Finding The Right Cycling Bib Shorts
The cycling bib shorts have been the cornerstone of cycling apparels for many years now, giving cyclists around the world a much pleasant riding experience. However, finding the right bib shorts could just be as tough as finding the right saddle. Whether if it's an easy long Sunday rides or a fast pace road race, the choice of bib could mean the difference between outright comfort or hours of pain and discomfort.
Golden Rule: Do not wear underpants beneath the bib shorts.
Designed to be worn like a 2nd skin, bib shorts are meant to be worn without anything between the chamois and the butt. Wearing underpants beneath the bib shorts could result in serious saddle sore and abrasion when the fabrics get caught between each other.
The most crucial component of all bib shorts is the chamois. It is the primary contributing factor for comfort. Companies have invested much into chamois research, using premium fabrics and multiple layers to achieve the optimal density for comfort. This sometimes contributes to the much higher cost of some premium bib shorts. Fortunately, with the advances in material technology, one could bag themselves a $100 bibs short that is as comfortable as their $300 counterpart.
How come so? The chamois may be the main factor for comfort, but there are also other components that made up the cycling bib that will affect the overall comfort
The chamois is meant to mould with the shape of your butt, providing cushion along the area of contact with the saddle. The most important areas are where the pelvis sits on the saddle. Lower tier bibs shorts might have a single thickness chamois. Higher tier bib shorts use various foam thickness and density, keeping it thin where cushioning is not needed, and more support where it is required.
Bib shorts with such complex chamois generally yields a more comfortable ride. The chamois should feel reasonably soft and have some flex for it to mould your butt. A good chamois should mould to your butt nicely and almost feel non-existent.
When comes to choosing the right chamois, there are 3 key deciding factors. Gender, riding style/discipline and weight.
Gender - There are key differences between men's and women’s chamois, each with shapes to suit the gender’s physical anatomy. Anatomically, women’s have a wider pelvis than men. Women’s specific chamois is made wider to accommodate their wider pelvis. Men’s chamois has a cutout or channel running down the middle. This helps to relieve pressure on the men’s perineal region. Unlike men’s, women’s chamois has full foam down the center to help protect soft tissues from abrasions. The front area of the men’s chamois is made thinner to accommodate the men’s baggage.
Image: Women's Chamois Vs Men's Chamois
Riding style/discipline - There are various type of bib short catered to different riding style and discipline, and depending on the type, the chamois varies as well. You may want to choose a bib short with that has thicker chamois for long endurance riding, while thinner options are better suited for shorter rides or racing. Some chamois are designed with channels or perforations to wick away sweat during long rides. Chamois inside triathlon bib shorts are much thinner to allow triathletes to run in them without restricting their movement. Similarly, chamois for commuters are thinner as well to allow ease of walking without much restriction.
Image: Long Distance Endurance Chamois Vs Time Trial Specific Chamois
Weight - Chamois made for long endurance riding tends to be denser as well. Over a period of time, the foam inside compressed from the rider’s weight, losing its cushioning property. A denser foam insert allows the chamois to retain its shape and thickness. Heavier riders can opt for such bib shorts which are better at cushioning their weight. Likewise for lighter riders, one can opt for thinner and less dense chamois.
The primary purpose of a bib shorts is to mould the chamois onto the butt and hold it in place during the ride. Its crucial to find the right size bib short to fit your own physique. A bib shorts that is too big may cause the chamois to sit loosely on the butt and shift around during ride. Excess material will cause possible saddle sore and abrasion. A bib shorts that too small may cause the chamois to press tightly against the groin and perianal region, resulting in numbness. Excessive tightness form the bib shorts may cause the stitching to “bite” into the skin, causing irritation and possible skin rash.
How well the bib shorts does its job is largely influenced by the fit. The fit is determined by the type of fabric used and how the individual fabrics are stitched together. A bib shorts with more panels tends to give a better fit. However having more panels also means more stitchings are required, which may result in irritation and abrasion.
Image: Velocio Luxe Bib Shorts utilized their own 3-panel design to achieve better comfort
Image: Morvelo Standard Bib Shorts uses 17 panels to improve their overall fit
Most premium bib shorts uses a complex combination of fabrics and panels to improve the fit. The property of a fabric is determined by the blend of material used and how the individual fibers are weaved together. Some shorts are made with more breathable fabric to help cope with riding in hot weather, while some are made with thicker or fleece infused fabric for cold weather riding.
The construction of bib shorts varies from brand to brand. Some brands emphasize on a more “Pro” looking fit which are much tighter and longer. On the other hand, some brands using more stretchable fabrics which fits better on cyclists with “Sprinters” quads.
Second to chamois, the simple gripper is probably the next most important component to look at in bib shorts. Staying true to Velominati Rule #7, the gripper could be a winner or rule breaker in the search for razor sharp tan lines. A good set of gripper will stay in place and prevent your bib shorts from riding up.
Most often, elastic hem lined with silicone stripes or dots are used as gripper. However, one may experience skin irritation from the silicone blocking up pores or digging into the skin. Most brands and manufacturers have opted to line their hems with broad highly elastic fabrics as grippers. These grippers rely on elastic compression to hold themselves in place, reducing the need for silicone stripes or dots.
Higher tier bib shorts usually comes with this broad highly elastic hem as gripper. Some have tiny silicone particles infused into the fabric to improve grip, while some has gone without any silicone help, only relying on elastic compression and a broader gripper. They tend to be more comfortable and cause less irritation.
The Right Bib Shorts Checklist
- The right fitting cycling bib short should feel like a 2nd skin. On the bike, it should feel non-existent. Too tight, the stitching will bite into the skin. Too loose, the chamois will run about during the ride.
- The chamois should mould to and sit against your butt with minimal pressure. Excessive pressure will cause numbness.
- There should be minimal folds when wearing the bib shorts. Excessive folds of fabric indicate the bib short is either too long or too big. Folds from the fabrics may cause abrasions during your ride.
- Ideally, the gripper should sit just above your Vastus Medialis Oblique. Bib shorts that are too long will extend the gripper far beyond the knee. Excess material will flap around during the ride and irritate the back of your knee during pedaling.