After examining more than 100 of the best bike shorts and bibs available in 2019, we chose the top 12 for in-depth analysis. We spent months trying to break them down on the bike to determine their performance and just as long looking at the materials, workmanship, and user feedback. We look at overall best performance and select award winners based on niche applications, like Top Pick for Short Course, where the ideal winner might not be great for a century, but it's great for a 45 minute criterium spent entirely in Z5. To help you pick shorts or bibs that best suit you, we break everything down across six measures. We leave bias at the door while relying on experience and judgment to just give you the information to make smart choices. Read on to see what's on the market and how it stacks up.
The Best Bike Shorts and Bibs of 2019
|Price||$219.00 at Competitive Cyclist||$77.93 at REI|
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|$59.95 at Competitive Cyclist|
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|$149.95 at Competitive Cyclist|
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|$52.50 at Competitive Cyclist|
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|Pros||Unbeatable comfort, great balance of flexibility and support, awesome chamois||Comfortable, dries quickly and wicks away moisture on rides, reduces saddle chafe, affordable||Affordable, supportive, durable, breathable||Sun protection, sleek and flashy, breathable, smooth and fast||Cost-effective, durable, breathable, flexible, form-fitting|
|Cons||Comfort drops off after three hours, run a bit small, leg grippers can slide||Pouch seams can chafe, threading might come undone||Limited padding, fabric can be restrictive||Might wear out quickly, draw string uncomfortable, leg grippers ride up||Limited padding, less supportive|
|Bottom Line||These are the shorts we’ve been looking for our entire riding lives.||Awesome comfort and performance delivered at an easily accessible price.||These are the right shorts for quick, hard-hitting rides.||A little on the expensive side for shorts, but potential high performers for short rides.||Affordable, dependable intro bibs that will last.|
|Rating Categories||Assos T Equipe Evo||SUGOi Evolution Bibs||Gore Wear C5 Bib||Louis Garneau CB Carbon 2||Pearl Izumi Quest Splice Bib|
|Padding And Protection (25%)|
|Comfort And Fit (20%)|
|Efficiency And Pedal Friendliness (15%)|
|Specs||Assos T Equipe Evo||SUGOi Evolution Bibs||Gore Wear C5 Bib||Louis Garneau CB...||Pearl Izumi Quest...|
|Main Fabric||70% polyamide, 18% elastane, 12% polyester||Evo Plus (polyester/spandex blend)||80% polyamide 20% elastane||CB Carbon + LYCRA fiber, Endurexx, Carbon-X Mesh | 70% Nylon, 24% Lycra Spandex, 6% Polyester Carbon||88% nylon, 12% LYCRA elastane|
|Number of panels||4||8||5||11||6|
|Weight||6.35 oz||7.08 oz||6.42 oz||6.6 oz||6.49 oz|
|Other Features||Y7 Frame Carrier bibs, super flat leg grippers, free-floating chamois, fabric treated with Ice Color, chamois given anti-bacterial treatment||Compressive EvoPlus fabric, Powerband leg cuffs||Advanced Road insert with Windstopper Cup, reflective logo, flat hem||Coldblack fabric - UV reflective, reflective accents, pressure relief zone in back of leg||Reflective elements, silicone print holds short in position|
Best Overall Men's Bike Shorts
Assos T Equipe Evo
The Editors' Choice Assos T Equipe Evo bib shorts earned their top spot by excelling in every category we looked at, with the minor exception of style. Their top quality is second-to-none padding and protection. Their équipeEVO_S7 insert sets a new standard for cycling chamois pads. It's primarily made up of thin, multi-layered memory foam with a pleasant elastic cover to improve adherence and form-fit. Its ASSOS Golden Gate design is also instrumental in unbeatable form fit and comfort. The design is pretty simple: they don't stitch the chamois along the sides, which means the pad has an easier time moving with your body instead of against it, reducing friction. And for the front-bits, there's also a good deal of room created by the way the padding cups and protects instead of squeezing and restraining.
As great as the chamois is, there's more to these shorts. They use a fabric mix of 70% polyamide, 18% elastane, and 12% polyester that perfectly balances strength, durability, stretch, and temperature and moisture management. That makes for an ideal fit that hugs and supports without restraining or bunching. They're an excellent product and we hope to see the market fill up with similar designs.
Read review: Assos T Equipe Evo
Best Bang for the Buck
Pearl Izumi Quest Splice Bib
Pearl Izumi's Quest Splice bib is an obvious choice given its combination of longevity, comfort, and price. For the price, they are easily within reach of most cyclists looking to get a pair of real road shorts. They're also among the most comfortable, breathable shorts in our lineup and achieved their high degree of comfort without resorting to high mixes of weaker material like Lycra and polyester, meaning they also retained a good deal of fabric strength.
The biggest consideration to keep in mind with these is the duration of riding. They will be everything you need for most rides, but if you expect to start getting into regular centuries, you might want to upgrade to something with a little more padding like the SUGOi Evolution.
Read review: Pearl Izumi Quest Splice Bib
Top Pick 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
Zoot Active Tri
On a tight budget, the Active Tri Short is the best option. These shorts retail for a low price, but in addition to a good hour of comfort in the saddle and high-performance fabrics, they deliver a wide range of uses. As their name implies, these are meant for triathlons, so they're fantastic for those just getting into cycling or triathlons and looking to cross-train. These also do great in the spin room where giant padded diaper shorts are just excessive.
The only potential detriment is their durability.
Read review: Zoot Active Tri
Why You Should Trust Us
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
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 12 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 hit a lovely price point while the Zoot Active Tri are just a bit higher. 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
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 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 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 T Equipe 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 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 and Performance Elite Bib shorts 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, 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.
Assos' T Equipe Evos make an appearance at the top of this measure. 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.
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 Louis Garneau Fit Sensor 2 bibs and Louis Garneau CB Carbon 2 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 T Equipe Evos, SUGOi Evolution 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 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 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 Rapha Brevet Cargo Bibs and Castelli NanoFlex 2 Bibs both 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.
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-adherents 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. 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 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 Assos T Equipe Evos, Gore C5 Bib Shorts+, and Pearl Izumi Quest Splice bib shorts. All of these 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 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. 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.
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