There is a staggering amount of choice when it comes to bib shorts. There’s also a staggering amount of pricing variation. When you see the price of some of the big names you might shake your head. Is cycling only for the wealthy? We don’t think so, and for our part we do our best to include quality budget options in our list of the best cycling shorts.
One brand we haven’t talked about before though is The Black Bibs. If you start looking for recommendations of inexpensive bib shorts, there’s no doubt that this name will come up; you might have heard ex-pro cyclist Phil Gaimon discussing them through his considerable social platforms. They have such a following that we felt like no deep dive on the subject of inexpensive bib shorts would be complete without including them. However, there’s a saying “buy cheap, buy twice” – does that ring true here? Let’s find out.
Now that we’ve spent time testing them, we are ready to share our thoughts. So, if you are looking for an alternative to the big budget bib short options, keep reading to see if the bargain option from The Black Bibs is money well spent or a waste.
Design and aesthetics
The name for The Black Bibs is all about aesthetics. It’s one of the driving forces behind marketing and identity and it’s all about being plain, simple, and without branding. The reality is that there are very few current cycling bib shorts with large branding. You’ll find it here and there, MAAP and PAS Normal are both guilty, but for the most part, the branding on bib shorts is pretty minimal. Which is to say, take the marketing how you will but it’s certainly true that The Black Bibs original are devoid of any branding.
Branding is one way that designers add style to a bib short. Clever use of graphics in the form of logos and names is exactly why MAAP and PAS Normal feature the branding they do. In the absence of that, The Black Bibs finds movement in the aesthetics through a circular motif. The edge of a chamois is almost always in a circular shape near the groin and The Black Bibs echo that in the rest of the panels.
The low back features a circular panel where the shoulder straps connect to the lower portion. The actual connection to the straps is a curved line that cuts the panel like a bite of a cookie. Below that, the bibs use separate pieces for each side and in combination, it creates a circle that echoes the shape of the back of the chamois. The same two panels come through to the front and radiate out. Once again it echoes the shape of the chamois stitching. For the outer thighs, there’s a panel that stretches from the top edge of the waist all the way down to the bottom of the leg and wraps around to the inner thigh.
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The Black Bibs product page lists the chamois as a “dual density Coolmax chamois.” That’s a generic naming convention that doesn’t really cover the design. Coolmax is a fabric and the reference there is likely to the upper fabric. Under the red, Coolmax, upper is where you’ll find the actual, dual density, chamois. The whole outer is a very dense foam that’s roughly 1.7mm thick, which is then thermoformed over a series of three separate pads that mirror on the opposite side for a total of six pieces. It’s difficult to calliper padding, but they range in thickness between somewhere around 17mm for the thickest, then 11mm, and finally 7mm for the smallest forward pads. The largest has a gel interior to pad the sit bones while the smaller pads use foam.
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The promise of The Black Bibs is a no-nonsense design and high quality that just works. That’s not really what my experience with The Black Bibs was like, but it might be for you. I happen to be a fairly small person with narrow sit bones, and if I’m testing a saddle then I take the smallest every time and it’s never been wrong. The outside of the chamois used in the original bibs is 18.5cm at the widest point, that’s not even counting the lower density section, and it’s way too wide for me.
The rear gel pad is actually a joy to use. It’s incredibly effective at protecting my sit bones on a ride and I would love it to fit me. I know this because the roughly 9x9cm pad is big enough to cover my sit bones even though it’s wider than I need. This arrangement wouldn’t be an issue except that it’s not a solid pad. The two rear pads have about a 1.5cm gap between them and as that gap heads forward it widens out to 2cm. As the shorts curve around the outside of my hips, it squeezes the pads together and makes for a strange articulation of the two sides. It’s never in quite the right place and moves around depending on how I shift my weight.
The width and sizing issues go a little beyond that as well. The fabric used ends up being part of the issue as does the sizing. The way it all plays out is that the fabric is very low compression and the fit is not that tight. To get my preferred fit I had to go down a size to XS but that doesn’t change the chamois size. I would bet that the women’s chamois (at a claimed 16.5cm across) is a much better fit for me.
Now despite those fit issues, everything is not lost. For one thing, if you prefer a looser fit and your sit bones aren’t quite so narrow, you’d likely be very happy with the chamois. Unlike the Trek Circuit bib shorts I recently reviewed, this one should have no problem with all-day riding as long as it fits. Also, lack of compression aside, the fabric is incredibly comfortable, it’s silky smooth and soft against the skin. Plus the low compression and silky feeling allow the non-flatlock design to be a non-issue. It even works in the upper thigh in a similar way to the uber-expensive Assos RSR S9 Targa bib shorts where Assos has intentionally added a low compression section.
Another great feature is the lack of a gripper at the leg opening. When I reviewed the Castelli Free Aero RC bib shorts earlier this year, I talked about how that feature wasn’t such a big deal. As time has gone on I’ve continued to enjoy it more and more. Without the gripper, the legs aren’t any more likely to ride up but they are a lot easier to get on. Castelli turned me on to the advantage of no gripper but The Black Bibs actually do it as well and instead there’s just a simple 2.5cm folded hem.
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The big question in a discussion of The Black Bibs is: “do they work?” Answering that means first questioning desired fit and size needs. If you’ve got wider hips and prefer a looser fit then The Black Bibs are a better choice than the Trek Circuit and they are half the price. If you’ve got smaller hips you will want to skip The Black Bibs’ original design. It does get a little more complicated though.
The Black Bibs is the brand name as well as the product. The company also has The Gray Bibs, The Olive Bibs, and The Navy Bibs which differ only in colour. More importantly, they have a Plus variant, which you can safely skip as it only adds a leg gripper, and the Black Bibs Ultimate. The Ultimate version is double the price of the Original, but it’s still inexpensive, and the chamois is significantly improved for those with smaller hips.
The other big question is how The Black Bibs compare to high end brands like Assos and Castelli. The price is so much lower that if you get a high percentage of the performance, it would be worth the savings. If you ignore style, you do get a lot of performance. Certainly if you are talking about one product that’s almost nine times the price, it’s not nine times as good. Castelli in particular is a little more of a muddy picture, since their products are some of the best in the business and not the most expensive, and they frequently go on sale.
The bottom line is that if you can only afford The Original Black bibs, there’s nothing else available that gets you similar performance for the price. If you’ve got a bit more money though, the better buy is The Black Bibs Ultimate, unless you can find a bargain among the regular sea of cycling clothing deals. It’s also important to note that if you’re outside the USA, then the shipping cost will be high – you’re looking at approximately $20 for the UK – which is still much cheaper than the Castelli and Assos offerings, but the total price with taxes comes to around $70, which means you’re likely going to find better value in something like the dhb Classic bib short or Endura Xtract.
One more thing, since we discussed Phil Gaimon and his love of The Black Bibs in the intro, it never hurts to check out Phil’s favorite charity, No Kid Hungry.
|Lower abdomen fit||It’s the right fit but there’s no compression.||7/10|
|Fabric quality||It feels great but it lacks compression and structure.||7/10|
|Chamois Quality||The sizing will be an issue for some but it’s very high quality and especially in the context of the price.||10/10|
|Sizing||Go down a size if you want the same fit as other brands. It’s also not perfectly consistent across the brand. The Ultimate is a different fit.||0/10|
|Fashion appeal||The circle motif kind of works but the lack of compression is a problem here as well.||6/10|
|Value||There’s nothing this cheap, but unavailable in the UK.||10/10|
Tech Specs: The Black Bibs Original
- Price: $40 (£n/a)
- Weight: 218g size extra small
- Color Options: Technically only black but there is grey, blue, and olive with a different name
- Main Fabric Content: 80% polyester / 20% Spandex