The difference between a good and bad pair of bib shorts is immense. A badly fitting or poor quality pair can ruin even the shortest of rides, while the best bib shorts can leave you riding comfortably for hours on end.
A well-designed chamois will go a long way to improve comfort but the chamois has to be supported by quality materials that are cut and constructed in a way that keeps everything in place and avoids uncomfortable bunching without restricting movement while riding.
It is hard to advise on a chamois as everyone's anatomy is different, however, certain considerations are important when deciding what may work for you. A chamois should fit close to the body with the key areas of padding located in your sit bone area when in a riding position.
It's not simply the thickness that will indicate comfort but size and shape should also be a consideration.
Thicker endurance-focussed pads will orientate padding towards the rear of the chamois to accommodate for a more upright position as opposed to a race designed chamois that will have more padding to the front to cater for an aggressive riding position.
Perforations and channels in the pad improve airflow and breathability to reduce heat and moisture build-up which can cause chafing. The use of antibacterial treatments keep your shorts feeling fresh.
2. Material and Straps
No matter how good the chamois is, it needs to stay in place when riding. Specifically shaped panels allow structure and stretch to be focussed where needed to achieve a close fit, offer muscle compression and utilise a material's specific properties in key areas. For example, some panels benefit from being more breathable while other parts need to be hard-wearing.
It is important to consider the properties of materials used when choosing a pair of bib shorts. Some materials provide protection when riding in cold wet conditions while perforated mesh materials maximise cooling airflow on hot days. Materials can even be designed with dimpled surfaces to disrupt airflow for better aerodynamics. If you are a four-seasons rider, it is worth considering owning a couple of different bib shorts that suit a wide range of conditions.
Flat-lock stitching is popular on most high-end shorts as these flat seams reduce edges that can cause areas of discomfort whilst offering a smoother transition between panels to aid aerodynamics.
Waist shorts are available, however, bib shorts are more popular as they don't have a thick waistband that can dig in when riding. Instead, shoulder straps are used to hold the top of the shorts in place and keep the chamois in the correct position. These straps need to be stretchy, wide and ventilated to stop any pressure or irritation.
Shorts can have other features or details that may appeal to riders. Pockets can be built into the back and the legs of bib shorts, offering storage for minimal essentials like a race radio or cash, or slightly bulkier essentials on longer, bikepacking-type adventures. If you ride in hot climates and are choosing bib shorts that use lightweight materials, it is worth considering how much UV protection the fabrics offer to protect skin from sunburn.
As bib shorts are subjective, what works for one person may not work for another so it is beneficial, if possible, to try a pair of shorts on before you buy. This will allow you to check that the sizing, cut and chamois suits your anatomy and riding style.
Castelli Free Aero Race 4
Material: 62% Polyamide(Nylon), 38% Elastane(Spandex) | Pockets: 0 | UV Protection: Unpublished | Multiple chamois sizes: No | Colours: 4
Well made and comfortable
The Castelli Free Aero Race 3 was Castelli's best-selling bib short of 2018 and despite its popularity, Castelli felt that they could make it even better. This resulted in a complete overhaul to create the new Castelli Free Aero Race 4. An updated Progetto X2 Air Seamless chamois promises to be their softest seat pad and the seamless design reduces the chance of chafing. Variable thickness padding provides support where needed and cuts bulk where it is not.
Castelli has also redesigned the leg grippers and the straps. GIRO4 leg grippers now have a vertical strip design to improve grip without affecting stretch to offer a smooth transition from skin to short. The bib straps and back panel have been trimmed down and are made from a light mesh so that they are breathable and unobtrusive.
Sportful Bodyfit Pro 2.0 LTD
Material: 40% Polyamide(Nylon), 40% Polyester, 20% Elastane (Spandex) | Pockets: 2 | UV Protection: Unpublished | Multiple chamois sizes: No | Colours: 3
Comfortable and good value
Sportful have taken what they have learned from the WorldTour and developed this technology to develop the Bodyfit Pro 2.0 LTD; a bib short that suits both racing and long distances at a competitive price.
Using 220g lycra, Sportful creates what they call AeroFlow Compress which aims to improve aerodynamics whilst providing muscle support and compression to reduce muscle fatigue. The lightweight straps are breathable and everything is flat-locked for comfort.
The Bodyfit Pro 2.0 LTD uses Sportful's Total Comfort Pro chamois which is thinner than previous models while still offering enough comfort for long-distance riders.
Endura Pro SL II
Material: 78% Nylon, 22% Elastane, 32% Polyester, 45% Nylon, 23% Elastane | Pockets: 2 | UV Protection: UPF50 | Multiple chamois sizes: 3 | Colours: 1
Chamois size and leg length to fit all
Endura knows how hard it is to find a pair of bib shorts that fit just right which is why they not only offer their Pro SL II in three different chamois sizes across six different bib sizes but also two different leg lengths. Endura even has an online Pad Fit tool that advises which chamois size to get based on the saddle you ride. That's 36 different options to choose from. The 700 series pad has seen an update for 2020 with improvements to foam constructions and a micro-polyester face fabric.
Italian lycra provides compression and uses Endura's Coldblack technology to reflect UV and inferred sunlight keeping you cooler on hot days. The pre-shaped multi-panel construction and silicon print on the hem keep the bibs in place when riding. The straps have also been reworked to be wider and more lumber support.
POC AVIP Ceramic VPDs
Material: 80% Polyamide(Nylon), 17% Elastane(Spandex), 3% Other Fibres | Pockets: 2 | UV Protection: Unpublished | Multiple chamois sizes: No | Colours: 1
POC are renowned for their protective clothing so it is unsurprising that they have developed a pair of bib shorts that have features to reduce the risk of injury in a crash.
The POC AVIP Ceramic VPDs has printed ceramic panels in key zones, the idea is that it will provide some protection in a collision and reduce friction when sliding over hard surfaces. The fabric is still stretchy, offering light muscle compression, and the cut has a pre-shaped ride position for a close fit.
POC's silicon VPDs Multi D chamois is featured, constructed using silicone inserts to reduce pressure points and road vibrations in key areas. The outer chamois material around the inserts allow airflow and reduce chafing.