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by Sarah Lukas
April 6, 2020
Photography by Max Barron and Location Provided by Corsa Cycles in Squamish
After reviewing four drop-tail women’s bib shorts recently, I decided I need to put four standard women’s bib shorts to the test.
Having a drop-tail bib short is definitely not a necessity. We lived without them before, and a lot of my day-to-day rides wouldn’t need a drop-tail; it’s a luxury. As you can imagine, there are a lot of women’s bib shorts in this category, so I chose bibs ranging in price from US$65 to $239. None of these are like each other, and that’s the best part!
Here are the four bibs I reviewed. If you want to skip straight to a particular review, follow the link in its name.
1. Assos T.laaLalai_S7 Women (My pick of the bunch)
2. Machines for Freedom Endurance Bib
3. The Black Bibs Plus For Women
4. Panache Women’s Pro Bib Short
Waist: 26 in / 66 cm
Hips: 32 in / 82 cm
Inseam: 27 in / 68 cm
Weight: 118 lb / 53.5 kg
Height: 5’4” / 64 in
Bust size: 29 in / 76 cm
Saddle: Ergon SR Women
Standard women’s bib shorts without a drop-tail feature. From left to right: Assos, Machines For Freedom, The Black Bibs and Panache.
I was quite surprised to see that Assos did not offer a drop-tail bib short, mostly because Assos is a luxury brand. The brand does offer the questionably named T.laaLalai_S7 women’s bib short. I don’t know how to pronounce it, or what it means, but given it comes in its own box, opening it up made me feel like how I assume Kim Kardashian does when she opens her new purse gifted to her by Givenchy. The S7s are the most expensive on test at US$239 / AU$341 / €190 / £165.
The bibs offered great compression and stayed put the entire ride.
My first and main issue with the bibs started with putting them on. The straps look a little like I’d put my Rapha bib shorts on backwards. Assos uses a single strap in the front that’s pulled overhead, and then runs down the sternum, splitting the breasts, which feels quite dated to me. The strap is then buckled a few inches above the belly button with a heavy magnetic clip. Trying to put these on initially made me feel like I was getting ready for something a little kinkier than a bike ride.
The issues that I had with the magnetic clip on Rapha’s bibs also rang true with the S7s. I mentioned my lack of dexterity in my previous test, and this posed a similar problem. These have an improved design from a few years ago when the clip would unbuckle while riding, but now the strong magnet ensures the strap stays in place (and grabs on to different things while walking around the house) and adds weight to the bibs.
Once I finally got the bibs on, I did forget about the strap and buckle during the ride. Even though taking it off and putting it on can test my patience when I am feeling a bit ornery, it was worth the hassle to have a comfortable ride.
The material used on the straps is incredibly comfortable — the S7 uses a wider, laser-cut bib strap that sits quite comfortably once it’s all in place. Once on, they move with me, and I don’t think about the straps. For rides where I’d anticipate a lot of on-offs, or when using a lot of layers, this strap would just frustrate me. Assos has hinted at a strap redesign on some new women’s bibs launching this spring, so I have my fingers crossed.
While I am not a fan of the strap design that Assos uses, they have hinted at a redesign in the near future.
While the clip uses a strong magnet, I couldn’t always match it up with ease.
Assos uses two materials in its leg bands. I prefer a single band, as opposed to these.
The leg bands on the Assos S7 bib shorts utilize two separate fabric components, including an external elastic material that allows for additional stretch in all the right places. When it comes to style points, I’m not crazy about the clunkiness of another piece of fabric, but more significantly, I didn’t notice it while riding, which I would take over style.
Straps aside, the fit of the bibs deliver quality through a highly compressive fabric called ASSOS Type.439 Diadema. I didn’t have to deal with fabric bunching, or readjustments while riding, and Assos definitely has one of the most comfortable chamois while riding. This is attributed to its “floating” design so the chamois moves with the body, and not with the shorts, minimizing chafing. When I was off the bike walking around, the chamois felt bulky and uncomfortable. Luckily, I spent more time riding than walking in the S7s making these a great long-distance bib.
Price: US$239 / AU$341 / €190 / £165
Weight: 165 g
Measured inseam: 9” (22.9 cm)
Pairs well with: UMA GT Spring/Fall Jacket in caleumBlue.
Good: The floating chamois and overall fit.
Bad: The strap design and buckle didn’t cut it and I wouldn’t mind a smoother leg band.
Machines for Freedom came to be in late 2013 when founder, Jenn Kriske, finally had enough after struggling to find quality women’s gear to ride in. The Machines for Freedom Endurance bib shorts are the OG of the Machines for Freedom collection. They are available in a standard length (7.5” (19 cm) inseam), and a tall version (9” (22.9 cm) inseam, 1” additional in strap length) and are on the higher price point at US$235 / AU$320 / €213 / £183.
When I was first determining my size, the chart indicated I would be an XS — a long way from the size medium that I was used to in my racing days. I didn’t want to commit to the XS, so I opted for the size small, and I am glad I did. Easily the most compressive of all the bibs tested, the size small was tight when trying to pull it over my hips. Machines For Freedom confirmed the high-compression is intentional, and that they stretch into place when on, like Spanx. Absolutely true. A bit snug pulling over my hips quickly went to form-fitting for my waist.
The panel and high waist combination made for a Spanx-like feel, which is a good thing.
A subtle branding detail lays just above the wide leg band.
A simple strap design is used on these.
These definitely do flatter the female figure.
With the most unique use of fabric panels, the Endurance bib shorts use a number of form-fitting pieces to accommodate numerous silhouettes. The angles of the panels complement a curvier physique, which was Machine For Freedom’s goal, and also provide proper movement and stretch of the material. Since I don’t have a lot of curves, I can’t quite speak to how the bibs fit in that regard; for myself, they hugged everything in nicely, all the way up to my mid-section. Even with the aggressive compression, I never felt restricted and everything was in place, and these are one of the lightest bibs I tested at 156 g (size medium). Bonus.
Machines for Freedom uses an Italian chamois that’s designed to accommodate the full-range of sit bone widths. I’m pretty average in width so the thermo-molded design felt and looked minimal. The leg band uses an even more compressive fabric, which I didn’t think was possible without compromising thigh circulation, but they nailed it. The grippers aren’t overly aggressive, as they don’t need to be with the bibs staying in place so well, and they have a nice width to distribute the compression.
The bib straps are a simple design; a basic stretchy mesh strap with a reinforced hemline on each side. Nothing fancy, but wore well.
These are a great-looking pair of bibs, and they definitely earn big style points. I almost felt like they gave the illusion of me being a bit curvier, which I am OK with. I would love to see some of their bibs reflect their fun patterns on their jerseys. I could see some designs translating well to their bibs.
Price: US$235 / AU$320 / €213 / £183
Weight: 156 g
Size: Small, but size chart indicates I could be an XS.
Measured inseam: 7.5″ (19 cm) listed on site, 8-8.5″ (20.3-21.6 cm) (maybe I got the tall which has a listed inseam at 9” (22.9 cm))
Pairs well with: Summerweight Long Sleeve Cycling Jersey in Jaded Rose
Good: The high front waist with all the different panel positions make for a very comfortable, classic bib short.
Bad: Sizing differences and tight compression through the hips.
The Black Bibs Plus for Women was an important bib short for me to include. The bibs are the least expensive at just US$65. I still think that’s a good amount of money to be spending, but it feels more affordable. Not everyone out there has or even wants to spend upwards of $200-$300 for a pair of riding bibs; and you don’t have to.
A basic black bib that fits like it costs $100. But this one only costs US$65.
A side project by Starlight Custom Cycling Apparel (the same folk who made Phil Gaimon’s current jersey), The Black Bibs brings a limited selection of non-branded men’s, women’s, and youth bib shorts, jerseys, and jackets, along with a few other accessories such as vests, arm and leg warmers, and neck gaiters. Stratton Delany, owner of Starlight Custom Cycling Apparel, told me, “We keep the price down by running a streamlined operation here and trying to keep returns to a minimum. We spent years perfecting the pattern on our custom side and used that rather than start with something else. That’s why the fit is good.”
I try to go into every test open-minded, no bias. I tried to forget that The Black Bibs Plus are the cheapest, but I always had it in the back of my mind that a lower price point means comfort may be compromised; probably best for beginners, and so on. I couldn’t have been more wrong. These aren’t complicated bibs, but The Black Bibs Plus for Women are done right.
Moderate compression right out of the gate made for a great first impression. It doesn’t feel incredibly high-performance in comparison to Assos or Machines for Freedom, but it’s still compressive enough to keep me comfortable. These truly are a modern take on a classic bib short; kind of like that little black dress. Not too many bells and whistles, but the simple silhouette is designed very well.
The strap design is simple, with a wide back as it connects to the shorts.
Given the price point, the chamois was quite impressive. I could see this matching up to a bib short similar to Panache where I would use these for rides under three hours. The bib’s straps are pretty basic — wide, lightweight mesh covering plenty of surface area to not create any unnecessary pressure points. They use very subtle micro leg grippers that aren’t overly compressive and stay in place.
Style points are high as they use no visible branding, and hug to my body in all the right places. For US$65, The Black Bibs Plus for Women are a home run.
Weight: 174 g
Measured inseam: 8” (20.3 cm)
Pairs well with: My wallet, and their Women’s Pro Summer Jersey.
Good: The price point combined with the design.
Bad: I wouldn’t recommend these if you’re looking to do some longer, epic rides where you’d benefit from added features.
Prior to moving to Squamish, I was living in Boulder, Colorado, which is where I first discovered Panache’s clothing. I was always drawn to the brand’s funky designs and how well the clothing fit me. Panache does a great job making its clothing hug the body in all the right places, and the company’s bibs quickly became a favourite of mine.
The tech mesh fabric that Panache uses is quite soft and sat nice and wide on my shoulders.
Out of the standard bibs I tested, I had to bring Panache in as they mostly go head-to-head with The Black Bibs in their design and fit. Panache’s Women’s Pro bib short uses a flattering material that offers that same moderate compression that I found in The Black Bibs. I do like the wide, laser-cut leg band that lays smoothly against my thighs.
Subtle gripper ink keeps the bibs in place when they are on skin, but don’t seem to be best for when I am wearing leg warmers. The shorts tend to creep up a little bit while riding. I know I’ve said in the past that I like a shorter inseam, but I seem to finish my ride with a little more of a booty-short than I’d prefer.
The bib straps remain simple with a “tech mesh” fabric that offers that “little bit more” than The Black Bibs’. Panache’s straps have been updated since some of the brand’s bibs in years past, and those straps now skew softer, increasing comfort.
Panache’s chamois is a little thinner compared to the higher-performance bibs, but I could still get away comfortably with a three-hour ride. Anything longer than that I may opt for a different pair of bibs.
Panache uses a subtle leg gripper to keep the bibs in place. They don’t work so well with leg warmers, though, and quickly become a pair of booty shorts.
When I first saw these I thought “Nope. Not happening.” It wasn’t until I put them on that I realized how RAD these are!
Priced at US$199, the Panache Women’s Pro bib short performed well, but after having tried The Black Bibs for $65, I could see someone being just as happy with the latter. Panache is of a noticeably higher quality, so it’s not as though these aren’t worth their value.
Panache does offer a wider variety of colours, patterns, and general kit unlike The Black Bibs. I used to like low profile colours, but lately I’ve been feeling the pops of flare. I’ll give Panache some style points there, too.
Weight: 165 g
Colours: Black, additional funky patterns
Measured inseam: 8” (20.3 cm)
Pairs well with: A funky personality and a number of Panache’s jerseys.
Good: Nice fit and fun designs.
Bad: No additional women’s features and aren’t great with leg warmers.
So there we have it: four women’s specific bib options reviewed and rated. Have you tried any of the products mentioned above? How did you find them? Let me know in the comments below!