It’s an unfortunate fact of cycling life that the most delicate area of your body has to bear the most weight, but the best modern bib shorts are designed not just to mitigate but to totally eliminate the discomfort, overheating and chafing of the olden days.
Fillet steaks are back on our plates rather than under our perineums thanks to the latest high-performance technical fabrics and lightweight, breathable, shock-absorbing foam pads.
A top pair of shorts, such as the ones we’ve tested below, doesn’t come cheap but it will arguably improve your cycling experience more than any other piece of kit – and that’s why it’s worth the investment.
However, just like the saddles that these bib shorts interface, it’s fair to say that one man’s meat… actually, let’s scrap that idiom. Just because one pair of bib shorts is comfortable and effective for one person doesn’t mean it will be the same for everyone.
But as long as you get the correct fit – because even the world’s most expensive bibs won’t be comfortable if they’re the wrong size – we’re confident that our selection, which we’ve tested both in the UK and in Mallorca, represents the best available in 2023.
Le Col Pro Bib Shorts II
New version of the British brand’s elegant, Italian-made bibs is better than ever.
Le Col’s Pro Bib Shorts II have been developed to deliver “an even higher level of uncompromising comfort and performance for your fastest rides and high-tempo training sessions.”
I was a big fan of the previous model but I can verify Le Col’s claims: the Pro IIs are even better.
They use a more compressive fabric that’s less shiny and more matte compared to the Lycra of the outgoing shorts, and the mesh of the bibs is lighter and softer yet more elastic, supplying better support for the main shorts than before.
The new model is also 30g lighter than the old ones, in the same size (small).
My single criticism has even been addressed: at the rear of the outgoing version, the Lycra continued very high up the back before meeting the lightweight bib section, leading to lower-back clamminess in hot conditions.
Positioning the Lycra/mesh border lower has added more breathability. This, plus a new seam layout (eliminating the one up the back of the aforementioned Lycra rear), has equalled supreme comfort for me both in sunny Mallorca and overcast Britain.
The Pro Bib Shorts II use the same Italian Pro chamois as their predecessor, which is neither too padded nor too thin and is placed for a relatively aggressive position and fast riding.
I’m 178cm and 69kg with a 32in waist and found the size small exactly right – as Le Col’s sizing guide suggests. I have long femurs and found the leg length perfect and never riding up, with the silicone grippers a mere formality.
The Pro Bib Shorts II are made in Italy to an extremely high standard – they’re all class.
Weight: 180g (size small)
- Lighter than before
- Perfect leg length
- Chic look
- The logos on the legs are less subtle than before
ASSOS Equipe RSR S9 Targa
Innovative tech that makes for high-performing, super light, unique-looking shorts.
The Equipe RSR S9 Targa bibs represent the pinnacle of the pioneering Swiss brand’s latest design philosophies and fabrics.
They are described as “pushing second-skin aerodynamics, hyperlight construction, and race-tuned engineering beyond even WorldTour standards.”
The Targas are made from a textile called Type.701kompressor, designed for compression, comfort and abrasion resistance according to Assos. It has a stiff, papery texture that rustles – silent once the shorts are on – and is extremely lightweight. Since the main fabric is more compressive, there are stretchier ‘Ossidia’ inserts around the tops of the legs to take up any slack when pedalling.
There’s no bib section as such – Assos uses what are essentially sewn-in elastic braces; minimal but effective and very cool in the heat.
The S9 chamois, which in this case is small but perfectly formed and very soft, isn’t sewn in at the sides, allowing it to move with your body rather than the fabric. That has always worked well for me.
Another Assos feature is shorter legs: although the size medium was right for me (178cm, 69kg), the legs stopped above the tan lines already established by the Le Col Pro IIs.
And finally, if you don’t have a ripped torso like the Assos Man, watch out for the signature low-cut waist that can produce a muffin top under your jersey.
I wore the Targas for the punishing Sa Calobra climb in Mallorca, including five hours riding in the scorching sun, and found their performance and comfort incredible.
If you want superlative performance, lightweight and don’t mind Assos’s unique futuristic aesthetic or the high price, these bib shorts are the ones to beat.
Weight: 169g (size medium)
- Super light
- Superlative pad
- Incredible all-round comfort
- Idiosyncratic look
- Legs shorter than others
Pas Normal Studios Mechanism
The premium brand of the moment blends modern fabrics and classic style to create a superb pair of shorts.
Danish upstarts Pas Normal Studios are challenging the bigger, more established names with excellently designed, high-quality and visually striking clothing, and the Italian-made Mechanism bib shorts are a perfect illustration of why PNS is the premium brand of the moment.
The Mechanism bibs hit a sweet spot between high-tech and classic, combining compressive, lightweight, finely textured Lycra that brings them in at a weight just 6g heavier than the ‘hyperlight’ Assos RSR Targas. Yet they have a more traditional construction, with the shorts fabric meeting the bib section a little higher up – resulting in a more flattering and smoother fit for a wider range of body types than the athlete-orientated Assos shorts. In particular, there’s a black mesh panel over the stomach – minimising the risk of the dreaded muffin top – and an equally undesirable gap.
The PNS shorts have a close fit that’s designed precisely for the bike position, with bib straps that pull at the front when you’re standing up straight but are perfectly tensioned and completely unrestrictive when crouched over the bars.
The straps themselves are made from comfortable, low-profile soft elastic with a breathable mesh panel between them at the back. I didn’t feel them when I was riding and never had to adjust their position.
Likewise, I didn’t feel the chamois during long rides in the UK and in Mallorca – the level of padding is well-judged.
Leg length in the size small is slightly shorter than with the Le Col bib shorts, but, unlike with the Assos, the silicone grippers hold them down so that your tan lines remain crisp.
As with PNS’s jerseys, there’s prominent branding on the shorts, but these shorts are so good that I’m not going to tell them they can’t shout about it.
Weight: 175g (size small)
- Close-fitting cut
- Flattering fit
- Racy aesthetic
- Prominent branding might not be for everyone
Rapha Pro Team Bib Shorts II
Perfect blend of style and performance with premium fabrics, top build quality and a luxury look and fee.
Rapha calls the Pro Team II “performance bib shorts built for your fastest rides and races, as worn by pro cyclists.” They have a premium look and feel, the build quality is beautiful, the stitching meticulous and the fabrics soft and luxurious.
I’ve generally found Rapha’s jerseys and shorts more flattering than many. It’s not that I have an unusual body shape, but Rapha looks good on most people and that’s the case here thanks to a great cut and well designed, fashion-inspired visuals: for example, the seams on the front swoop outwards and in again, giving the illusion of muscular quads and a narrow waist even if they’re not actually present.
There are two leg lengths on offer. I went for the long version in size small and the fit is perfect in every way.
The fabric is fairly traditional Lycra (78% nylon, 22% elastane) and doesn’t claim to be compressive, while the bib section is more of a built-in baselayer than the more minimal elastic braces style of Assos, Castelli and Pas Normal Studios. However, there are stretchy elastic inserts over the shoulders to keep it taut.
I found torso coverage was extensive enough that it’s not necessary to wear a baselayer. Breathability is excellent for both the bib and shorts sections.
The chamois is thinner than the pads in the other shorts here. Rapha doesn’t make any claims about it being suitable for long distances or supreme comfort, so I’m guessing we’re to take “fastest rides and races” literally. This suited me fine – a too-thick chamois can move about, chafe and generally distract, but if you prefer cafe riding to racing, you might prefer a more substantial pad.
But for a perfect combination of classic style and racy performance the Pro Team IIs hit the mark.
Weight: 183g (size small)
- Stylish aesthetic
- Perfect fit (with two leg lengths offered)
- Beautiful build quality
- Chamois could be too thin for some
Castelli Premio Black
Super light, super comfortable and exceptionally well designed: these really could be your favourite bib shorts ever, as Castelli promises.
According to Castelli, “the Premio Bibshort has been engineered to provide the ultimate in long-distance comfort and to be your favourite bib short ever.” It’s a bold claim, but these are incredibly good shorts that incorporate all the pros and none of the cons of the others here.
The fabric is incredibly thin but very compressive with a papery feel, similar to Assos’s Type.701kompressor textile. Castelli says it’s a woven fabric that’s 30% lighter than comparable knit fabric, and indeed these are the lightest shorts on test, in a size M too (the correct size for me at 178cm and 69kg).
The cuffs are raw cut with rubberised yarns, rather than the more standard silicone grippers, though the legs are a good length and didn’t ride up above the tan lines.
There’s a rear panel with a soft lining to “avoid any transparency issues” and the bib straps are Assos-style raw elastic at the front meeting a soft stretchy mesh section at the back.
The Castelli bibs are cut low at the front, but not quite as low as the Assos Targas. They don’t smooth out ‘relaxed muscle’ unlike Le Col Pro II and Pas Normal Studios Mechanism with their high-cut fronts, which incidentally make comfort breaks slightly less Ferrari pitstop-like, but they don’t accentuate it either.
The chamois is Castelli’s flagship Progetto X2 Air Seamless, which I’ve used in previous Rosso Corsa shorts and is superb. Like Assos’s, it’s small and goes down the ‘all killer, no filler’ route.
Last but not least, Castelli has to be commended for the unusually discreet, almost absent branding – there’s a cool, understated confidence in that.
Overall, Castelli is right: these are up there with my favourite shorts ever.
Weight: 148g (size medium)
- Extremely light
- Perfect fit
- Almost zero branding
- Honestly, no cons