For those of us serious about our cycling, a standard pair of shorts or jogging pants is not really an option. A decent pair of cycling shorts is always a far better proposition, as they don’t flap about in the wind, causing drag and slowing you down. They are also far more comfortable to wear when in the saddle for any extended period of time, due to the chamois which provides tons of padding.
What’s The Difference?
One of the questions people always ask is whether to buy cycling bib shorts or just regular waistband cycling shorts. The answer is that is really depends on what you are comfortable with. So let’s start by summarizing the difference between the two. Normal shorts for cycling are engineered for speed, fitting your body fairly tightly to reduce air resistance and drag when road racing. The material in a decent pair of cycling shorts will be lightweight and moisture wicking to keep you cool and dry during your exertions. Otherwise they are like any other shorts, and stay up by virtue of an elasticated waistband.
Bib cycling shorts on the other hand, dispense with the need for a waistband. They stay in place by use of shoulder straps, similar to the suspenders (or braces) often used to hold up regular pants. Apart from this, the majority of the other features are identical to normal cycling shorts; they are made from technical fabrics to keep you cool and dry (including the upper part), and include the chamois padding to take care of your sensitive areas.
What Are The Benefits?
So who benefits from cycle bib shorts? And are they any better than regular cycle shorts? If you are racing either as a cyclist or a triathlete, you might want to use bib shorts, especially if you tend to sweat a lot. This can cause the waistband on regular shorts to begin chafing, which is painful and totally preventable. And let’s face it, you don’t want needless chafing to add to your list of other accidental injuries you’ll probably be picking up from the various crashes and tumbles along the course of your race. So a pair of bib cycling shorts can make this potential problem vanish immediately.
If you cycle for fun, but take the hobby very seriously and clock up a lot of miles, without actually racing, you might still be better off buying a pair of bib shorts. It depends on your physique. Some people, despite their commitment to exercise, have protruding stomachs, and this can cause the waistband on regular cycle shorts to roll down. A similar thing can happen with very tall cyclists, and the inevitable result is the guy riding behind you getting an eyeful of your behind! I personally like regular shorts (especially tri shorts or anything with a smaller chamois) because I sweat a lot, and change my tops while training – I could do this even with bibs, but I normally wear my compression top as my first layer, so the bib suspenders would get in the way. For pro cyclists, though, it’s bibs all the way!
Answering Calls of Nature
On the whole there seems to be a lot going for the cycle bib shorts, but if you compete in very long races, especially where you are riding in colder temperatures, you will be wearing several layers on top. And with bibs, don’t forget you have the straps holding them up. These can make it a real hassle if you need a quick rest room stop along the way, because you’ll have to strip off all those layers to remove the suspenders. There are two ways of dealing with this eventuality; there’s a sensible way, which involves putting the straps over your shoulders once you have finished putting on all your base layers, then wear a single cycling jersey or jacket over the top. Then there is the even more sensible way of being shrewd about your choice of gear. Like any other items of clothing, you get to choose from a wide array of leg lengths, materials, type of chamois, but also how high the front of the garment is cut. You definitely want to find a bib which is cut low so that it comes up to below the naval. When you go for a “natural break” the spandex or elastane can then just be pulled down to allow you to do your business.
If you are obsessive about this though, there is a selection of Assos cycling bib shorts that can offer you access to do your rest breaks a little easier; there is a serious price to pay though as these can cost a lot of money; although they are among the best cycling bibs you can buy.
My advice when it comes to choosing between bibs and regular biking shorts (and you might even want to consider a pair of triathlon shorts too) is to opt for a mid-range brand such as Pearl Izumi, and pick a pair of each from their more inexpensive ranges, and see what feels best when riding. Then whichever type you prefer, you can spend more money on a premium brand such as Giordana, Castelli, Louis Garneau or Assos later on. Happy riding!