The most crucial and enduring relationship in cycling is that between bottom and bib short. Get this foundation right and everything else will follow.
Pretty much indistinguishable from one another at twenty paces, in reality, the divergence between brands and styles is surprisingly marked. Stretchy, bestrapped, and ever so slightly weird-looking, a good pair will provide comfort in the saddle and an aerodynamic silhouette while also supporting your muscles.
As anyone who’s ridden more than a few hours at a time will tell you, throwing as much money at your next pair as you can afford is likely to prove a wise investment. Promising to look after your sensitive bits while framing your legs and posterior to best effect, here are seven of the nicest.
£135, Shop Isadore
From both a stylistic and practical standpoint black is very much the colour for bib shorts. However, it’s far from the best shade for keeping cool. Mitigating this, Isadore’s Medio shorts use Schoeller’s ColdBlack treatment to reflect some of the sun’s thermal radiation, leaving their hot weather performance closer to that of lighter coloured alternatives.
Designed by former HTC and Quick-Step pro Martin Velits, the Medio’s cut and styling are understated, but its features are race-ready. A little more compressive than the firm’s standard bibs, the Medio uses a mix of two types of Italian lycra to provide both support and increased abrasion resistance.
Also produced in Italy, their chamois includes both 4D technology and something called ‘next-generation space foam’, both of which sound like things I’d be excited to have applied to that area. Equally pleasant for that region are the short’s enhanced breathability and antibacterial resistance, both of which are aided by the inclusion of carbon yarn.
Endura Pro SL
£130, Shop Endura
Available in a racy or relaxed fit and with a pad in three different widths, Endura’s Pro SL bib shorts are probably a stock control nightmare for the brand. Still, we think they’re worth it. Having been measured up, these are likely to exactly hit their target. For one thing, the slim 700 series pad doesn’t have noticeable transitions between its different density areas.
Making it easy to get along with, the short’s structured and slightly compressive fit is also perfectly judged. A good all-rounder, the medium weight of the fabric means the Pro SL shorts will happily serve through spring and autumn, while the ability to pick your leg-length further increases versatility.
Long making good value cycling clothing that’s pleasingly non-try-hard, there might be just a touch of the brand’s former association with the Movistar squad at work too. Certainly, these would do for racing in, along with pretty much anything else you fancy applying them too.
£194, Shop ashmei
These minimalist shorts do as little to annoy as possible. Made from a reduced number of different panels, their ultra-flexible woven material features a high degree of elastane for breathability and freedom of movement.
Finished with laser-cut cuffs, the entire design cuts down on the seams and features that can occasionally grate after hours of riding. Resulting in a distinctly lean silhouette, they’re quite unlike most other brands' shorts.
Backed up by the fact they also come in shades other than black, namely navy and mossy green, it’s a trait also expanded upon by their custom chamois. Designed specifically for the brand, it’s integrated into the short using as smooth a transition as possible.
Le Col Hors Categorie Bib Shorts II
£180, Shop Le Col
Thorough though I am, I don’t always test for durability by sliding myself across the road. However, for these shorts, I made an exception. Happily, by chance or design, Le Col’s premium Hors Categorie bibs survived without a scratch. Which given that they cost a solid £180, is just as well.
This might be down to their supportive and robust feeling material. Extending to their cuffs, although formed from a separate panel, these retain the same stretchy and breathable qualities as the rest of the short. Laser-cut and with unobtrusive, but very grippy grippers on the reverse, the result is both flattering and unrestrictive.
Now onto their second iteration, alongside the comfy chamois and solid straps, styling has also been improved. With Le Col logos just visible along the bottom of each leg, they’re great for people that enjoy mixing their clothing yet dislike having clashing logos. Also available in a very en vogue shade of dark blue, this makes a nice change from regulation black.
£225, Shop Scicon
Unsurprisingly, no one ever wants bib shorts back after they’re reviewed. Which is great for me. Less great is falling for a pair only to be confronted with a retail price unsuited to the finances of a blagging cycling hack when they need replacing.
Still, once I’ve eked the last bit of life from these Scicon shorts they’ll likely take me to the cleaners for the full RRP. Just every bit of them is great. From their vast 75mm deep cuffs that exert minimal pressure while keeping them locked in place, to the straps that drape across your shoulders as perfectly as anything featured in Harper's Bazaar, they’re brilliantly put together.
Better known for its high-end cycling bags, Scicon has clearly got top people in to work on these. One result of this is the short’s top-spec Elastic Interface chamois. Breathable and great at soaking up road buzz, it’s ideal for making extended efforts that bit less gruelling.
£85, Shop Rapha
For those too young or too late aboard the wagon to remember cycling in the '90s, Rapha probably made the first decent shorts many of us pulled on. And once you’ve owned a really nice pair it’s a literal pain in the butt to go back to something more basic.
Formerly found on its more expensive models, these Core shorts take Rapha’s beloved Classic chamois and introduce it to a more affordable price-point. Given that it's this crucial bit of padding that dictates whether you’ll have a good day in the saddle or not, this makes them a proper bargain.
It’s not even like you really miss out on features, what with the straps still stopping them from dropping unexpectedly, and the legs still arriving having been chopped with space-age lasers for a neat finish. Thickish and with a more relaxed cut they’re a great staple for longer rides. Buy them and take it easy on both yourself and your bank account.
Assos Equipe RSR S9
£255, Shop Assos
The top-end of the bib short market comes in the form of Assos’ Equipe RSR S9. No doubt the reason some firms think it acceptable to charge several hundred pounds for their shorts, the effort that goes into these racing bibs nevertheless makes them almost the only pair this expensive to still represent any kind of value.
Unsurprisingly you get more tech than we time to list here. However, in summary, these performance-focused models nail it in terms of the holy trinity of fabric, cut, and padding. Incredibly supportive and flush-fitting, both the legs and straps conform closely to your body while remaining incredibly unrestrictive.
This tailoring extends to sensitive bits where Assos’ three-dimensionally formed chamois not only does a great job of absorbing hits from the road but also remaining breathable and flexible in all the right spots. Sponsor yourself or spoil yourself, if you can swallow the price tag these won’t rip you off.