THE BEST WOMENS BIB SHORTS

After trying seven different womens bib shorts models, I recommend the Ale’ R-EV1 Future Race. The material is fantastically comfortable with just the right balance of stretch and compression and the chamois is one of the best I tested. They are the bib shorts I look for first every morning and make me feel like I never want to stop riding. Currently selling for US$122/£94/112, a 40% discount from their regular price, it’s also a great value. You can order them here and here.


While I’ve ridden and raced bikes on roads and trails around the world, I’d never explored a wide range of womens bib shorts before this year. I’ve worn the same several brands and models that were used by my clubs and teams over the years and left it at that. 

That was before this season when I needed to add some new ones. A couple of mine were wearing out, one got snagged on a tree branch, and a few friends were talking about features of their newest womens bib shorts. 

So I set out to find the best womens bib shorts, or at least the best ones for me. While there were a lot of design and price considerations to work through to get to the seven I chose to review, being able to ride each pair once a week or so over a couple of months gave me a really good understanding of how different the cut, fit, and comfort of womens cycling bib shorts can be.

In this review, I’ll share what I learned and how it could help you decide which womens bib shorts are best for you. If you’re looking for a review of mens bib shorts, see Steve’s review here.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

If you’re short on time, here is my ranking of the womens bib shorts I tested.

Click on any of the names to go to the review.

1. Ale’ Women’s R-EV1 Future Race

2. Stolen Goat Womens Climbers

3. Velocio Women’s Signature

4. Le Col Womens Pro Eco

5. Assos T.laalalaiShorts_s7

6. Castelli Premio Black W

7. Machines For Freedom Endurance

This chart shows how they compare on price, fit, and comfort.

Womens bib shorts ratings

WHAT MATTERS MOST

There’s a lot of variety in available bike shorts, so it’s important to know what to look for. Before jumping into the reviews, I’ll lay out what I think matters most in evaluating and choosing between them. 

THE BASICS

First, if you ride several times a week for an hour or more, I’d recommend wearing womens bib shorts which have shoulder straps that connect to the shorts rather than womens bike shorts that end at your waist. They’ll be more comfortable, help your performance, and prevent chafing.  

Second, buy quality. The best fabrics, straps, and chamois and how they are made into bib shorts don’t come cheap. While you can sometimes spend too much, you generally get what you pay for and your performance and pleasure can suffer if you spend too little.

CUT

Of course, each of our bodies is shaped differently and we have different style preferences and budget priorities. These factors can make evaluating and choosing bib shorts more difficult than picking a helmet or pair of bike shoes.

Getting bib shorts cut for your body and preferences is the place to start. Some are cut narrower or wider at the waist and hips. Others reach up well above your waist or cover more or less of your legs.

You can see how I experienced the cut in the comparative chart above.

The chamois pads that go into your bib shorts are also cut differently. Most fall into one of two groups.

Contact Point Chamois – Those with a chamois that ends at the places or “points” where your bottom and the saddle come into contact, specifically between the legs and just beyond your sit bones.

Extended Chamois – Those with a chamois that extends somewhat beyond your contact points to the insides of your legs and outsides of your butt and above it beyond your sit bones. The extra chamois pad and material are usually thinner than the part that rests under your contact points.

Contact point chamois are typically best for rides when we want to go our fastest and will be in an aero position. When we do, the extra material in an extended chamois isn’t necessary and can get in the way of your aggressively cranking legs.

An extended chamois is great for longer or more relaxed and endurance rides where the added padding will buffer your butt and legs against the saddle when you are pedaling in a more upright body position.

Womens bib shorts size chart chamois comparison

Contact point chamois (left – Le Col Womens Pro Eco) and extended chamois (right – Machines For Freedom Endurance).

During my testing, I didn’t apply any chamois cream before or after any of the rides for any of the bib shorts. While I didn’t experience any chafing, to avoid it be sure that the stitching that connects the chamois to the shorts with a contact point chamois lays exactly where you need it. That’s typically along the same edges as a pair of underwear. (Of course, don’t wear underwear in your bibs!)

For bibs with an extended chamois, make sure the padding beyond your contact points is thin enough so that your legs don’t rub the sides of the saddle. That will definitely create chafing.

Finally, some womens bib shorts are designed with a drop-tail that gives you access for a nature break without having to take off your jersey and lower your straps and shorts. This is a nice feature if you do rides that last more than a couple of hours and plan a short café stop or need to find a private place along the route.

I’ve noted all of these cut characteristics for each of the bib shorts I tested in the rating table and written about how they work for me as an example in the individual reviews.

There’s no right or wrong cut; there’s just the cut that’s right for your shape and preferences.

SIZE

I’m not aware of any womens bib shorts brands that change the cut of a given model for different sizes. But, different models from the same brands are cut differently.

So once you pick bib shorts with the cut you want, you need to figure out and order the size that best fits you.

Some brands have calculators on their sites where you enter information and they suggest the size that would be best for you. Others include a size chart that lists the hip and waist dimension ranges or that corresponds to US and EU sizes.

Here are examples of each.

Assos womens bib shorts size chart

Ale womens bib shorts size chart

Ale womens bib shorts size chart

FIT

Like most womens skirts, shorts, or pants, the fit of womens cycling bib shorts is about how much it stretches with you as you move, how much it compresses your butt and leg muscles (glutes, quads, and hamstrings), and how well the seams work to enable that stretch and compression without getting any bunching, gaps, or rippling in the short’s materials.

Fit also includes how well the grippers at the ends of your short’s legs do in keeping them down and how well the straps that go around your shoulders do in holding the waist of your shorts up.

COMFORT

Chamois comfort is the most important consideration in choosing bib shorts. A chamois pad’s thickness and density – both of which typically vary at different places across the length and width of the pad – its shape and size (contact point or extended as described in the section about cut above), and the fabric and stitching that covers the pad all contribute to the comfort.

Another key to comfort is the material used in the shorts panels. How soft or abrasive are they? How well do they breathe or let fresh air through to help regulate your temperature? And on hot days, how well do they wick or help evaporate the sweat on your legs and inside your shorts?

Comfort also comes from having bib straps that lay across your front and back in the right places. They should feel tight enough on your shoulders and back to hold up your shorts while being made from comfortable fabric so as to not feel abrasive on direct skin or rub against your sports bra.  Similar to bib material, straps should also wick any sweat from your back typically with a mesh panel between them, which also adds to the overall comfort of your womens bib shorts.

Finally, the seams that hold the shorts panels together are the last place where comfort or mostly discomfort can show up. Some seams dig into your legs while others you won’t even notice. Bib shorts with fewer panels often create less discomfort from seams as long as the materials stretch and compress to give you as good a fit as those with multiple panels.

WHERE I’M COMING FROM

In The Know Cycling Tester AiyanaI’ve ridden road bikes for 20+ years and added mountain biking in the last 4-5 years.  I spend some time on my CX and fat bike now and again and generally ride 5 to 6 times a week year-round. I also work, have school-age kids and a partner.  Riding ensures that I stay healthy (mentally & physically), see and make new friends and keep on smiling.

While testing these womens cycling bib shorts, my rides ranged from 1-3 hours long on rolling road terrain. I averaged between 16 mph/26kph on easy days and 19 mph/30 kph on hard ones in 55F/13C to 85F/29C temperatures, sometimes on very humid summer days.

I’m on the shorter end, a little bit over 5’3”/160cm, and weigh about 120lbs/54.5kg.  As you can see in the photos in the reviews, I have hips and a butt and cyclist’s leg muscles while my upper body is pretty lean. My saddle is fairly hard and narrow.

I wear a Small in all of the bib shorts tested in this review except for the Castelli where I wear a Medium.

WOMENS BIB SHORTS REVIEWS

Here are my womens cycling bib shorts reviews in order of how I ranked them.

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ALE’ R-EV1 FUTURE RACE – AMAZING FIT AND COMFORT

Regularly priced at US$210/£170/€203, this model is currently 40% off or US$122/£94/€112 at these links to Wiggle and Chain Reaction Cycles. Complementary Ale’ jerseys are available at Wiggle and Chain Reaction Cycles.

Ale' Future Race womens bib shorts

The Ale’ R-EV1 Future Race womens bib shorts fit and feel amazing. Wearing them makes me want to keep riding and never stop.

I get a fantastic fit in these shorts thanks to the right balance of stretch and compression. It feels like a second skin. The panels work well together and have the best-stitched seams I’ve seen in cycling clothing.

Ale Future Race leg fabric

The fabric Ale’ uses in the Future Race is textured on the quads and fun to touch. When I sweat on a hard ride or hot day, they wick the moisture away perfectly. I even got caught in the rain one day and the wicking worked then too!

For my 5’ 3”/160cm height, the leg length is perfect. And the grippers are excellent, keeping the shorts in place. I like the gripper height too, though if I’m splitting hairs they could be slightly shorter.

The straps are very comfortable, almost as if they don’t exist. They seem stretchy enough to pull down the entire bibs for a nature break but the back mesh panel would get in the way. That mesh hugs you when the straps are down and wicks you nicely when they are up. I do wish they would be further apart just above my bum.

Ale Women's Future Race 8H Shammy

The Future Race womens bib shorts use a very comfortable chamois that extends a bit beyond my sit bones and cushions the inside of my legs. While I’ve mostly used contact point chamois that don’t touch my legs and reach no further than my sit bones, I think this Ale’ 8H extended chamois is terrific and nearly as good as the best ones I’ve tested.

Ale’ also includes a wash bag with the bib shorts, a nice extra. I also tried out their PR-S Bridge jersey, one of the many colorful striped, patterned, and print jerseys they sell.

Ale' Bridge jersey

Like the bib shorts, the jersey fits like a second skin with just the right tightness for my skinny arms. It feels like it was cut from one piece of fabric. You don’t notice the seams when you wear them and even the lightweight zipper feels nearly seamless.

Clearly, the Ale’ R-EV1 Future Race bib shorts are my favorite and one I recommend you try. If I wasn’t reviewing other bibs, I would have picked Ale from my drawer every morning. Quite simply, they made me feel good.

They’re currently on sale for 40% off at the stores linked to above. That’s a great value to go along with everything else!


STOLEN GOAT CLIMBERS – SOLID AND FAIRLY PRICED WOMENS BIB SHORTS

Available directly from Stolen Goat for US$175/£120/€160

Stolen Goat Womens Climbers womens cycling bib shorts

Adventure and freedom may be the themes behind the Stolen Goat brand but their Women’s Climbers Bib Shorts follow a solid, tried-and-true, fair-priced approach to performance-level womens bib shorts.

The cut is standard for serious women riders like me who’ve been wearing club and race team bib shorts for years. Waist below my belly button, hips sized for normal women, and legs coming down to the lower end of my quads.

I really like that the shorts are made from a single panel of fabric with seams sewn down the back of my legs. It proportionately accommodates my lower body. There’s more stretch than compression in the fabric, but more compression than most of the bibs I’ve tested. It also feels quite durable.

On warm summer days when I’m riding hard, I notice the Climbers don’t breathe as well as others. I had to remove them mid-ride for a nature break on a particularly sweaty day and, after putting them back on had to adjust them several times. It felt almost like wearing a wet bathing suit.

At the bottom of the legs, there’s a gripper band that comfortably sticks where it’s meant to in the front and around the sides of my legs. It’s a little taller than it needs to be and doesn’t hold as well to the back of my legs.

The straps on these Stolen Goat womens bib shorts are incredibly comfortable, so much so that I don’t notice them during the ride. They’re soft and stretchy though slightly long for my 5’ 3”/160 cm height. I could grow a few inches taller (not likely) and the straps and legs would still fit.

The bibs stay in place nicely and I feel compacted without being too compressed. There’s also a separate panel above the butt that nicely shapes me. Ladies who like a smoother look will appreciate that there aren’t any bulgy spots.

Altogether, it’s a good cut for me and a very comfortable fit on all but the warmest days.

Stolen Goat Womens Climbers womens cycling bib shorts chamoisThe Climbers’ chamois is good, but not the best. It covers your bottom mostly where it comes into contact with your saddle. This is a more traditional, performance-oriented style chamois and contrasts with most of those I’ve reviewed that extend well beyond those contact points to the insides of your legs and beyond your sit bones to the back and sides, albeit with thinner padding in those areas.

This chamois also has notably thicker padding than any of the others I’ve reviewed. But because it is narrower between the legs than others, the pad still feels comfortable and not bulky. I’d prefer it trimmed a bit in the front and back so it doesn’t come up as high in either area.

While the contact point style and thicker pad inside these womens bib shorts may not be for everyone, I like it and find it comfortable, especially on longer rides & uneven surfaces.

When the other womens bibs shorts aren’t on sale, the Stolen Goat Womens Climbers are the lowest price performance bibs I’ve reviewed.


VELOCIO WOMEN’S SIGNATURE – GOOD FIT AND COMFORT WITH NOVEL FEATURES

Available in the US through this link to REI and in the UK and EU directly from Velocio for US$229/£181/€200.

Velocio Signature womens bib shortsThe Velocio Women’s Signature Bib Short does several novel things, some of which I appreciate. Individually or together, however, they don’t affect the characteristics I think matter most in choosing between womens bib shorts.

So let’s first talk about the things that do and then come back to the unique aspects of these Velocio Women’s Signature bibs.

The materials Velocio uses in the shorts and bib straps are very soft and comfortable. They do an excellent job of breathing and wicking even on those very hot and humid days we seem to be riding through a lot more now.

I also like several aspects of the design. The waist comes up just above my belly button and the legs stretch down so only a little bit of my quad muscles are showing. I generally like womens bib shorts with shorter legs but these work fine for me and would fit women taller than me very well.

There’s a Goldilocks amount of stretch in the Signature so that it moves well with me as I change positions on the bike to get more aero, climb out of the saddle, lean into the turns, and just sit up from time to time. It’s not too much stretch so that I’m feeling totally free or too little that I’m feeling held back.

While about average compared to other womens bib shorts I’ve tried, I’d like to feel more compression in these Velocio’s to support my muscles on longer rides.

The back straps crisscross, something it took a little while to get used to. Once I did, I find they lay flat nicely and are barely noticeable during rides.

Many companies use straps only in the front and a mesh panel across the back as a kind of partial base layer that helps regulate your temperature. Velocio flips the script with a front mesh panel and rear straps.

The front panel does wick pretty well in the rain or really hot weather. But, I tend to run hot so unless it’s a cool day, I don’t wear a base layer. With the front panel on the Velocio Women’s Signature, I don’t have a choice.

If you easily get cool in the front, this might be a good solution for you. It’s not for me.

Velocio Signature womens bib shorts chamoisVelocio’s chamois in the Signature shorts is far from the best but it’s not terrible either. It extends further than my sit bones in the back but not so much that it looks like you have a huge fanny. The part covering my pelvis feels a little bulky, coming up very high and a little wide in the front.

As for the padding itself, the section covering the important female parts is relatively thin and doesn’t protect as well on longer rides.

Velocio Signature womens bib shorts drop tailThe Women’s Signature Bib Short allows you to take a nature break without removing the straps. It’s a tight stretch and you need to stay a bit bent over at the waist during the process, but it works!

I don’t do long enough rides or those where I can’t easily find an inside bathroom that I’d get a lot of use out of this feature that Velocio calls FlyFree. If you do, this might be a good option.

In addition to the novel front panel and FlyFree feature, the Signature is made with 100% recycled Lycra or Elastane that makes up 22% of the fabric used in these womens bib shorts. (The other 78% is Polyamide, more commonly known as Nylon.)

The bib shorts are packaged in a biodegradable clear bag and shipped in a pretty basic paper bag. We can only hope that this environmentally conscious approach to both the materials and packaging isn’t novel to other brands for long. The comfort of the Velocio short and strap materials give you certainly suggests that it shouldn’t be.

The Velocio Women’s Signature bib shorts are on the more expensive end but their fit, comfort, and some novel features may be worth it to you.


LE COL WOMENS PRO ECO – BIB SHORTS WITH A COMPLEX PERSONALITY

Available for US$215/£165/€200 minus a 20% discount for In The Know Cycling readers if you order directly by clicking on this link to Le Col and add the code AFF-ITK20 at checkout.

Le Col Womens Pro Eco womens bib shorts

If womens bib shorts have a personality, the Le Col Womens Pro Eco Bib Shorts’ is a complex one. The chamois says “let’s go racing” while the shorts suggest “it’s time to cruise.”

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a person having a complex personality. Sometimes, however, they can be hard to figure out and may not be well accepted in certain situations.

The same goes for these bib shorts. But, let me try to explain what I figured out from wearing them and suggest who it might be best suited for.

First, I LOVE that Le Col makes the Womens Pro Eco Bib Shorts from recycled plastics retrieved from the ocean. We ride outdoors and it’s great that Le Col is doing something to try to sustain the environment.

And while recycled plastics might suggest a rough, uncomfortable, and less breathable fabric, that’s anything but the case with these Pro Eco womens bib shorts.

From the traditional white straps and mesh back panel down through the shorts’ legs, the material feels soft and smooth without being slippery. It also wicks my sweat away well on hot days, though I’d be better off with just straps instead of a mesh back panel on the most humid ones.

Le Col Pro Eco Chamois

The Le Col Womens Pro Eco chamois is the best of all those I’ve tested. It’s structured with very specific placement and just the right amount of padding below each body part.

The chamois starts in the front of the bib and covers the lower part of the pelvis without coming up too high. It then extends back and sits narrow between the legs with pads that protect the important female body parts. The pads and the separation between them get wider under the sit bones without taking up so much space that you look like you had butt augmentation.

As you can see from the tape measure and the placement of the sit bone pads, it’s what I call a contact point chamois. That means it’s only padded where you come in contact with your saddle. Other chamois extend beyond those contact points to the inside of your legs or outside of your bum even though the padding is much thinner in those areas than under your contact points.

A contact point chamois is the style racers and those of us ladies who just like to ride fast prefer. There’s no extra padding to get in the way of our legs or cushion our butt when we are sitting up.

And to be clear, this Le Col womens chamois is the most comfortable I’ve tested of either the contact point or extended chamois style.

The chamois style is true to the “Pro” part of the Womens Pro Eco bib name. So is the bib that’s cut just below my belly button with strap material that sits wide on my shoulders. Nothing to get in the way of my leg and core muscles driving me and my bike down the road.

What isn’t very pro is the way the shorts fit. They stretch way too easily and have very little compression. It’s not the kind of fit that supports my glutes, quads, and hammies on fast or long rides.

Rather, it’s a more relaxed fit perhaps more suitable for a cyclist who rides less frequently and more for the fresh air than the workout.

So the personality profile of these Le Col Womens Pro Eco bib shorts – or perhaps the woman cyclist that they are best suited for – reads eco-friendly (recycled material), sensitive (soft and smooth material), comfortable and pro-oriented in parts (chamois and cut), but also very relaxed and more casual in others (stretch and compression).

Add tall and grabby to all that.

As you may have already noticed from the photo array at the beginning of this review or the one below where I point it out, these shorts run too long. They come down almost to my knee caps when I’m in the riding position. I feel a little ridiculous wearing them.

Le Col Womens Pro Eco womens bib shortsFor reference, I’m 5’ 3’’/160cm. That’s not “short” as women cyclists go but neither is it tall. I’m a small per Le Col’s sizing chart and the rest of the cut works for my small body. You should probably be at least 5’ 5”/165cm for these bib shorts to reach only as far as somewhere more naturally on your quads.

The Pro Eco womens bib shorts also have very tight and tall grippers, too much for me and more than on any bib shorts I’ve worn before. The grippers are too grabby even where they come down around my knees and also when I hitch them up to a more normal height on my quads.

If you’re a rider with thinner legs than long-time women riders like me and you don’t ride too long or hard but enjoy the comforts of a great chamois pad and soft fabrics and have an environmental sensitivity, these are perfect for you!


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ASSOS T.laalalaiShorts_s7 – HALF-WAY COMFORTABLE

Available at Competitive Cyclist for US$229.

Assos T.laalalai womens bib shorts

There are things about Assos’ T.laalalaiShorts I like and things I really don’t. It is pretty good below my waist but not so good above it.

Across the range of womens bib shorts I’ve worn, the Assos has a narrower and higher waist than most. Where that higher waist with its curved edges falls on me is uncomfortable.

Assos T.laalalai womens bib shorts chamoisThe chamois is very comfortable and wicks my perspiration well. Unfortunately, it comes up very high in the rear so you look like you’ve had some butt augmentation.

I got what seemed to be just the right amount of compression from the T.laalalai (it’s fun to type that). And while the shorts are shorter than most, ending right above the bottom of my quads when I’m on the bike, I like that length and the grippers do a great job holding everything in place.

Assos T.laalalai womens bib shortsThe straps are, how do I say this, different. It is an entirely unique design than anything I have seen or worn in 20+ years of cycling. Then again, so is the name of the bib shorts – T.laalalai.

Rather than having two wide straps coming up your back, there is a narrow back panel that is more like one wide, breathable strap. The panel splits into two straps at your upper back then comes over your head to rest closer to your neck than your shoulders. Then the straps merge back into a single strap just above your chest.

That strap goes down the center where it connects in the middle to the waist of your shorts using a magnet inside a plastic buckle.

Strange, yes, but worse, no part of this is comfortable.

Pulling the straps over my head is uncomfortable. Having them sit almost on my neck is uncomfortable. And it is an uncomfortable, strange feeling having the plastic buckle rest against my mid-section while I ride. It sits just below your ribs either against your skin or protected by the bottom of your bra. I’ve tried it both ways and neither is comfortable.

Oh, and the first time I released the magnetic buckle it flew up and smacked me in the face!

I was told these straps are helpful for a woman with a larger chest because one strap comes down the middle rather than having two going over your front. But, unless you wear a sports bra that separates your chest the way regular bras do, I would think this strap and magnetic buckle would still be uncomfortable.

While not part of the fit or comfort performance of these womens bib shorts, Assos sends you this garment with a lot of packaging. It attractively presents the bibs but the unnecessary impact on the environment is a terrible look.

The Assos T.laalalaiShorts is comfortable below the waist and uncomfortable above it. While I recommend and only ride in bib shorts, these could work as shorts if I could stitch in a gripper waist and ditch the strap.

If you think this design might work better for you than it does for me, Competitive Cyclist has a 30-day, full refund policy if, after trying it on you return it in the original packaging with the tags attached.


Thanks to Competitive Cyclist for sending the Assos T.laalalaiShorts I reviewed above and Castelli Premio Black W womens 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 In The Know Cycling tracks, Competitive Cyclist is one of the top stores we 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 our goal to help fellow enthusiasts figure out what cycling gear to get next and where to get it.


CASTELLI PREMIO BLACK W – INNOVATIVE BUT NOT QUITE RIGHT FOR WOMEN

Available for US$260 at Competitive Cyclist

Castelli Premio Black W womens bib shortsThe Castelli Premio Black W brings a lot of innovations to the world of cycling bib shorts. At the same time, while adding the ‘W’ to the name of these shorts, they need to do more to truly make these womens bib shorts.

Let me explain.

Castelli uses materials in the shorts that have a paper-like feel in your hand that is very lightweight and comfortable on your body.

There’s only a single seam in the back of each leg and one around your bum but it holds everything together nicely without any puckering or wrinkling. And it wicks your sweat well.

Similar to what you see in many men’s bib shorts now, the grippers on these Premio Black W(omen’s) are embedded into the ends of the shorts’ legs where separate bands would normally be sewn in. It’s a classy look and the grippers work perfectly on the somewhat shorter than standard leg length, all of which I like.

The bib shorts are packaged in a very “on-brand” cardboard box that is also soft to the touch and includes a multi-page booklet explaining (or marketing) the Premio Black W’s distinctiveness.

But the quantity of packaging material Castelli uses for this one garment also stands out, especially compared to the far lesser amounts used by most others and the recycled material used in the bib shorts themselves of a couple I tested.

Castelli Premio Black W womens bib shorts chamoisConsiderably off the ‘W’ part of the Premio Black W brand is this bib shorts’ chamois. While it’s stylishly red, it doesn’t seem to be structured for a woman. Because of that, I find it very uncomfortable.

The chamois pad is 9mm thick (too little!) below the important female body parts and increases to 15mm (too much!) under the sit bones. This thickness difference also tilts my body angle and weight forward and puts more pressure on my female parts.

To add to the discomfort, the stitching that connects the chamois to the shorts rubs against my inner thighs and bum. Perhaps because I adjust my leg angle to avoid this rubbing, it feels like the hips of these bib shorts are cut wider than most. Or maybe they are just cut wider than most I’ve tested or the average amount of compression in these shorts makes them feel roomy.

To add to the disorientation, when I’m wearing these Castelli bib shorts off the bike, the extra pad thickness under and behind my sit bones makes it feel like there is something stuffed in the back of my shorts.

The waist and back panels along with the bib straps make a mess of me.

Castelli Premio Black W womens bib shortsStart with the middle waist section which is low and too wide and the side waist panels which are too high and narrow. The top of the side panels come up so high that they dig into my sides. At the same time, they are loose and stick out when I’m in a riding position, probably because there is no stretchy fabric across the middle of my waist to connect to the sides.

Castelli Premio Black W womens bib shorts back panelThe Premio Black W includes a back mesh panel that should be useful in wicking sweat. It’s very stretchy, which is good, but is scratchy, which isn’t. And the straps that come off the top of the back panel are also scratchy and are too tight for my 5’3”/160cm tall (or short) shoulders.

In many bibs, there is a gap between my skin and the fabric at my lower back when I’m standing. Once I get in a riding position, the gap closes and the fabric that is now against my lower back wicks my sweat. With these Castelli bib shorts, that gap never closes and I feel sweat dripping down my lower back.

While I know women are shaped differently, these Castelli womens bib shorts don’t feel like they are cut or made to fit different women’s shapes. Certainly not mine. They just make me feel uncomfortable.

I had hoped for more from the innovation, fit, and comfort level suggested by the higher price.


MACHINES FOR FREEDOM ENDURANCE – A MIX OF COMFORT AND DISCOMFORT

Available for $235 at REI or directly from Machines For Freedom.

Machines For Freedom Endurance womens bib shorts

My experience with the Machines for Freedom (or MFF) Endurance womens cycling bib shorts is full of contradictions. They are very comfortable in places and quite uncomfortable in others, with still other places changing in comfort over a long ride.

Chamois fit and comfort is usually the most important performance characteristic in choosing which bib shorts I want to buy and wear. And the chamois MFF puts in the Endurance bib shorts is one of the most comfortable I’ve worn.

Machines For Freedom Endurance chamois

It’s wide between the legs and also goes down the legs under your bum. Of all of those I’ve tested for this review and worn in the past, it’s also the widest chamois at the back. This is the very definition of an extended chamois and contrasts 180 degrees from the narrower contact point chamois I normally prefer.

Still, I really like the Endurance chamois. It has exactly the right amount of padding where it counts and is comfortable in all riding positions over varying terrain. This chamois also wicks well in hot and humid conditions and gives me no chafing.

But, some combination of the cut, fit, and materials of the rest of these MFF Endurance womens bib shorts makes them uncomfortable for me.

Machines For Freedom Endurance womens cycling bib shortsThere are a couple of rows of shaping panels across the abdomen and lower back. Those panels connect to hemmed mesh sections that reach from just below my belly button up rather high to just below my ribs in the front. The mesh goes higher on the sides and back to incorporate a back panel and straps made of the same mesh.

With all of that going on, these bib shorts have more stitching than any other I’ve tested, layering panels in a way that creates a pattern on the legs and bodice.

All of this makes you look and feel like these womens bib shorts have you very put together. With all the mesh, it almost seems this garment belongs in the underwear department rather than the activewear section.

The waist is cut small and the short’s fabrics (especially the mesh) don’t stretch much. Pulling the Endurance on and over my hips and bum takes some work, something I don’t enjoy doing first thing in the morning when I get kitted up and want to be comfortable.

This can be even tougher during a long ride if I need to stop for a nature break. Some patience and shimmying are required, especially if you’re sweaty.

Once in place though, the Endurance material hugs me nicely and flatteringly. And most of the time everything stays in place.

During the first 20-30 minutes of nearly every ride in these MFF Endurance womens bib shorts, the straps feel tight and restrictive. While that feeling subsides, the straps never feel as soft as on other bibs.

And after about an hour and a half of riding, I feel the need to hitch up the chamois a bit to regain the comfort there that I had during the earlier part of my rides.

Except for the chamois, the materials used in the Endurance (mesh and shorts fabrics) are never very comfortable. There’s far more compression than stretch in the shorts so things generally stay in place but you can’t move on the bike as well as you’d like.

The material also doesn’t seem to breathe as well as in other womens bib shorts. That makes for a hotter day than normal in warm weather but is fine on cooler days.

Machines For Freedom womens bib shorts size calculatorThis tight feeling I get from the cut, fit, and materials had me wondering if I had ordered the wrong size. The bottom of the grippers also come up to my mid quad, shorter on my legs than many of the others even though I chose what MFF calls the classic length option they say should hit just above the knee.

I used the website fit guide (chest, waist, hips) before ordering my size small. After they arrived in an environmentally-friendly brown paper package (yeah!), I double-checked the size because it felt tight. And I re-checked my sizing after my third ride in them.

Per the size chart, I have the right size though it doesn’t feel like I do.

For me, the excellent chamois just doesn’t make up for the discomfort of the Endurance material and straps. And despite how well they shape me, I don’t want to deal with the hassle of putting these on. Once I do get them on, the priority MFF seems to put on compression instead of stretch makes them feel smaller than they should.

Of course, all our bodies are different and what doesn’t work for me might work for you.


About my socks… and the bike in the photos

You may have noticed the different socks I wore in the photos with each pair of bib shorts. Yes, I love my bike socks and bright colorful jerseys too. My closet has more space dedicated to bike clothing than ‘regular’ clothing these days. My favorite socks tend to be from SockGuy, DEFEET, and recently Stolen Goat, but I’m always on the lookout for more great (colorful!) socks, so would love your recommendations!

The bike in the photos is my classic Triumph townie bike. While I tested the bib shorts for this review on my new Aerfast Pro Storck road bike, I love riding my Triumph around town inclusive of the Original Bike License plate from my local town circa the early 1900s. I also ride a retired BMC Time Machine on the trainer, a Velocity XC racing bike off-road, a Specialized Stump Jumper for mountain biking, and a Motobecane fat bike for winter riding in the New England snow.

When it comes to bikes, those In The Know Cycling boy testers have nothing on me!

 *     *     *     *     *     *     *

This is my first review as a new member of the In The Know Cycling Test Team and the first woman-specific one we’ve done on the site! Thank you so much for reading. Please let me know what you think of anything I’ve written or ask any questions you might have in the comment section below.

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Thanks and enjoy your rides safely and with colorful socks!

Aiyana

First published on August 31, 2021. The date of the most recent major update is shown at the top of the post.

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6 comments

  • Looks like you had some fun doing this!

    Impressed by all the detail. Nice job.

  • Peter "PJ" Jantzen

    Wow, this is a superb and thorough review! My wife and female bib friends will love it. Thanks Aiyana as it’s always hard to get a “real feel and fit” for bib shorts, especially women’s.

  • Excellent job! Your review is very thorough and helpful. Thanks!

  • annemarie loughrey

    I love this review, well researched and thought out, thanks Aiyana

  • Awesome, well thought out review on bib shorts! Love how you went into all the different features and gave your honest (and entertaining) thoughts. While I’m a staunch regular bike shorts wearer for many reasons, I will occasionally wear the team issued bib shorts. If I do decide to purchase a pair of bib shorts, I will definitely use your review for reference. Have you ever worn a pair of Pactimo bib shorts? I love the way their shorts fit, so wondering if their bib shorts have earned your praises, as you and I seem to have similar thoughts on important features of bike shorts in general.

  • Super helpful and really appreciate the detail. Really helps make an informed decision!
    Thank you so much.

    I get really hot so I really like the Velocio Traillight bibs. No mesh in front, just straps and you can drop trou on the trail/gravel without taking your jersey off. I’m used to stripping down from rowing unisuits so this is a real plus.

    Just as an environmental and cost plug, Velocio sells their returns/repairs all fixed up, “renewed” at renewed.velocio.cc

    Huge discounts, very green packaging, and their clothing is largely recycled to begin with.

    I love their Traillight jersey (also not hot) and their bra, too.

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