Best Cycling Shorts and Bibs for Touring and Bikepacking

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The growing attention to biking essentials has become a hot topic for men and women who are learning that performance can be helped by the right wardrobe items.

The variety of shorts and bibs produced by top sports fashion houses has expanded, leaving cyclists to ponder the question, “How do I choose one brand or style of bike short over another?”

As always, your decision will come down to personal style, comfort and budget, but why wouldn’t you want to learn more about the two garments that can make you look as good as you perform in urban settings and when you’re out conquering your favorite trails?


REI Co-op Junction Bike Shorts – OUR PICK!


PROS:

  • Can you put a price on a short that wicks sweat?
  • Generous 9-inch inseam for extra thigh coverage
  • Materials used to make these shorts meet sustainability criteria
  • Comes in 5 sizes: S, M, L, XL, XXL
  • Even women have fallen for this guy’s shorts!

CONS:

  • The price may exceed your budget
  • Only comes in black
  • Chamois can shift while riding and cause discomfort
  • Tall guys may need a longer inseam
  • Could run large; you may find this short too loose.

Leave it to REI to produce a pair of sexy bike shorts that also happen to enhance performance. These form-fitting shorts, recommended for road cycling, are made from a textile composed of 78-percent polyester and 22-percent spandex that’s bluesign® approved and features a standard Italian chamois.

Not only do wearers enjoy the ultimate in 4-way stretch so everything stays put during long and arduous rides, but the moisture-wicking nature of the weave keeps you dry and comfortable, no matter how much you sweat.

Every detail has been attended to by the designer and manufacturer. Gripper tape on thigh hems makes sure your shorts won’t ride up during your ride and you can forget about a bulky, annoying waistband that rolls when you can least afford the distraction.

REI’s proprietary flat seam waistband is all about comfort. Even your body silhouette won’t reveal the drop-in stretch pocket situated on your right thigh until you fill it with your cell phone or a snack. The reflective accents on the left leg hem adds to your visibility in low lighting conditions.


Bontrager Troslo inForm Cycling Liner Bib Short – Also Great!


PROS:

  • You can test these out; if you’re not happy, return within 30 days
  • Fabricated of 83-percent polyester and 17-percent elastane
  • Knit textile has antimicrobial technology for extreme wicking
  • Comes in 7 sizes (XS, S, M, L, XL, 2XL, 3XL)

CONS:

  • Price could be a non-starter for you
  • Only available in black
  • This bib isn’t water-resistant
  • You can’t remove the sewn-in chamois
  • Do you really need this many pockets?

The Cycle Surgery website extols the benefits of this bib short by saying, “once you make the change from traditional to bib shorts, you never look back.” If that’s the way you feel about these all-in-one garments, you won’t mind investing in a bib short that balances compression and ventilation, whether your ride lasts just a few hours or you’re at it all day.

According to the manufacturer, you’re in for a treat thanks to both fit and features. Dual hip pockets offer room enough to please pack rats and the stretchy textile not only helps riders combat fatigue but you can kiss chafing goodbye thanks to what Bontrager calls “the ultimate liner.”

The proprietary Troslo inForm Chamois is comfortable and dimension-optimized, you get a 9.5-inch inseam that attracts taller dudes, and clean-cut compression leg grippers hold the short hems in place as tenaciously as a mother tiger.

In addition to dual hip pockets, this garment offers you three back pockets, so the number of items you can bring along is doubled. Best of all, this bib is being marketed as the fitted cut style that provides a streamlined body fit for enhanced performance, so you may be able to justify handing over your plastic if the price surpasses your budget.


CASTELLI Competizione Short


PROS:

  • Enjoy professional level comfort throughout your ride
  • KISS Air2 chamois designed to ventilate the perineum
  • Industry-grade Affinity Pro Lycra stretches and rebounds like a charm
  • Bibless design means nature breaks are just a pull away
  • Comes in 6 sizes: S, M, L, XL, XXL, 3XL.

CONS:

  • You may find the price too steep
  • Only available in black or dark grey
  • Not made to retain body heat in winter weather
  • Lower pricing can be found, but not easily
  • So new on the market, there are no reviews to evaluate.

Priced at $100+, this Castelli short has an Italian vibe and it’s a popular pick among competitive cyclists who never met a race course they couldn’t conquer. Given the price tag, you won’t be surprised to learn that these shorts come with a 100-percent return guarantee.

Marketed as the ideal short for training and riding minus the pro-level price tag, this product is purported by the company to offer the “exact same technology as higher-end offerings, like a KISS Air2 insert and Giro4 leg grippers, making it comfortable for long and short rides alike.”

The main panels consist of Castelli’s Vortex fabric for optimal breathability and comfort, while areas that constrain inner thigh areas are made of a tighter lycra blend for better compression, stretch and rebound.

In other words, you get more, better movement when you pedal, and who would turn that down? Reflective accents keep you visible in dim light and the KISS Air2 insert’s perforated padding and seamless upper keeps cool air moving through the short to ensure your comfort on the bike.

Make this investment to see if the company’s claim that wearers’ performance will improve is true for you.


PEARL iZUMi Escape Quest Bike Shorts


PROS:

  • Textile used to craft these shorts is moisture wicking and quick drying
  • Reflective elements keep you safe on the road
  • Enjoy a secure, snug fit without constriction
  • Formfitting style and branded chamois design enhance comfort
  • Inseam is 9.5-inches so your thighs are protected.

CONS:

  • Chamois could either disappoint or be too cushy!
  • May not be the best choice for warm-weather riding
  • Wearers say ventilation leaves something to be desired
  • The odd fold in the perineum area could be distracting
  • May not be ideal for super-long distance riding.

You won’t get as many bells and whistles by choosing Escape Quest bike shorts over the aforementioned products, but you’ll pay less than half the amount, so this garment won’t require you to cut back on your dog’s premium chow.

On the other hand, if you’ve been plagued by chafing issues and figured you’d have to live with the discomfort for the love of your sport, these shorts could save your skin and help you achieve your cycling objectives without cursing your saddle.

Made with comfortable, moisture-wicking Select Transfer fabric that’s composed of 88-percent nylon and 12-percent elastane, this short style features 6-panel anatomic construction.

These shorts feature turned hems with silicone print that holds short hems comfortably in position, no matter how much you twist and turn on the road. Silicone leg grippers add to the security you’ll feel when you realize that those hems won’t constrict your legs so you wind up with sore red thigh marks at the end of your ride.

Further, the brand’s proprietary chamois — called the PEARL Escape 1:1™ — could deliver the comfort you are trying to find. Ride in low light confidently thanks to reflective embellishments on these shorts that add another element of safety to your outings.


The Black Bibs


PROS:

  • Bib comes in 9 sizes: SSX, SX, S, M, L, XL, XXL, 3XL and 4XL
  • More affordable than many competitor brands
  • Not imported; made in the U.S.A.
  • Produced by a division of Starlight Custom Cycling Apparel
  • No BS philosophy is as straightforward as the bib.

CONS:

  • Must return bib with tags attached within 7 days for exchange
  • Chamois may not prove comfortable for all-day rides
  • Unlike sublimation-printed lycra, this textile is dyed lycra
  • Bib straps have a sewn-finished edge, not laser cut
  • Straps may be visible if worn under a jersey.

Love bibs? Love low prices, too? It could be love at first sight once you learn more about the affordable Black Bib.

First of all, not every company makes bibs for men and women, so Black Bibs is an equal opportunity resource. The company calls their products simple and beyond functional, so if you’ve been searching endlessly for an affordable, uncomplicated bib, this is it.

Product designers targeted comfort when the team combined its years of custom cycling apparel experience to produce a garment that has adorned the sleek bodies of national and world champions. Black Bibs are marketed as unlabeled and unbranded, which is why the retail price is lower.

Constructed of a stretchy textile that delivers the perfect amount of compression for all-day riding, this bib was road-tested endlessly before it came to market, at which point the Black Bibs team realized that they had found an ideal formula for producing their design.

The textile used to construct these bibs is a dyed high-compression lycra. Wearers like the 2.5cm folded-leg openings, the inclusion of dual-density Coolmax chamois cushioning and the open weave mesh bib straps won’t absorb sweat, so you get lots of extras at a price that won’t make you sweat!


Giro Chrono Sport Bib Short


PROS:

  • Made of environment-friendly recycled/repurposed materials
  • Excellent, comfortable fit; the fabric feels soft against the skin
  • Chamois pad could be the most comfortable one you’ve experienced
  • Fabricated of tough lycra so thigh support is excellent
  • A mix of textile and mesh feels thinner, yet this short is very durable.

CONS:

  • Minimal leg grippers silicone strip may be inadequate
  • Storage pocket won’t hold much; big cell phones won’t fit
  • This product’s foam density is less than previous Giro iterations
  • Not the best choice if you frequent gravel/rough roads
  • May not be the best value for your buck.

If you don’t mind spending more than $100 on your bib short and you like the fact that this brand has been around forever, Giro’s updated Chrono Sport Bib Short promises comfort, style and performance in addition to a cut that confirms nicely to your body, on and off the bike. Forget overheating even when the sun is shining.

This bib’s textile is treated to combat sun ray absorption and comes with a UPF 50+ rating, a factor not lost on guys with fair skin. Woven of 78-percent recycled nylon and 22-percent elastane, even the mesh fabric mix is kind to the environment at 86-percent nylon and 14-percent elastane.

This form-fitting garment sports a chamois that stands apart from the crowd: an Elastic Interface Chrono Sport insert that has been road-tested to make sure it holds up during the most extreme and demanding rides.

Trimmed with reflective tabs, piping and logos that reveal a cyclist’s presence in low light, this bib is an ideal choice for road and gravel grinders and the rear storage pocket will hold essentials so you don’t have to leave anything behind. A 1-year manufacturer’s warranty comes with this bib short so if you’re disappointed for any reason, you may be able to return or exchange it.


sponeed Men’s Cycling Shorts


PROS:

  • You can’t beat the price, say satisfied cyclists
  • More stylish than competitor shorts on the market
  • Get a 100-percent return guarantee if you’re not satisfied
  • Comes in 6 sizes: S, M, L, XL, XXL, XXXL
  • Silicone leg grippers keep shorts in place and 3D gel pad protects the family jewels.

CONS:

  • If your butt is sensitive, you could wind up with saddle sores
  • Bands around leg openings may irritate knee tendons
  • Not the most comfortable chamois padding on the market
  • Elastic leg bands could impair blood circulation
  • Sizing may be off, say shoppers returning these shorts.

The least expensive pair of cycling shorts in this collection, you’re going to agree that this sponeed short is also the jazziest and trendiest item in this review. For starters, the color mixes make this short a standout in a field of black: racy colors sprawled across the company logo include red, green and blue.

Fabricated in Asia, these affordable shorts are loaded with features found in shorts that cost three times as much. The fabric mix is 80-percent polyester and 20-percent spandex lycra, offering UPF 50+ protection from the sun. All this and these shorts wick moisture, too.

The manufacturer advises caution when machine washing these shorts. Sponeed suggests limiting water temperature to under 100-degrees F and confining the shorts to a wash pocket. Alternately, hand wash them and don’t let bleach anywhere near these shorts.

Enjoy years of wear thanks to this garment’s high degree of four-way stretch and 6-panel anatomic design. Comfortable and featuring attention-getting sublimation printing, you may not run into gaggles of cyclists wearing this distinct short, but if you like standing out from the all-black crowd, these shorts guarantee it!


What to consider when choosing cycling shorts

Shorts or bibs? What to choose?

If a debate arises in which one side advocates on behalf of bibs and the other side is equally enthusiastic about shorts, it’s best to get out of the way and go hit the trails.

Cyclists take this topic seriously.

Russell Eich, whose post on the Bike Radar includes photos of his vast wardrobe, poses the question: “Can someone remind me why bibs are so popular?” His article, entitled “Shorts are Superior to Bib Shorts,” begins when he states, “I own 14 pairs of chamois-lined shorts and 16 sets of bibs,” so it’s not as if he hadn’t tried both.

“How is all this extra material on the stomach, back, sides, and shoulders so much cooler and more comfortable?” he adds.

Over time, Eich began to dispel common myths, like bibs promote better breathing. They don’t, he concludes. He also questions whether or not chamois on bibs are better at “pulling up on my privates helping my diaphragm and lung power.

That’d be news to me.” In his summation, Eich insists that shorts rule. As a shorts advocate, he says that they’re cooler, lighter, less expensive, easier to put on and take off, there are no straps to dig into shoulders or “rub nips raw.”

In search of a bibs advocate, we found Mike the Bike Guy who admitted that it took time to get used to bib straps, but otherwise, put him in on Team Bibs. “Bib shorts offer more comfort around the waist,” he says.

As someone who doesn’t like to mess with drawstrings, gets annoyed when shorts start slipping and got sick and tired of having to repeatedly hike up cycling shorts annoying, he became a bibber because they made him more confident and secure.

Mike fails to address the topic all cyclists bring up: When nature calls, getting out of a pair of bib shorts quickly is impossible, so let’s just say it’s your call when deciding between the two options.


How important is the chamois?

Very. A biking short chamois is the word coined to describe the padded crotch section that is incorporated into bike shorts and bibs.

This marvelous invention was introduced in the 1980s as an un-padded leather insert, but these days, padding consists of varying densities of foam covered with an outer cloth wrapper made of friction-fighting fabric.

Chamois’ come in varying thicknesses, but all alleviate pressure and provide comfort to areas around your most sensitive bits while you’re in the saddle.

Today’s chamois has come a long way. The foam is thicker, new insert materials like gels are finding an audience with manufacturers and wearers.

Importantly, because this area of a rider’s body has the potential to turn into a Petri dish when sweat builds up and invites bacteria to ride along, today’s chamois may offer health benefits, too.

No longer made just for guy cyclists, manufacturers understand that lady parts need relief, too. Women’s versions tend to be wider around the sit-bone area while the men’s version features an inlet down the middle tailored to cushion the genitals.


What’s the fabric for shorts and bibs?

It would be rare to find a pair of bicycle shorts or bibs made from a single type of thread. The demands of this garment are diverse and textiles must meet the challenge of feeling comfortable hour after hour — particularly as long rides tend to irritate the skin as a direct result of sweat and abrasive contact.

The most common fabrics used to make these garments are varying percentages of polyester, cotton, nylon, spandex and elastin, spun together on the loom to create a single fabric.

Branded Lycra was the first stretch fabric on the market; spandex and elastane were introduced later on. Depending upon the ratio of threads, once the textile comes off the loom it is washed, dyed and cut into pattern pieces.

The more complex the short or bib design, the more panels a finished garment may have, but no matter what combination of threads a manufacturer uses to produce these fabrics, two critical elements are necessary: Stretch must be extreme and seams must lay flat if riders are to endure long hours in the saddle.


Do I need pockets?

If you wouldn’t think of setting off on your favorite trail without snacks, your cell phone, a credit card, some cash and a water bottle, you’re going to be in the market for a multi-pocketed cycling short or bib.

The Bontrager Troslo has 5 of them, not an easy design fit to pull off when you’re working with fabric that creates the ultimate form-fitting garment.

We haven’t met anyone who has made a buying decision based on the number of pockets a bike or bib short includes, so if this is high on your priority list, expect to spend time searching since many of these garments have no pockets.


How much will I have to spend?

Having already browsed our top 7 picks and figuring out that the range of these garments runs from around $40 to $110 MRP, this selection designates all of these products within the affordable range.

That stated, rest assured you can easily spend $400 on either type of short, depending upon the manufacturer, quality of the fabric and performance perks articulated by cyclists who are not shy about broadcasting their opinions!

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