As what you wear whilst sitting in the saddle makes such a big difference to your ride, it is remarkable how little information is out there to help point you in the right direction when purchasing bib shorts. Now I know everyone is different and that it isn’t just the type of shorts you wear that determines how comfortable your ride is. What type of saddle you have, whether you use chamois cream or whether your bike is set up correctly can all impact you ride.
I just wanted to share all of the things I’ve found out about bib shorts over the years and provide some advice that I wish I’d known before wasting hundreds of pound on pairs that I just can’t wear. Preventing just one woman from getting that horrific chafe will make it worth it!
To highlight what a minefield purchasing bib shorts can be, here are some of the features I have to check;
– Braces on the bib
– Leg length
– Width of the leg holes
– Anti-slip grippers band…
Bib shorts versus waisted shorts…
There are a couple of reasons as to why I prefer bib shorts with built in ‘braces’ as opposed to the regular elastic waistband shorts. The first and most important is to avoid that horrid gut ache so often associated with the tight lycra waistband digging into your stomach. An added bonus of the bib shorts encapsulating your whole back and tummy is that you can shun the dreaded muffin top too. On top of this, for someone who is in the saddle for hours at a time, there is a lot of shifting positions on the bike and with bib shorts you don’t need to worry about pulling up shorts or pulling down your jersey to cover-up exposed skin!
Before you jump on the bib-short bandwagon, be warned, there is a rather tricky drawback to overcome and that is the accessibility issue when trying to go to the toilet. That’s right guys, us ladies need to pee just as much as you do and for us it’s not just a quick pit stop, it involves us turning into contortionists and baring all to the world.
As you can imagine, after being in the saddle for up to 8 hours a day for 62 days when I cycled the coast, I developed a good technique, similar to taking a bra off whilst still clothed. What I couldn’t get around was stripping off the top layers of long-sleeved tops and jackets to access my short-sleeved jersey. Although disrobing the layers was time-consuming and pretty chilly, I could at least use them to drape on my bike to conceal my modesty.
Finally, as women wear sports bras, I can’t really comment on the ‘nipple chaffing’ phenomenon men talk about with the ‘braces’ on bib shorts. To be honest after what us ladies have to go through just to go to the toilet in these things, I’m not too worried about this issue – sorry guys!
Over the years, I’ve persuaded quite a few ladies to get into cycling, and when we get to discussing what’s best to wear they’re always a little surprised when I mention going commando under bib shorts. To me, it just seems the obvious thing to do – the more layers you wear under tight lycra the more you’re going to be prone to some nasty chafing. With your legs doing god knows how many revolutions on a long ride, your inner thighs will be rubbing the side of your saddle for hours and the thought of having the seam of your knickers rubbing in the nether-region is just unbearable.
On top of the inevitable chafing, remember that you’re exercising, getting hot and sweaty. Bib shorts are designed with an in-built chamois; essentially some much needed padding in the crotch area. Chamois’ are designed to eliminate chafing but are also made from anti-bacterial material that helps to wick sweat away. If you wear underwear, you will lose this benefit, and at worst you could possibly end up with an unwanted UTI.
For me, it’s the chamois that’s the most crucial component of the bib-short and often the most difficult to get right. Finding the right shape, material, density and thickness is an absolute nightmare. To date, I’ve only managed to find one pair of bib-shorts from Descente that I bought back in the 90’s that have been comfortable from the get go and I’ve not been able to find any similar ones since.
I’ve had a fair few gripes with chamois pads over the years, but one thing I’ve noticed across the board is that they’re getting thicker, wider and for some reason – ridged. I’m a believer that bigger is not better in the chamois department, but that’s just my personal preference.
As the nose of my saddle is quite wide, it helps if I have a relatively thin chamois in terms of width to prevent chafing on the inner thighs. I’ve had shorts where the chamois was so wide that it kept getting snagged on the up-stroke on the underneath of my saddle, creating rubbing and the inevitable chafe 😦 .
Another issue in terms of size of chamois is length. Often, little attention is paid to the front end of the chamois, meaning it is too long and bunches up causing all manner of discomfort when you’re leant over on the handle bars for so long. The added pressure of having a lot of extra material there has sometimes caused a little bit of numbness.
The other issue I have with the chamois is the invention of ridges on the pad; who-ever invented these needs to be shot. In a nutshell, when you wear shorts with ridges in the chamois, parts of your delicate anatomy get nipped in there, and over the many miles you will cycle in these shorts it will hurt… a lot. I’ve put some pictures below to highlight the problem!
What made the Descente bib shorts I mentioned earlier so comfortable was that the chamois was just a thin slither of material, hardly padded at all with no gel lumps or bumps, or those god awful ridges – I’ve included photographs so you can let me know if anyone still makes them!
I’ve spent literally thousands of miles cycling in these shorts and I think the fact that the chamois is so thin and flat, without any lumps or bumps to negotiate in the pad – I can hardly tell I have them on when I wear them. Only problem is, the lycra is perishing…
When I bought my first pair of bib shorts, I’m sure there was only the standard option of having braces, two straps going over the shoulders. Nowadays companies are trying to differentiate themselves with all manner of styles, some doing a better job than others.
A rather expensive brand that I wish I could afford, brought out the ‘monobib’ essentially one strap that rises out of the shorts in the middle, passes across the middle of the boobs and splits to go over the head before reverting to one strap to join the shorts at the back, more accurately depicted in the photograph below. I eventually caved in to this trend and bought a pair from Look, pictured below;
Although these may look very appealing, ladies please read on before wasting your hard earned pennies. After wearing these shorts for just one day on the coastal ride I can really understand why the model has chosen this particular pose.
To start with, she’s had to adopt such a wide stance, because the thickness of the pad is preventing her from closing her legs. The amount of material, the depth, the lumps and bumps and ridges on this chamois pad made this one of the most uncomfortable I’ve ever experienced. The ‘gel inserts’ were in the wrong location and as mentioned earlier the ridges that were both width and length-ways meant I got my lady parts nipped and it wasn’t pleasant.
The poor woman is grabbing her neck because of the tension on the mono-strap. I guess to prevent the strap from sagging they’ve had to make it incredibly taught, although it wasn’t painful – I was accutely aware of having the straps around my neck, more so than on standard duo-braces.
To alleviate the problem of having to hoist the neck opening of the mono-strap over your head when you need the toilet, there is a plastic fastener at the front. It’s basically a horizontal hook that slides into a material loop. I noticed when I bent over to get my bottle, the hook was prone to start trying to undo itself and again I was constantly checking on it – not something you want to be faffing on with on long distances, trust me!
Another thing I noticed on these shorts that I’d not come across before was the length of the leg, leading me on to my next point;
From all of the cycling I do, my legs aren’t too bad, they could always be thinner in the thigh area but who doesn’t think that about themselves. With this in mind, I’m not too worried about how I look in the lycra but this all changed when I stumbled on a ‘cut’ of shorts I’d never seen before, the rather revealing ‘competition/sports cut’…
I tried the shorts on in the safety of a changing room and everything seemed fine, maybe a tad shorter than previous pairs, but nothing too noticeable. It was only when I was in the saddle and caught my inner thigh trying to escape. As I’m not a pro, I do have the inevitable area of unwanted flab around the upper thigh, usually hidden in the safety of my shorts. As long as shorts just reveal my relatively toned quads I don’t mind, but the competition cut is just too short for me. So if you don’t want the discomfort of having to keep stuffing your thighs back in or yanking down the shorts – watch out for the leg length.
Leg grippers help stop the shorts from riding up the leg when you’re pedaling. Usually, silicone tape OR zig-zag elastic strips are built inside the hem to help the shorts stay put, this is the method I favour. If you struggle with silicone/elastic in terms of skin reactions, then the more modern approach of an elasticated hem that relies on pressure to keep the legs of the shorts shifting about is probably best. The problem I have with those is that the ‘hem’ is usually made from another material and end up not being tight enough so they ride up.
I know there are a lot of features to look at when buying bib short, but don’t be daunted, the benefits of wearing them far outweigh the alternative of wearing baggy casual sports shorts. I’ve just highlighted the gripes I’ve had to enable you to choose more wisely.