Specialized SL R women's bib shorts review

Excellent bib shorts with a convenient comfort break feature

Specialized SL R women's bib shorts EC
Cycling Weekly Verdict

Extremely comfortable shorts with a racing pedigree and a comfort break system that actually works without having any negative impact on fit or performance.

Reasons to buy
  • +

    Wide grippers

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    Comfortable pad

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    Well thought out comfort break clasp

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    Compressive fabric

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The Specialized SL R women's bib shorts were selected for an Editor's Choice award in 2020. This year's list contains 78 items which scored a 9 or 10/10 with our tech team - this gear is the best of the best, and has received the Cycling Weekly stamp of approval. 

The SL R women's shorts are the top end model from Specialized. New for 2020, they build on the SL Pro platform which impressed us enough to receive an Editor's Choice award back in 2017.

>>> Best women's bib shorts 

One of the major changes in this version is the redesign of the comfort break clasp. This is located midway down the back, and snaps open using two simple magnets. In the latest design, the brand has flattened the magnets out, eliminating any previous issues for riders finding the plastic construction causing discomfort whilst wearing backpacks.

Buy now: Specialized SL R women's bib shorts at CycleStore for £140

The magnet is incredibly quick and easy to operate, and having it at the back (instead of at the front, as some brands do) means there's no threading the connecting strip under a jersey - or risk of it being thrown over the head and disappearing into the toilet. This solution just works - without any associated drop in comfort or performance, which is exactly how it should be.

Specialized SL R women's bib shorts

The chamois is a newly reimagined Women's Body Geometry 3D Contour Padding construction. It uses a triple density foam which offers plenty of padding both when pressing hard on the pedals in a racing position and relaxing more for gentle spins over multiple hours.

Indeed, I first wore these shorts (over leg warmers) on a very long day out sampling the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix. It was a long, hard, wet, cold day - the comfort break clasp meant I didn't have to embark on the horrible job of taking off sodden layers when the time came, and the chamois provided plenty of relief even over jarring surfaces - and it's continued to do so as we head into summer.

One of my favourite features of the outgoing SL Pro shorts was the use of a wide cuff, at the bottom hem. The brand has continued this, and the hem on my shorts measures in at 8cm. This distributes pressure - meaning there's no digging in, and silicone dots on the underneath keep it all in place.

Specialized SL R women's bib shorts

The key fabric used is called 'Action elasthan', a material designed to offer lasting compression and enhance circulation, and these shorts really do encircle the legs in a comfortable hold which offers plenty of support without being restrictive.

The upper is constructed primarily from mesh fabric, with a traditional 'Y' shape design, this same mesh material has been added at the waistband, ensuring there's no risk of slipping or digging in at the stomach.

Slithers of reflective material are located on each quad, with a reflective 'S' logo as well. Whilst the SL Pro shorts came in lots of jazzy designs (which pretty much all required a matching jersey), these shorts are plain black - dull as that might be, it does mean they can be paired with many more jersey options without looking like a failed children's colouring comptition entry - which is a plus, for me.

Specialized Women's SL R bib shorts Image: Michelle Arthurs-Brennan

Image: Michelle Arthurs-Brennan
(Image credit: Michelle Arthurs-Brennan)

Sizes range from XS to XL. I've tried iterations of these shorts in both a Small and Medium, finding the differences between the two sizes fairly minimal - both fitted my size 8/10 frame well with the Medium offering a little more stretch at the quads.

Buy now: Specialized SL R women's bib shorts at CycleStore for £140

At £140 these shorts are an investment - but they come in better value than many of the offerings from premium brands, offering performance that surpasses most.

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Michelle Arthurs-Brennan

Michelle Arthurs-Brennan is a traditional journalist by trade, having begun her career working for a local newspaper, where highlights included interviewing a very irate Freddie Star (and an even more irate theatre owner), as well as 'the one about the stolen chickens'.

Previous to joining the Cycling Weekly team, Michelle was Editor at Total Women's Cycling. She joined CW as an 'SEO Analyst', but couldn't keep her nose out of journalism and in the spreadsheets, eventually taking on the role of Tech Editor before her latest appointment as Digital Editor. 

Michelle is a road racer who also enjoys track riding and the occasional time trial, though dabbles in off-road riding too (either on a mountain bike, or a 'gravel bike'). She is passionate about supporting grassroots women's racing and founded the women's road race team 1904rt.