Of the three contact points between your body and your bike, the saddle is easily the most crucial, by virtue of the fact that it carries the majority of your weight for the longest percentage of your time on two wheels. Consequently, the difference between a good and bad pair of cycling shorts can be immense. A badly fitting or poor quality pair can ruin even the shortest of rides, while the best cycling shorts can leave you riding comfortably for hours on end.
The continual innovation of technology within the cycling industry means that today’s best road bike saddles can come at a serious price, yet all that spend can easily be undone with a poor choice of cycling shorts, so it’s important to choose wisely.
A well-designed chamois (the padded insert) will go a long way to improve comfort, but it has to be supported by quality materials cut and constructed in a way that keeps everything in place. This is not only to avoid uncomfortable bunching without restricting movement while riding, but also to spare your blushes – and the eyes of the rider on your wheel.
For the latter reason, while waist shorts might seem the easier option when it comes to toilet breaks, the best cycling shorts will invariably be a pair of bib shorts. In fact, more and more brands are now producing nature break-friendly bib shorts, regardless of gender. Be sure to check out our list of the best women’s cycling shorts too, if it’s relevant to you.
Here’s our pick of the best bib shorts you can buy today, but if you’re not sure what to look for, skip ahead to our guide on how to choose the best cycling shorts.
Best cycling shorts
They’ve got ‘luxury’ in the name, and as soon as you get your hands on a pair, you’ll see that luxury is what these bib shorts are about. Before you baulk at the price, it’s worth noting that Velocio creates its own pattern designs from scratch, unlike many brands who buy an off-the-shelf pattern to begin with. This means the brand has full control over how it wants its garments to look, feel and perform, and a lot more time and effort goes into it.
The fact is, these bib shorts feel soft to the touch, they’re made with high quality materials, and are extremely well thought-out for all riders, and perform well over long-distance rides.
The slim-cut bibs provide a pleasant amount of compression, which supports your muscles and prevents them becoming fatigued after hours in the saddle, while the fabric also has a lot of give so you won’t be victim to the ‘sausage legs’ phenomenon.
For women riders, the female version of these bib shorts come with the brand’s proprietary Fly-Free feature, which makes nature breaks a breeze and doesn’t require any undressing.
Last year Gore Wear teamed up with Fabian ‘Spartacus’ Cancellara to produce this limited edition run of its C7 Race bib shorts (alongside other garments in the collection). The Cancellara range earned a five-star review from us, and for good reason.
The distinctive ‘central torso architecture’ defies convention by separating the waistband from the straps, which result in a super stable fit while attacking in and out of the saddle. Between the rear straps is a mesh panel complete with a pocket that’s big enough to carry a smartphone, while at the front you’ll find a Gore Windstopper panel to shield you from cold and wet weather conditions.
Gore’s Expert Race chamois completes the package, with a multi-layer perforated pad that stays cool and comfortable after long hours in all climes. It’s pre-shaped to create a supportive pocket for one’s ‘precious cargo’ as well.
While they may come at a premium price, they’ve proven themselves to be extremely tough and durable, after being subjected to months of use over multitudes of road and gravel sessions.
The concept behind Velocio’s Concept range is to create cycling kit without limits, that ticks all the performance boxes and remains comfortable enough to wear all day. All this while committing to sustainable production as Velocio does, seems to be a tall order, but delivers remarkable results. The Concept bib shorts feature a multi-panel construction which provides an compressive finish and a pre-shaped race fit for comfort on the bike.
The slightly ribbed fabric delivers the compression, while a soft and breathable rear panel helps to shed heat when the mercury rises. The wide straps prevent bunching and chafing, and there are reflective logos on each thigh to help with on-road visibility.
Most importantly, the Concept bibs come with Velocio’s proprietary chamois, with its contour-shaped high-density foam, aerated base and anti-vibration inserts. The shorts incorporate a floating design to suspend the padding to reduce chafing and work alongside a more natural pedalling motion.
The Castelli Free Aero Race 3 bib shorts were long considered the best cycling shorts available and despite their popularity, Castelli felt it could make them even better. This resulted in a complete overhaul to create the new Castelli Free Aero Race 4. An updated Progetto X2 Air Seamless chamois promises to be their softest seat pad and the seamless design reduces the chance of chafing. Variable thickness padding provides support where needed and cuts bulk where it is not.
Castelli has also redesigned the leg grippers and the straps. GIRO4 leg grippers now have a vertical strip design to improve grip without affecting stretch to offer a smooth transition from skin to short. The bib straps and back panel have been trimmed down and are made from a light mesh so that they are breathable and unobtrusive.
The Equipe RS S9 bib shorts use Assos’ A-Lock racingFit system which combines their Type.441 knit compression fabric with the shoulder straps to form a rollBar frame. The idea is to stabilise the shorts during the side to side and position adjustments that are a part of riding. The construction also uses fewer panels and 30% fewer seams, which has reduced points of irritation and made the shorts lighter.
The chamois is attached at the front and the back of the short which to allow the pad to move laterally with your body, independently of the shorts, to minimise rubbing. Assos’ kraterCooler features a system of small holes to enhance airflow.
Rapha doesn’t simply offer the same chamois across all sizes, instead opting for a size-specific chamois. A dual-density pad offers support to sit bones while reducing padding where it isn’t needed. They also offer two leg lengths, regular and long, with 3cm difference to help find the perfect fit.
The Pro Team II features multiple bonded panels combining fast-wicking supportive lycra and breathable mesh uppers that are designed to be comfortable during high-output riding.
Sportful have taken what they have learned from the WorldTour and developed this technology to develop the Bodyfit Pro LTD; a bib short that suits both racing and long distances at a competitive price.
Using 220g lycra, Sportful creates what they call AeroFlow Compress which aims to improve aerodynamics whilst providing muscle support and compression to reduce muscle fatigue. The lightweight straps are breathable and everything is flat-locked for comfort.
The Bodyfit Pro LTD uses Sportful’s Total Comfort Pro chamois which compresses a little more easily than most of its competitors, offering a pillow-like softness to the comfort it offers, while still offering enough support for long-distance riders. Although this plushness might not be to everyone’s tastes.
Endura knows how hard it is to find a pair of bib shorts that fit just right which is why they not only offer their Pro SL II in three different chamois sizes across six different bib sizes but also two different leg lengths. Endura even has an online Pad Fit tool that advises which chamois size to get based on the saddle you ride. That’s 36 different options to choose from. The 700 series pad has seen an update for 2020 with improvements to foam constructions and a micro-polyester face fabric.
Italian lycra provides compression and uses Endura’s Coldblack technology to reflect UV and inferred sunlight keeping you cooler on hot days. The pre-shaped multi-panel construction and silicon print on the hem keep the bibs in place when riding. The straps have also been reworked to be wider and more lumber support.
POC are renowned for their protective clothing so it is unsurprising that they have developed a pair of bib shorts that have features to reduce the risk of injury in a crash.
The POC AVIP Ceramic VPDs has printed ceramic panels in key zones, the idea is that it will provide some protection in a collision and reduce friction when sliding over hard surfaces. The fabric is still stretchy, offering light muscle compression, and the cut has a pre-shaped ride position for a close fit.
POC’s silicon VPDs Multi D chamois is featured, constructed using silicone inserts to reduce pressure points and road vibrations in key areas. The outer chamois material around the inserts allow airflow and reduce chafing.
DHB have been strong performers in the budget and mid-range cycling short market for a long time, the DHB Aeron Lab Raceline 2.0 is their premium option for riders and racers that are looking for maximum performance.
The Raceline 2.0 offers an extremely close race fit and are built from aerodynamic materials that DHB claim disrupts airflow as it passes your body. The main body of the bibs are made from a compressive fabric and the side panels use a lightweight mesh material to provide enhanced breathability.
DHB uses a custom Paris HSC pad made by Elastic Interface. The chamois uses three different densities that gradually transition from one to another. The front of the pad is perforated for breathability to help keep things cool.
Simply named ‘Pro’ the Le Col Pro bib shorts are directly targeting riders who are looking for pro-level performance from their riding clothing.
Featuring a race focussed cut and flat-lock construction, the Pro bibs seek to offer an aerodynamic and supportive fit. The lycra sports fibre material is breathable and should offer comfort in a wide range of temperatures.
Le Col has chosen a Dolomiti Pro Gel Chamois, using a silicone treatment and incorporating channels in the padding allows Le Col to reduce bulk and increase airflow. Mesh shoulder straps are perforated for breathability and silicone leg grippers are used to stop the legs riding up.
New lightweight material offers both water resistance and breathability to suit a range of weather conditions, making them ideal for multi-day trips. Pockets located on the back and legs provide extra storage, handy if you are stocking up for a remote stretch of riding or simply want to have easy access to key items.
The chamois is the same design that features in Rapha’s popular Brevet shorts and should provide comfort as the miles rack up. A perforated construction has been used to aid quick-drying to benefit multi-day riders.
Katusha’s Icon range has become a staple in the brand’s portfolio due to its extreme popularity. For the latest edition of the Icon bib shorts, Katusha has intertwined its 37.5 technology, which supposedly uses active volcanic sand particles that are embedded into the material, to use your body’s energy to remove moisture and cool you down. This might sound like marketing fluff mixed with a hint of witchcraft, but we don’t care, because when it comes to performance where it matters, the Icon bib shorts are some of the best we’ve used when it comes to temperature regulation.
The only downside is the colourway we tested – Asphalt/Arabian Spice – can become translucent when stretched, and discoloured when wet. Not an issue out on the road, but for sweaty indoor rides, it looks like we had a toilet accident. For that reason, we’d stick to black or navy for sure.
How to choose the best cycling shorts
It is hard to advise on a chamois as everyone’s anatomy is different, however, certain considerations are important when deciding what may work for you. A chamois should fit close to the body with the key areas of padding located in your sit bone area when in a riding position.
It’s not simply the thickness that will indicate comfort but size and shape should also be a consideration.
Thicker endurance-focussed pads will orientate padding towards the rear of the chamois to accommodate for a more upright position as opposed to a race designed chamois that will have more padding to the front to cater for an aggressive riding position.
Perforations and channels in the pad improve airflow and breathability to reduce heat and moisture build-up which can cause chafing. The use of antibacterial treatments keep your shorts feeling fresh.
2. Material and straps
No matter how good the chamois is, it needs to stay in place when riding. Specifically shaped panels allow structure and stretch to be focussed where needed to achieve a close fit, offer muscle compression and utilise a material’s specific properties in key areas. For example, some panels benefit from being more breathable while other parts need to be hard-wearing.
It is important to consider the properties of materials used when choosing a pair of cycling shorts. Some materials provide protection when riding in cold wet conditions while perforated mesh materials maximise cooling airflow on hot days. Materials can even be designed with dimpled surfaces to disrupt airflow for better aerodynamics. If you are a four-seasons rider, it is worth considering owning a couple of different bib shorts that suit a wide range of conditions.
Flat-lock stitching is popular on most high-end shorts as these flat seams reduce edges that can cause areas of discomfort whilst offering a smoother transition between panels to aid aerodynamics.
When it comes to cycling shorts, waist shorts are available, but bib shorts are more popular as they don’t have a thick waistband that can dig in when riding, and even more importantly, they can’t ride down and leave a gap between the top of your shorts and the bottom of your jersey. Instead, shoulder straps are used to hold the top of the shorts in place and keep the chamois in the correct position. These straps need to be stretchy, wide and ventilated to stop any pressure or irritation.
3. Extra features
Shorts can have other features or details that may appeal to riders. Pockets can be built into the back and the legs of cycling shorts, which have become their own category of gravel-friendly cargo bib shorts, offering storage for minimal essentials like a race radio or cash, or slightly bulkier essentials on longer, bikepacking-type adventures. If you ride in hot climates and are choosing bib shorts that use lightweight materials, it is worth considering how much UV protection the fabrics offer to protect skin from sunburn.
As bib shorts are subjective, what works for one person may not work for another so it is beneficial, if possible, to try a pair of shorts on before you buy. This will allow you to check that the sizing, cut and chamois suits your anatomy and riding style.