For any cyclist, bib shorts are an essential piece of kit and arguably the most important to get right. We explain what you need to look for
There are loads of items of kit you can get away with spending less on, items where you can opt for standard sports wear over cycling specific creations. Cycling shorts are not one of them.
Cycling shorts are the number one piece of kit in any rider’s wardrobe – a good pair of padded cycling shorts can ensure you’re able to put the hours in on the bike, whilst any issues there can lead to enforced rest due to saddle sores.
The key ingredients to a good pair of cycling shots include a quality chamois (the pad), quick drying and high wicking material, a stretchy fabric so that there’s no flapping about and a comfortable fit.
Shorts for cycling can cost anywhere between £20 and £200. Paying more usually results in a greater number of panels, which creates a more flattering and comfortable fit, usually a high tech pad with a number of features and sometimes handy ad ons like radio pockets and compressive or aero fabric.
Cycling shorts come in two distinct forms: bib shorts and waist shorts. There’s more detail on this below – but bib shorts are the more premium option, offering greater comfort. If you opt for waist shorts, you’ll want a pair with a high and wide band to prevent digging in.
Best men’s cycling shorts reviewed
First things first: there are many, many pairs of shorts out there and there’s a lot of good options. We’ve had the opportunity to test many pairs of cycling shorts and we can’t include every good option in this list (you’d fall asleep) – but we can cherry pick our favourites which is what we’ve done.
For female riders, we’ve got a dedicated round-up of the best women’s cycling shorts here.
With each product is a ‘Buy Now’ or ‘Best Deal’ link. If you click on this then we may receive a small amount of money from the retailer when you purchase the item. This doesn’t affect the amount you pay.
dhb Aeron Speed bibshorts
Review score: 10/10
Coming in at £80, these shorts provide many of the technical features you’d expect of garments well in excess of £100.
The chamois used is an Elastic Interface Comp HP pad that is not overly thick, but dense enough under the sit bones with less volume at the front and sides.
At the legs, you’ll find coldblack fabric. Developed by Swiss textile company Schoeller, this reflects infrared light to reduce heat build-up and also protects against ultraviolet.
Lusso Active Aero bib shorts
Review score: 10/10
With a ‘go-faster’ theme, these made-in-Manchester shorts feature panels of striped fabric designed to improve airflow over the legs.
On the inside, the Elastic Interface Endurance pad is designed to cater for rides up to six hours and is neatly sewn in with a double row of zigzag stitching.
The grippers are wide and made of a thick, single-layer elastic, and the bib straps feature a lightweight mesh with wide hems whilst the Italian made short material has an SPF over 50.
Endura Pro SL II bibshorts
Endura’s party trick is offering three different pad width options to suit varying hip bone anatomies, saddles and riding positions; the brand suggests pad options for various popular saddles but you can also get a custom fit at some bike shops.
The pad itself doesn’t look that structured, but beneath the surface you’ll find the thickness varies throughout, with greater density at the sit bones.
There’s two leg length options, too – and hemless leg ends mask hidden internal grippers that keep them in place without bunching.
Compressive fabrics feature a coldlack treatment which helps reduce overheating and these have an SPF50 rating.
Gore Power Windstopper Short+ bib shorts
Review score: 9/10
These are designed for those days when shorts will suffice but the wind is still chilly and rain is on the cards.
The mid-thigh length bib shorts utilise Gore’s Windstopper three layer laminated fabric to offer windproofing, and a DWP treatment ensures that the surface is water repellent and can cope well with wheelspray and the odd shower.
The chamois proved plentiful for long rides. The front of the bib uses a mesh material, ensuring breathability, and the inside is not flocked like other Roubaix style options – so these aren’t as warm as competitors
The bottom hem is wide and offers enough stretch whilst staying put and there’s some reflective detailing
Castelli Mondiale bib shorts
Review score: 9/10
They may not be the cheapest option around by a long shot, but we loved the Mondiale shorts so much they earned a spot in our 2017 Editor’s Choice awards.
Using 50 per cent lycra, the high content of elastic fabric provides lots of stretch and they’re soft to the touch. Seams are kept to a minimum, and those that are there are taped on the inside.
The shorts utilise Castelli’s Progetto X2 Air seatpad, which features on all of its higher end options and offers continuously variable thickness to provide targeted comfort. The pad is pre-formed to conform to the body and it’s flatlock stitched in.
The leg grippers are bonded on the inside, providing a single price of fabric to the opening. The straps feature laser cut ventilation holes with a stretchy elastic section over the back and shoulders.
Why wear padded cycling shorts?
The number one job for a pair cycling cycling shorts is protecting the rider from saddle sores and chafing by providing a layer of padding which is shaped to suit the riding position.
Cycling shorts are also constructed from high-wicking, quick drying fabrics which encourage sweat to leave the surface of the skin thus keeping the rider dry and whiff-free on hot days and helping to reduce the discomfort associated with riding in the rain.
How much should I spend on cycling shorts?
You can pick up a pair of cheap cycling shorts from as little as £30.
These will come with a chamois pad and are constructed from lycra which won’t flap about on the bike – thus answering your basic needs.
Spending more – cycling bib shorts can carry price tags over the £150 mark – will provide you with more durable fabrics and extras such as compressive materials, more flattering fits thanks to the use of multiple panels and carefully constructed leg grippers. The chamois will often offer more breathability and multi density padding that provides more targeted comfort.
The middle ground is around £70 to £100 and for that you can expect to buy a high quality pair of bib shorts that will provide several seasons of cycling in comfort.
Waist shorts vs bib shorts
At Cycling Weekly, we test predominantly bib shorts. These have bib straps attached to the main body of the shorts.
The bib straps mean there’s no need for a tougher piece of fabric at the waist to hold them up, eliminating any digging in at the stomach. It’s also impossible for them to fall down – so there’s no chance of having a small slice of cold or sunburnt skin at your lower back. Finally, the straps mean that the material stays put, and the chamois can’t move around.
Waist shorts are, however, still popular. There is a simplicity in just pulling on a pair of waist shorts – and pulling them down for comfort breaks.
Waist shorts are also generally cheaper, and often a good ‘first cycling short’ option for those new to the sport, who perhaps already feel odd about wearing a padded garment.
Regardless what you choose, it’s important to know that you are not meant to wear underwear with padded cycling shorts. The chamois is designed to sit against your skin.
How to dress for hot conditions
Cycling short materials
The choice of materials for designers is huge, from thicker leg material used on thermal bib shorts for chilly spring conditions to well-ventilated back panels for summer heat.
It’s a good idea to have a selection of bib shorts in your collection, with varying options depending upon weather conditions.
More expensive bib shorts will use fabrics which aid blood circulation through compression. Those aiming for the aero edge may also feature technologies aimed in this direction.
Cycling short fit
Cycling shorts should be constructed from multiple panels of fabric. The more panels used, the better the fit – a single panel per leg would give the appearance of two moving chipolatas wrapped in lycra. Using multiple panels also increases comfort as the fabric isn’t forced to stretch too far in any given area.
You need to ensure the shoulder straps are comfortable. Some come up short, feeling a little restrictive, even for a rider of average height. Wherever possible, try on bib shorts (over underwear) and – as silly as you may feel in the dressing room – adopt a riding position to get a clear idea of how they’d really feel on the bike.
Styles vary as well – some riders like cycling shorts that reach almost to their knees, whilst others prefer them to finish mid thigh.
Cycling short chamois
The other details are important to consider, but the chamois is the absolute key bib short component. Get it right and your shorts will offer years of comfortable miles. Get it wrong and the pad can become uncomfortable.
Cycling short chamois pads are shaped to suit different sorts if riding – often the product description will give you an insight into the pad sewn into a pair you’re looking at.
Endurance focused chamois pads will be thicker to cater for greater hours in the saddle and will usually have denser foam at the rear to cater for an upright position.
A chamois that’s designed for short, hard, race efforts will often have more padding at the front as riders on the rivet will usually rotate more to sit on the end of the saddle.
Many brands buy in their chamois from an external company, such as Cytech, and can often use the same pad as a competitor.
The chamois often comes with some additional features, such as perforation to provide breathability, and an antibacterial treatment to keep the shorts fresh.