Sperm capacitation is crucial for fertilization. However, debate continues on exactly how, where and when capacitation is elicited in the bovine female genital tract. In this study we used merocyanine-540 and the chlortetracycline (CTC) assay to test how capacitation of bull spermatozoa is affected in vitro by exposure to oviductal fluid (ODF) collected in vivo, various glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) or bicarbonate. Following different durations of exposure, spermatozoa were stained with CTC or merocyanine-540, and evaluated with epifluorescent light microscopy or flow cytometry, respectively. Incubation time did not significantly affect capacitation. Exposure (30–120 min) to ODF capacitated (p < 0.05) bull spermatozoa as measured by either merocyanine-540 or CTC. Hyaluronan was the only GAG that induced a significant increase in B-pattern spermatozoa (capacitated; p = 0.012) compared with controls. Dermatan sulphate also induced capacitation (merocyanine-540 high fluorescence; p = 0.035). Exposure to bicarbonate-enriched media also yielded an increase in merocyanine-540 high fluorescence (p < 0.0001). When bicarbonate was added to the other treatments (ODF or GAGs) an equal increase in merocyanine-540 high fluorescence was noted (p < 0.0001), compared with before addition of bicarbonate and independent of the treatment before exposure. There was no significant difference in the number of B-pattern spermatozoa when bicarbonate was added, but an significant increase in spermatozoa with an acrosome-reacted (AR)-pattern (p < 0.0001) was observed. Exposure of spermatozoa to solubilized zonae pellucidae significantly increased the AR-pattern spermatozoa (p = 0.016). In conclusion, ODF was more potent in inducing capacitation of bull spermatozoa than the individual GAGs. Our results also indicate that bicarbonate is an effector of bull sperm capacitation.