The Best Bike Shorts for Men Review
What is the best pair of men's bike shorts or bibs for a ride? We put six of the sleekest, most functional, and most technologically advanced bike shorts and bibs to the test in order to find out. We went hard on the short course and paced ourselves on the long haul. We sweated through chamois and kept coming back to find where the shorts excelled and where they fell short. We rated each one on style, breathability, padding/protection, fit/comfort, and efficiency/pedal friendliness. Every single bib or bike short in the starting field were worthy contenders, but our testing narrowed it down to the best, and we are happy to pass along our findings.
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Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Update Note: April 2015
We have contacted the manufacturers for the award winners and have confirmed any upgrades or updates, as noted in the reviews. Our last complete review was March 2014.
Best Overall Men's Bike Shorts
Giordana Laser Bibshorts
Best Bang for the Buck
Pearl Izumi Quest Short
Top Pick for Short Course
Castelli Velocissimo Due Short
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Analysis and Test Results
There are two main types of cycling shorts — tight "spandex" style shorts and baggy mountain bike shorts with a padded liner underneath. Tight cycling shorts are mainly used for road biking, but are also commonly worn by cross-country mountain bikers looking for the best fit and performance in their padded shorts and who aren't worried about needing the extra protection from an exterior layer.
Both forms of cycling require protection between the rider and the saddle, but road cycling focuses on creating a garment that produces the least amount of drag and the most protection for long periods of repetitive pedaling. Road cycling is an inherently form-oriented sport. There are times when the rider is out of the saddle on a climb or sprinting to finish, but the majority of the time is spent in an aerodynamic position, focusing on efficiency. The popularity of using Lycra, nylon, and polyester for road bike shorts and bibs reflects the prioritization of close-to-body fit and friction reduction. In general, road biking is in a forward, aggressive position and road bike shorts require a chamois in a more anterior position.
By contrast, mountain biking is in a more upright position, and the rider is constantly in more dynamic motion – shifting weight on the pedals, pulling/pushing on the handlebars, or maneuvering between obstacles. For many types of mountain biking shorts, the priority is on protection between the rider and the saddle, in addition to protection against crashes. When you crash on dirt or rocks, a skin-tight fabric will not give you the same abrasion resistance as more loose fitting shorts with a longer inseam. For road biking or intense cross-country mountain riding, a fixed chamois can be the best solution for consistency and proper fit, whereas freeride mountain biking or more casual trail riding requires shorts with a removable chamois, often positioned more posteriorly, for versatility and style. Reference our review of shorts for mountain biking if you prefer baggy shorts with a removable chamois.
Types of Cycling Shorts
So now that you know the difference in road and mountain biking needs and in tight and baggy shorts. You have settled on form-fitting cycling shorts, but now you might ask yourself, bibs vs. shorts? Our testing combined shorts and bibs into one category to find what works best for someone on a bike. Although some riders prefer bibs for longer rides, we found that the application of the two is interchangeable — shorts and bibs are both appropriate for short, medium, and long rides.
We cover the topic a little more in-depth in our Buying Advice article, where you can also find some more points on what to consider when purchasing a bike short or bib.
Criteria for Evaluation
Padding & protection is one of the most important factors in choosing the right short or bib. This feature differentiates bike shorts from any other athletic short out there, and can mean the difference between cruising happily for the majority of the day or walking your bike due to saddle fatigue.
The chamois is the padding of the design that provides added protection between the saddle and you. Chamois technology has come a long way in both ergonomics as well as materials. The chamois is specifically designed to protect the ischium (sit bones) and the perineum (soft tissue area on your …underside). These are definitely gender specific, so you want to wear the version that suits your anatomical needs.
When testing in this category, we were looking for a chamois that was placed correctly in the short. Unlike many mountain bike shorts, the chamois is fixed for road biking, and it is positioned for a more aggressive riding position. All of the shorts we tested had chamois, but certain shorts or bibs, like the Craft Performance Short and the Pearl Izumi P.R.O. In-R-Cool Bib, have chamois that are a smaller size overall and require a more precise arrangement in the saddle. This isn't a fault, but a consideration when riding.
We also looked for shorts with chamois that distributed weight between the ischium and perineum. Staying fresh on a ride often means slightly adjusting your position in the saddle throughout the ride. You want a short or bib whose chamois protects the target areas and can handle these adjustments, but doesn't get in the way of your pedaling or give the 'diaper' effect to your shorts.
Besides the overall thickness of the chamois, we also took note of the density. The density is the compactness of the padding and is a major determining factor in how well it functions. The Craft Performance Short and the Giordana Laser Bibshorts ranked highest in the padding & protection category, although all of the contenders did a pretty good job. On the longer rides we had to actively change positions fairly frequently with the Pearl Izumi P.R.O. In-R-Cool Bib, Louis Garneau Equipe Bib, and the Castelli Velocissimo Due Short to manage seat fatigue.
Another category,which we weighted heavily in our testing, is efficiency & pedal Friendliness. This is measured by how well the shorts or bibs actually work while you are pedaling. The chamois once again plays a pivotal role in this aspect of a bike short. There must be room for your legs to pedal without extra fabric from the chamois getting in the way. This is why there isn't much wiggle room between the size of the saddle, the chamois, and where your ischium rest.
The fabric also plays a major role here. As with most everything measured in RPMs, the less friction in the system, the better it runs. Having nylon, lycra, and polyester materials reduces air drag as well as friction between your body and the saddle, thus increasing your efficiency. A greater pedal efficiency means better posture, a faster speed, and less fatigue. Efficiency & pedal friendliness can be harder to gauge on shorter rides, which is why it was imperative to get into the mid- to long-range distance with each short we tested.
Although all of our testing subjects functioned well, the Pearl Izumi Quest Short ranked lowest in the category due to the large size of the chamois and less precise fit. We had some issues with the chamois getting in the way while pedaling, as well as having the short snag when we got out of the saddle to crank up a hill — the chamois area would catch the front of the saddle as we were slipping back into a seated position, making for an awkward readjustment while riding. We should note that this did happen when using a more aggressive saddle, and we didn't have issues when used with a more comfortable commuter saddle.
The Giordana Laser Bib and the Louis Garneau Equipe Bib ranked highest in this category. Both bibs have a chamois with a low profile, which makes getting in and out of the saddle, as well as minor adjustments while riding, very smooth. The chamois also conforms more to the body, which allows full range of motion while pedaling.
Fit & comfort is another integral part of any proper short for road biking, and the main functionality of the shorts or bibs is to make your time cycling more comfortable. The chamois also plays a large role in the comfort of your ride. It must be thick enough, dense enough, the right size, and in the right place in order to maintain a level of comfort, especially for the longer rides that stretch to the 7 or 8-hour mark. However, it can take as little as 15 minutes in the saddle to get that numb feeling creeping from the ischium to the perineum, which isn't a very good feeling at all.
In addition to the chamois, we looked for bike shorts or bibs that had a good cut. If anything is the slightest bit off with how the shorts fit your body, it can affect comfort in a big way. We tested the placement of the leg cuffs and how well they fit. There are varying methods for keeping the shorts in the right place, and most rely on a material on the inside of the short closet to your knee that grips the skin. The Louis Garneau Equipe Bib and the Castelli Velocissimo Due Short were the only ones to do this with a compression band. The benefit of this is having pressure directly on your quad, which supports the muscle and can help to reduce fatigue. The rest of the shorts and bibs placed small rubbery bits along the cuff in order to grip your skin and keep the shorts in place. Both methods work well at keeping the cuffs from riding up, but we found the compression bands more comfortable.
The Giordana Laser Bib, Louis Garneau Equipe Bib, and the Craft Performance Short have a compression fit, which makes for a much different feel than traditional road bike shorts or bibs. Each of these is designed to support your leg muscles and increase blood flow, reducing fatigue while in the saddle. Compression is supposed to be tight, but it must be in the right areas. All three of these shorts did a good job supporting the quads, hamstrings, and hip abductors, staying tight but comfortable.
Taking all of this into consideration, our top ranking shorts and bibs in this category were the Craft Performance Short and the Giordana Laser Bib.
Breathability is an important factor in cycling shorts or bibs. The more breathable your shorts are, the more comfortable you will be on your ride. Perspiration must have an exit route to the exterior of the fabric in order to evaporate. Cycling is amazingly efficient at this due to the amount of airflow generated at speeds of 10 to 25mph, however you must be wearing breathable clothing in order for this process to work. With the right shorts or bibs, you will feel like you aren't sweating that much, especially for the effort you're exerting. On the flip side, if you are unfortunate enough to have the wrong gear, you will wonder why your shorts feel soggy for the duration of the ride.
Breathability also regulates temperature, which can be a major factor in endurance. A few degrees difference in temperature changes the efficiency of your aerobic system – running too warm decreases the efficiency. For long durations in the saddle, you want a short that will allow airflow to keep you cool.
All of the shorts and bibs we tested were made from synthetic materials that are known for their breathability and wicking properties. The industry has benefited from leaps in material technology in the past, which gives consumers a good starting point. Since bibs provide more coverage of the upper body, it is more important for extra considerations to be taken to keep breathability to a maximum.
The Louis Garneau Equipe Bib, the Giordana Laser Bib, and the Castelli Velocissimo Due Short were the most breathable shorts/bibs we tested. Each of these took special care to include panels of mesh material on the exterior of the thighs to maximize breathability. For the Equipe and Laser bibs, special care was taken with the cut of the uppers to minimize coverage without sacrificing comfort. Mesh material was also used on the uppers to increase breathability.
The Pearl Izumi P.R.O. In-R-Cool Bib ranked lowest in breathability due to the uppers having a large amount of coverage and because the material didn't allow much airflow, creating a very warm ride, even with a sleeveless jersey. The Pearl Izumi Quest Short and Craft Performance Short benefit from not having uppers, but didn't take the same attention to breathability as the other candidates.
The style of road cyclists is a complicated, much-debated topic. While participants in the sport get excited over the latest 10-panel, four-way stretch, microbial 4D chamois, nylon shorts on the market—the ones that give them that sleek, aero look and show off those quad muscles they've been working on all season—non-participants might balk at even using the term style in describing road cycling bibs or shorts (think skintight clothing with a giant pad prominently on display).
Style means something different to everyone, but the shorts and bibs we tested did vary in their aesthetic appeal, and you can tell some companies prioritize style more than others. Brands do this in a host of ways, including details in stitching, logo placement, color, cut, material, and shapes.
In our assessment, we were looking for options that were more subtle or subdued. The most stylish of our collection included the all black Giordana Laser Bibswhich utilized material changes and unique textures, the Castelli Velocissimo Due Short which also used material changes in addition to tasteful branding, the Craft Performance Short, another all black contender with contrasting stitching and a nice cut, and the Louis Garneau Equipe Bib, the more overt in terms of design, but with a simple color palette of black, red, and white. The Pearl Izumi Quest short ranked the lowest in style, which followed the stereotypical black padded short template with very little to distinguish itself.
Whether you are planning short, medium, or long rides, both shorts and bibs are an appropriate option for your biking apparel. It is important to take into account the padding and protection, plus how well the shorts performed while actually pedaling when looking for the best pair to purchase. Comfort, breathability, and style are other factors to be considered. We hope that this review has helped you to sort through the options and find the best pair to suit your needs. Our Buying Advice article can also assist in knowing what to keep in mind before making your purchase.
— David Mackey
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