Choosing the wrong bib shorts can be a pain. Of all the pieces of cycling kit you wear, bib shorts are the most important and the most difficult to get right for both men and women. While cycling is a sport with a vernacular and culture centred around suffering, this is one area where you definitely shouldn’t just be gritting your teeth and digging in.
There are obviously significant anatomical differences between men and women that render it necessary for bib shorts in particular to be designed in different ways. As a woman, wearing the right women-specific shorts can mean the difference between enjoying your ride and never wanting to even look at your saddle again.
Beyond pure chamois comfort, there’s a few other things to consider. Permeability, wicking, compressive fit, bib-strap fabric and, of course, style.
So which ones are the best?
Assos T.laalalai_s7 Shorts
£165, Shop Assos
Assos are renowned for their comfortable bibs, they’ve been at it for a long time (40 years to be precise) and anyone who has had their ear chewed off on a club run by an Assos evangelist will be aware of their reputation. But there’s no smoke without fire, Assos shorts really are that comfy, and their women-specific offering is no exception.
The chamois in the LaaLalai bib shorts uses patented technology in an 8mm memory foam pad that sounds like something you’d get a good night’s sleep on instead of sitting upon all day on a bike. Crucially, it is only stitched into the shorts in certain places which allows it to move freely with your body and reduce chafing.
A magnetic clasp at the front doubles up both as an easy-access way of removing the shorts for nature breaks and also holds down the bib straps so they don’t flap around or stick out.
ashmei Women’s Signature Bib Shorts
£176, Shop ashmei
Traditionally masters of merino clothing, ashmei is a brand focussed on high-end quality with a strict approach to sustainability. The women’s Signature bib shorts are a great showcase of the brand identity – understated, stylish and technical.
Compressive and supportive while remaining extremely flexible, ashmei uses its exclusive elastane-based Bib Short Fabric in a way that means the short has very few panels. Light and breathable, yet stable and durable, it also boasts a water-resistant treatment to ensure performance across a wide range of conditions. That’s accompanied by an updated women-specific high-density insert that hits a nice sweet spot between comfort and performance.
With a flush fit right to the top, and wide straps are designed to spread their load comfortably across your shoulders with a one way stretch to avoid twisting and rubbing the skin, the subtle finishing features really reveal the premium character of the Signature shorts.
Rapha Women’s Pro Team Bib Short
£195, Shop Rapha
There are few better ways to develop high-quality women’s bib shorts than using feedback from a professional team who spend hours in the saddle training and racing. Rapha have sponsored Women’s WorldTour team Canyon-SRAM since their inception in 2016 and have been listening to the riders’ observations on their kit. That has informed the development of their women’s bib shorts. The good news? You don’t have to be going full speed in the WorldTour to see the difference.
That feedback has led to a pair of shorts that combine comfort and performance. A dual-density women’s-specific chamois provides just the right amount of padding for a comfortable ride. While the breathable, mesh upper panel fits nice and high up on the body and even has radio pockets at the back (which also fit an energy bar nicely if you don’t need a hotline to a team director) make the shorts a natural favourite of the pros.
Premium finishing touches make the difference such as wide leg grips which make sure everything stays in place – nobody likes bibs that ride up. The shorts also incorporate recycled materials which according to Rapha make them 20% less impactful than before. That’s good news for the environment.
Velocio Signature Bib Shorts
€196, Shop Velocio
The Velocio Signature bib shorts aren’t just good-looking (although they are) but highly functional too.
The compressive lycra helps to reduce muscle fatigue, meaning you feel fresher for longer, while a mesh front panel provides breathability so sweat doesn’t cause a temperature malfunction. But perhaps the most important feature for anyone who has experienced the inconvenience of removing myriad layers for a mid-ride nature break is the FlyFree technology that Velocio have incorporated into these bibs. While the concept of an easy-to-remove bottom half is not new, most brands use a clip or (as used to be the case for Velocio themselves) a zip. The FlyFree, though, is as easy as simply pulling down the rear panel and away you go.
Bonus eco points too as the black version is made from 100% recycled lycra fabric. In addition, Velocio’s sizing ranges from xxs to xxxl because, well, cyclists come in all shapes and sizes.
NGNM Performance Bib Shorts
€165, Shop NGNM
No Gods No Masters is a female-led Italian brand the name of which is derived from a quote by Margaret Sanger – an activist and sex educator who popularised the term ‘birth control’ – a fact that pretty much cements their credentials as a brand who know what women want.
NGNM’s Performance bib shorts are available in three colours - including dark brown which sounds a bit too AG2R until you see that they’re actually very stylish. Women’s bib shorts have been moving away from super-short cuts for a while now and NGNM are no different, they claim that the longer leg actually compresses and contours the muscles resulting in fresher legs but almost as important is the fact that the grip is on the inside which reduces the dreaded ‘sausage leg’ effect.
Le Col Women’s Pro Bib Shorts
£160, Shop Le Col
Le Col is another brand which has tuned its women’s offering through feedback from a pro team. The UK-based brand has provided kit for Drops – the British-registered women’s Continental team – for two years and, for the 2021 season has stepped up to become a title sponsor.
Designed to suit racing or hard training, the Pro Bib Shorts are cut with an aerodynamic profile and offer some unusual but innovative features such as silicon grippers on the outer thigh that hold the bibs tightly in place. The Dolomiti Pro Gel silicone treated chamois makes the pad comfortable without adding bulk (nobody likes a chamois that feels like a nappy) as well as reducing friction.
Aesthetically, the bibs offer a clean line thanks to flat-lock seams and a deep colour which matches almost perfectly to the silicon leg grip. Finishes include a stitched, rather than printed, logo in the rear panel as well as reflective strips.
IRIS Signature Bib Short II
€135, Shop IRIS
If you’ve been a professional cyclist for 12 years then you ought to know a thing or two about what a pair of bib shorts should be like. After her retirement in 2016, Dutch pro Iris Slappendel took this knowledge and put it into creating her eponymous cycling clothing brand (alongside running women’s professional cycling union, The Cyclist’s Alliance).
The IRIS brand name is also an acronym of ‘I ride in style’ and Slappendel’s design degree comes to the fore with her bold prints and colours which come in limited runs. The Signature bib shorts are no exception to the style mantra of the brand and come in various colours offering a clean, flattering cut, but they also offer some savvy technical aspects too.
The CyTech Endurance 2.5HD chamois combines that holy grail of comfort without bulk, while the Sensitive Sculpt Light lycra “follows the body’s natural lines, enhancing any body shape.” Magnetic closures offer the same easy-removal option that many women’s bibs now feature. The bib straps themselves are Y-shaped at the back and are designed to accommodate taller riders while the sizing ranges from XS to XL.
dhb Aeron Women's Bib Shorts
£80, Shop dhb
For a relatively budget offering dhb cram in a lot of detail to their Aeron women’s bib shorts. Founded in 2004, dbh have the experience of many years of cycling kit manufacturing to draw on when it comes to creating affordable yet effective kit.
The recently updated version of the Aeron women’s bib shorts includes the addition of a new Elastic Interface ‘Paris HP’ Chamois which, according to dhb and Elastic Interface, can offer “over 7 hours of comfort” and is designed to be versatile between distances and disciplines.
Those who are not a fan of a front mesh panel that comes up high will enjoy the minimalist front bib straps and crossover mesh that come up no further than the abdomen. Instead, the panel comes up higher at the back where the straps cross over for extra support. The body of the shorts is made with premium Italian fabrics from the brand MITI which uses multiple fabric technologies to provide compression and moisture-wicking properties. In addition, unlike many budget bib short offerings, the dbh Aerons are not prone to becoming see-through when stretched.