The first decision to make is bib shorts or, well, non-bib shorts. We’d wholeheartedly recommended bib shorts.
The waistband of regular shorts can dig in, whereas bibs forgo the waistband and use bib straps to keep the shorts up and in place; more comfortable and more supportive, with additional coverage for the kidneys as the back of your jersey inevitably heads north as you bend over the bars.
Most riders will see their mileage increase during the summer, with long evenings, warm weekends and a packed sportive calendar, so comfortable bib shorts are essential if you plan on spending a long time in the saddle.
Some shorts are lighter than others, and feathery legwear like the Craft Elite Attack bib shorts and aptly-named Etxeondo Feather short are both ideal for the height of summer.
Cyclists come in all shapes and sizes so there is no one-size-fits-all solution to bib shorts but, generally speaking, the more panels a short has the better the fit, as the shorts will better conform to your body.
High quality shorts will generally have somewhere around six to eight panels, but that’s by no means a hard and fast rule. Howies’ Leadout bib shorts, which impressed us, deliberately have a ‘seamless’ construction, with fewer panels, to eliminate chafing.
High-end shorts often use different grades of lycra areas to increase stretch or, as is the case with Sportful’s Total Comfort bib shorts, to improve longevity in areas that are more prone to wear and tear.
HOY Vulpine’s El Toro bib shorts, on the other hand, opt for a close fit that remains comfortable as they bid to avoid their shorts becoming too restrictive.
Along with fit, the chamois (the vast majority are now synthetic) is the essential ingredient to happy cycling. One rider’s armchair is another’s bed of nails, but there’s plenty of choice to find an insert that works for you.
Look for a pad which has anti-bacterial properties, is breathable (often with channels or perforations to wick sweat away) and has a multi-density construction (placing more foam padding where it’s needed). Also look out for shorts with flat-lock stitching, to avoid irritation, and silicone grippers on the inside of the hem on either leg. Northwave’s Galaxy bib shorts, meanwhile, use an elasticated fabric gripper dubbed ‘Microskin’.
As shorts are the only padding between your bum and the saddle and road, it’s worth investing in a good, if expensive, pair of shorts. Think of it as an investment in your cycling – so spend as much as you can afford.
And remember, some winter bib shorts can still do the job in the summer – Alé’s PRR Ponenté winter bib shorts were ideal for a mild spring day.
Read our buyer’s guide here for more top tips.