Best women’s cycling bibs round-up: four drop-tail bibs reviewed
A good pair of bib shorts is worth every penny spent, but do you need to drop $300 to find a comfortable pair of bibs? It’s taken me many months to answer that question, and to find what I consider the best women’s bib short, but I’m finally there.
While chamois, bib straps, leg bands, compression, and overall style points are obvious features (along with the price tag, of course) to consider when buying a pair of bib shorts, for this round I also included the ease of access for nature breaks. This design is commonly referred to as “drop-tail,” a design feature on some women’s bibs that allows a rider to easily drop their bib shorts for nature breaks without having to remove any straps or clothing. A second round, reviewing bibs without a drop tail, is coming later this week.
Companies like Pearl Izumi, Velocio, Rapha, and Giro all incorporated this feature into their high-end bibs; all with different interpretations of the drop-tail design. They went head-to-head against each other, and while one came out on top, some did fall short. (no pun intended)
Here are the four bibs I tested. If you want to skip straight to a particular review, follow the link in its name.
Bib shorts reviewed
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
My first pair of cycling shorts and floral sleeveless jersey back in 2003 were Pearl Izumi, and every bike shop I’ve ever worked in has carried the brand. I even used to use their shoe covers exclusively, only because I saw a sick photo of Taylor Phinney wearing them. Seriously.
Almost two decades later and Pearl Izumi’s Women’s PRO bib short is my top pick out of the drop-tail bibs I tested.
The fabric used makes for one of the softest bibs in this group test. On the other hand, the softness does compromise a little bit of compression that the other bibs did have, making Pearl Izumi’s the least compressive fit. The ‘Luxurious Italian PRO Transfer’ fabric still offers a mild compression that kept me very comfortable while featuring a summer-type weight. Pearl Izumi’s Women’s PRO bib short weighed the least, too, with a medium being just 154 grams.
The laser-cut bib straps widen and criss-cross one another over the lower back — the only bib short with a drop-tail that crossed flush across my back. There was an additional support strap that ran across my shoulder blades keeping the bib straps in place. This drop-tail design was the easiest and most functional one I tested.
Complementing the back support strap, Pearl Izumi also uses a subtle, lightweight buckle right near the sternum to provide an even distribution of stretch among the straps. Luckily, you don’t need to mess with the buckle in order to utilize the drop-tail. It is simple to use, lightweight, and you’ll quickly forget it’s there.
Which reminds me, sausage legs are not an issue with these bibs. The Women’s PRO bib short uses laser-cut raw edge hems on the leg bands, paired with silicone leg grippers, without creating any constriction. I think the use of minimal seaming and raw edges enhances the fit, and it showed throughout the entire bib. The Women’s PRO bib shorts have a measured inseam of 8.5” (21.5 cm) which resulted in a perfect, mid-thigh length for me.
The Women’s PRO bibs use the Escape 1:1 chamois which offers a nice cushion of support on the sit bones — where most of us tend to experience hot spots. It’s made with ‘Italian PRO Transfer’ fabric that sticks to the theme of barely-there without compromise. There was no fabric movement while riding, so the chamois always stayed in place.
Finally, let’s take a look at style points. The bibs are available in a few colours and patterns: navy cosmic (pattern), black kimono (pattern), black, and navy, which is what I tested. I think the fit and colours worked together to give an incredibly flattering bib short. While I wished for more compression in these, it wouldn’t be enough to keep me from buying these bibs.
Pearl Izumi nailed the drop-tail design, and the laser-cut edges, making it the most comfortable bib for me. They’re cheaper than Rapha and Velocio, too, making the Women’s PRO bib short a great deal.
Price: US$210 / AU$379.95 / £168 / €199
Weight: 154 g
Colours: Navy Cosmic, Black Kimono, Navy One, Black
Measured inseam: 8.5” (21.5 cm)
Pairs well with: Women’s PRO AmFIB Shell (shown wearing in the article feature image)
Good: Drop-tail design, fabric, and laser-cut raw edge hems
Bad: Medium compression
Coming in nipping at the heels of Pearl Izumi was Velocio. The first thing I noticed after slipping on Velocio’s Women’s Luxe bib shorts was the fabric. It was almost like velvet, lycra, silk, and neoprene had some sort of love child; I am pretty sure it’s something from NASA.
Actually, it’s Velocio’s “ultra-high gauge compression lycra which uses 38% Lycra content for second skin fit and ultra soft finish.” It can be hard to balance softer lycra without compromising compression, as I noticed with Pearl Izumi, but Velocio did this the best. They had the nicest material of any bib in this test. The bibs use a three-panel design, eliminating unnecessary seams and opportunity for chafing.
The Women’s Luxe bib shorts use a leg band with a pretty aggressive fabric that Velocio claims was designed to allow for different inseam lengths. Prefer a shorter inseam, like myself? Move the band up and you won’t suffer the consequences of sausage legs. Since I do have stumpy legs compared to the average woman, and these bibs already push a longer inseam (I measured 10” (25.4 cm) for my size medium), I still experienced a bit of fabric bunching, despite moving the band up the thigh. I wasn’t willing to compromise the overall comfort by trying to move the leg band up, so I preferred to keep it down for a smoother fit.
When it comes to drop-tail design, Velocio uses a design called FlyFree that includes a mesh panel that covers the front torso. The idea is to offer an even stretch distribution across the torso, using seamless microfiber straps that criss-cross in the back. Velocio nailed this mesh piece design, from the straps’ fabric and placement to the amount of compression. The straps themselves are wide, incredibly stretchy, and forgiving, and I don’t see them fatiguing any time soon.
The FlyFree drop-tail itself is a bit bunchy to allow for the additional stretch across the bum. Compared to the cross-lay of Pearl Izumi’s strap fabric, it visually is a little clunky. The FlyFree does operate very similarly to Pearl’s design, with the added bonus of not having to deal with a buckle or with reattaching anything after. Once you’re on the bike and moving, it becomes an after-thought and the bibs continue to fit the way they are meant to.
Velocio’s chamois quality matches the rest of the bib. They use a proprietary chamois developed with Elastic Interface, known for their technology used in top bibs and short brands including Giro, 7mesh, Assos, and Specialized. All of these brands typically deliver a chamois that I find to be comfortable. Don’t fall for the myth that a thicker chamois is going to be more comfortable. With Velocio, I found the chamois to feel minimal in comparison to other luxury bib shorts, like Pearl Izumi’s, making these a go-to for me when I have longer days in the saddle planned.
Velocio definitely earned some style points for me as I have been digging the navy colour that all the brands are getting on these days. I find the colour to be quite flattering (hell, 75% of the bibs in this test were blue), but I still don’t love the look of the leg bands. The Women’s Luxe bib shorts do come in a few new colours for 2020, including black, dark olive, charcoal, black cherry, and navy, all of which are typical of the Velocio colour palette.
Price: US$259 / AU$329 / €228
Weight: 176 g
Colours: Black, Dark Olive, Charcoal, Navy, Black Cherry
Measured inseam: 10” (25.4 cm)
Pairs well with: Women’s Recon Micromodal Jersey
Good: The ultra-soft Lycra (which comes in a bunch of cool colours) along with that front mesh panel
Bad: I prefer a more seamless leg band.
Rapha’s Souplesse Race bib shorts are not new to their lineup, but the addition of a detachable bib short design is. Rapha also took this popular bib and redesigned the upper portion to give a raised waist and mesh tummy piece. While all of these new features are desirable, Rapha’s quality chamois and classic bib design have always made them a front-runner regardless.
The ex-racer in me loved the compression and fabric combo. Not quite as soft as Pearl Izumi’s or Velocio’s, the Souplesse Race bib did its job hugging my body and staying put while riding. It uses low-profile grippers on the leg bands, giving me the feeling of not feeling the bibs – the highest praise for any type of clothing, but especially when it’s next to skin.
The leg bands aren’t over-designed, and every ride I only experienced comfort. At a measured 9.5” (24.1 cm) inseam (size medium), these bibs ran a little long for me, where maybe I would benefit from a more standard sizing option.
The trend toward raised waist designs has my full approval. Whether that be yoga, running, or cycling clothing, I find the mesh tummy panels to be incredibly comfortable and supportive when done right. Rapha’s raised waist is a welcome addition, but it does leave the straps to lay directly over my breasts. Not an issue for me, but I could see women with a larger bust potentially finding that uncomfortable.
While I appreciate the idea behind Rapha’s drop-tail design, after having used other bibs, I dislike this magnetic clasp even more. It’s quite bulky and doesn’t create a smooth back profile that I prefer while riding … and I’m sure it adds some unnecessary weight to the bibs.
Having to find the two clasps behind my back with layers of clothing on adds an extra step for everything: pee breaks, laundry, hanging them to dry. My lack of dexterity, especially when it’s cold, made for a challenge when reconnecting the buckle. Not to mention that the magnet is so strong it latches on to things while I walk around my house post-ride, even onto the washing machine. The remedy would be just to reconnect it, but I was tired.
I wasn’t surprised to find the chamois performed incredibly well. Rapha’s redesigned chamois pad includes a fully moulded, seamless construction that was designed with assistance from the ladies I would want working on a bib I am wearing: the Canyon/SRAM women’s team. It feels lightweight both on and off the bike, making it great for longer days in the saddle.
The Rapha bib shorts don’t come off as flashy, unless you see the Rapha logo, and are classic black. I can’t give out too many crazy style points. But if they could get the drop-tail design, and maybe the inseam length a bit more refined, these would be an almost perfect bib short.
Price: US$270 / AU$340 / £195 / €230
Weight: 180 g
Measured inseam: 9.5” (24.1 cm)
Pairs well with: Rapha’s Light Support Bra
Good: Rapha’s classic bib design and chamois.
Bad: The magnetic buckle to access the drop-tail and inseam
I was intrigued when I first saw the Women’s Chrono Expert Halter bib short by Giro. This bib has the most unique features, using a halter strap design to allow for access to the drop-tail at a moment’s notice, and is the cheapest of the four drop-tail bib shorts tested at US$165 / AU$149 / £125 / €150.
Included in the halter design is a front mesh piece that resembles Velocio’s. Giro uses a super stretchy and breathable mesh fabric, with three additional mesh pockets in the back of the bib for that extra storage, which I can always appreciate. Additionally, the Chrono Expert Halter Bib Short is a part of Giro’s Renew Series that uses a significant amount of recycled materials and products.
I went into this test with the expectation that I would love these bibs. I hadn’t seen another bib that utilized the halter strap the way Giro did, nor had I used one, and I like the idea of a little bit of light compression in the torso. With no additional clips or straps, the bibs were easy to put on, with a single strap that loops over the head and around the neck.
Immediately, I struggled with sizing. When I was racing a lot of crits and cyclocross (short, powerful efforts), a size medium bib was usually perfect for me. This seemed to hold true as I continue to wear mediums with the exception of Giro.
I did initially try a size medium, and immediately I knew it was a little oversized. I got a ride in with them anyway, which confirmed needing the small. While hopeful, the size small resulted in similar issues I was having with the medium. The problem was general fabric bunching around the chamois and at the pivot point of my hips (which you can see in the image gallery below), which left me less comfortable as the rides progressed. Even though the inseam felt perfect at around 8-8.5” (20.3-21.6 cm), extra fabric was coming from somewhere.
The chamois itself seemed comfortable, but I wasn’t able to put it through the wringer or give it much attention because of too much fabric movement. I reached out to Giro about the issue and they had not heard this complaint prior to mine. Luckily, Giro does offer a 60-day guarantee so I could always work with a retailer to find the best pair for me.
With the sizing and excess fabric issue aside, the overall design worked well. The halter strap gives a completely open back (mine is usually covered by an elaborate strappy sports bra), and easy access to the drop-tail, sans any buckles or complicated devices. I prefer not having to worry about additional straps or mechanisms.
While the halter strap is a neat idea, I have some reservations. By having the halter strap around my neck with it holding up the mesh fabric, I felt an added bit of extra pressure on the back of my neck. There was not a lot of pull on it when I was in the riding position, so this wasn’t a major concern, but I wonder if that would change over a longer ride.
The mesh fabric across the front of my torso wasn’t as snug as I would like, which may be a part of the overall fabric issue I had. Unfortunately for Giro, Velocio set the mesh panel standard quite high for me, even though their design and fabric still performed well. Giro’s didn’t cause any major discomfort, but I got spoiled early on.
The leg band uses a lighter compression, along with leg grippers, that worked well without over-squeezing.
The Giro Women’s Chrono Expert Halter bib short weighed in at the heaviest: size small 184 g; size medium 195 g. That’s not to say that heaviest is the worst, but the weight must be in a heavier chamois, and possibly extra fabric in the short, since they aren’t using a buckle system. They do have a few colours, including black, black-grey kille, and midnight blue. With all the right features, these would’ve been a top contender had the fit and sizing worked out.
Price: US$165 / AU$149 / £125 / €150
Weight: Small: 184 g / M: 195 g
Size: Small and medium
Colours: Black, Black-Grey Kille, Midnight Blue
Measured Inseam: 8” small (20.3 cm) / 8.5” (21.6 cm) medium
Pairs well with: Women’s Chrono Pro Windbloc Jersey
Good: The drop-tail design was easy and required no buckling of straps.
Bad: Fit and sizing – I couldn’t figure out the issue with the bunching of excess material. After having switched to a smaller sizing I was hoping that would take care of the problem, but the problem persisted.
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!