We took a deep look at 30 of the best road bike shorts and bibs and choose 8 for detailed comparisons. Our expert testers then road hundreds of miles over two months to dial in the differences and help you decide what short is right for you. We sweated through shorts and bibs chamois to find where the shorts excelled and where they fell short. We rated each one on a variety of metrics and found that every single bib or bike short in the starting field was a worthy contender. Our testing narrowed it down to the best and we are happy to pass along our findings.
Read the full review below >
Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Updated May 2017
This spring we completely updated the review with eight new models. We have four new award winners and split up the Best Buy winners between the best overall value and the best on a tight budget.
Best Overall Men's Bike Shorts
SUGOi Evolution Pro Bibs
The SUGOi Evolution finished at the front of the pack in our review. This bib offers the best chamois we tested, along with the best fit that moves freely with the body while in the saddle. Careful consideration was given to the fabric choice and placement to make it more breathable. The construction of the bib is also very well done, holding up to the wear and tear of our riding. This bib retails at $120, which makes it very affordable for most riders and absolutely earns every penny. The SUGOi Evolution Bib was at home on the short and fast track as well as grinding it out on the long rides. It was easy to forget about adjusting and standing to relieve pressure so that our attention wasn't drawn away from the road or the pull or the chase. It allowed us to get into the zone and stay there. This is what riders actually look for in a bib.
Thick and firm chamois
Leg grippers slide up
Seams in high abrasion areas
Might need replacement after 2-3 seasons
Read review: SUGOi Evolution Pro Bib Shorts
Best Bang for the Buck
Gore Power 3.0 Bibs
The Power 3.0 Bibtight Short+ is one of the most durable and high-performing items in our lineup. Retailing at $119, it will outlast the equally affordable Editors' Choice winning SUGOi Evolution Pro by at least a season, yet outperforms five of the other shorts and bibs, and is $30 cheaper than the less versatile Best Short Course winners, the Louis Garneau CB Carbon 2 shorts. The Gore bib's rating is a result of us having a solid testing line-up, allowing us to get technical with our assessment and review. The performance you get for the price is more than worth it. The Gore bib comes with an ample chamois, great durability, comfortable fit, and enough breathability to keep you riding for hours. It is not as technologically advanced or specific to certain needs as other shorts we tested, but makes a great general bib. If you're looking to get a couple rides in over the course of a week, check out these shorts.
8 panels for flexibility
Not very flashy
Read review: Gore Power 3.0 Bibs
Top Pick for Short Course
Louis Garneau CB Carbon 2
The Top Pick Award goes to the CB Carbon 2 Short, one of the most advanced short/bib we tested. The CB Carbon 2 short does an awesome job with the chamois and its targeted, multi-density padding. It excelled on the short to medium length rides, and we always looked forward to testing this short. The panels of the Louis Garneau are ergonomic and help support while removing stress on the back of the legs, hugging the contour of the legs like none of the other shorts we tested. These supported our muscles in a unique way and felt great while pedaling. The compression leg cuffs and breathable carbon mesh contribute to making the CB Carbon 2 short our Top Pick.
Sleek and flashy
Smooth and fast
Might wear out quickly,
Leg grippers ride up
Read review: Louis Garneau CB Carbon 2 Short
Best on a Tight Budget
Zoot Active Tri
On a tight budget, the Active Tri Short is the best option. These shorts retail for $80, 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.
Convenient side pockets
Comfortable fleece padding
Fleece padding covers short distances
Not especially attractive
Tends to slip without drawstring
Read review: Zoot Active Tri
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.
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.
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 in this category, we were looking for a chamois that was placed and padded correctly. 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 SUGOi Evolution Pro Bibs and the Louis Garneau CB Carbon 2 shorts, 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 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 Pro bibs and Louis Garneau CB Carbon 2 shorts ranked highest in the padding & protection category for their thick, targeted padding, although the Zoot Sports Active Tri shorts also scored as well as the Louis Garneau Carbon 2 shorts because their fleece padding was extremely comfortable and did its job for its intended use (short, fast time trials). On the longer rides, we had to actively change positions fairly frequently with the Canari Velo Gel, Performance Elite Bib shorts, Gore Power 3.0, and the Pearl Izumi Elite In-R-Cool 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 Canari Cyclewear Velo shorts, Aero Tech Designs Touring shorts, and the Pearl Izumi Elite In-R-Cool 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 Pro bib and the Louis Garneau CB Carbon 2 shorts ranked highest in this category. Both have a multi-density chamois with a low profile that concentrates padding beneath 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, as well as minor adjustments while riding, very smooth. The chamois also conform more to the body, which allows full range of motion while pedaling.
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 a 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 CB Carbon 2 shorts, Gore Power 3.0 bibs, and Pearl Izumi Elite In-R-Cool 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.
Even the most comfortable short can irritate over longer rides. We highly recommend Chamois Butt'r or other creams for longer rides. It seems a little weird at first, but can mean the difference between a pleasure and agony
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, form fit, and compression. Our top ranking shorts and bibs in this category were the SUGOi Evolution Pro 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 30mph, 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.
Along with the Editors' Choice SUGOi Evolution, the Pearl Izumi Elite In-R-Cool was the most breathable model tested. Each of these 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 Performance Elite bib shorts ranked lowest in breathability because the 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, 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 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 Pro 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. The Pearl Izumi Elite In-R-Cool bib shorts, Performance Elite bib shorts, and Canari Cyclewear Velo shorts all ranked lowest in style, which followed the stereotypical 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 Elite In-R-Cool bib shorts and the Gore Bike Wear Power 3.0 bib shorts. Both 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. The Louis Garneau shorts 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.
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.
— Ryan Baham
Still not sure? Take a look at our buying advice article for more info.