THE BEST GRAVEL BIKE SHORTS
Gravel bike shorts add storage, comfort, and durability that serve a gravel rider’s needs better than road bib shorts or MTB shorts. From my testing, the best performing Assos Mille GTC Kiespanzer C2 selling for US$270/£215/€275 and available from recommended stores here, here, and here, and max-storage Specialized RBX Adventure Bib Short W/SWAT for $180/€142 and available here and here offer the best options.
When I told a friend I was reviewing gravel bike shorts, he chuckled.
“Why wouldn’t you just wear your road or mountain bike kit?”
You can, I told him, but I’ve found that gravel shorts are a kind of a Goldilocks solution, not as skin-tight and delicate as road bike bibs or as loose and rough as baggie MTB shorts.
After riding a bunch of different ones, I found the best gravel bike shorts perform on a long gravel ride like road bike bib shorts and give me the utility and protection of many MTB shorts.
As a bonus, most designed for gravel riding have leg and lower back pockets and bib straps – so-called cargo bib shorts. These give me the ability to securely store a lot of the extra food and gear I’ll want on a 3-4 hour or longer gravel ride.
I found that’s far better than overstuffing my jersey pockets and having everything sag, bounce, or shift left and right when I ride over rough dirt or gravel surfaces.
Wearing cargo bib shorts also avoids needing to strap one of those large handlebar or frame bags on my bike for gravel rides. I find those don’t fit well with my roadie performance and aesthetic sensibilities. I do admit to using a small top-tube bag not much taller than my headset for those tools that I don’t want to switch back and forth or need on my road bike.
Gravel bib shorts are more supportive and comfortable than wearing baggy shorts over road bibs or liners on long days out on the groad. They also give you one less piece of clothing to worry about and are typically more performance-oriented or at least performance-looking than the bib/liner-baggy combination.
Yes, gravel riding is full of new options to choose from. And, of course, every choice is personal and free of the conform-to-the-uniform-norm pressures some feel with road kit. But, for all the reasons I’ve mentioned, if you are a roadie who has taken up gravel riding, I think you should consider gravel bib shorts for riding gravel and even all-day road rides.
In this review, I’ll tell you more about what matters most in choosing between them and what I think about the ones I’ve tested.
WHAT MATTERS MOST ABOUT GRAVEL SHORTS
Beyond the pockets, how different or similar are gravel bike or gravel bib shorts to road bib shorts?
Let’s just say that gravel shorts are different and similar in the ways that gravel and road riding are.
On gravel rides, you’ll go through a lot of dust and dirt and may ride or hike through water. Gravel and clumps of dirt or mud will kick up on your kit. You may brush up against vegetation on single or double-track sections or scrape across a tree or rock in tighter technical sections.
And, you’re more likely to slide out or take a spill on dirt or gravel surfaces than on pavement.
For all those reasons, the materials used in a good pair of purpose-designed gravel bike shorts will be more durable and abrasion or rip-resistant than road bib shorts. The yarns are often slightly stiffer, thicker, and more water-resistant than those in road bib shots. While some aren’t as supple as road shorts, in my experience, they breathe just as well and dry as fast.
Gravel shorts with bib straps and pockets take care of another set of differences between the average gravel and road bike outing. Gravel rides are typically longer, less accessible to coffee shops, convenience stores, and bike shops, and often take routes that cars don’t travel.
Pockets allow you to carry added nutrition and tools that you wouldn’t normally need or have access to on a typical 2-3 hour road ride or could stop or call for if needed on a longer one. Some gravel bib shorts have considerably more storage than others, either with more or larger pockets.
The best road bib shorts designed for shorter rides or races have thinner, more sculpted chamois with minimal straps and no back panels. Gravel bib shorts, as with shorts geared to endurance road rides, have more robust pads, supportive back paneling, and longer inseams to help your butt and muscles keep it together on those 4-hour or all-day rides on rougher surfaces.
So, yeah, the best bib shorts for gravel riding are quite a bit more than adding pockets to bib shorts for road riding or riding road shorts on gravel rides.
What they have in common also matters in picking the best of either.
Whether riding on the road or “groad”, I look at criteria in three categories that I think matter most in choosing between shorts.
Cut – Are the bibs cut for riders with slim or full-width hips, or will they, because of their construction and material, fit both types of riders?
We’ll always want our gravel shorts to match the width of our hips. However, some of us may prefer a longer inseam on gravel shorts to give us more protection and support on long days out in the saddle, while others may prefer the freedom and airflow of a standard-length inseam.
Fit – Once you have bibs with the right cut for your body and preferences, 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 from slipping down?
Finally, how flat do the seams lay? Do they enhance the fit of the shorts or fight it?
Comfort – How comfortable is the chamois on long rides? How soft or abrasive are the gravel shorts’ materials and seams against your skin? How breathable are they? How well do they wick your sweat or dry out after they get wet? Do the straps lay flat across your shoulders without applying too much pressure on them or your back?
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 on long days in the saddle.
By combining the things that matter most to gravel bib shorts and the cut, fit, and comfort criteria that matter to both road and gravel bib shorts, I evaluated and came up with the following comparative reviews.
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GRAVEL BIKE SHORTS REVIEWS
While I’m not sure when the first cargo bib shorts became available, like gravel riding, they are still relatively new. Maybe half of the leading apparel companies were making them when I first tested out the ones in this review in 2020. I’ve added reviews of those that have been added since then. However, there is usually only one gravel bib shorts option in each company’s line. Fortunately, nearly all of the gravel shorts I’ve reviewed are made in both men’s and women’s models and sizes.
All of this is consistent with my major takeaways from reviewing the handful of gravel shorts for this post. Specifically, I’ve concluded that:
1. No one has nailed the gravel bib short in the way that, for example, Assos seems to get it right and better than most with each of the different types of road bibs they make. While I like and regularly wear several of the gravel shorts I reviewed, I expect they’ll improve, and other companies will introduce better ones as gravel riding continues to grow.
2. Nearly each one of the pocketed and bib-strapped gravel bike shorts I reviewed has something a bit different to offer. I’m talking about purpose and performance differences rather than style and colorways. More or less storage, protection, back support, breathability, chamois thickness, and coverage are some of the key things that differ between these shorts and may be more appropriate for what some riders do on their gravel bikes than others.
3. Pick gravel shorts with the kind of gravel riding, and perhaps long road riding, you plan to do in mind. Gravel riding is a broad term and ranges from short gravel rides and races on packed dirt to 4-8 hour days on a wide range of dirt and gravel surfaces to multi-day adventure treks with camping gear. In that sense, it’s far broader than road riding and yet roadies have probably a dozen different types of bib shorts to choose from.
4. Check the size charts before you order. Your weight and shape may not have changed, but it seems that many cycling apparel makers have sized down their garments. For example, if you wore a medium before, the new sizing chart may show the same measurements as a size small. If you wore a large, you might be a size medium now.
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Assos Mille GTC Kiespanzer C2 – The best purpose-built gravel bike shorts
Assos has long set the performance bar for road bib shorts. With the introduction of the Mille GTC Kiespanzer C2 – Assos’ first bib shorts made for gravel riding – the obvious question is whether it is the best for those of us out on a long day of off-road riding.
The answer, in a word, is yes.
The Assos Mille GTC Kiespanzer C2 (or Mille GTC for short) brings to these gravel bib shorts many of the cut, fit, and comfort characteristics that have long put the performance of their road bib shorts above others. The Mille GTC also provides gravel-specific capabilities like storage and durability that are as good or superior to other gravel bibs I’ve reviewed.
At the same time, I think Assos can do better in several specific areas to justify the US$270/£215/€275 price for these gravel shorts, a considerable premium over others.
First and foremost, a comfortable chamois pad is essential to your performance and enjoyment on any bike ride. That’s especially the case if you are doing a 3-5 hour ride or even on dirt and gravel roads.
The Mille GTC uses the same chamois pad used in the Mille road bib shorts. It’s unequaled by any road or gravel bib shorts chamois I’ve tested. And it’s the primary reason I put these shorts on for long rides over unpaved surfaces, especially when I know I’ll be on surfaces rougher than well-maintained dirt roads.
Assos brought other performance strengths from its road bib line to the Mille GTC. Most notably, the material used in the inner legs and across the backside is uniquely Assos – light and comfortable – as are the stretchy and comfortable straps.
In addition, with its first dedicated gravel bib shorts, Assos has added and improved on some of the best performance aspects of gravel shorts from other brands that have been available to us groadies for a couple of years.
Like the Specialized RBX Adventure gravel shorts, the Mille GTC uses the entire lower back area for storage. And while the Assos gravel shorts’ back pockets don’t store as much as the Specialized (but more than all the others I’ve tested), getting into the Assos back pockets and finding what I need is a whole lot easier than with Specialized’s and many of the others.
That’s likely because the Assos Mille GTC has only two rear storage pockets (Specialized’s RBX has 5), and their openings cut across your lower back at an angle toward your hips rather than requiring you to enter in from the top.
The stretchy and breathable mesh material used in the Assos gravel shorts’ rear pockets keeps whatever I have stored in there from moving as my bike and butt bounce around on rougher gravel sections.
Each back pocket also has 2”/50mm long tags attached at one end to the center of the hems across the opening that you can pull to help you get into them. I’ve found the seam-like hems themselves to be tactile and strong enough that I don’t need to pull on the tags to get into the pockets. But I do see the value of these pull tags if my hands are getting a bit tired from a long and particularly fatiguing ride.
The Mille GTC’s leg pockets are larger than on all the other gravel shorts I’ve tested. They are positioned so they don’t get in the way of my hips at the top, nor feel like whatever I’ve stored in them is hanging off the side of my legs at mid-calf.
Instead of a tactile, seam-like hem sewn at the openings of the leg pockets, Assos merely folds over the mesh material at the top and extends it 2”/50mm down inside of the pocket. It’s like what tailors do when they shorten your dress pants legs.
Except tailors subtly sew the hem to keep it in place. Assos doesn’t, which makes this design a miss for me in three ways.
First, it’s hard to find and open the pockets with only a soft mesh material at the openings.
Second, after going in and out of them a few times to get a fresh gel or put back a wrapper, the hem doesn’t lie flat the way the stretchy seamed openings do on most pockets from other brands, and even the rear pockets on the Mille GTC.
Finally, whatever I pull out of the pocket will sometimes get caught in the unsewn, folded-over, soft mesh hem. It’s annoying and totally unnecessary.
Another place where the Mille GTC seems to have adopted and advanced a sound design approach yet still can do better is in the outer leg panels. Assos uses a tough, durable material that seems less likely to rip if you hit the ground. These are sewn to the inner leg and backside panel made of what feels like the same material used in their best road bib shorts.
Other gravel bibs I’ve tested using the same material in their inner and outer leg panels. Most don’t feel as rip-resistant as Assos’ outer leg panel material or as comfortable, stretchy, and breathable as its inner leg material.
However, having separate inner and outer leg panels does have a drawback, at least relative to what I’ve enjoyed so much about Assos’ road bib shorts.
Unlike most other road and gravel bib shorts, Assos road bibs use only one leg shorts panel. It’s sewn together with a seam down the back of each leg. This enables the material to provide even compression around your legs.
With the Mille GTC’s different inner and outer leg panels, two leg seams are needed to attach the two different materials. As a result, I no longer feel compression in the legs except for the sturdy, 1.75”/45mm tall leg grippers. I miss this leg muscle support that I’ve come to take for granted on long rides in Assos road bib shorts.
Finally, in what perhaps has become my wish list for the next Assos gravel shorts model, I’d welcome a long-leg version. It’s not that the Mille GTC is any shorter than most road or gravel bib shorts or that my legs are particularly long.
Rather, long-leg shorts are especially welcome riding gravel, where it’s often cooler on spring and fall rides. You also get extra protection from what kicks up from the trail, or you can rub against on single or double-track.
Despite my critiques and wish list items, Assos’ first gravel shorts still perform better than others I’ve ridden. And if I’m doing a lot of long gravel rides during the year, as I like to do, spending a bit more money to be more comfortable and store and access more stuff is not a hard decision compared to the benefits those things bring.
Specialized RBX Adventure Bib Short W/SWAT – Max storage for the longest rides
If you’re planning a long day without access to food or support services, the Specialized RBX Adventure gravel shorts have much to offer. They bring Specialized SWAT design philosophy from their bikes to their shorts.
Some Specialized bikes have doors that open to hollow tube sections where you can SWAT – Store Water, Air, and Tools. The name is a bit gimmicky, but the concept makes sense and carries over to these shorts.
While the RBX’s two leg pockets are just a little larger than most of the other cargo bib shorts in this review, the size and style of their other pockets make these Specialized gravel bike shorts most suitable for long days away from it all.
I can put a crapton of stuff in the 2 main back pockets, each about 6″x6″ (150x150mm). Most anything fits there – real food like sandwiches, pancakes, and bananas; cycling food like gels, blocks, and bars; tools and your phone, spare tubes, arm or leg warmers, rain jacket, etc.
The upper 4″/100mm or so of the rear pockets are sewn into the back panel of the shorts while the lower 2″/50mm extend out from them. But they don’t swing or bounce like a stuffed jersey because the back panel sits tight against your lower back.
There’s also a similar-sized zip pocket over the top of the ride-side rear pocket. Valuables go there, like your wallet, ICE info, photo of your dog… or spouse. Yeah, your spouse!
And in addition, there are two equally wide, 2.5″ (65mm) deep pockets running across your love handles. My psyche found it a bit stressful to store things there. But, next to the leg pockets, I found it a good place to put ready-access food like gels.
Altogether, there’s 2 to 3 times the amount of storage in all these pockets than those in most other cargo bib shorts I’ve reviewed. With all that space, you need to plan where to put stuff.
The leg and love handle pockets are where to place things you want to access quickly. I use those for on-the-bike nutrition and a dynaplug.
You can use the back pockets for some of the smaller things you might normally put in a hanging handlebar or frame bag. To get into those pockets, you have to lift your jersey and reach up the back of your shorts as high as you would for jersey pockets. That’s not something you want to do while riding along on your typical uneven dirt or gravel surface.
Consistent with the adventure ride functionality of the pockets of these RBX bib shorts, the material feels pretty durable while at the same time quite comfortable against my skin. It breathes well on hot days and repels water sprays better than others. On the flip side, once the water comes through, these gravel bike shorts are slower to dry than the others I tested.
The RBX Adventure bib shorts have a long inseam, giving a bit more protection when riding off-road. I don’t have massive or particularly long quad muscles and find the grippers looser than others with either long or standard inseams. There is enough compression in the shorts, however, to keep them from moving up my legs despite the looser grippers.
Chamois coverage, both front to back and side to side, is good. While not thicker than most road bib shorts, this pad is thickest underneath your sit bones where you need it and has a wide and thinner center channel so as not to get in the way of you moving side to side or putting pressure on your perineum.
Disappointingly, the edge of the pad in my shorts is unfinished, with the foam exposed. Perhaps they do this for ventilation. While I didn’t see any deterioration after a half dozen washes or feel any effects on my skin, the exposed pad edge makes me wonder how many seasons I’ll get out of it.
Opposite of what I would expect for the largest capacity gravel bib shorts, the straps helping to keep everything up are narrow and short (and at 5′ 10″, I’m not tall for the size medium I tested). They don’t stretch very much, and maybe they shouldn’t consider what they are designed to carry, have wide-hemmed edges, and don’t lay flat without some help.
While not uncomfortable, the straps aren’t anywhere near as comfortable as the wider, unhemmed ones on other shorts. I haven’t loaded them up to their full capacity or done a 10-hour ride on them, but I’d think twice about doing so.
A shorter, stockier rider or one who values storage over everything might find the straps less of an issue and see the other storage and other benefits of these Specialized RBX Adventure bib shorts as the things that win him over.
Selling for $135/€142, you can order these in men’s or women’s models using this link to their product page at recommended store Competitive Cyclist.
Santini Gravel Bib Shorts – Moderate weather gravel shorts that get it mostly right
With their simply named Gravel Bib Shorts, Santini gets many of the unique aspects of gravel and cargo bib shorts right and brings the performance I value in any bib short. While not a pair I’d pick for a hot summer ride, they’d be ones I’d look for in more moderate temperatures when I’m doing as much as 4-6 hours on a route that crosses many types of dirt and gravel surfaces.
The chamois in this Santini bib short is its thickest under my sit bones and relatively thin most everywhere else. That seemed like a somewhat risky design choice, but it worked for me. Pads with larger thick sections can give you too much padding where you don’t need it and create chaffing where you don’t want it.
While I haven’t fallen (yet) wearing the Gravel Bib Shorts, the material feels a bit rougher and, I’d expect, more durable than Santini road bib shorts I’ve worn. Despite that, it contours well to my slim hips and stretches easily with me as I hover over the saddle or shift my weight back on the bike going downhill.
My leg muscles feel consistent compression in the shorts. I especially liked the grippers and straps, both of which were among the widest of the gravel shorts I tested for this review. The 2.2″/55mm tall grippers have a mesh weave pattern of thin silicone across the entire inside area that keeps the standard-length shorts nicely in place without constricting my quads or hamstrings.
On the hottest days, while grinding away in the sun, I do find these Santini Gravel Bib Shorts don’t breathe as well as other gravel bike shorts I’ve worn. But for spring, early and late summer, and fall rides in more moderate temps, I don’t feel any warmer in these than in others.
I especially like the 1.75″/45mm wide, stretchy, and unhemmed shoulder straps and the wide, minimally hemmed mesh support that runs all the way up your back. It initially looks like a lot of extra material, but I find it feels quite comfortable, easily stretching with me while giving the supporting feel of a light, elastic base layer against my back.
Storage space in these Santini gravel shorts is ample and laid out well. While half as much as the storage area of the Specialized RBX Adventure Bib Shorts also reviewed in this post, they have a bit more than the others I compared and about the right amount to carry all the nutrition I need and the essential extra gear for a gravel ride that I don’t already have in the small saddlebag I transfer over from my road bike.
The front mesh pockets are deep enough (5.75″ or 145mm) to secure the longer packages of 6-8 bloks I like to gulp during my ride. Gels, bars, and other packaged cycling food fit securely there as does my dynaplug tire repair tool.
The two rear pockets (4.75″ wide x 5″ deep or 120x125mm) have room for real food like a sandwich or banana on one side and a combination of a smartphone, extra tube, CO2 cartridge, wallet, or other similarly sized carry-ons.
Depending on the length of the ride and whether we can stop somewhere for lunch, I’ll usually keep one of the pockets free for wrappers.
You can’t carry nearly as much in the back pockets of a typical road jersey and certainly not do it as comfortably as in cargo bib shorts. One of the other benefits of wearing gravel shorts with the capacity and layout of this Santini model is that you get to wear a loose-fitting “technical T” shirt, one designed to wear off-road. In addition to the added comfort, a technical T-shirt gives us roadies another opportunity to express our groadie alter ego.
On different days, I wear either the Santini orange Sasso MTB Jersey or the green and black Terra MTB Jersey with the Gravel Bib Shorts. The Terra isn’t a technical T but is more of a looser-fitting road jersey with a color and pattern I’d probably only wear on a road bike ride to stand out in low light. The Sasso also comes in azure blue and fluoro yellow, while the Terra is made in an orange-powder blue combination.
Picking and reviewing gravel jerseys is more of a balance between style preference and product performance. While these two vary a great deal in style, they are each quite loud and considerably brighter than the more muted, earthy greys, greens, and browns I more often see on gravel and MTB riders.
Beyond that, on the style front, I’ll leave it to you to decide.
I find the Sasso’s performance was quite refreshing, both literally and figuratively. It’s very breathable as the air easily flows through the material itself and from the open collar across my torso and the loose sleeves to my underarms. It doesn’t stick to you, and it didn’t stink after riding hard on a hot day. (I, on the other hand…).
While I don’t know quite know how what it is, the fabric used for both these jerseys is quite different than a typical woven material. It feels both light and tight at the same time. Santini says it’s more abrasion resistant against foliage or the rubbing of a backpack or Camelback you might wear over it.
All of this is quite different and a refreshing mental change from the aero-tight jerseys I typically wear on the road.
The Terra jersey resembles a road jersey with its full-length zipper and three rear pockets. But unlike the slim-fit road jerseys I wear, it’s more of a standard-fit one with room for a thin roadie in the right size. The forearm grippers and waistband do their jobs well in keeping the jersey in place, but there’s enough give in the waistband’s elastic so you can quickly hike for something in one of your back pockets without a fight.
I wouldn’t stuff the Terra jersey pockets with a ton of gear; however, the pockets don’t feel nearly as sturdy or tapered as those of a road jersey. Putting anything more than a few extra gels or empty wrappers there might also complicate things if you want to access something in your shorts’ pockets.
You can order the US$230 men’s Gravel Bib Shorts at Competitive Cyclist and women’s directly from Santini. The US$90 Sasso and US$115 Terra jerseys for men and women are available directly from Santini.
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Castelli Unlimited Bib Short – Designed to protect you on aggressive rides.
Nonetheless, Castelli brings us the Unlimited Bib Short. By their telling, that means unlimited kit performance to go on an unlimited choice of routes.
In my experience riding them, they have their limits.
To put it more even-handedly, this Castelli gravel short does some things uniquely well for a certain type of gravel ride and rider, as is true for just about all of the gravel shorts I’ve reviewed here.
This Castelli is probably the most protective gravel bike short of those I’ve ridden. I say that judging from how the short’s material felt on the rides I’ve done and how the short is put together rather than from any experiences crashing in the dirt or gravel while wearing them. (I’ll only go so far in pursuit of a thorough review for you, my fellow groadies.)
But consider this. Instead of a piece of mesh or thin material sewn in to make a pocket on the outsides of your thighs, the Unlimiteds use the same material for those pockets as in the rest of the shorts.
In the latest version of these shorts, the Free Unlimited Bib Shorts, Castelli replaced the upside-down hip pockets below with a second layer of fabric, a sort of hip slip plane to protect you in a fall. (Oh, it ain’t “free” either. Actually, it will cost 50% more than the non-free, regular Unlimited Bib Shorts.)
Speaking of slipping, Castelli’s material in these shorts seems very slippery, more so than in the other cargo bib shorts I’ve tested or any road bib shorts I can recall.
Gravel Protection Bib Short might have been a better name for these Castelli gravel bike shorts because that’s what they appear intended to do and where they stand apart from other gravel shorts I’ve reviewed.
They are one of the better-stretching gravel shorts but are on par with the average road bib shorts for most of the other criteria I use to measure them – muscle compression and gripper hold, breathability and wicking, strap comfort and hold.
Castelli is famous for their slim-cut racing shorts and the chamois pad they put in their top-end road shorts. But on these characteristics, as with the leg protecting cargo pockets, the Unlimited/Gravel Protection is a different kind of Castelli.
First, they are cut for standard hip-width riders than most Castelli race or road bib shorts I’ve worn. As a slim hip-width rider myself, I appreciated the extra room on longer, slower rides typical of gravel outings.
Second, the chamois in these gravel bike shorts provide slightly more coverage than Castelli’s top-end road bibs. It doesn’t feel thicker or denser. just more accommodating behind my sit bones and more supportive of my junk in the more upright position I ride on gravel.
At $230, these are some of the more expensive gravel shorts I’ve tested but may be worth it if you tend to ride more aggressively than most and fall a lot.
Where the Unlimited clearly is not… unlimited… is in its storage capacity. While the leg pockets are deep, whatever you put in them tends to move around a good deal more than in the other pocketed gravel shorts I’ve tested.
Perhaps it’s the slippery material Castelli uses to protect you or the placement of the pocket further aft of your quads than on other shorts, but I feel whatever I put in the leg pockets finding their way toward the trailing edge of my thigh more so than I’d like.
The back pockets have about half the storage capacity of the leg pockets and are placed higher up on your back than most other cargo bib shorts. There’s room for a 5″ tall phone in one and a spare tire and a few other small items in the other, but not much else.
Based on their protection and storage capability, I’d go so far as to suggest the Unlimited would be best suited for short rides or races on the most aggressive gravel routes where you might fall or rub up against something. You’re less likely to rip these shorts than others if you hit the ground or scrape some trailside brush. If you do, you haven’t spent as much on these cargo bib shorts as you might have on others.
Castelli kit is available at a lot of stores. You can find the Unlimited bib shorts in both men’s and women’s sizes at several stores I rank among the best – Competitive Cyclist, BTD (BikeTiresDirect), and Merlin – based on their competitive pricing, customer satisfaction ratings, enthusiast selection, and reader support and compare them to other stores I recommend that carry these shorts at Know’s Shop.
7Mesh MK3 Cargo Bib Short – Road bib feeling for short gravel and long road rides
That’s probably because it’s the same MK3 Bib shorts that 7Mesh makes for the road, just with pockets.
Not that this is a bad thing. As with the other gravel shorts in this post, these 7Mesh cargo bib shorts serve a distinct performance and functional need different from most of the others.
2-3 hour gravel ride? More packed dirt road than gravel and technical terrain? Long road fondo or century ride? Willing to pay a premium for comfortable, flexy shorts and straps made with first-rate craftsmanship? Then the MK3 Cargo Bib Short is for you.
There’s as much or more room in the two nearly 5″ wide, 6″ tall (120mm x 150mm) leg pockets of the MK3 to store a lot of nourishment. You could also put a good-sized smartphone and a couple of small tools in them though I generally don’t put anything hard in those pockets when riding gravel in case I crash or rub my leg against some hardscape.
In the back, there are three pockets with a combined area of about 3/4 the capacity of the front ones. The two outside pockets are rather small (4.25″ x 3.25″ or 110mm x 85mm), not big enough to put more than a few small tools, a couple of bars, or a packable rain vest.
The center rear pocket is nearly the same size as a back jersey one, a good place for some combination of a phone, spare, wallet, a small bottle of lube or extra sealant, or the like.
Chamois are highly personal, but this one looks and feels more like a comfortable road cushion than a robust 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’d prefer the thickest part of my pad to have a wider landing area when I do set down than I experienced with the MK3.
Unlike most cargo bib shorts, there’s no added back support above the lower back. It’s held up by a 1.75 inch/45 mm very stretchy center strap that junctions into two and run from the top of your back over your shoulders and down to the below-the-belly-button front panel.
This all makes for a very comfortable setup but one that I didn’t feel provided any tension to hold up my shorts or the stuff I packed in its pockets.
There’s clearly a lot of attention to detail in the construction of the MK3 Cargo Bib Short. The seams are thin pinstripe wide on the outside and have minimal overlap on the inside. No chamois edges are exposed, 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 inch/35mm bands of silicone microbeads wrapping the inside bottom of the shorts.
The MK3 Cargo Bib Shorts are made in black for both men and for women with a crossover back strap design.
I often wore 7Mesh’s Desperado Merino Henly with the MK3 Cargo Bib Shorts. Beyond being a great spring and fall technical T, I couldn’t help feeling the part of a desperado while wearing it, as I usually rode solo on gravel during the pandemic with Don Henly’s aching verse reverberating in my mind.
True to the song’s meaning and perhaps the purpose of this T, I often find myself seeking both freedom and connection in the gear and kit I use. Perhaps it’s a stretch, but the 7Mesh Desperado fit is very freeing and, with a base layer on cooler days, gives me the connection to the warmth that would otherwise see me reaching for a long sleeve jersey.
And on cooler summer days up to about 70F/20C, you can enjoy both its diamonds and hearts. To understand what I mean, let Don and the guys share a live version of their classic.
Then men’s Desperado comes in black, brick orange, and surf grey. Women can express their Desperado spirit in a 3/4 sleeve, the long-tail version in black, death plum, and pomegranate. Both sell for US$70.
You can order the men’s MK3 Cargo Bib Shorts in men’s and women’s models through these links to Competitive Cyclist for US$230.
Competitive Cyclist also carries the men’s and women’s Desperado Merino Henly.
Sportful Supergiara – A cargo bib short and jersey storage combination for gravel
Since I have a roadie heritage and work hard to filter out the marketing that comes with new gear and kit, you may not be surprised that I wore the Supergiara on road rides the first few times.
I’ve always found Sportful kit to be comfortable and practical without being as splashy or expensive as others in the performance category of bike clothing.
The Supergiara Bibshort and Jersey add “functional” to all of that and a bit more stylish yet in a subtle way.
On the road, I was gobsmacked by the idea that I could easily reach all the in-ride nutrition I needed for a century ride without ever reaching into my jersey pocket or eating the often less-than-nutritious food at a rest stop.
And on the dirt, the Supergiara’s combined bib and jersey storage gave me hope that I didn’t have to ruin the lines of my new gravel bike with bags hanging off the frame and bars to carry everything I needed.
Let’s start with the bib shorts. The Supergiara pad is first-rate, comfortable, and thick in the right spots; good coverage without wings that extend out and up and can irritate your inner thighs.
While cut with conventionally straight vertical sections and flat seams, these bibs have a long inseam that fully covers your quads and provides solid and consistent compression. The grippers are ample 2”/50mm tall, thin, and with tiny silicone beads across the entire undersurface to get the job done.
The fabric is breathable and comfortable enough to wear in the spring and all but the hottest summer days. I find the 1.75”/45mm wide straps lay flat, hold the bibs up well and provide plenty of stretch for a front-side male bio break. They are also integrated with a back panel that makes for the best back muscle support of any of the gravel bib shorts I’ve worn.
On the other hand, the mesh strap and back panel material aren’t quite soft enough to wear comfortably without a base layer, similar to what I’ve experienced with other Sportful bibs.
I found myself looking for the Supergiara Bibshort on 50F to 75 F/10C to 24C days and was most comfortable with them on 3-4 hour rides in the saddle with temp changes, in and out of the sun.
Unlike the other gravel bike shorts I’ve reviewed in this post, there’s only one leg pocket, a 6″ deep, 4″ wide (150mm x 100mm) front mesh one on your left leg.
But also unlike the other gravel shorts, the Supergiara’s two rear pockets open just above your derriere whereas the other start a bit or well above your waist.
This makes them easy to get to, especially for those like me that have never seemed to recover my range of motion after shoulder injuries fully. While these rear pockets are on the smaller side (about 4″ x 4″/100mm x 110mm), I use them as much as and in a way similar to the leg pocket.
If I’m on an aero road or gravel mission, I keep the side pocket empty and use the rear pockets to access my in-ride nutrition. At the speeds I go, it probably doesn’t matter much, but hey, I can always imagine.
As the common name suggests, the Supergiara Jersey is designed to work with the Supergiara Bib Short both stylistically and functionally. Its pockets are deeper than most road jerseys I’ve worn, and its elasticity keeps whatever you’ve put in there from hanging or shifting around, as would overstuffed road jersey pockets.
The jersey has a taller-than-normal 8”/200mm center pocket that is easily suitable for an extra tire, spare tube, or pump. It also sports two 6”/150mm tall and wide side pockets, one with an additional zippered pocket on top of it. So again, a lot of room here for a long outing.
Note that while the shorts stretch well on slim or standard hips, the jersey is made for slim torsos. If yours isn’t, this jersey is probably not a good choice.
Giara translates to “jar” in Italian, though I’m told it means “gravel” in the Northern Italian dialect. You could view all these functional pockets as a big or super jar capable of carrying a lot of stuff out on a gravel ride.
At least the name makes more sense than some of the kit names from others.
The front of the Supergiara Jersey I wore has thin grey and black horizontal lines varying from light to dark shades on a white background. There are also black, green, blue, and orange versions depending on whether you get the men’s or women’s models. They look different than most jerseys I see out on the road and suggest a more rugged look than the fine finishes and prints of a wide range of tarmac tops.
Despite this look, the jersey is very breathable, comfortable, and well-fitted. The neck is short, maybe 1”/25 mm, and neither stretchy, loose, or tight. The body fits me, still a surprisingly slim 150lb/68kg guy for all I eat, as snug in a medium as most other Italian cut jerseys. As you can see from the photo, it’s got a tall waistband that you can pull down as little or as much as you want to give you the right amount of space in the midsection.
Sleeves are all mesh, light, comfortable, and reach fully down your forearms. The side panels appear to be made of the same fabric as the sleeves and have the same feeling. While heavier and perhaps more rugged, the back material is perforated throughout and breathes for me as much as I need it to.
There’s a lot this kit offers, and adds a highly functional, well-performing option to my long-ride choices on spring and cooler summer days. The Supergiara men’s and women’s bib shorts sell for US$135, in the lower price range of gravel bike shorts in this review. More expensive than the US$100 technical Ts you can wear for gravel, the Supergiara men’s and women’s top retails for US$140.
You can check out and order the bib shorts, jerseys, and other Sportful Supergiara kit by clicking through these links to their product pages at my top-ranked stores Competitive Cyclist, BTD (BikeTiresDirect), and Merlin.
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Thanks, and enjoy your rides safely! Cheers, Steve