability.
Alé offers a women’s-specific version of the Green bib shorts.
Altura Race Bib Shorts
- Sizes: S–XXL
- Colours: Black
- Price: £89 / €100
Altura’s Race Bibs offer some useful features and, like the matching jersey, offer a forgiving fit. These are not as tight as many, thanks to plenty of stretch in the nylon/Lycra fabric used, and do their job without ever feeling tight or restrictive.
The panelled design sits well, adding to the overall fit and ride. The two-third circumference leg grippers are reflective but subtly look black in daylight.
The bibs with rear cutaway section use thin, stretchy mesh fabric to keep things cool, while wide shoulder straps sit flat for added comfort. There’s also a mesh panel across the stomach that helps to hold everything in.
The wide covering Pro Stealth four-layer pad features low density memory foam inserts and it does a pretty good job of absorbing road feedback. A reliable and very forgiving bib short.
Pearl Izumi Interval Bib Shorts
- Sizes: XS–XXL
- Colours: Black, Navy
- Price: £150 / US$150 / AU£$279.95
Pearl’s Interval bibs are good-quality shorts with top features, but they offer a more forgiving fit thanks to the Elite Transfer fabric found in the seven panels.
It’s highly stretchy with 34 per cent Lycra, yet keeps muscles surprisingly well-supported and provides an efficient ride. The wide silicone printed leg grippers use a thinner fabric creating a neat restriction-free leg transition. A Coldblack treatment helps to reflect heat.
Inside, the wide-covering pad looks simplistic and cumbersome. This is only the floating cover that moves with you while the main inner pad sits in place. When riding out on the road it works well.
A mesh rear and wide shoulder straps keep everything in place while offering a comfortable and sweat-free ride.
This is a quality short with a forgiving fit that works well for all types of riding.
A women’s version of the Interval is also available.
Q36.5 Salopette Dottore L1 Bib Shorts
- Sizes: XS–Black
- Price: £247 / €246
These high-tech bibs are designed to produce the ultimate ride regardless of price. They’re lightweight and use an incredibly thin material that feels soft and smooth. This provides good muscle support, thanks to graduated compression that aids blood flow to combat fatigue.
Thigh grippers are neatly woven into the single panel legs. Silver stitching is used to help with heat conduction, battling odours and electrostatic reduction, and a DWR-coating sees water run off, yet they remain highly breathable.
A well-cut crotch integrates well with the wide covering single-insert, high-density foam pad. This does a classy job of keeping sit bones happy while eliminating chafing. Lower back support is good while wide mesh upper straps sit well.
The end result is special but you’ll need deep pockets.
Buyer’s guide to cycling bib shorts
Why you should wear Lycra shorts on a bike
If you’re new to cycling, making the transition to padded Lycra shorts can be a big step. Many people worry about looking silly, for example.
There isn’t really an argument against that particular point, but, in our opinion, the performance difference is very much worth it.
Lycra shorts offer a number of advantages over normal clothes or baggy mountain bike shorts. These advantages include better aerodynamic efficiency, better breathability and an ability to dry more quickly, and less chance of chafing or your shorts getting snagged on your saddle.
That said, though, you should ride in whatever you feel most comfortable and confident in. If you prefer baggy shorts over your padded shorts, then that’s good too.
Should I wear underwear under my cycling shorts?
In short, no. This is because the pads in padded cycling shorts are designed to sit directly next to your skin.
For a detailed explanation on this subject, see this article our article should I wear underwear under padded cycling shorts?
Bib shorts versus normal shorts
The general consensus among dedicated cyclists is clear: bib shorts are better than shorts.
Not everyone agrees, but most find that shorts with bib straps tend to stay in place better than shorts without.
The added tightness in the vertical plane helps pull the chamois up into your body, preventing it sagging away from you when you stand up on the pedals. This means less shifting around and more consistent pad placement.
It also does away with the need for an uncomfortably tight, high waistband, instead putting the emphasis on the elasticated shoulder straps to keep everything in place. This can enable the use of a slightly lower front panel as well, for increased ventilation.
What is a chamois pad?
A chamois pad is the saddle shaped padding usually found in cycling bib shorts. They’re so called because, back in the olden days, they used to literally be made from chamois leather, which is named after the European mountain goat it’s derived from.
Today, they’re usually made from a combination of synthetic, multi-density foams and fabrics. These are designed not only to provide some cushioning for your derriere, but also to wick sweat away to help keep your crotch area dry and healthy.
Proper placement of the pad is key, so it’s worth taking into consideration the type of riding you’ll be doing. Cyclists taking part in time trials or triathlons, with aggressive, forward positions, need much more padding around the front than mountain bikers, who are likely to be sat more upright.
Of course, you also need a good saddle, and performance-oriented saddles tend to be firmer than you might expect because they’re designed with cyclists wearing padded shorts in mind.
Do I need to use chamois cream?
Potentially. If you’re getting on just fine without it, then there’s no need to start using it.
If you experience any chafing or saddle sores though, a good quality, cycling-specific chamois cream (or simply a generic antibacterial barrier cream) can help prevent infections and reduce friction.
How much money should I spend?
As with many things in life, you do get what you pay for to a certain extent.
If you’re going to be doing really long days in the saddle or using your cycling shorts fairly regularly then spending a bit more is likely to get you a more comfortable, more durable pair of shorts.
That said, if you just want something for short commutes or weekend rides then one of the top rated cheaper options we’ve highlighted above will do the job, and do it well.
Like with bikes, though, once you get above a certain price point (around £75 / $95 / €85), the returns on your investment do start to get more marginal.
That’s not to say those gains won’t be worth it for some riders, but we’d certainly be happy riding all day wearing the DHB Aeron bib shorts mentioned above, for example.
Above this price, you’re paying for more modest improvements such as big name brand labels, more technical fabrics that take into account things such as weather protection and aerodynamics, and often nicer styling.
What colour shorts should I get?
Black is the obvious answer to this, and for good reason; black goes with everything.
That might not be the most exciting answer, but the plainer your bib shorts the more jerseys they’ll pair nicely with.
That said, if you want a little bit of extra colour and don’t mind mis-matching different colour jerseys and shorts, don’t let our stuffy opinions hold you back. Whatever you decide to do though, please don’t go for brown shorts.