Ah, stuff 'em
Going out for a short ride and don’t have a bottle cage on you bike? Then you need storage bib shorts. Here’s our group test of the best.
It’s fair to say that Specialized invented the first storage short for mountain bikers with its SWAT Mountain Liner. There are dozens of manufacturers now making versions of this original and typically they’re bib shorts with three rear pockets and a couple more on the front, usually on the thighs.
The bib means the short won’t sag when it’s fully loaded and it also keeps the chamois tight against you body, where it can work more effectively. The norm is to stash a bottle in one of the rear pockets and to accommodate this, these are often slightly deeper and are even orientated 90-degrees so the opening is on the side, allowing the bottle to slide in easier.
You can wear a storage short on its own, like in a Cross Country event but it’s generally worn under a baggy short, so is often made from a more breathable mesh material or, at the very least, has some mesh panels.
As you can see, storage shorts come in all sorts of designs and prices but they all have one thing in common – they let you carry everything on your body so you don’t have to wear a sweaty, uncomfortable pack.
Storage bib shorts group test
Altura Tech 5
To help keep you cool the Tech 5 BibShort is made from an in-house mesh fabric called Altura Dry, which draws moisture away from the skin and dries quickly. Rather than two straps, Altura uses a zipped upvest for the upper part of this short. It helps stabilise the load but we found it a little restrictive and the zip on the front only extends down about eight inches so going for a loo stop is actually a bit of pain.
The short does have a ton of pockets though — two on the hips, two on the lower thighs and one at the small of the back, which is horizontal to allow easy access to a water bottle. There are three external loops on the thighs for gels but they don’t really hold them securely.
Top marks for the horizontal bottle access but Altura needs to rethink the zip length, ditch the gel loops and also improve the quality – the seams on our sample are already starting to come away and that’s after only a month’s use.
Bontrager Troslo Inform
The Bontrager Troslo inForm short is joint cheapest on test but it comes in the most sizes and is excellent quality. It’s Lycra down the centre but you get mesh panels either side and in the bib area. Breathability is very good and it feels snug without being restrictive. Bontrager’s BioDynamic chamois is a lot like the one on the Troy Lee, it’s not overly thick but it still has good support and never felt clammy. The wide compression leg grippers are some of the best here – they’re just as secure as silicone but they don’t rub or pull on leg hair.
There’s a ton of storage at the back with three large elasticated pockets and yes, either of them can take a standard water bottle. Lower down there are two knee pockets but they’re too bit short and they don’t feature any elastic, so anything thing we put in them usually fell out.
Comfortable, great and available in the most sizes, what stops it getting a prefect score is the saggy side pockets
Cadence Collection Adventure
You haven’t heard the name because Cadence is a road brand but the Adventure Bib is totally at home under a baggy or even on it’s own for an XC or marathon event. The full Lycra construction is less breathable and runs a little hotter compared to the mesh alternatives but the quality is excellent and the fit is superb.
Cadence ditches the silicone gripper on the legs, opting instead for elastic hems but it does add silicone to the NAT chamois, apparently this doesn’t break down with use and offers more support than standard foam. We can’t comment on the durability but the chamois is the most comfortable here.
Storage comes via two thigh pockets and single one on the back. All three are deep and roomy and, while the rear pocket could do with a tighter elastic to stop things falling out, getting a bottle in and out was easy.
The Cadence Adenture Bib is pricey and runs hotter than most but it’s a top spec short that’s hardwearing and incredibly comfortable.
Endura’s new Singletrack liner is one of the cheapest on test but it only has two storage pockets – one in the lumbar area, another on the thigh. Like the Altura Tech 5 bib, the rear is orientated horizontally so it’s doddle to get a bottle in and out and with elastic hem, it does stays there. Unfortunately the pocket is a little high so we did struggle, especially if we were wearing more than one layer.
The rest of the Singletrack liner is top notch. It’s made from Lycra with Rapid wicking stretch fabric panels at the sides and bib. This in-house mesh wicks moisture effectively and dries quickly.
Endura’s 500 Series pad is ribbed to boost breathabilty and is well padded over the sit bones but it lacks shape. On the front of the short is a little flap so you can take a leak without having to pull the whole short down.
The Singletrack is great value warm weather liner but it needs couple more pockets if it’s to challenge for top honours.
Pearl Izumi Bib Liner
Like the Troy lee Air bib, the whole Pearl Izumi bib liner is constructed from a lightweight mesh for maximum breathability. The Elite Pursuit 1:1 chamois is pre-shaped for a tight fit, has perforated surface to increase wicking and is a one-piece design, so there are no annoying seams. Pearl also ditches the gripper on the legs in favour of a stretchy hem, making it one of the most comfortable on test.
It also has the most pockets – there are three even sized pockets on the back, with the right-hand side featuring two elastic straps to hold a mini pump, and two smaller slots on the bottom of each leg. These are really designed for gels but they will take a small multi-tool or car keys. The centre pocket is the taller of the three so it’s the one that holds a bottle. Unfortunately it sits a little bit high on the back of the short and it’s awkward getting the bottle in and out.
Lightweight, comfortable and with a ton of capacity, it just needs a slightly lower bottle pocket.
Sombrio is not well known for making liner shorts never mind bib liners but it has done an excellent job with Smuggler. The bulk of the short is mesh, which means it can only be won under a baggy, but there 4-way stretch side panels to held mould it to your body shape.
Like the Specialized liner, there are three suspended pockets at the back but they’re much smaller and tighter – so will only take a soft bottle, not a round plastic one. Slightly further forward is fourth pocket, which is zipped for security. It’s perfect for keys or cash. Unfortunately it’s right on the hip and in a crash you often land here. We reckon it should be slightly further round and it won’t hurt to have another on the opposite side.
The Formula FX chamois features a triple density construction so dead comfy and it’s pretty breathable too with a load of perforations and a wide channel down the centre.
A great storage short, if that pocket wasn’t in the line of fire, it’d take top honours.
Specialized made the first storage shorts as part of its SWAT (Storage Water Air Tools) range. It was originally included with a baggy short but the Mountain Liner is now available separately.
Specialized has made a couple of changes since the last time we tested it. There are still three lumbar pockets but these are almost a third deeper. The centre pocket has looser opening, so is designed to take a water bottle, but you actually can fit a bottle in either side pocket.
There are additional pouches on each thigh and on the old short these were split into two. They’re now single pockets that are also deeper and we found we could get a bottle in either of them too.
The body of the short is a lightweight breathable mesh with elasticated band rather than silicone gripper on the legs. The short features a shaped Body Geometry Mountain chamois, with tons of padding over the sit bones.
Loads of storage, super stable and great value – easily the best short of test.
Troy Lee Air
To enhance breathability and ensure the short is quick drying, Troy Lee’s new Air Bib liner is full mesh rather than Lycra. Since it’s worn underneath a baggy short, this makes perfect sense and it’s a godsend on hot sweaty rides. The mesh is more stretchy than Lycra, so the fit is great too and Troy Lee doesn’t make the mistake of using abrasive silicon on the legs, preferring instead a double layer compression cuff.
Inside the short is a perforated multi-density padded insert, which is anatomically curved for fit and also features an anti-microbial treatment to reduce odour.
There are two storage pocket but the rear is too high and too tight, it’s virtually impossible to get bottle in and out while riding. The front pocket is also little high but it’s the prefect size and protective position for a smart phone.
One of the most breathable shorts on test but Troy Lee needs to up the pocket count and tweak reposition to make the most of the excellent comfort and fit.