BEST CYCLING BIB SHORTS FOR LONG RIDES
After testing 10 cycling bib shorts for cycling enthusiasts doing multi-hour rides in late spring, summer, and early fall temperatures, I picked the Assos Mille GT the Best Performer for its great fit, chamois pad, and comfort. It’s available at recommended stores for US$200/£165/€195 here and here for US and Canadian residents and here and here for those living in the UK or other countries around the world.
At US$157 to $180/£146/€170, the Ale R-EV1 Hammer combines performance and comfort that’s nearly as good as the Assos at a slightly lower price. I rate it the Best Value among those I’ve reviewed. You can order it by clicking on this link here.
A good pair of cycling bib shorts is key to a great day on the bike. Bibs with a comfortable chamois pad, breathable material, supportive leg muscle compression and useful shoulder straps all with the right cut and fit for you are part of what separates the good ones from those that just looked good when we bought them.
But that’s a lot to consider when trying to make a choice. And there are other important things to think about too like how well the panels stretch as you move around on the bike, what the seams and grippers are like, how well the bib shorts will hold up after a couple of seasons of wearing and washing, who makes it, what it looks like, and how much you’ll have to pay for it.
Worse yet, there are a ton of cycling bib shorts to choose from, very few objective measures to compare them as you have with gear, and new models coming out every season.
Fear not, my fellow cycling enthusiasts. While I’m not here to save the day, I have done one of my ad- and influence-free, comprehensive, and comparative evaluations, this one centered on men’s cycling bib shorts. My fellow tester Aiyana has done a review of women’s bib shorts.
To keep this both focused and real, I picked 10 widely available bib shorts from known brands, most of which cost US$200/£170/€200 or so. I also chose those we can wear at least from late spring through the summer and into early fall on the kind of 2+ hour-long rides we serious roadies love to do.
While some of these are new for 2021, I’ve worn all of them enough times and through enough washes to know them, dare I say, inside and out.
I’ve stayed away from summer only or heavier shoulder season cycling bib shorts and those intended for short races or rides designed with smaller and thinner chamois.
And while I’ve tested several that cost between US$50 and $100, I’ve not found any of them good enough for the kind of riding most enthusiasts do. I’ve reviewed one of the more popular ones today at the end of this post as an example.
BIB SHORTS REVIEWS
Listed in rank order
WHAT MATTERS MOST IN CHOOSING CYCLING BIB SHORTS
I look at criteria in three categories that I think matter most in choosing between shorts.
Cut – Are the bibs cut for riders with a slim or standard hip width or will it, because of their construction and material, fit both types of riders?
Do the bib shorts have a standard leg length or do they run long? Some of us prefer a longer inseam to get more coverage and support on long rides while others prefer the freedom and airflow of a standard length inseam.
How high do the bib shorts come up on your waist? Some prefer a taller waist height to help retain and support their midsection while those with little fat and a strong core don’t want the extra material and added cooling that a taller waist may require to distract them.
Fit – Once you have bibs with the right cut and preferences for your body, how well does it fit? Specifically, does it stretch well with you as you move on the bike? Does it provide enough but not too much compression to your glute, quad, and hamstring muscles?
Do the grippers keep the short’s legs from rising without constricting your legs? How well do the straps work in keeping the shorts up and getting the bibs to move with you in an integrated way?
Finally, how flat do the seams lay? Do they enhance the fit, comfort, and look of the shorts or fight them?
Comfort – How comfortable is the chamois pad and other chamois materials on long rides? How flexible and comfortable are the bib short’s other materials against your skin? How breathable are they? How well do they wick your sweat during a ride? Do the straps lay flat across your shoulders without applying too much pressure on them or your back? How comfortable is the back panel, if there is one?
Getting the right cut is a given. Fit differences can be hard to tell unless a pair performs far better or worse than others to the point where you really notice. Comfort is what usually separates one set of bib shorts from another, especially from the chamois during long rides.
By assessing the things that matter most, I evaluated and came up with the comparative reviews of cycling bib shorts that follow.
A POINT OF REFERENCE
We’re all different. Let me tell you a bit about my cut, size, and preferences to give you a point of reference for the reviews below.
I’m 5′ 10″ (178cm) and have weighed between 145 and 150 lbs (66-68kg) during the seasons I’ve tested these cycling bib shorts. I have wide sit bones but narrow hips and a bony rear and prefer a firm Specialized Romin Evo saddle. There doesn’t appear to be much and certainly not enough muscle in my glutes or quads (damn!) yet my sweet tooth ensures I maintain at least a spare tube, if not a full spare tire around my midsection.
The way a lot of companies size their bibs seems to have shrunken. Without changing my dimensions, it seems my cycling bib shorts size has dropped from medium to small over the last couple of years. Before you buy anything new, I’d suggest you closely examine the sizing chart for each company to make sure you get the size in the bib shorts you are considering today, not the size you have historically worn.
Even though I ride a 155mm saddle rather than a standard 143mm width one, I generally fit best in slim-cut or Italian-cut bib shorts rather than standard hip-width or American-cut ones. While most bibs are standard length and I’m fine with that, I love longer ones that cover and provide compression to more of my hamstrings and quads.
Most of my outdoor rides range from 2 to 4 hours over rolling terrain. While I have and wear, slightly heavier bib shorts or bib tights when temps get below 50F/10C, lighter weight summer bibs on scorching hot days, and racing ones with smaller, thinner pads on 1hr, interval training rides, I’ll almost always wear the kind of cycling bib shorts I’ve reviewed below for the late spring, summer and early fall rides of over 40 miles/65km long.
I’m not particularly fast (18-20mph/29-32kph average) or flashy (black is standard, navy makes me feel like I’m stylin’). But after wearing probably a dozen and a half brands of bib shorts and countless models, I have developed a pretty good sense for what makes a pair perform well and doesn’t, and certainly what I prefer and don’t.
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CYCLING BIB SHORTS COMPARATIVE RATINGS
ASSOS MILLE GTS BIB SHORTS –THE BEST PERFORMANCE AT A COMPETITIVE PRICE
I’ve bought and worn a lot of Assos bib shorts over the years and gushed about them in past reviews. This review won’t be any different. Assos bib shorts in general and the Mille GTS Bib Shorts I’m reviewing here are simply the best at what they do.
And while Assos bib shorts are usually far more expensive than those from most other top brands, the Mille GTS Bib Shorts aren’t any more expensive, and actually less expensive than some shorts intended for the same purpose.
At the top of the list of what separates all Assos bib shorts is their uniquely comfortable chamois. I don’t know and don’t care to bore you with all the design details but I find there’s enough of the right things in the right places to make the comfort and performance of Assos bib shorts including these Mille GTS Bib Shorts stand apart from those of other brands.
Like most other bib shorts I tested for this comparative review, there’s enough padding under my sit bones for a comfortable 4-hour or longer ride. I also like that the padding goes back far enough to provide comfort whether I’m in an ideal aero or semi-aero position or sitting up as we’re all likely to do on climbs or breaks during the course of a long ride.
Unlike cycling bib shorts from other brands, the Assos Mille GTS is padded on either side of my perineum but leaves only the chamois’ thin, perforated, and somewhat lowered top layer sitting between the pads. I find this eliminates any pressure during a long ride on that tender spot and allows for better airflow than other bibs which have either a thin or full-thickness pad that can cause more opposition and sweat on a hot day.
The 4mm or so foam fabric that makes up that top side of the chamois has a pattern of 10mm wide octagons that are perhaps only half as thick. It’s like a breakfast waffle of variable depths that I find varies the pressure on my butt and inside legs. Functionally, it’s akin to beaded car seat covers that cab drivers and long haul truckers use to keep the blood flowing in their back, butt, and legs on long shifts.
On my long rides, I find the Mille GTS chamois is the right width to cushion my glutes without rubbing the inside of my legs during pedaling. It’s long enough to cushion my privates without being restrictive.
No, it’s not the loose, soft, microfiber “kukuPenthouse” layer Assos builds into their ultra-distance Cento bib shorts. But, it’s comfortable and has a series of small perforations to keep from getting sweaty balls.
There’s one more thing that makes the Mille GTS and other Assos bib shorts the most comfortable and efficient I’ve worn. The edges along the middle section of the chamois are not sewn into the bibs themselves. This allows the chamois to stay with you rather than needing it to accommodate the dynamic action of your legs and the static force of your saddle. The result is less opposing pressure and more comfort.
The Mille GTS model fits between the shorter-ride, more race-oriented Equipe RS S9 that has a similar chamois with slightly more venting upfront and narrower padding in some locations and the longer-ride Cento Evo bib shorts that has thicker padding under your sit bones and the aforementioned kukuPenthouse. (A+ to the marketing genius who came up with that one).
Yes, I own both of the RS S9 and Cento and am more than happy to wear either on a 2+ hour ride. But I find the Mille GT is the porridge that this Goldilocks finds just right rides of that length.
From the moment you put on the Assos Mille GTS bib shorts, you feel compression. It’s comfortable and even and supportive. It has felt the same each time I’ve put them on and I haven’t noticed the compression easing during a ride.
The positive compression is joined with unrestrictive stretch, the kind that gives you the flexibility to move around on or out of the saddle with a feeling like you’re bib shorts aren’t even there. There’s no getting in the way of your efficient pedaling or feeling of total freedom getting in and of the saddle.
Part of what I think makes this work are the straps on these Mille GTS bib shorts. They seem to be anchored to the shorts in just the right places and at unique angles. They’re crossed in the back and seem to have just the right amount of stretch to keep the shorts moving and grooving with you yet don’t put added pressure or stress on your shoulders.
The Mille GTS inseam doesn’t feel any longer than average but the 2.5″/65mm tall grippers keep the bibs in place without changing the compression you feel from the rest of the shorts.
They also breathe brilliantly! I don’t know what material Assos uses – they have some crazy silly name for what is likely a very scientifically engineered weave – but they don’t feel any warmer or cooler depending on the outside temperature or the amount of work you are putting in. They somehow seem to regulate your temperature to a comfortable setting.
And seams? There is one that runs up from the back of your legs and turns horizontal where it meets just above your sacrum. Another swoops down from either side of the inside of your straps in a semicircle that covers your abdomen and privates. Finally, there’s the stitching in the front and back to connect parts of the chamois to the shorts.
Overall, it’s a very clean look unmatched by others.
While I’ve got slim hips, the way these Assos bib shorts stretch makes me suspect they’d be fine for enthusiasts with full-size ones. I have known quite a few riders with wide bottoms and big glutes that fit Assos bib shorts just fine.
On the other hand, if you’re a handful of pounds or kilos overweight, you may not appreciate the low-cut waist and lack of coverage over your love handles. This might create the dreaded middle-aged male “muffin top” effect.
The only real fault I can find with these bib shorts is a potential confusion around the name. Assos calls it the MILLE GT SUMMER BIB SHORTS GTS. Retailers name it the T GTS Mille GT C2 Bib Short or just the Mille GTS.
While it breathes wonderfully in hot, humid weather, it’s not just a summer bib short and is clearly different from the Mille GT Bib Shorts model that preceded it. (No S after the GT and those earlier bib shorts have back panel that the current GTS model reviewed here doesn’t).
I rate the Assos Mille GTS the Best Performer in this category of cycling bib shorts for long rides.
Here are the links to where you can find them at stores I recommend for their competitive prices, wide enthusiast gear and kit selection, superior customer satisfaction ratings, and reader support. That and between US$200 and US$230/£165/€195 will make them yours at Performance Bicycle, Competitive Cyclist, Wiggle, and Chain Reaction Cycles.
ALE’ R-EV1 HAMMER – A FULL-ON EMBRACE OF PERFORMANCE AND COMFORT
While Assos rightly gets a lot of love from me and others, I’ve been reaching for the Ale’ R-EV1 Hammer bib shorts just as often.
While hammer describes what you can do in these Ale’ bib shorts, embrace better describes the way it makes me feel.
That embrace starts with a comfortable, multi-thickness, sculpted chamois pad. It’s thinner in the most sensitive spots and has hexagonal dimples throughout that seem to prevent any pressure points or moisture areas from developing.
The Hammer’s embrace continues with a uniform level of compression I feel across my quads, hammies, and glutes when wearing these bibs. For me, the amount of compression seemed just right, not too much or too little. That keeps my muscles from feeling as much fatigue on a long ride in these bib shorts as they can in others.
For some cyclists, the term compression scares them off into thinking their muscles will get squeezed or even constricted. That can be the case with bibs that don’t fit you well. And to avoid that, most bib sorts provide compression just in the gripper area and lower half of the shorts. Few provide the uniformity and right level of compression I feel in the Hammer.
Ale’ takes a unique approach to the abdomen and back panels they use in R-EV1 Hammer that provides me good heat regulation. Each panel has alternating, 5mm tall sheer and solid horizontal fabric that provides venting and structure respectively. This allows a higher, more supportive waist on the Hammer than the Assos but without the added perspiration I’ve experienced in other bibs that are as high or higher than the Hammer.
The Hammer uses a combination of a back panel and front straps that are more comfortable than most. The trade-off with some back panels is that they don’t have the same amount of tension holding up the back of your shorts as the straps do in the front. While the Hammer gets the job done similar to others and better than several, it doesn’t do it as evenly as the Assos Mille GTS that doesn’t have a back panel or the Santini Tono Dinamo that does.
When Ale’ first started selling their own branded cycling clothing (previously they only made apparel for other brands), the look of their kit rated an 11 on a 1 to 10 scale for their ability to stand out. Most of their jerseys were multi- and brightly- colored graphics, prints, or camos with large Ale’ block lettering. Their bibs often had gripper or leg designs that matched the jerseys.
Among the stealth crowd that predominates road cycling, wearing Ale’ was making a statement though not one that everyone was attracted to.
While you can still find plenty of those loud designs in the Ale’ line-up, they seem to have turned down the volume quite a bit on other current lines of their kit.
The Hammer bib shorts is a nice compromise between these two design approaches. They’re black with modest branding but shines nicely in the sunlight.
That said, I couldn’t resist the chance to complement my Hammer bibs with their aero-fitting Bullet jersey that just happen to match the red, black, and white of my bike and the site. Just trying to stay on brand and get psyched to hammer out on the road while using up my bullets at key points of the ride.
Or just enjoy the embrace of the Ale’ kit. Among all those I’ve tested, I rate the Hammer a top performer nearly on par with the Assos Mille GT. Based on their performance and US$156 to $180/£146/€170 price, I rate them the Best Value.
SANTINI TONO DINAMO – FEEL AND LOOK LIKE A STYLISH DYNAMO
I don’t speak Italian but wearing the Santini Tono Dinamo cycling bib shorts makes it seem like I’m in Italy once again.
Stunning was the first word that came to mind once I put them on. The shorts shimmer in the sun, their seams disappear into fine lines, and their laser-cut edges evoke modernism. Did they come out of an Italian fashion house?
I’ll admit, it took me a bit of work to get the Tono Dinamo on the first time and still does. The grippers take their jobs seriously with both 2″/50mm of printed silicone diamond pattern and a 0.25″/8mm band of silicone at the edge. And the slim, Italian-cut cycling bib shorts initially seem small but stretch to fit without a nanometer gap anywhere.
Or perhaps I’ve just been enjoying pizza and pasta too much? No worries, the waist is cut high and keeps my gut and love handles tucked in enough to remind me of my younger self.
Thankfully, there will be no walk down the runway. After all, these are Santini bib shorts and I’m supposed to ride my bike wearing them. Tono Dinamo translates to “dynamo tone” in English and while I’m certainly not that, I do like to get at it as much as the next enthusiast.
In a way I find hard to describe, let alone explain, my legs do feel stimulated by the material used in these bib shorts. They are stretchy everywhere and compressive around the grippers. But, something about the surface finish or weave feels good and freeing when I ride.
On hot days, that same material isn’t as breathable as the others. The Tono Dinamo never feels clammy but it doesn’t stay cool either on an 80F/27C or humid day.
The Tono Dinamo’s C3 chamois pad is very comfortable on long rides. I’ve ridden the same pad in their gravel shorts on 6hr rides on rough surfaces and felt good, or at least my butt felt better than my legs and arms at the end of those rides. Santini seems to have the design dialed in for a range of different types of rides.
It’s thick in the right places, like under your sit bones and thin where you don’t need it to be, like against your inner thighs. With its good coverage in the front and back, you’re comfortable in both aero and more upright endurance positions.
Somewhat like Assos’ kukuPenthouse, the Tono Dinamo creates a space for your kuku to rest against a softer material than used by the rest of the chamois. But it’s a smaller space, more like a kukuStudio with just enough room for your cylinder to slot in.
The straps on the Tono Dinamo are first-rate. They are wide, stretchy, lay flat, and work well in keeping your midsection supported and your shorts up.
There’s also a fine mesh back panel that I found breathes and wicks quite well. I wish more bibs would use a panel like this. Most either have no panel or a heavier, less breathable one.
ENDURA PRO SL – CHAMOIS, COMPRESSION, AND FLEX FOR FIT AND COMFORT
The Endura Pro SL bib shorts excel in three ways that are key to long ride performance – chamois comfort, leg compression, and material stretch.
Unlike other bibs, you order the Pro SL in a size based both on your waist dimension and the width of your sit bones (more on this below). That extra specification gave me a chamois with just the right amount of side-to-side padding.
I found the pad itself to be quite dense the first couple of rides but seemed to form to the contour of my bottom the more I wore it. After a half-dozen rides, it seemed as if the shaping was complete and I felt the support was where I needed it to give me comfortable rides.
Like the Santini Tono Dinamo and, to a lesser extent the Assos Mille GTS, there’s also a soft pad slot upfront. But perhaps as suggested by the competition orientation of the bib’s Pro SL name, there wasn’t any extra padding behind to cushion me if I sat up for long (competitors don’t).
Compression across the length of my quads added to the comfort provided by the Endura Pro SL and limited the fatigue over a long ride. I especially appreciated that muscle-soothing wrap the compression provided on a recovery day after a hard ride.
The Pro SL’s material and panel arrangement added to a great fit. These shorts move with you without a gap. I remember looking down during one ride to see where the seams were and couldn’t quickly spot them. There aren’t many and I do notice that they’ve left their signature on my legs when I take the bibs off but I’ll gladly take that for the compression and stretch the shorts offer.
The front straps do most of the work of holding the shorts in place. They’re tighter than most but aren’t uncomfortable.
On hot summer days starting around 85F/29C, the Pro SL shorts and back panel materials didn’t breathe nearly well enough. I realize that’s pretty warm but seemed to be where these Enduras were most vulnerable.
As I’ve noted in the comparison chart, some cycling bib shorts are cut for and have chamois pads that best suit riders with slim hips while other bibs are better for those with more standard size bottoms. And the widest cyclists amongst us, those “barn-door” types we love to draft behind often have to put up with bib shorts whose pad width is sized for a standard rider.
With their Pro SL bib shorts, Endura is trying to get you a pad suited for your bottom by offering 3 width options. In addition, they also offer each bib option with a normal length inseam or longer one. And then you need to choose your bib size – you know, small, medium, large, etc. – based on your waist measurement.
Sorting through the choices was enough to give me a headache. It almost put me off from trying what sounded like a good pad sizing idea that failed in the analysis-paralysis that often comes from having too many choices. Add to that, Endura and most of their online retailers do not explain when you should pick a Pro SL Narrow, Medium, or Wide (which Endura also calls “Relaxed Fit” despite fitting just right for those with wide sit-bones but otherwise slim hips like me).
Competitive Cyclist’s Endura Pro SL product page descriptions did help me break the code. And once I did, it was stupid simple for even a guy like me to figure out.
Here’s how you pick the right one: If your saddle width is less than 134mm, get the Pro SL Narrow. If it’s wider than 146mm get the Wide. And if it’s between 134mm and 146mm, get the Medium or one that isn’t called Narrow or Wide.
Don’t know your saddle width? Take a look at your saddle. There should be a marking on it.
And while I got no guidance on this from Endura or anyone else, I’d suggest that unless you are very tall or know that you have the legs of someone who is probably 6′ 2″ (188cm) or taller, stick with the regular length. The Long adds 1.5″ or 40mm, far more than most shorter cyclists would want. I typically see about half that added length on bibs I call “long” in my comparative chart.
All in, the Endura Pro SL gives you the ability to ride with a kind of semi-custom fit and comfort in most conditions. If that’s what you are looking for, it sells for US$195 through this link to Competitive Cyclist and £170/€200 outside the US.
Thanks to Competitive Cyclist for sending me the Endura Pro SL reviewed above and Giordana FR-C Pro bib shorts evaluated below. I picked those two among the many brands and models of bib shorts they sell.
Of all the online bike stores I track, Competitive Cyclist is one of the top stores I recommend based on its competitive prices, broad selection of enthusiast-level gear and kit, and strong customer satisfaction record from independent services. It also is a big supporter of In The Know Cycling’s goal to help fellow enthusiasts figure out what cycling gear to get next and where to get it.
GIORDANA FR-C PRO – A RELAXED FIT FOR THOSE THAT PREFER IT
Choosing between bib shorts that are the right cut for you – hip width, waist height, leg length – is always the best place to start. Once you’ve narrowed your options to those with the right cut, you can pick between those that give you the fit you want, for example how much leg compression, strap tension. and material stretch you prefer at a price you’re willing to pay.
While I think most enthusiasts want a more supportive fit, I get that there is a place for looser-fitting bib shorts for some of us. If that’s you and you are a bigger rider than most, the Giordana FR-C Pro is a bib short worth considering.
Yes, the FR-C Pro comes in all sizes. But the M, L, and XL sizes each spans a 4 inch, 10 cm range. For example, with my 31-32″ waist, I went with the M which the size chart says will fit those whose waists run 28-32″.
And it’s a generous cut. The hips are standard width, the waist is moderately high and the inseam is longer than most. Add to that, the FR-C Pro catches but doesn’t provide much opposition to your gut and love handles. Nor do the straps work very hard keeping the shorts in place or do the shorts themselves give you any compression.
They aren’t overstretched with gaps or loose like I’ve felt with worn bib-less shorts or several under US$100 pairs of bibs. But neither are they the kind of second skin, flexibly stretching, muscle supportive bib shorts I prefer for fast, long rides.
I actually felt quite relaxed wearing these Giordana and thought these are a pair of bib shorts I could learn to love if I were 5-10 lbs over my target weight. (I was 3-4 lbs above where I wanted to be during the time I tested them.) But when I hit that next climb, my legs start telling my head not to fall for bib shorts that could cut my mid-section any slack.
The chamois looks like a basic foam pad. But, it’s wide and long on both ends and thick enough to give me a comfortable ride. Adding to the comfort, I found the back panel and shorts material on the inner thighs and under the pad to be sufficiently breathable on hot days.
I haven’t tested many bib shorts recently with the kind of flatlock, visible seams that used to be the standard design and you get with the Giordana FR-C Pro. But these are just as comfortable as the hidden outside, longer inside ones on most of today’s top bib shorts.
As a slim-cut, moderately trim enthusiast that prefers close-fitting and responsive bib shorts, the Giordana FR-C Pro isn’t for me. But in an age of “you do you”, the more relaxed feeling you get riding these may give you an option that suits you even at their bigger US$250 price.
You can order them at this link to recommended store Competitive Cyclist.
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7MESH MK3 BIB SHORT – BORN AS A ROAD SHORT YET AVAILABLE WITH POCKETS
In my review of gravel bike shorts, I included 7Mesh’s top model, the MK3 Cargo Bib Short. I opened the review by writing that they were more like a road bib short than any of the other gravel bibs I’ve tested.
That’s probably because it’s the same MK3 Bib Short that 7Mesh makes for the road, just with pockets.
Since that review, I’ve continued to ride the MK3 both on dirt and gravel and more often on paved roads, sometimes carrying gels in the pockets for easy access.
Overall, these are comfortable cycling bib shorts cut for standard hip-width enthusiasts. The material is sufficiently stretchy to move well with you on the bike yet provides good compression across the bottom half of your quads.
There’s clearly a lot of attention to detail in the construction of the MK3. The seams are thin, pinstripe-wide on the outside, and have minimal overlap on the inside. No chamois edges are exposed and yet you can hardly see or feel how they’ve been stitched to the shorts.
The top edges of the panels that meet your waist and back, including where the straps are sewn in, are reinforced. But I couldn’t feel them. Continuing this aesthetic, there are no separate gripper bands sewn to the legs. Instead, the MK3 has 1.5″/35mm bands of silicone microbeads wrapping the inside bottom of the shorts.
The 7Mesh MK3 chamois is more comfortable as a road cushion than a gravel pad. It’s thickest on either side of the center channel from front to back but thins out quickly just inside or outside of your sit bones depending on how wide yours are.
Since I spend more of my time out of the saddle or hovering over it riding gravel than I do on paved roads, I prefer the thickest part of my pad to have a little wider landing area than the MK3 provides. But on paved roads where I’m seated most of the time, I can position myself well within the pad’s target zone.
The front straps are set wider than most. Yet, it’s the rear 1.75″/45 mm wide single center strap that is even more unusual. It’s a very stretchy strap that junctions into two and runs from the top of your back over your shoulders and down to the below-the-belly-button front panel.
This makes for a very comfortable and sufficiently supportive setup without anything in your rear pockets or, I’d assume, in the unpocketed MK3. With rear pockets loaded though, it didn’t provide the tension need to hold up my shorts.
If you plan to do the occasional gravel ride or a longer unsupported road ride, I find it handy to have the extra space in the 7Mesh MK3 Cargo Bib Short leg pockets rather than overstuffing your jersey ones. But, if you’re looking strictly for road cycling bib shorts, save yourself a few dollars and go with the unpocketed MK3 Bib Short.
You can order the men’s MK3 Bib Short for US$200 and the cargo version for $230 this link to my top-ranked store Competitive Cyclist. If you live in the UK, EU, or other places around the world, Sigma Sports sells them for £150/€175 and £180/€215.
RAPHA PRO TEAM BIB SHORTS II – THE KIT EQUIVALENT OF AN ALL-AROUNDER
When you want a wheelset that performs well on most terrain and most types of rides and is well suited for a range of serious riders, you look for an “all-arounder.” It wouldn’t be the ideal wheelset for alpine climbing or for riding at aero-speeds or for the weekend warrior on a supervised budget. But for most enthusiasts doing a lot of riding in a range of situations, it would be a great first choice.
The Rapha Pro Team Bib Shorts II is the cycling bib shorts equivalent of an all-arounder. It does most things well, suits most ride situations, and should fit a wide range of riders. It wouldn’t be the first pair of bibs I’d reach for on a hot day or if I were doing an FTP test, or if I preferred modest kit fashion. But for most riding and riders, especially if you are willing to spend a little extra for a signature kit brand, the Pro Team II is a good choice for a long, spirited effort.
A high-cut waist between your front straps and even higher coverage of your sides helps physically and visually support any extra weight you may be carrying around your midsection. It’s hard not to feel or at least look trim wearing the Pro Team IIs.
While I’ve got narrow hips and am relatively light, I could easily see these Rapha Bibs working well for a fit or getting fit wide-body rider. I dare say it’s an American cut or at least the antithesis of an Italian cut pair of bib shorts.
The wide, hemmed, soft, and stretchy mesh straps and back panel integrate well with each other and with the shorts. Together they give you the feeling of everything working together as a team, or perhaps a Pro Team. It makes for a very comfortable fit.
You also get a couple of 2.5×5″/65x130mm radio pockets at the bottom of the back to communicate with your Director Sportif. One pocket just fit my iPhone 12 mini but I didn’t find it very comfortable back there. Oh, and I don’t have a DS but it’s kind of cool to know that if I ever get one, my Raphas will be ready.
The Pro Team II has quite a few panels throughout the lower and upper half of these cycling bib shorts. Some companies argue that more panels give their designers the ability to create a better fit while others promote the unidirectional stretch of their fabrics in creating the desired fit with fewer panels.
While there are more and larger flat seams that go with the Pro Team II bib shorts than most others I’ve recently reviewed, the fit is good with no bunching or puckering that I could feel getting in my way on rides.
Compression is limited to the 4″/100mm tall gripper panels that wrap around your quads. While the actual microdot silicone grippers cover only the bottom 1/3 of those panels, the height of the panel itself is about 2x the height of most other bibs with separate gripper panels.
Then again, several bib shorts from the “fabrics-not-panels” wing give you compression over a greater area of your leg muscles than do these Rapha bib shorts.
Don’t get me wrong – the Pro Team II chamois gives you a comfortable ride. It’s just not the minimalist chamois you see with racing shorts (as Rapha markets the Pro Team II to be) or the highly sculpted, standout chamois you often pay a premium for (as you do with these bib shorts).
Rather, the Pro Team II chamois is another example of what makes these an “all-around” pair of bib shorts well suited to a wide range of riders and rides.
The pad covers more area and is wider than most but isn’t as thick as others under the sit bones or as varied in thickness for the apparent needs of other areas. There’s a little dimpling in the pad but less than some other bibs. It splits nicely on either side of the perineum but oddly has stitching running down the center of the chamois from back to front and no perforations for airflow anywhere.
While I didn’t find a lack of cooling to be an issue with the chamois areas, I did sweat a good amount across my abdomen and lower back when I put in hard efforts wearing the Pro Team II. It didn’t much matter whether I was doing intervals on the trainer at 65F with my fan cranked up or riding hard on the road on a sunny, 75F day with nothing other than the apparent wind from my forward motion to do the cooling.
Over a longer ride, especially if the temperature were to rise or drop a good deal, I’d want better breathability and sweat-wicking than what the Pro Team II offers.
Of course, Rapha has created a style and brand that many want to be associated with. Their signature bands on the left strap of these cycling bib shorts will be hidden by your jersey. But, you do get the Rapha name in 1.5″/ 35mm tall white lettering on the left gripper band and the same in black on the right one to make clear to everyone whose kit you are wearing.
You can get a lot out of bib shorts that serve as good all-arounders. These Rapha Pro Team Bib Shorts II also seem like they’ll last a long time based on the many washes they’ve now come through unfazed.
That said, it’s hard to get behind paying more for these US$270/£195 Rapha bib shorts whose performance doesn’t excel in any area unless you are one of the many fans of Rapha. If that’s you, these cycling bib shorts will be a good complement to your other Rapha kit. You can pick them up at this link to the Rapha.
CASTELLI PREMIO BLACK BIBSHORT – GREAT LEG SUPPORT BUT SHORT CHAMOIS
Castelli updated their Premio bib shorts in 2021 and renamed them the Premio Black Bibshort. Despite the name, they come in both black and navy or Savile blue.
As best I can tell, the Premio Black is very similar to the original Premio it replaces. They both use the same shorts fabric and chamois and the cut is the same – slim, longer inseams, a low waist but higher sides. The strap material, length, width, and stretchiness are also unchanged.
The new Premio Black has grippers with a rubberized elastic weave that eliminates the need for the silicone ribs employed by the earlier model. It has a somewhat taller back panel that doesn’t integrate the straps as before. Whereas the original Premio had fire-engine red straps, the Premio black now matches the colors of the straps with the shorts, be it black or blue.
With little, if any significant change (the original grippers and back panel were already quite effective), what follows is the review I wrote about the original Premio.
The Castelli Premio has three unique leg fit characteristics that I found worked well on longer rides.
First, the inseam or leg length is particularly long, an inch or two longer than most, and falls within an inch or so of your knee when you are out pedaling on the bike. As I’ll explain just below, that positively affects muscle compression and gives your upper legs a more even response to the riding temperature.
Secondly, unlike some bibs that provide compression just from the grippers or from there and the material just above (or not at all), you feel compression with the Premio bib shorts everywhere. And because the bib shorts run nearly the full length of your quads and hamstrings rather than just the half or 2/3rds that most bibs cover those muscles, you get that compression on the lower parts of your quads and hammies that you don’t normally.
Third, the straps are such that they hold the back panel securely against your lower back and provide support to your muscles there. That’s something I’ve never noticed in other bibs but something my back and I very much welcome on a long ride.
Likely to maintain that back panel support, the straps themselves are sturdy but not very stretchy. They’re just stretchy enough for a bio break without having to take your jersey off and lower your straps.
While they are perfectly fine while underway in a riding position, the straps aren’t terribly comfortable when you are sitting up on the bike. It’s almost as if they are telling you to get back into an aero position. They also fit a bit short walking around or sitting down at a cafe as you might expect. I’m probably average height for my waist size (5’10” and 31-32 inches), but if I were taller than average, the strap length and lack of stretch might be a bigger problem.
While both the Premio and Castelli’s Aero Race bibs use the same Progetto X2 Air Seamless insert, I found the chamois material used in these bib shorts doesn’t extend up as far as I would have liked in the front. While the Forza woven bib short material Castelli uses in the short is perfectly comfortable and breathable, I found that having part of your privates resting against that material while other parts are tucked inside the chamois is a bit of an odd sensation.
The chamois padding itself is sufficiently thick for 2+ hour rides but not as comfortable as others in this review. I’ve found they give your support directly under your site bones but when you get out of the aero position, there is no padding for the fleshy part of your butt behind them. I’m likely to be out of the aero position if not sitting up a fair amount on longer rides and would appreciate the added padding that I find in most other cycling bib shorts.
Like most things Castelli, these are cut slim. If you have standard-width hips or prefer a more relaxed fit, this cut likely won’t work well for you.
GORE C7 LONG DISTANCE – LIGHT AND AIRY BUT FIT AND CHAMOIS BELOW PAR
Gore’s built its reputation around fabrics, most notably the waterproof and windproof yet still highly breathable Gore-Tex. In its C7 Long Distance cycling bib shorts, Gore’s heritage of fabrics shows up with very light and breathable, quickly wicking, and comfortable shorts and strap materials.
Unfortunately, the cut, fit and comfort performance of these Gore bib shorts are average or off the back. Most notably the sizing, compression, and chamois pad don’t keep up with most of the other bib shorts in this review.
I’ve worn a few pairs of Gore bib shorts designed for cooler, windier spring and fall temps and usually found them cut for standard hip width riders. Before ordering the C7 Long Distance bib shorts I studied the Gore Size Guide that includes not just waist ranges for their shorts but also inseam length and hip width ones. As I fell smack in the middle of the 2″ waist and hip size ranges for a Small, I expected a cut that would work well for me.
It doesn’t. If you’re interested in these bibs, it’s probably best if you are a stockier rider, order it one size smaller, or order two sizes and return the one that doesn’t fit.
I also found that the C7 Long Distance’s straps, while very comfortable, don’t do anything to help keep the shorts in place. At 5′ 10″, I’m not short for size Small bib shorts. Perhaps the straps are just tall or aren’t designed to do the work of keeping your shorts in place.
Compression is also absent from these Gore bib shorts. The grippers work but that’s where the hold on my muscles ended. I’m most disappointed by the C7’s chamois pad. It’s one of the many models made by Elastic Interface, the company that supplies pads for Gore and many other brands. But the EI model that Gore chose is too narrow in some spots and too wide in others, more of a rectangle than an hourglass or sculpted shape you see with most chamois pads.
At the C7 pad’s widest, thickest section that is supposed to go under your sit bones, it’s only 155mm across. That’s about 25mm narrower than most of the better pads I’ve tested and only about 15mm wider than the average saddle width. And in my groin area, the pad’s edges rubbed quite a bit against the inside of my legs.
It’s also a relatively thin pad. That’s not necessarily a bad thing but with a narrower pad and lighter material with little compression, that’s putting all the responsibility on you to keep your butt centered in just the right place on your saddle over a long ride.
Of course, kit is a personal thing and your cut, fit, and comfort experience may differ significantly from mine. But for me, these bib shorts just don’t work.
PEARL IZUMI PRO BIB SHORT – BELOW AVERAGE FIT AND COMFORT
When I was a recreational weekend warrior type of rider, I exclusively wore Pearl Izumi shorts, not bib shorts. I liked the way they fit and their $60 price seemed right. I’d keep 2-3 pairs around and end up replacing the oldest pair every year with a new one of the same model I had always bought.
It was like wearing the same two or three dark suits to the office when I used to wear suits and people still went to an office.
When I became a cycling enthusiast (zoom-zoom), I discovered bib shorts and the world of high-priced, long-lasting kit. I no longer considered Pearl Izumi, associating them with my formative cycling life and subconsciously moving forward.
Snobby, right? Guilty.
While researching this review, I saw that Pearl Izumi made bib shorts for the kind of 2+on hour rides and in the $200 or so price range that I was focused on. So it was time to take a fresh look at Pearl Izumi and do some riding in their PRO Bib Short.
It didn’t take me long to realize the PRO Bib Short wasn’t for me. I’ll describe my experience. Perhaps they’ll be better for you.
While I usually fit comfortably snug in a small per most kit brand’s size charts and should have been the same per Pearl Izumi’s, there was plenty of room in the PRO Bib Short, especially around the crotch, hips, and waist areas.
Clearly, these are cut for a far wider and fuller frame than mine. Having successfully worn standard, American cut bib shorts, I found the creasing and bunching around my crotch and across each hip more than I’d ever experienced. This led to chaffing when pedaling.
The PRO Bib Short’s straps don’t help keep the backs of the shorts up. Surprisingly, the straps are made of the same material as used in the shorts rather than something with the strength and elasticity for the job. It felt more like my shoulders were doing the work of giving the straps something to hang over rather than the straps doing the work of keeping the shorts up.
Unfortunately, I find the PRO’s chamois pad is short – it doesn’t provide sit bone support other than when you are riding in an aero position. Even then, it’s not terribly comfortable. It’s basically one thickness in the back and another upfront with no depression underneath your perineum.
The PRO Bib Shorts themselves have plenty of stretch but offer no muscle compression. They fit sufficiently tight around my quads but the silicone grippers don’t do much to keep them from creeping up. Add to that seams which go right down the front of each leg and leave a good-sized mark on your leg.
It all leads me to believe the PRO Bib Short isn’t well-engineered. They certainly don’t fit well or comfortably even if they are in a wider cut than I normally wear.
Old memories can be good ones and they certainly are with my early Pearl Izumi experiences. But these modern Pearl Izumi PRO bib shorts which sell for US$210/£180/€210 or in the same price range as others I’ve reviewed in this post don’t provide the fit or comfort on par with them.
They’re available through this link to Competitive Cyclist.
THE BLACK BIBS ULTIMATE – BEYOND THE PRICE, NOTHING I LIKED
Low price and high performance are the yin and yang of many cycling enthusiasts’ existence. We search for these two seemingly contrary characteristics that are often interdependent to our ability to enjoy and afford our passion.
What is the price of high performance? What performance can you attain at a low price?
While my understanding of Chinese cosmology is rather shallow and mystical, my pursuit of cycling gear and kit price and performance is deeper and more tangible.
When it comes to bib shorts, I’ve found you usually get what you pay for.
Yes, you can overpay for performance. Some of the bib shorts I’ve reviewed above that sell for US$250 or more are no better or even as good as those selling for around US$200. I’ve been clear about that in my reviews.
You can also get some deals on good performers but it’s usually when those that usually go for around US$200 or so are on sale at 20% to 30% off.
And while I continue to look for well-performing bib shorts that sell for US$100 or less and have reviewed models from dhb, Mavic, Hincapie, and a couple of other club bib shorts in that price range, I’ve not found any of that I would be happy to wear regularly or recommend for the number of rides and miles most of us enthusiasts do.
The Black Bibs have been quite a popular topic of discussion on cycling forums over the last several years. Bicycling rated them their Best Value cycling shorts in 2020 and gave them a great review. The base model sells for only US$40, the Plus for US$60, and the Ultimate for US$80.
Seeing this attention and after hearing from one of your fellow readers who said he wears either expensive Assos or $40 Black Bibs most of the time, I decided to buy and review them to add to this post. To give The Black Bibs the benefit of the doubt, I splurged on the $80 Ultimate.
To put it kindly, I was disappointed. Beyond the price, there was nothing I liked about them. I wore them on the trainer, on a couple of 2-hour outdoor training rides, and for one 4-hour, hard group ride.
They were so uncomfortable in so many ways that I stopped wearing them after my fourth ride.
For me, the chamois pad is both overly dense and too narrow for my 155 mm wide saddle. (143mm is the average or medium saddle width.) The first time I wore the Ultimate, I actually got off my bike after riding for 5 minutes thinking the back of the saddle had been tilted up since my last time out. It wasn’t and I later realized the sensation came from the stiff pad keeping my butt from settling on my saddle as it does when wearing other bib shorts.
While I washed them before that first ride and, of course, after every ride thereafter, the pad never loosened up. Neither did the straps whose hems have so little stretch in them that I had to dip my shoulders to get into the bibs.
The material that makes up the shorts themselves, however, did loosen. While never feeling any compression in my Ultimate size Small in the first place, they started to feel too loose and didn’t move or stretch with me at all.
The waist is cut high with the same tight strap hems continuing down across my midsection and sides of the Black Bibs. High and tight meant I could barely get my manhood out to take a pee.
The Black Bibs Ultimate isn’t nearly as breathable as other bibs I’ve worn and its 5mm wide seams connecting its numerous panels aren’t very comfortable.
Yes, The Black Bibs do deliver on their claim of an affordable price and no labels. If that appeals to you, click this link to buy them directly. But if performance and comfort are important to you, put that money toward one of the better pairs of bib shorts I reviewed above. You’re likely to wear them far more often and lower the cost per ride below or on par with that of The Black Bibs.
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Thanks and enjoy your rides safely! Cheers, Steve
First published on June 21, 2021. The date of the most recent major update is shown at the top of the post.