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Yet another season of riding and testing the best bike shorts, and we've added 5 new pairs to our full review of 12. With more than 50 pairs tested over the last 8 years, we've developed a robust system of testing, researching, and analyzing cycling shorts to ensure what we have to say is worthwhile and useful. Our reviewers are lifelong riders who've gone through all the same struggles and frustrations as our readers, so we know what to look for and where to find the catches. We spend weeks out on the road and hours inside on the trainer, getting a feel for what we wear and then passing along the best details we can compile, analyze, and summarize for you.
If you're on this page, you probably already know that the world of top-ranked bike gear is expansive, but the two major disciplines are road and mountain. This review focuses primarily on men's road bike shorts, but we cover shorts for mountain biking too, and of course, our team of female riders have tested and chosen their favorite bike shorts for women as well. If you are looking to stay in shape during the off-season or can't venture outside due to weather conditions, one of these top-rated exercise bikes will be your best friend.
Editor's Note: We updated this review on November 2, 2022, to share more information on our weighted test metrics.
The SUGOi Evolution finished at the front of the pack in our review. This bib offers one of 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 for an affordable price and certainly 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, the pull, or the chase. It allowed us to get in the zone and stay there. This is essentially what riders look for in a bib.
When it comes to your top choice for cycling shorts, you may pick the premium bike shorts. Surely most of us would prefer the elite stuff. Then we remember things like rent. Or think about those worn-down brake pads and can actually see the inner casing wearing through on our tires. We need to budget a little for those things and can't always splurge on top-shelf shorts. Enter the Endura Pro SL. They're close to the top-level pro shorts but are within reach for the average dedicated rider. They have the leg and chamois comfort to last through a long day in the saddle and the tight, compressive performance to carry you through a white-knuckle crit out in the heat. We're also very happy to see they offer multiple chamois sizes and inseam lengths to suit a wider range of body shapes.
The chief complaint we have, shared by others, has to do with the waistline. The Endura SL employs a low-cut waders-style design that's become popular among higher-end offerings across premium brands in recent years. Where it really improves the ride is in support and cooling. Where it doesn't help is the forced gut hangover. For some riders, it's an uncomfortable feeling, but for most of us with dad bods, it's the uncomfortable look that can even shine through jerseys. There's also the common struggle with chamois bunching. Of course, that can be overcome by ordering the narrow chamois. Despite these drawbacks, which are somewhat common in the cycling shorts world, we're confident these are ideal shorts for the dedicated everyman.
When it comes to the Best Bang for the Buck Award winner, we're clearly happy with the Castelli Competizione Bib Shorts. They're not premium shorts, per se, but they're in the slot because they're dependable, feel great, have enough support to feel fast, and keep us cool enough out in the sun. Obviously, they earn their moniker by being among the most affordable of the high-performance shorts.
While we stand by them as some of the best cycling shorts on the market right now, they have some drawbacks you need to consider before jumping for them. The most important note from the road is that their comfort is best suited to shorter rides under 90 minutes. We definitely spent days in them, upwards of 5 hours in the saddle, and they will do, but if you have the cash, you might prefer more robust padding. That said, they're ideally suited to shorter crit-style rides and make a good backup pair to keep in the closet for weekly training rotators.
You don't earn recognition for outstanding value unless you're among the most affordable bike shorts out there and the Pearl Izumi Quest Bike Shorts are precisely 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 new Levitate Chamois. It's a noticeable improvement over the previous iteration, sure to make your trainer sessions and trips to work much nicer. 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.
When it comes to hard crits, trainer sessions, spin, and other short, high-intensity efforts, you usually want a pair of close-fitting bike shorts that don't encumber your cranking and don't have big pads bunching up on you when you're in the forward position. The Louis Garneau CB Carbon 2 bibs meet those requirements and more. Nine panels of CB Carbon+ lycra paired with a few clever EndureXX panels along the back of the thighs improve fit and comfort. These are the bike shorts we reached for on tough, fast training sessions under the 90-minute mark. They were also good on longer rides, but there are other shorts out there we'd prefer for long, slow slogs.
Riders looking for a compressive, supportive pair of bike bib shorts won't find them in the LG CB Carbon 2, which can be a letdown. We preferred the freer feel, but a good squeeze might help some folks perform better. Oddly, there was a bit of constriction in the groin area, making mid-ride adjustments a little less comfortable, but then again, crits are never comfortable affairs.
We spent the spring doing a lot of long, slow base miles that forced us to either stop at more stores to buy road food or figure out a new storage solution other than using our touring bags and looking like Freds in front of the local riding crew. Finding the SUGOi RS Century Zap was perfectly timed when the weekend rides started getting over 65 miles. The pockets were just what we needed to carry the extra thousand or so calories, freeing up space in the jersey for another bottle. But they're more than a pair of shorts with pockets. The targeted padding of the Formula FX chamois was a huge relief, adding density under the sit bones and removing density from the center of the perineum. It makes a difference, and it's one of the reasons we kept picking it for our long days.
It's not all rainbows with the Century Zap, though. They use a fairly high mix of nylon, which improves their compression, yet it can be a little too tight at times. It doesn't seriously limit range of motion on the bike, but you still notice it if you do a big stretch movement like jumping out of the saddle to sprint. Some riders also found that the upper edge of the chamois chafes. We didn't have that issue, but it's possible. All in all, we think these shorts will make a lot of long-distance riders very happy. They certainly pleased us.
In any of our review categories, before we end up with a selection of products in our hands, we do our research. After ample research into the current bike shorts market, we purchased the top 12 pairs for testing. We put these cycling shorts 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, as well as other pertinent aspects of the shorts to be as thorough as possible and compare products across measures.
Our bike shorts testing is divided across six rating metrics:
Padding and Protection (25% of total score weighting)
Comfort and Fit (20% weighting)
Breathability (15% weighting)
Efficiency and Pedal Friendliness (15% weighting)
Durability (15% weighting)
Style (10% weighting)
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 an enterprise software implementation consultant.
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 extra protection from an exterior layer.
Types of Cycling Shorts
Now that you know the difference between 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 for 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.
Value is always a chart-topper here at GearLab. We purchased 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 provide great performance for their rock-bottom price. One of our favorite pairs, the SUGOi Evolution Bibs, cost more but are still far below average among the pairs we tested and offer outstanding performance and fit.
Padding and Protection
Padding and protection are some of the most important factors in choosing the right cycling shorts. These features differentiate bike shorts from any other athletic shorts 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 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 smaller chamois pads, 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 that's 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 SUGOi Evolution Bibs also did well in the padding and 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). On the longer rides, we had to actively change positions fairly frequently with many of the other selections to manage seat fatigue.
Comfort and Fit
Fit and comfort are both integral parts of any proper shorts for road biking. 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 seven or eight-hour mark. For bad shorts or shorts that don't match your body, it might be less than 10 minutes in the saddle before that numb feeling creeps 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 the 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, silicone bands, or strips along the cuff in order to grip your skin as leg grippers.
The Sugoi RS Century Zap and Giordana FR-C Pro Shorts have a compression fit, which makes for a much different feel than traditional road bike shorts or bibs. These are 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 shorts can irritate over longer rides. We highly recommend DZ Nutz Pro Chamois Cream, Chamois Butt'r, or other creams for longer rides. It seems a little new at first but can mean the difference between pleasure and agony. Oh, and go for the thrill by going with a menthol selection.
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 Endura Pro SL bib shorts, SUGOi Evolution bib shorts, and Louis Garneau CB Carbon 2 Bib.
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 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.
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.
The Castelli Competizione bib shorts and Assos Mille GTO C2 bib shorts ranked highest in this category. They 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. This makes getting in and out of the saddle and minor adjustments while riding very smooth. The chamois also conform more to the body, allowing a 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 Louis Garneau CB Carbon 2 bib shorts used a less supportive but equally supple fabric blend to deliver a close, natural fit.
Both pairs of 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 the 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 as we were not able to really test these through the entirety of their 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 products that used strong fabric with high nylon content and seam designs that minimized exposure to external rubbing or repetitive grinding. Lower scoring products, like the Louis Garneau CB Carbon 2, utilized lycra and thinner material, and we ended up getting a rip in the shorts version that we tested.
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 SUGOi Evolution bib shorts utilize great color accents and panel designs and have 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.
This page is substantially dedicated to the best bike shorts. If it's not a top performer or doesn't top one of our ratings, it might not have been mentioned. That doesn't mean it's not an excellent pair of shorts that are just what you're looking for, so make sure to peruse the reviews to drill down on shorts that caught your eye or some that you need clarification on. We do our best to be as exhaustive as possible without being exhausting, so hopefully, you've learned what you wanted and can use some of our findings to get out there and grab a good pair of shorts that will work for you. Good luck and safe riding.
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GearLab is founded on the principle of honest, objective, reviews. Our experts test thousands of products each year using thoughtful test plans that bring out key performance differences between competing products. And, to assure complete independence, we buy all the products we test ourselves. No cherry-picked units sent by manufacturers. No sponsored content. No ads. Just real, honest, side-by-side testing and comparison.