The Best Bike Shorts and Bibs of 2020
Best Overall Men's Bike Shorts
Assos Cento EVO Bib
The Assos Cento EVO bib shorts made it to the top of our list with their broad array of superbly designed features and premium materials. Foremost among them being the Cento EVO S7 insert. It's a multi-layered memory foam that perfectly suited to the derriere. Couple that with the brushed microfiber kukuPenthouse codpiece-like structure and you're riding in comfort, to say nothing of your new, loftier appearance and the attention it may or may not draw. But it's not all about the padding. The Type .439 fabric is also superior to most competitors, delivering both support and flexibility while wicking away moisture with the best of'em.
Alas, you're not getting all of that for nothing. If you want to ride in the best shorts on the market, you'll be paying for that performance. They're not the cheapest things out there, but then again, cycling's not the cheapest sport (we do have a few suggestions on more affordable shorts below). You'll also have to keep in mind that everyone has their own Goldilocks zone for comfort and fit. We just couldn't argue with the fit, but we found a handful of folks displeased with the fit of the waistline. If you prefer a more girded feel around the belly, these might not quite cut it for you.
Read review: Assos Cento EVO Bib Short
Best Bang for the Buck
Castelli Evoluzione 2 Limited Edition Bib
The Castelli Evoluzione 2s were surprising high-scorers that happened to be among the most affordable shorts. It's not often that you find shorts at their price-point that have such a good, close fit with such a decent chamois. They're also tough, so they ought to last a few seasons of hard riding. We preferred them on trainer rides and shorter rides, under 2 hours.
The only thing to keep in mind with these is that as your ride wears on, they lose some of their comfort. That's because the leg grippers slip a little more as you get a good oily lather going. The crotchuular volume is also less suited to those of us with the uncomfortably wide hips and thunder thighs, so the longer you ride, the more adjusting you'll be doing. Still, if your rides are under 2 hours in these, you ought to be happy.
Read review: Castelli Evoluzione 2 Limited Edition Bib Short
Best for Short Course
Gore Wear C5 Bib
After training in the Gore C5 Bib Shorts+, it's hard to imagine doing the Tuesday crit rides in any other shorts again. That's why they earned our Top Pick for Short Course Award. They have a handful of features that make them the ideal shorts for short pursuits ranging from spin class to criterium racing. They have a nice, athletic cut, making them almost skin-suit tight. Take that with their high nylon content and they're also tight and supportive, feeling a bit like compression shorts. That can help (if not physiologically, then psychologically) you feel like a firecracker on the bike and improve your form so you can dominate the field or the clock. Their composition and panel design also help them last longer so you don't have to invest in new shorts every season.
We should also mention the double-edged sword that is their chamois. It's a standard padded chamois, but it's super thin with a fleece-like cloth cover, so it offers just enough protection to get you through about 90 minutes of hammering. That's great for time trialing, crits, and spin where you're down in the drops in tight position - no one likes that wadded up chamois grinding against the moving parts. The Gore C5s solved that problem perfectly, but they might not be ideal for centuries, especially for bulls.
Read review: Gore C5 Bib Shorts+
Best on a Tight Budget
Pearl Izumi Quest
You don't get to be our Best on a Tight Budget pick unless you're among the most affordable bike shorts out there and the Pearl iZUMi Escape Quest are exactly that. We basically looked at the bare minimum of what you need to be on the bike for a few hours without hating life, rubbed that against cost, and narrowed it down to these shorts. They're tough, using a high mix of nylon for a tight fit with higher wear-resistance and longevity than most shorts.
You have a reasonable level of in-saddle comfort with their SELECT Escape 1:1™ Chamois. It fades noticeably after about an hour or hour and a half, so we suggest it's ideal for commuters or newer riders doing lower mileage. And no matter what your mileage, if you're in a pinch, they'll get the job done.
Read review: PEARL iZUMi Escape Quest Bike Shorts
Why You Should Trust Us
Ryan Baham is a committed roadie through and through. He was first smitten with long-distance cycling after discovering the freedom it could give to a rural pre-teen. He has done his share of riding, training, listening, reading, learning, and even a bit of racing over the years. He puts in thousands of miles a year with the two-wheeled love affair only growing. So much so that after spending five years fighting the snow and ice in Virginia, the Florida native settled down in Southern California for its beautiful year-round cycling weather. He also knows a thing or two about research, material quality, and integrity. He obtained a Master's in Public Administration, a Graduate Certificate in Procurement, and two BAs in the social sciences and has a day job as a data analyst for a medical devices manufacturer.
As for the cycling shorts and our methods, we put them through the wringer, doing our best to make them tear, wear down, and show us what they could handle. Each pair of shorts gets no less than 10 hours of saddle time between spin class, training rides, commuting, and specific testing rides. We also do a good deal of research on design, materials, complaints, and any other pertinent aspects of the shorts so we can be as thorough as possible and compare products across measures. For specific measures, we look at: padding and protecting, comfort and fit, breathability, efficiency and pedal friendliness, durability, and style. We boil it all down with our recommendations, but we're sure to give you sufficient details for you to make your own choices.
Related: How We Tested Cycling Shorts & Bibs
Analysis and Test Results
As avid riders and gear junkies, we're looking to pull out the information we wish we had before committing to a new pair of bike shorts. We know what it is to drop 200 bucks on a sweet new pair of shorts only to find that they damn things tear - or worse, hurt your ass immediately. We go in and do the work so you know what you're getting into when you get your next pair of shorts.
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 purchase and put the top-performing bike shorts to the test, analyzing their performance compared to their price point. Which products offered the best value for the cost? The PEARL iZUMi Quest shorts hit a lovely, low price point while the Castelli Evoluzione 2 Limited Edition Bib Shorts are just a bit higher. They both fall tend to skew toward short-duration comfort, but the Castellis are definitely going to be better choices for long-term serious riding while the PEARL iZUMis will be better for commuting or just getting into the sport and seeing how things go.
Types of Cycling Shorts
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 go 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 - there are more important qualities to consider than bib straps.
Padding and Protection
Padding & protection is one of the most important factors in choosing the right cycling shorts. This feature differentiates bike shorts from any other athletic short out there and can mean the difference between cruising along happily for the majority of the day or walking your bike home due to saddle fatigue.
The chamois is the padding 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 ideally suited to different riding styles. Unlike many mountain bike shorts, the chamois is typically 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 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 Rapha Brevet Cargo Bib bibs, designed for touring or more relaxed riding. To go a bit in the other direction, there are some models, like the Gore C5 Bib Shorts+, which are specifically designed to be more front-forward and aggressive, so the padding is almost only concentrated along the perineum.
We generally looked for shorts that balanced padding between the ischial and perineal regions. 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 Assos Cento EVO got top marks in padding & protection. It uses a unique memory foam chamois that only has stitching at the front and rear, so it actually moves with the body, substantially improving the riding experience.
The SUGOi Evolution bibs ranked next 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 Giordana FR-C Pro 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).
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 shorts and bibs in our test lineup used some combination of double folded fabric or silicone bands or strips along the cuff in order to grip your skin as leg grippers.
The Castelli Evoluzione 2 Limited Edition Bib Shorts and Giordana FR-C Pro Shorts 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 Assos Cento EVOs, SUGOi Evolution bib shorts, and Assos T Equipe Evo.
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 and Assos both came out on top. They 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 new addition, Assos Equipe RS Bib Shorts S9, came in just behind these two, using extremely thin material and a skin-tight design to improve breathability and drying.
The Rapha Brevet Cargo Bibs featured really cool water repellent fabrics that helped eliminate moisture from the shorts. This is a really unique feature that really improves comfort and manages moisture, but did tend to feel like a wet suit once they were inundated.
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.
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 Assos Cento EVOs and Assos Equipe RS Bib Shorts S9s 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.
Their fabric perfectly combines polyamide, elastane, and polyester for a supple material that both hugs and supports. Their broad shoulder straps also do a great job of avoiding chafe without sacrificing their snugness. The combination ensures you don't get the bunched up fabric issue that can interfere with form.
The SUGOi bib shorts also remain standout performers here. Their updated leg grippers use the silicone MAB PowerBand to more securely hold the legs in place. The grippers were acceptable in the previous 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.
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 Gore C5 Bib Shorts+. Coming in behind were the Assos Cento EVOs, Castelli Evoluzione 2 Bib Shorts, and Pearl Izumi Quest shorts. All of these used strong fabric with high nylon content and seam designs that minimized exposure to external rubbing or repetitive grinding.
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 consumers. 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.
The style of road cyclists is a complicated, much-debated topic. What constitutes style? Are cyclists even capable of being stylish? 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-adherents might balk at even using the term style in describing road cycling bibs or shorts (think: skin-tight clothing with a giant Elizabethan-era codpiece 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 Castelli Evoluzione 2 Limited Edition Bib Short 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. We also thought the Gore C5s had a great design with the bold white panel along the thighs and lower back. 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.
The iZUMi Quest shorts come up a bit lower on the scale - not ugly, but not especially exciting.
While everyone's preferences and anatomy are a bit different, what's not different is the importance of getting good cycling shorts that make you want to get on the bike. There's a pretty wide range of options to suit your needs. There are actual shorts, usually best suited to really short rides or triathlons. They're a good deal easier to get in and out of and they're a bit easier to keep under clothes. Think of them as a gateway into big boy pants, or bibs shorts. Bib shorts are what you need for the multi-hour commitments. They tend to be more comfortable for pure cycling and don't have the problem of slipping down at the waste or cutting into your midsection. They're also required for road legitimacy in the local group ride - don't be a Fred unless there's a good reason for it. The rest of the variability in shorts comes down to preferences in padding, tightness, support, style of cut, and durability. We hope our discussion above helped you sort through each of those areas and provided you with enough guidance for you to make the right decision for you.
— Ryan Baham