Top-End Bib Shorts
By Jon Sharp
The first time I wore actual cycling shorts I knew I was on to something. Or, to be more accurate, that cyclists were on to something. Looking back, I can't believe how cheap those shorts were. These days, I wear a more expensive short. And, by "these days" I mean, of course, right now. I have in my possession shorts from Cannondale , Pearl Izumi , Assos and Giordana . The contrast between these top-end shorts and my old, low-end shorts of 20 years ago is astounding. No longer is a piece of thick cloth considered a chamois. I believe those old shorts of mine were a whopping 4-panel short. I do remember, still with some horror, that the super cool zebra-striped Lycra was also not quite thick enough to allow any degree of modesty. But let's move on... Knowing that bib shorts are worthless if they can't be covered by a jersey (and for those that insist on wearing their jerseys under the bibs--that's just wrong), look for a review with jerseys from the same manufacturers coming soon. Here they are, in alphabetical order:
I intend to address the following in each product:
That is my criteria. Here are my methods. The first thing I do when I get any pair of cycling shorts is to turn them inside out and examine the chamois. In fact, only when the shorts are new is it even acceptable to make this close of an examination. After going over the bibs observing such things as leg grippers, reflective accents and materials, I can then proceed to the next phase of testing.
Of course riding the bike really determines how well I like the bibs. However, just wearing them also reveals a lot about fit--things that I might not notice as well when I'm concentrating on the searing pain in my legs from the climb. On the bike, I test using a variety of methods. Anything and everything from pedaling, to coasting and even crashing--yes, I'm dedicated enough to take a fall in the name of my reviews if gravity deems it necessary--will help bend my will towards or away from that particular product.
Also, I wash them (sometimes even between rides). I'll actually follow the manufacturer's recommendation for this if I happen to notice what that is.
There are two additional tests I'll use to determine comfort. First, I go on a really long bike ride (in this case, LOTOJA) and make the critical decision as to which bibs I select for the entire 200-mile stay in my saddle. Second, I'll put on a new, and uncomfortable saddle and then force myself to select only one bib short to be my only protection from said saddle.
Let us begin.
Based on my highly statistically random sample of riders--those I happened to notice while out riding--Assos is the most well-known of the super-expensive brands. There were actually quite a few riders sporting the very bib shorts reviewed here. Before starting this review I had a few questions for these shorts. As I couldn't ask the bibs any questions directly, I could never get the answer to my first question. The second question, however, was this: What details are included--whether comfort, quality or otherwise--in these to merit the very significant price? I am to satisfy this question with my own observations in this review.
While inverting the Equipe bibs, I couldn't help but wonder what this chamois would be like. After all, Assos makes it very clear that their chamois are superior to that of their competitors. The first thing I found was the F.13 chamois is thick. Very thick. In fact, it is by far the thickest chamois in this review. Though very thick, the F.13 chamois is also elastic--particularly important for this tall of a pad. There are small reflective tabs on the outside of each leg for night-time visibility. The legs use gripper elastic to hold the Equipes in place. The back and straps--the bib portion of bib shorts--is made of a fine mesh fabric for breatheability.
Of all the shorts in this review, the Assos seemed to fit the best--this was especially true on the bike. Sometimes bib shorts tend to sag a bit when the rider is hunched over in the drops. Not so with the Assos. It is apparent that they are made for that position. As I mentioned above, the chamois in the Equipes was the thickest in this test. I found this to be perfect for trying out new saddles. It would also be good for someone not used to sitting in the saddle for extended periods of time. For shorts in this price range, I would like to have seen different leg grippers. I'm not a huge fan of the gripper elastic (though, they definitely did their job) and find the silicone grippers more comfortable.
Overall Comfort 9
1 bonus point for being the bibs I always grab when I need to switch saddles or when I've been off the bike too long.
Overall score: 36
When I think of Cannondale, I always think of bikes. However, as it happens, they are makers of high quality apparel as well. The Surpass bibs are an excellent example. During this test, these bibswere not only subjected to the same tests as its more expensive competition, we also put the Surpass through an involuntary crash test.
For the Surpass, Cannondale selected a medium-thickness chamois that was stretchy in all four directions. The upper portion of the bib is a very fine microfiber mesh. The leg grippers are a flat silicone, which I find quite comfortable. There are small sections of reflective pipping on the side of the legs for visibility, as well as a reflective Cannondale logo on the left buttock. One feature unique to the Surpass bibs, is the small pocket that sits in the rear just below the small of my back. This pocket is just large enough for keys and an energy gel. There is a flap for keeping your valuables in place, which is finished off with more reflective pipping--though it wouldn't be visible unless your jersey rode up a bit.
The fit of the Surpass bibs was good, though not as form-fitting as some of the more pricey bibs in this review. Although some may like a more relaxed fit, I find bib shorts more comfortable when they fit closer. When a careless corner was taken, I found myself sliding across the pavement on my Surpass bibs. I was surprised to find, after picking myself back up again, that my short showed hardly any sign of wear--let alone a big gash like I expected. All this was poor comfort to my leg which fared much worse than the bib shorts, but it's nice to know your money gets you a product that lasts.
Overall Comfort 8
1 bonus point for making it through a crash. Plus, I really liked that extra pocket.
Overall score: 35
I have to admit that Giordana was less well known to me going into this review. I was initially shocked a bit at the price. When the Forma bib shorts arrived, I was more shocked by the construction. Giordana takes clothing—and clothing innovation—very seriously.
For starters, though I usually take note of chamois quality first, I immediately was perplexed by the general lack of finished edges. Before you decide construction must be poor, let me explain. The fabric on all the edges is made to stand on its own without unraveling. They do this, and rightly so, to make the edges as invisible—and, therefore, more comfortable—as possible. The bib straps of the Forma are totally seamless. The other feature I found striking was the leg grippers. At first glance, it appears that Giordana used transparent tape instead of leg grippers. Giordana calls this Liquid Elastic. Though it doesn’t appear or feel particularly grippy, it did a fantastic job of keeping the Forma’s legs in place. Moreover, because this edge also has no hem and the Liquid Elastic is so thin, there is hardly a perceptible (by feel, anyway) edge to the legs—just a smooth transition between short and leg. There is reflective piping on the legs.
The chamois of the Forma shorts, Giordana’s Elite Gel OmniForm chamois, is of medium thickness. Like others in this review, it is elastic. I found the outer face of the chamois to be extremely soft. In strategic areas of the chamois, Giordana uses a foam gel to further reduce shock and vibrations. The Elite OmniForm chamois is also treated to be anti-bacterial.
Like the Assos shorts reviewed above, the Forma bib shorts were shaped just ride for riding a bike. They fit exactly right in all areas of the garment. The chamois was thick enough to be very comfortable, without being too bulky. I find the Liquid Elastic leg grippers to be the most comfortable of any I have ever tried. I also love the unfinished bib straps. For these reasons, when it came time to select a single pair of shorts for LOTOJA, I chose the Giordana Forma bibs. As experience showed me, I made the right choice. Though these are expensive, I feel that the materials and construction are both unique, innovative and, dare I say, deserving of a higher price tag.
Overall Comfort 10
1 bonus point for being the bibs I chose to wear for LOTOJA—a good choice.
Overall score: 39
Through the years, Pearl Izumi has definitely established itself as a high-end brand--one with a reputation of quality. At the heart of all Pearl Izumi clothing is the incredible fabrics they use. Tested here is their top short, the Aerosensor bib short.
As with other shorts in their line, Pearl Izumi named these after their new material: Aerosensor. Borrowing from the technology used in certain deep-rim wheels (and also Golf balls), Aerosensor fabric is created with a printed dimple pattern—the purpose of which is to aid in aerodynamics. A dimpled surface is more aerodynamic than a smooth one. Aerosensor is used in strategic places on the outside and back of the legs. Otherwise, the lowers are made with Microsensor fabric. The bib straps and back are made with a small microfiber mesh for added comfort and ventilation.
The chamois is Pearl Izumi’s 3D Pro chamois. They call this chamois “low-profile” and I’d have to say that’s an understatement. Though quite thin, it is stretchy and breathable. They also use silver fibers in it to naturally fight microbes and other nasties.
Where Pearl Izumi excels is in their fabrics. The Aerosensor and Microsensor fabrics have a smooth exterior with a brushed interior. This not only feels nice, but quickly and effectively pulls moisture away from your skin to be evaporated to the air.
I found out quickly that I prefer a thicker chamois than the 3D Pro--at least for long rides. Though some like the minimalist pad design, I need something more substantial. The only other complaint I had was with the bib straps. The edge treatment is very thick, and I found it more obtrusive than other designs I've tried. The fit, however, was good, and I especially liked the longer legs--the longest in this review.
Overall Comfort 8
1 bonus point for dimpled fabric that makes me faster.
Overall score: 34
As with everything in cycling, if you have money to spend, there are items to spend it on. Reviewed here, we have everything from good, high quality bibs to excellent, very high quality bib shorts. Are there differences between the $110 Cannondale Surpass bibs and the $230 Giordana Forma shorts? Yes. With Cannondale you get a great pair of shorts for a good price. For the money, you really can't go wrong. (Also, I really love that extra rear pocket.) However, I found both the Giordana Forma and the Assos Equipe bib shorts to be more comfortable.
If you are reading this, chances are you are not a sponsored pro racer. Because of that, price almost always will be a consideration. However, if comfort and technology are more important than price, Giordana makes the bib shorts for you.
Jon Sharp is a contributing editor for GearReview.com who believes bib shorts make him look tough. Read his blog.
For more information, contact:
Giordana (Gita Sporting Goods, Ltd.)