Impressive performance, compression and comfort, but lacking one vital feature for female endurance cyclists
- Incredibly comfortable
- Highly supportive
- High-performance chamois for all riding positions
- Feels like a second skin
- Hardy and durable fabric
- Flattering fit
- Great aesthetic
- Moisture-wicking and breathable
- Two inseam length options
- No mechanism for nature breaks
- Can be a real struggle to put on at first
- Chamois feels a little bulky
Machines For Freedom is an LA-based women’s brand formed by Jenn Kriske in 2014, which has been challenging body image standards in cycling. All of its kit is available in inclusive sizes, going up to 3XL, while an array of plus-size models from various racial identities feature prominently in its marketing.
The Endurance Bib is exactly what it sounds like: a bib short designed for long-distance riding, so that’s what we subjected it to in spades throughout the testing period. We took these bib shorts out on all manner of rides, from road and gravel to mountain biking, covering distances from 50km to over 100km at a time, over multi-day rides, in mostly dry weather that oscillated between warm and chilly. Here’s how they stood up against the best women’s cycling shorts.
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Design and aesthetics
The clue is in the name; Machines For Freedom Endurance Bibs are bib shorts designed for long-distance cyclists who spend hours (and days) on end in the saddle. This is reflected predominantly in the chamois design and the compression fit.
When discussing sizing and fit, the brand often compares its wares to Spanx — shapewear designed to be worn under the clothes to smooth out curves and present a slimmer profile — which may be off-putting for some, but there’s good reason behind it. The first time you put on a pair of Machines For Freedom Endurance Bib shorts (or any of its kit, for that matter), it feels like a struggle. There’s a lot of hopping, wriggling and dancing involved to get them into place, but once they’re on, they’re staying put. The comparison with Spanx ends there: shapewear is overtly marketed towards women wanting to change the appearance of their bodies, whereas Machines For Freedom’s cycling kit is there to support bodies of all shapes and sizes in doing what they do best.
This snug fit offers a decent amount of compression in the places that need it most: the quads, glutes and hamstrings. While these muscle groups are working hard to keep your pedals spinning for hours on end, the compressive fit stimulates blood flow to prevent muscle fatigue and promote recovery.
What’s more, you won’t have to dance your way into the bib shorts every single time you use them. After the first few uses, this starts to wane as the bibs stretch and conform to your body, eventually creating what feels like a second skin. This enables the shorts to move in sync with your body without there being any kind of slack in the fabric that rubs or chafes.
For anyone who suffers from saddle sores and labial discomfort after spending hours on the bike, some of the best advice is to wear the smallest size shorts you can get away with, to prevent the chamois from shifting about and chafing. This is exactly what Machines For Freedom’s compressive fit seeks to achieve.
Of course, the Spanx-like fit will inevitably bring about some shapewear effects. The Endurance Bib shorts are constructed with large panels and a high waist, keeping everything held nicely in place, resulting in a lean silhouette and clean lines. While it’s not their purpose to change the look of the body, some women who aren’t comfortable with their curves may find this offers a bit of a confidence boost, and I personally really like how they look and feel on my body.
Surprisingly, despite the fit, the leg bands (which are held in place with a silicone print) don’t result in the dreaded ‘sausage leg’. The inseam of my test pair is 7.5 inches, which is shorter than most, “making tanlines easily hidden under most hemlines,” however on my small 156cm frame, they sit just above the knee which works out well for me, since I often find bib shorts a little too long. For the leggier among you, Machines For Freedom offers the Endurance Bib in two different length options, of which this is the shortest.
Onto the chamois. Made from Italian fabrics, Machines For Freedom claims it’s designed to work with all sit bone widths, which is something we can only verify through anecdotal evidence, though if you happen to have extremely wide sit bones, where you struggle with most inserts available, then you may have similar issues here still. On this front, it’s better to contact Machines For Freedom’s customer service and check the width before purchasing.
The chamois design comprises three densely padded sections: one in the centre to track movements of the pelvis, and two ischiatic inserts at the rear to support the sit bones.
The outer fabric consists of polyamide-carbon thread, which not only feels extremely soft to the touch, but is designed to be fast-drying, antibacterial and resistant to heat build-up over long hours in the saddle.
The overall design of the Endurance Bib is very clean and classic, with minimal branding. The racerback-style mesh straps sit comfortably flush with the skin or base layer, and there’s no digging into the neck or shoulders. At this price point — $235 — there does seem to be one glaring omission, however, and that is any kind of concession for nature breaks.
Considering the fact that these shorts are designed to be worn for long periods of time, it’s inevitable that those wearing them will need to stop for the occasional toilet break, which can be a real hassle when you’re having to wrestle off your upper layers just to be able to pull the shorts down in the first place. Considering that several competing brands have found ways to make this easier — Velocio with its game-changing FlyFree design, Endura with its zippered DropSeat, and Pearl Izumi with its drop tail — it’s a real shame to not have any kind of mechanism built in to accommodate this.
Throughout the testing period, I rode with these shorts over a mixture of distances, time periods, terrain and through varying weather conditions. All in all I found them to be extremely comfortable on the bike, both when slightly more relaxed and upright on a touring bike, and when adopting a more aggressive road position with a slammed front end. This predominantly came down to the design of the chamois.
What was immediately noticeable about the chamois was that it felt quite bulky compared to some other all-day shorts I’ve got knocking around (such as the Velocio Luxe bib shorts), which at first made me a little nervous, since bulky pads can be a recipe for more harm than good over a long-distance ride. However I was pleasantly surprised to find that it didn’t cause any issues at all, and in fact I found it very comfortable when riding upwards of 100km. There was only one occasion when I started to feel some discomfort, but I put that down to a bad chamois-saddle combination — I was riding atop a Brooks Cambium C15, and this combination just didn’t work well for me.
The centre cushion is particularly wide and high-density and offers excellent support when you’re spending lots of time in a more aggressive riding position, while the two rear cushions are wide set and ultra high density for holding you through a more relaxed and upright position. Machines For Freedom says the chamois should remain comfortable for up to six hours on the saddle, but from personal experience I can attest that they actually stay comfortable for much longer than that.
Elsewhere on the Endurance Bib, the fabrics used offer excellent performance. The outer fabric feels really hardy and durable, and while I've not personally had any incidents in these, I'm aware of a fellow rider who crashed while wearing them, and not only did they show no signs of damage afterwards, she genuinely believes they formed some sort of protection for her legs as well.
Overall the shorts do a really good job of wicking away sweat to keep you feeling dry and cool, despite putting in long hours under the sun all day. What’s more, the mesh panel across the stomach, as well as the straps, really helps your body to breathe, and its placement could be great for women like me who have rolls on their stomach and tend to sweat in that area.
One of the main testaments to the comfort and support that Machine For Freedom’s Endurance Bib offers, is that I honestly didn’t spend a huge amount of time thinking about them while riding. As I mentioned before, they form a second skin that moves with your body, not against it, so you can push as hard as you want to, for as long as you want to, without being hassled by pinching, rubbing or having to readjust anything. The struggle to get them on in the first place is honestly rewarded with the hours of care-free cycling that comes next, so long as you don’t need to use the toilet.
The Machines For Freedom Endurance Bib shorts are comfortable, high-performing, and look great to boot. They offer excellent moisture management, all-round undercarriage support, and leave you with a flattering profile for an extra ego boost. Their second-skin nature means they work with your body and follow your movements closely, resulting in a complete lack of friction in the groin area while the leg bands stay firmly in place.
The one area where they falter is their lack of nature-break friendliness, which is really inconvenient and disappointing at this price point. Add in some sort of nature break-friendly mechanism, plus some cargo pockets, and these would be perfect.
Tech specifications: Machines For Freedom Endurance Bib shorts
- Materials: 54% polyamide / 31% polyester / 15% elastane
- Size availability: XS-XXXL
- Price: $235.00
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