When you’re new to cycling and cycle clothing, looking for clothing can feel a bit daunting: there’s endless options for the road, off-road, and in-between; the clothing is tighter than anything you might have worn in public in the past; and there’s multiple options for the summer, the winter, the rain, the sun, and many more. Bib shorts are no exception.
Whether you’re making your first Lycra-based purchase or you’re an experienced buyer, there’s a number of things to consider. For this bib-shorts buying guide, we spoke with Oliver (Oli) Pepper, Creative Director and Co-founder of Morvélo. Having been designing and creating cycling garments since 2008, there’s very little Oli doesn’t know about makes a great pair of bibs.
What are bib shorts and why should you use them?
Oli: For one, they’re a cycling-specific garment. The material used is Lycra, this is what gives the stretch and the tightness. In the nether region of the shorts is a piece of foam padding. And, over the top are two straps.
There’s a number of reasons why you should use bib shorts for cycling:
- They are tight, which minimizes the chance of friction and irritation on the skin.
- The material is better for ventilation and cooling
- The tight fabric will be more aerodynamic and therefore faster than loose clothing.
- The integrated chamois will be carefully designed to sit around your tail bone and your seat bones, increasing comfort.
- The straps will help to hold the chamois in place when you’re moving around or standing up and down.
Are bib shorts better than cycling shorts?
Oli: Not necessarily. In terms of modern-cycling tradition and what most regular cyclists wear these days, bib shorts are more common than cycling shorts, and there must be a reason for that. If you went back to the ‘60s, people would do lots of miles in shorts. But I ride in both, and these days probably more often in cycling shorts.
What’s most important is they fit well, and then they should do the same job. What really matters, regardless of what you wear, is that your shorts or bibs fit properly, are tight enough to ensure the chamois stays in place, and you’ve not got loose fabric that can cause irritation.
How should your bib shorts fit?
Oli: One of the most common issues we’ll see is that people try something on and think it’s too tight, then they size up and the chamois doesn’t stay in place. They’re supposed to be tight for comfort. In our bibs we use muscle-compression fabric, which aids with blood circulation but can feel tight.
Overall, the goal is to find a pair that doesn’t feel like you’re wearing very much at all. If you go for a ride and don’t give a thought to what you’re riding in, then that’s a good position to be in.
What’s the best chamois pad?
Oli: Overall, there is no ‘best’ chamois pad. A lot of it will be rider preference. We’ve sponsored racing teams, like Morvélo-Basso, and half of the team will go for the thicker padding and the other the thinner ‘racing’ pad. But don’t think because you race or don’t you should have a certain pad. To be indelicate about it, much of it will come down to what your … undercarriage is like.
Something else to consider, which goes to why people can feel self-conscious in cycling shorts, is if you get shorts that have a bulky chamois it can feel like having a nappy on, which puts people off.
The standard Morvélo bib shorts have used the same chamois for about 12 years—style that is, not a communal one—which has always had really good feedback. Even the racers of the Morvélo-Basso team have chosen that one.
How should a chamois pad fit?
Oli: If you look at a chamois pad, there’s a wider part to it. That’s where you want your seat bones and tail bones to be sitting. A new cyclist will usually go for something thicker, with more cushioning. This isn’t necessarily more comfortable though. If you race, you’ll be leaning further forward, and then you might want to have a different shape. For a racing chamois, the padding will usually be thinner, lighter weight, and generally firmer too.
As you do more riding or you start racing, people tend to opt for a thinner and lighter pad. Don’t worry about it being less comfortable because it’s thinner, the thinner pads are generally made from a higher density foam and still offer comfort.
What’s the difference between women’s and men’s bib shorts? Can women wear men’s?
Women’s and men’s bodies aren’t the same, so simply it’s the cut of the fabric and the pad. Women’s bibs will be shaped better to accommodate women’s bodies and the same goes for the chamois pad.
How often should you replace your bib shorts?
If you buy a quality set, they should last a long time. But it depends how often you ride. You could get years out of a pair of bibs, if you’re careful with them and ride in good conditions. If you ride a lot, and your riding is a mixture of road surfaces and weather types then they might not last quite so long. If you’ve worn through the back end of them, you’ll probably want to replace them. Hopefully you have some kind riding buddies to discretely point out when this is. If you’re starting to feel the chamois isn’t giving you the support you want, then you might want to replace them, but there’s no hard-and-fast rule.
What sort of saddle should you pair with your bib shorts?
It’s a similar thing in saddles, in that people will start out with a larger, more padded saddle, but this usually gets reduced in terms of both padding and size over time. But with a big, squishy saddle, there’s a higher chance of moving around and it rubbing. With a thinner chamois and sleeker saddle, there’s less chance of moving around generating friction.
Quick Fire Round
How long should your shorts be?
This is a style preference only. I go for a longer length, just above the knee, but if you’ve got the legs for shorter have at it!
Do you need to use chamois cream with bib shorts?
Not necessarily. Some riders always use it, some never. There’s an argument that if you have a good pair of bibs and saddle, and your bike is set up correctly you shouldn’t need it. But it doesn’t hurt.
Do you need to wear underwear under your bib shorts?
Nope, in fact you definitely shouldn’t. The point of the Lycra and the pad is to reduce friction and chafing, wearing underwear will negate this benefit.
White shorts: yay or nay?
Acceptable only in southern France, Italy, Spain, and/or if you are a bronzed Adonis. Blue and navy bike shorts have always been popular. These days, there’s more pastel colours and earthy tones around too.
Can you recycle bib shorts?
Unfortunately, not at the moment. We’re looking at more sustainable materials for making bib shorts, such as more ecological-sound elastane, something that can at least be biodegradable. It’s our biggest challenge we’re working on, right now. They’re a bit of nightmare to recycle because of the mix of fabrics and elastics.
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