After 2,000 miles of test riding, we can finally announce our pick of the best men's bib shorts for road cycling. While evaluating bibs can be very subjective, we used an 11-point checklist in an attempt to deliver robust test results.
Bib bib shorts for men: evaluation criteria
I scored the bibs 0-5 on each of the following parameters, and the pair with the highest overall score won.
Panels and placement: How many panels? 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?
Leg grippers: Are they worth a damn? Do they stay in place? Is there something compromising about them? Do they cause irritation?
Upper (straps and construction): Do the straps bunch? Does the upper cover the whole body or provide breathability? Are vents well positioned?
Compression: A potential artifact of sizing - does the material bunch? Are there uncomfortable fit issues? Do they actually compress the muscle? Are there isolated points of pressure?
Chamois: Bulk, placement, texture, and the dreaded ‘diaper effect’. Bulk does not benefit a rider whose sit bones are supported, nor unsupported for that matter. So more than necessary is not good, and it doesn’t take much. While extra padding might seem to work for some, I strongly encourage riders to emphasize the quality of contact with a properly fitting seat as this will go much further than just bib comfort.
Try this: take your favorite bib shorts and press on the chamois with your thumbs against your seat (your thumbs are pretty darn close to the ‘footprint’ of your sit bones). As you’ll notice, more does not equal better. The thumbs completely flatten the chamois at contact – in addition, the remaining chamois only presses against soft tissues, which is a problem in and of itself.
‘Male-factor’: For me, 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?
Manufacturing location: This can influence quality and price — an honest metric to understand the relationship between the two.
Features: UV protection? Smart pockets? Reflective striping? Something so cool we’ve never even seen it before, but that every rider must have?
Price: Does the price warrant the investment? Tough call, but prices are included so you can decide for yourself.
I rode each pair on 55mi / 88km road and 40mi / 64km gravel routes, at minimum. However, when it came time to really craft the hierarchy, nearly twice as much riding was necessary.
The best men's bib shorts for road cycling
Giordana NXG $400 / £239
Highs: Woven compression; minimal flat-seam stitching; perfect chamois placement, texture, and bulk; minimal upper; perfect ‘male factor’; amazing and minimal silicone leg gripper; Italian made.
Lows: They take an extra 60 seconds to get on versus the competition, but it’s totally worth it – when they’re put on just right, it’s perfection. Is that a low?
Verdict: These are absolutely the nicest bibs I’ve ever worn.
The woven, single-panel construction and perfectly constructed chamois has set a new standard. Plus, Italians clearly identify with my ‘male factor’ priority as they have the front construction as comfortable and supportive as it gets.
I wish I could wear them on every ride.
Yes, they are expensive. But hear me out, if you do that one big annual ride – that ride where you get your bike tuned, slap on new cables and housing, new tires and commit to a bit of training – complement that ride with these bibs. You won’t regret it.
Giordana FR-C $250 / £107
Highs: Fantastic compression; precision flat-seam stitching; perfect chamois placement, texture, and bulk; breathable upper; fantastic ‘male factor’, several different and purposeful fabric choices; Italian made.
Lows: The leg gripper function is fantastic, but when stretched, the un-died silicone gripper on the inside starts to show through. This is by design, however, as the fabric technology is meant to enhance breathability. Again, is this really a low?
Verdict: While they may be the ‘little brother’ to the NX-G, they are not short on performance. There are three different materials on the lowers, with an additional two on the uppers. Each of them has purposeful placement and when moving down the road, you can tell Giordana has focused on making them hug the body.
The chamois is slightly different than the NX-G, but it feels the same out on the road – ride all day long and you’ll never know it’s there.
The upper is extremely breathable and something that was very notable on the recent summer heat. If the NX-G is crazy-talk to your budget, the FR-C is the best second option.
Specialized Pro SL $180 / £140
Highs: Good compression; good chamois placement, good hot-weather texture; minimalist and breathable upper; fantastic leg gripper.
Lows: Chamois bulk was a bit on the heavy side.
Verdict: Sometimes it’s challenging to pinpoint performance, and that’s a bit of the case with the SL Pro bibs. There’s nothing overwhelming about them, but does there need to be? They just feel good when you wear them. You get them on, get them situated and you forget they’re there, in a good way.
Having said that, if I were to invest in multiple pairs of the same short for a season, these would be the shorts. Why? Because they’re dependable and financially approachable. The leg gripper isn’t going to wear out, the stitching is good, and the compression is consistently supportive.
The Pro SLs are a great all-around bib and seemingly a sound long-term investment.
Assos Mille $159 / £110
Highs: Good compression; minimal stitching; perfect chamois placement, amazing texture, and ideal bulk; comfortable upper; Italian made.
Lows: Minimal leg grippers were a bit too minimal.
Verdict: Who’d have thought Assos and $150 would ever be in the same sentence? I already own one pair of Campionissimo, and one pair of Equipe S_7 bibs - there are trickle-down elements present in the Mille bibs.
The ‘male factor’, introduced to me by Assos, was not as present in these shorts as it is in its more expensive models, but it was still better than most.
The highlight of these shorts, like many Assos models, is the texture of the chamois. In really hot and humid conditions, the fabric is far more important that the foam padding and the Mille lives up to the Assos standard. The chamois material prevents saddle sores from developing just because of humidity, and where I ride this is important.
For me, Assos always seem to present a bit short and the minimal leg grippers didn’t help. But they are comfortable and definitely live under the Assos banner. And that new price point is tough to ignore.
Specialized RBX Pro $180 / £140
Highs: Comfortable compression; good chamois placement; storage pockets and breathable upper; ‘male factor’ is somewhat present.
Lows: Chamois bulk was a bit on the heavy side.
Verdict: The RBX is a tie with the Assos Mille bib. While the Assos has a slightly nicer chamois texture for super hot weather, the RBX steals the show in most other areas. But, much like the Specialized Pro SL bib short, it’s difficult to place what it is that makes it such a great bib.
I addressed the ‘endurance’ status of the RBX by taking them on two different 80mi/130km rides. The road ride proved they are in fact a great long-day-in-the-saddle companion, but the gravel ride left me searching for more compression.
The RBX have stash pockets that I thought would be useless and cumbersome with jersey pockets overlaying, but that wasn’t the case. Putting food, phone, and wallet in the jersey pockets and tube, tool and patch kit in the bibs worked perfectly. Then I didn’t have to look at a damn seat bag.
Ale REV-1 $210 / £150
Highs: Good fit; good chamois placement, and ideal bulk; breathable upper; a touch of ‘male factor’.
Lows: The leg gripper is substantial; loss of compression.
Verdict: The first ride of the Ale REV-1 was fantastic. I was stoked on the compression, chamois, and leg gripper. The upper has a unique material on the inside that helps keep the straps in place, which was something I hadn’t considered before but proved a nice feature.
There are two reasons the reason the REV-1 didn’t end up further up the order: by the third ride they had lost some compression, and although it hasn’t worsened with subsequent rides, it was enough to go from awesome to ‘meh'. Secondly, the leg gripper is functionally nice, but it’s very large and has led to slight irritation on extremely hot and humid rides – my skin showed small red spots from what I gather is a lack of breathability.
Castelli Free Aero Race $199 / £140
Highs: Good compression; good chamois placement, and good hot-weather texture; breathable upper.
Lows: The leg gripper function is good, but when stretched, skin starts to show through; chamois bulk was noticeable; 'male factor'.
Verdict: Castelli has long been associated with high-performance, and the Free Aero Race bibs don’t disappoint. They have several different materials present and the stitching is well placed. However, the dimpled side panels could use a bit more compression.
Similar to the Giordana FR-C, the leg gripper breathability is by design, but the Castellis actually left me with a bit of pink skin after a five-hour sun-soaked ride. I used sun block inside the gripper on subsequent rides and had no further issues.
As a reference, every other pair of shorts in the test were medium – after initially receiving medium, I had to get large in the Castelli Free Aero Race. Size up, it seems.
Other very good bib shorts
GORE Xenon Race 2.0 + $249 / £159
Highs: Minimal and svelte upper; great chamois placement and bulk transition from front to back; fantastic compression; reflective highlights.
Lows: Lack of leg gripper - thigh ‘creep’; no ‘male factor’.
Verdict: Gore is most popular for its high-tech fabrics, many of which have made their way in to its cycling line. The Xenon Race bib has hints of the firm's technical apparel prowess, but hasn’t quite hit the bulls eye.
Gore opted for compression to hold the lower in place, and once it’s settled this is an acceptable approach. However, that tends to only happen once the short has crept a good ways up the thigh. As I’ve mentioned, I find this annoying, but this could be a blessing for riders that prefer a shorter cut.
The chamois is minimal in the front and supportive in the rear, just as it should be. As for the upper, it’s minimal, has a great hand and is hardly noticeable – plus it makes for very easy road-side relief with a less compressive mesh-like middle section.
Bontrager Velocis $159 / £99
Highs: Breathable upper; good chamois placement and bulk transition from front to back.
Lows: Seam down the center of the thigh; thigh ‘creep’ on rides; no ‘male factor’.
Verdict: The Velocis make for a great first bib in that they won’t break the bank and give a few hints of a high-performance bib. The upper is quite abundant, but it is mostly mesh so breathability isn’t an issue. However, it does make for a challenging road-side relief.
Bontrager opted for a seam down the center of the thigh, which is the location of the most substantial skin stretch. The combination of those two factors makes that seam quite annoying, especially with the overall bulk of the seam at the bottom and the fact that it’s not flat-stitched.
Endura Pro SL II $194 / £119
Highs: Chamois placement; leg gripper.
Lows: Compression; upper.
Verdict: Endura has invested heavily in its bib range by making several different chamois sizes (narrow, regular, wide) for each size of short it offers (XS-XXL) and on top of that it offers regular and long versions. That’s a large investment in finding the best short and fit for riders.
The chamois placement is great, indicative of time spent using pressure mapping to develop them.
I found the compression to be underwhelming, to the point of getting a fair amount of bunching of the fabrics. Perhaps there are differing opinions, but materials should be supportive of tissues, and especially on gravel rides the lack of compression led to numb sensations.
Giro Chrono Bib $250 / £199
Highs: Material selection; compression; leg gripper.
Lows: Chamois placement and bulk.
Verdict: For riders feeling that chamois bulk is a top priority, the Chrono bib could be a suitable option. The material selection presents a nice hand for both the lowers and uppers. There’s also a small storage pocket in the center of the upper that provides enough space for a tube and tool.
The shortcomings of the bib come from the chamois placement and bulk. With enough adjustment while pedaling, both could be tolerated. But at the first attempt at coming out of the saddle for a climb, things had to be reset. For a 3-4hr ride with lots of time in and out of the saddle it was difficult to escape the frustration.
As for the front side of the short, they lacked any space for anatomy and have a seam placement that tends to exacerbate the problem. Perhaps this makes them suitable as a women’s short?
Again, if bulk is a benefit to you, these shorts could work. It’s a shame the chamois is what it is, because they have comfortable compression, quality materials and good construction.
Rapha Pro Team II $295 / £195
Highs: Leg gripper; storage pockets; flat-seam construction.
Lows: Chamois placement and bulk; compression and fit.
Verdict: Rapha spared no expense to add construction panels, with flat-seam construction throughout. Thanks to its balance of size and tackiness, the leg gripper is one of the best in the test.
The Pro Team Bib II falls in to the ‘more is better’ approach with chamois size and placement. They’ve provided multiple storage pockets in the upper that actually provide quite a bit of space, as long as whatever it is you’re wanting to store fits through the limited opening.
An additional struggle I had with the Pro Team bib was the amount of on-bike bunching of excess material. However, the fit seemed to suit my off-bike lounging, so depending on your agenda this might not be an issue.
Pearl Izumi PRO Escape Bib $170 / £129
Highs: Feathery materials; breathability; comfortable upper.
Lows: Chamois placement and bulk; compression.
Verdict: Pearl Izumi has done a fantastic job of creating a short that feels like you’re wearing nothing at all. If that speaks to you, then this short could be the ticket. As a trade-off there’s a bit missing in terms of compression and support, especially on longer gravel rides.
Chamois bulk is a challenge for the PRO Escape bib, as it’s overly abundant and, for me, caused issues of midline pressure. In short, I wasn’t able to find my sit bones, which is problematic when this is something that I count on for comfort.
Pearl gave the PRO Escape a very nice upper that compliments the minimalist feel of the lowers. The silicone leg grippers were effective and insignificant, but still functional.
This article was last updated on 18 September 2017.