We've done deep dives on over 75 of the best shorts and bibs on the market in 2019 and stripped out a list of the top 11. We look at them based on a handful of qualities that matter most to riders, including things like affordability, durability, and comfort, among others. To bring you the best review possible, we spent hours and hours suffering in the saddle, on the road, in the pain cave, in spin classes, and even more hours behind the laptop researching materials, design, product performance, and other aspects. We delineated six measures and assigned them weights in order to deliver the most objective reviews possible.
The Best Bike Shorts and Bibs of 2019
|Price||$103.96 at Competitive Cyclist|
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|$170.00 at Amazon||$149.95 at Competitive Cyclist|
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|$69.95 at MooseJaw|
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|Pros||Comfortable, dries quickly and wicks away moisture on rides, reduces saddle chafe, affordable||Streamlined design, flexible, breathable, very comfortable||Sun protection, sleek and flashy, breathable, smooth and fast||Cost-effective, durable, breathable, flexible, form-fitting||Sun protection, quick-drying, convenient side pockets, tight fit, comfortable fleece padding|
|Cons||Pouch seams can chafe, threading might come undone||Pricey, thinner padding, limited color and style options||Might wear out quickly, draw string uncomfortable, leg grippers ride up||Limited padding, less supportive||Fleece padding covers short distances, not especially attractive, tends to slip without drawstring|
|Bottom Line||Awesome comfort and performance delivered at an easily accessible price.||Premium performance bibs that dominate on short rides.||A little on the expensive side for shorts, but potential high performers for short rides.||Affordable, dependable intro bibs that will last.||Great shorts for spinning, shorts rides, and especially triathlons or cross training involving less than an hour on the bike.|
|Rating Categories||Evolution Bibs||P.R.O. Escape Bib||CB Carbon 2||Quest Splice Bib||Zoot Active Tri|
|Padding And Protection (25%)|
|Comfort And Fit (20%)|
|Efficiency And Pedal Friendliness (15%)|
|Specs||Evolution Bibs||P.R.O. Escape Bib||CB Carbon 2||Quest Splice Bib||Zoot Active Tri|
|Main Fabric||Evo Plus (polyester/spandex blend)||46% nylon, 38% polyester, 16% Lycra elastane||CB Carbon + LYCRA fiber, Endurexx, Carbon-X Mesh | 70% Nylon, 24% Lycra Spandex, 6% Polyester Carbon||88% nylon, 12% LYCRA elastane||Performance Endura+ fabric | 74% Nylon, 26% Spandex|
|Inseam Measurement (inches)||9"||9.5"||9.25"||9.5"||8"|
|Number of panels||8||8||11||6||10|
Best Overall Men's Bike Shorts
SUGOi Evolution Bibs
The updated SUGOi Evolution bib shorts retain most of the best qualities from the earlier Evolution Pro version but have added a few new features that we absolutely love. They're still the most comfortable bibs out there. They use a strong, light mix of nylon, polyester, and spandex to maximize strength and moisture wicking without sacrificing flexibility and breathability. The first notable improvement is a new MAB PowerBand silicone band across the leg gripper to prevent slippage. The second is the 3D construction chamois with a new cradle pouch to allow more freedom for the ol' front luggage.
As great as they are, it's worth noting that there were a few reports that they had some issues with threading coming undone in this version. They're also a bit more, but that's still pretty affordable for bib shorts. But these issues aren't deal-breakers and don't outweigh the advantages. As in earlier reviews, they handily pick up the Editor's Choice Award this go-round too.
Read review: SUGOi Evolution Bib Shorts
Best Bang for the Buck
Pearl Izumi Quest Splice Bib
The Pearl Izumi Quest Splice bib shorts are among the most affordable high-performance road bike shorts on the market right now. They earn our Best Bang for the Buck Award because they don't follow the price to value rule, so you're getting a great value. They're super comfortable without sacrificing material strength. They surpass their cousins the P.R.O. Escape bibs, which use a significantly higher mix of Lycra and polyester, sacrificing a bit of material strength in the process.
The one major limitation to these is that they start to lose their comfort after more than an hour or so. And, let's be honest, they're not the sexiest of shorts. But their affordability makes them an excellent choice for new riders and those looking for a pair of backup bibs or off-season beaters. They're especially great for short rides and spin classes.
Read review: Pearl Izumi Quest Splice Bib
Top Pick for Short Course
Pearl Izumi P.R.O. Escape Bib
The Top Pick for Short Course is always a tough choice. Short course rides are usually considered hard hammer fests, like the Tuesday crit ride where at least one person crashes every week or two. 92% of max HR rides… They need to be comfortable, quick, tight-fitting. The premium is on padding that feels great for about an hour in aggressive forward positions. The Pearl Izumi P.R.O. Escape bib shorts hit that spot and were tight, firm, and comfortable even on longer rides in the 2 hour range, owing largely to their three layers of variable-density foam and a floating top sheet that moves with your undercarriage to prevent chafing during all of your attacking and slamming in to reel'em back in.
There aren't very many disadvantages with these shorts. The biggest considerations are that they're really best for rides in the hour to 90-minute range. Centuries in these shorts might see you wishing you had a little more cushion. It's also important to point out that these come at the premium price. You won't be disappointed if most of your riding is suffering down in the drops trying to drop your buddies, but if you do miles, there are shorts better suited to that riding
Read review: Pearl Izumi P.R.O. Escape Bib
Best on a Tight Budget
Zoot Active Tri
We found it useful to separate Best Bang for the Buck and Best Budget Buy. Our Best Budget Buy is the most affordable pair of shorts that will get the job done when you're strapped for cash but need the gear. The Zoot Active Tri shorts fit that description. They're really comfortable on shorter rides, have great versatility (they're made for swimming, riding, and running, after all), wick away moisture like crazy, and fit like a second skin (not in the Xipe Totec sense).
The big detractors here are durability and ride duration. Their affordable materials don't quite last as long as we'd like, needing replacement after a season or two. And it's understandable that these light, inexpensive shorts aren't going to be the best shorts for 50 or 60-milers. Really, we'd suggest limiting them to rides under an hour. They're best suited to riders looking for a good pair of shorts for spinning, quick rides around the superblock, and maybe some cross training. And obviously, triathletes will love these.
Read review: Zoot Active Tri
Why You Should Trust Us
Ryan Baham is a bicycle fiend. This man spends an obscene amount of time in the saddle and puts in an eye-popping amount of miles. The native Floridian lives in Virginia and boasts a strong academic background.We tested these shorts and bibs in a wide range of settings. We took them to spin class, wore them on group and training rides. We put in approximately ten hours on each pair of shorts. Then, we carefully evaluated each pair and their relative strengths and weaknesses.
Each pair was painstakingly rated on style, breathability, padding and protection of the chamois, overall fit and comfort, efficiency and pedal friendliness, and durability of the short or bib. Rest assured, we did our due diligence on this one.
Related: How We Tested Cycling Shorts & Bibs
Analysis and Test Results
There are two main types of cycling shorts — tight spandex-style and baggy mountain bike style 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.
Value is always a chart-topper here at OutdoorGearLab. We've purchased and put 11 of the top performers to the test, analyzing their performance compared to their price point. Which products offered the best value for the cost? The Pearl Izumi Quest Splice Bib are at a lovely price while the Zoot Active Tri is just a bit more, and they both fall relatively close when it comes to performance, with the Quest Splice being a bit cheaper and earning an additional two points.
Types of Cycling Shorts
So now that you know the difference in road and mountain biking needs and in tight and baggy shorts, you can figure out if you're in the right place. If you're still here, we assume you've settled on form-fitting cycling shorts. Now it's time to ask: bibs or shorts? Our testing combined both shorts and bibs into one category to find what works best for you on the bike. Most roadies prefer bibs, especially for longer rides. Newer folks and triathletes tend to for the shorts. We get it, the suspenders look a bit dorky and prevent you from going shirtless if you're that guy, but they're worth it when you start doing regular rides over an hour. In the end, the decision is yours. If you like shorts more than bibs and want to wear them on 100-mile rides, that's your prerogative - and there are more important qualities to consider than bib straps. We cover the topic a little more in-depth in our Buying Advice article, where you can find other points of consideration when purchasing shorts and bibs.
Padding and Protection
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 ischial region (sit bones) and the perineal region (soft tissue area between your…well…your unmentionables). These are fairly gender-specific, so you want to wear the version that suits your anatomical configuration.
When testing for this category, we were looking for padding appropriately designed to riding styles. Unlike many mountain bike shorts, the chamois is fixed in place for road shorts, positioned for a more aggressive riding position. All of the shorts we tested had chamois pads, but certain shorts or bibs, like the SUGOi Evolution Bibs and the Louis Garneau CB Carbon 2 shorts, have chamois pads that are smaller, requiring more precise positioning in the saddle. This isn't a fault, but should be considered against your riding style. If you tend to be in the sit-up-and-beg position, these front-forward chamois pads will wear you down quickly. You'll need something with more padding in the rear like the Gore Power 3.0 bibs.
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 high-pressure areas and can handle these adjustments, but doesn't get in the way of your pedaling or give the wet diaper effect to your shorts.
Aside from the overall thickness of the chamois, we also took note of the density or firmness. The density is the compactness of the padding and is a major determining factor in how well it functions. The SUGOi Evolution bibs ranked highest in the padding & protection category for their thick, targeted padding, The updated version brings even more comfortable padding to the rear of the chamois and uses a new front design that adds a cradle pouch for the front to help give a welcome degree of freedom to the appended front bits. The Pearl Izumi P.R.O. Escape bibs and Louis Garneau CB Carbon 2 shorts also scored very well with their thin multi-layer padding, which was extremely comfortable and did its job for its intended purpose (short, hard rides). On the longer rides, we had to actively change positions fairly frequently with many of the other selections, including the Canari Velo Gel, Performance Elite Bib shorts, and Gore Power 3.0 to manage seat fatigue.
Efficiency and Pedal Friendliness
Another category, which we weighted heavily in our testing, is efficiency and 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 ischia 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, spandex, and polyester materials reduces air drag as well as rub 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 and 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 Splice bibs, Canari Cyclewear Velo shorts, and Aero Tech Designs Touring shorts all ranked low in the category, largely due to an oversized chamois with a less precise fit. Another common and related issue was that the chamois got in the way while pedaling, as well as having the short snag when we got out of the saddle to crank up a hill, stand to jump a hole or cross tracks, or attack — 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 road saddle, and we didn't have issues when used with a more comfortable saddle like those in the spin room at the gym.
The SUGOi Evolution bib, Pearl Izumi P.R.O. Escape bib, and the Pearl Izumi Quest Splice bib ranked highest in this category. All of them have low profile padding that concentrates material under the ischial region and along the perineal zone, but tapers off to a simple chafe-guard along the inner thighs, which makes getting in and out of the saddle and minor adjustments while riding, very smooth. The chamois also conform more to the body, allowing better range of motion while pedaling.
The standout in this category remains the SUGOi, whose updated leg grippers use the silicone MAB® PowerBand to more securely hold the legs in place. It was acceptable in the Evolution Pro version, but they did tend to start awkwardly riding up after you sweated through them or when it rained and you were soaked, causing material to start bunching a bit near the crotch. Problem solved.
Comfort and Fit
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 ischia 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 and used a good combination of strong nylon and some other fiber-like spandex or polyester to help the material stretch and form fit. 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 material on the inside of the short closest to your knee that grips the skin. The Gore Power 3.0 bib was the only one 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 used some combination of double folded fabric or silicone bands or strips along the cuff in order to grip your skin as leg grippers. Both methods work well at keeping the cuffs from riding up, but we found the elastic compression bands more reliable and less likely to ride up as the miles add up and the sweat pours out.
The Louis Garneau Fit Sensor 2 bibs, Louis Garneau CB Carbon 2 shorts, and Gore Power 3.0 bibs 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, the sturdier fabric needed for compression and support can become more of a hindrance than a help. We looked for the right mix of chamois comfort, flex, form fit, and compression. Our top ranking shorts and bibs in this category were the SUGOi Evolution bib shorts, Pearl Izumi P.R.O. Escape bib shorts, Pearl Izumi Quest Splice bib shorts, and Louis Garneau CB Carbon 2 shorts.
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 15 to 40 mph, 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 and you're slipping on your saddle 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.
SUGOi took special care to include vented mesh fabric to maximize breathability. Both bibs also incorporated a healthy mix of polyester, a hydrophobic fiber, in their fabric. The Top Pick for Short Course Pearl Izumi P.R.O. Escape and Best Bang for the Buck Pearl Izumi Quest Splice came in just behind these two, using extremely thin material and a skin-tight design to improve breathability and drying.
The Performance Elite bib shorts and Louis Garneau Fit Sensor 2 bib shorts both ranked near the bottom in breathability because their material didn't allow much airflow and tended to retain moisture, creating a very warm ride, even with an extra vent in the back of the bib. Further, these took longer to dry than most of the other bibs and shorts. The Aero Tech Designs Touring shorts, Canari Cyclewear Velo shorts, and Louis Garneau CB Carbon 2 shorts 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, antimicrobial 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: skin-tight clothing with a giant Elizabethan 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 mostly black Louis Garneau CB Carbon 2 shorts which utilized subtle colored accents, material changes, and unique textures. The SUGOi Evolution bib shorts also used great color accents, great panels designs, and tasteful branding. Most of the items in our lineup were fairly functional pieces, leaving the style to the side in favor of utilitarian black and going for quality instead of wild color schemes and style.
Pearl Izumi's P.R.O. Escape bibs had a functional appeal that left them near the middle of the group while the Quest Splice come up a bit lower on the scale - not ugly, but not especially exciting. The Performance Elite bib shorts, and Canari Cyclewear Velo shorts all wound up at the bottom of the style barrel, following the typical black padded short template with very little to distinguish themselves.
Durability is a newer measure to our review and proves to be a little difficult to measure because we were not able to really test these out of their entire lifespans to see exactly how many seasons we could get out of each pair. In the end, we used a combination of testing every pair as hard as we could, examining design to make sure seams and other structures were constructed and planned to last a long time, looking at fabric strength and resistance to abrasion, and scouring the internet for possible faults, weaknesses, and patterns of failure.
The highest scoring items in this category were the Pearl Izumi Quest Splice bib shorts and the Gore Bike Wear Power 3.0 bib shorts. All three used strong fabric with high nylon content and seam designs that minimized exposure to external rubbing or repetitive grinding. The lowest scoring items were the Aero Tech Designs Touring shorts and the Louis Garneau CB Carbon 2 shorts. The Aero Tech shorts saw early degradation of seams and stitching, perhaps because their nylon content was too high, preventing the fabric from stretching enough to accommodate the stress from exercise.
It can be difficult to determine the durability of some products without conducting serious longitudinal studies with large sample sizes and regular quality auditing. We'll leave that to the producers and market, but do our best to tear up the products we have in our possession and look at claims made by everyone else. A great example is the updated SUGOi Evolution. Our research and testing of the previous version, the Pro, found few complaints and few breakdowns while the updated version has had a handful of quality complaints that appear to be legitimate, which lowered its quality score this time around. Other cases are a little more difficult, as with the Louis Garneau shorts that saw a hole develop in the back of the shorts after just a few hours of riding. We were unable to locate other reviews to back up the idea that all CB Carbon 2s have weakness or a tendency to tear, but we cannot ignore that the pair we tried did tear, so they received the lowest score.
If you're planning on doing any sort of dedicated riding, you'll doubtless benefit from bike shorts or bibs. When deciding between shorts and bibs, you'll have to keep in mind the sort of riding you'll be doing. Shorts are great for quick rides under 45 minutes, especially spin classes, but anything longer and you should be in bibs, even if you think they look questionable. What matters when you're on a 40 miler is that you're still comfortable after an hour with another hour to go. No one wants to spend the last hour of a ride pulling their shorts up. Beyond that, you can drill down and consider factors like padding and protection, comfort and fit, breathability, efficiency and pedal-friendliness, durability, and style to help figure out what qualities matter most to you.
— Ryan Baham