Question: Are there good reasons to choose bib shorts? Good reasons not to choose them? It can’t be that cyclists worry about their shorts coming down, and bibs just add another layer in hot weather. — Dan V.
Coach Fred Matheny Replies: Bib shorts have several advantages, some more vital than others:
- Bibs hold your chamois exactly where it should be. To minimize the risk of saddle abrasions and sores, the shorts liner (“chamois”) should be snug against your crotch. If shorts are looser, the liner can move. You’ll get chafed in the same way that an overly large hiking boots can cause blisters on your feet. The chamois could bunch or wrinkle, too, causing irritation. Bibs help keep the shorts’ crotch firmly against your crotch.
- Bibs keep your shorts up. Non-bib shorts can pull down enough to expose your lower back to the wind. This is most apt to happen in a low, aerodynamic riding position. Worst-case scenario — you treat your riding companions to a full-fledged plumber’s crack. At least they won’t sit on your wheel anymore.
- Bibs look better off the bike. The seat won’t be so baggy. Bike shorts are cut to fit correctly in a forward-leaning position. Stand up straight and the material in back can sag, making it look like you need your diaper changed. Bibs pull up the slack and keep your butt’s profile sleek.
- Bibs are more comfortable at the waist. They don’t need anything around your middle to hold them up. Elastic waistbands or drawstrings can feel restrictive during deep breathing and like a tourniquet when riding away from a food stop.
- Bibs mean no hitching. You don’t have to tug at your waistband to get your shorts back up where they belong.
But before you rush out to Bib Shorts R Us and spend your next paycheck, here’s the other side to the question — the disadvantages.
- Bibs are hotter. As you point out, bibs cover your midsection and can hold in more body heat. That’s not bad in winter, but most miles are ridden in conditions that are already hot enough.
- Bib straps can irritate some riders’ skin.
- Bibs may not fit tall or hefty people well. The straps aren’t adjustable. If the top is too small or too short, the shorts may feel too restrictive.
- Bibs make pit stops more difficult. When taking “a natural break” (as Phil Liggett likes to say), you can’t just pull down the shorts. First your jersey must come off. For women this is a hassle on every stop. For men, only on some stops. But men will still have a tough time urinating when wearing bibs cut high in front, as most seem to be. If you ever spot a guy in the bushes bent forward 90 degrees, you’ll know what type of shorts he’s wearing. A fortune awaits the first company that makes bibs with an effective fly.
When are bibs not needed? I’d say the only time they’re completely useless is under a pair of tights that have their own bib straps or suspenders. In this case, the tights hold up the shorts.
Coach Fred Matheny is an RBR co-founder who has four decades of road cycling and coaching experience. He has written 14 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach Fred Matheny, including the classic Complete Book of Road Bike Training, which includes 4 eBooks comprising 250 pages of timeless, detailed advice and training plans. The Complete Book is one of the many perks of an RBR Premium Membership. Click to read Fred's full bio.