When it comes to what to wear cycling, one of the greatest debates is whether to wear bib shorts or non bib / regular shorts on the bike. When I first started cycling, I was 100% on team shorts but over the years I’ve converted, and for good reason.
What Are Bib Shorts?
Bib shorts are basically a type of cycling shorts which instead of having an elastic waistband, they have suspenders (or “bibs”) that go over your shoulders to hold the shorts in place. They’re designed to provide comfort and support especially during longer rides.
Bib shorts are preferred by lots of riders because they eliminate the need for a waistband, which can get uncomfortable the longer you’re out on the bike. Bibs are also more secure and can help to prevent the shorts from sliding down or shifting while riding.
Why Do Cyclists Wear Bib Shorts
There are several reasons why cyclists might wear bib shorts, including comfort, support, for aerodynamic reasons and also convenience.
Personally, I fell in love with bib shorts when I was choosing what to wear for a ride while I was on my period. The elastic waistband of regular shorts sat right on my abdomen and caused me more discomfort. When I switched to bibs, there was no waistband to apply pressure and I felt comfortable before and during my ride.
As with shorts, bib shorts also have a padded insert (called a chamois) that helps to cushion the saddle and reduce pressure on sensitive areas. Then the bibs help to keep the shorts in place and prevent them from shifting or bunching up.
The tight fit of your cycling shorts is by design, to provide support helping to reduce muscle fatigue and improve performance. The fabric they’re made with is stretchy and supportive essentially helping hold your muscles in place and reduce vibration.
Some bib shorts are designed with aerodynamics in mind, with smooth, streamlined fabrics that help to reduce drag and improve the rider’s performance.
When it comes to convenience though, bib shorts can be a blessing and a curse. Yes, they eliminate the waistband, but typically the bibs go underneath your jersey so if you need to use the bathroom, you almost have to get fully undressed.
However, you can get cycling bibs with mechanisms to allow for easy toilet breaks, often called “drop seat” bibs. Check out Endura Women’s Pro SL Bib Shorts for example.
How To Wear Bib Shorts
If you’re wondering what to wear under bib shorts, well, the short answer is to go commando. Yes, yes it is.
It’s generally recommended not to wear underwear under bib shorts because the chamois has been designed to be worn directly against your skin. Wearing underwear creates friction and can become very uncomfortable when seams start digging into you.
Underwear will also be another layer to trap moisture which can lead to skin irritation and chafing. If you don’t already use chamois cream, then it’s worth checking out the guide on how to apply chamois cream for female cyclists.
team your bib shorts with a top (e.g cycling jersey) and a base layer, if needed. This will help to keep you warm in colder / cooler weather by wicking moisture away from your skin to help keep you dry and comfortable.
Women’s Bib Shorts With Pockets
Since I started using my cyclocross bike for gravel adventures, I discovered bib shorts with pockets. I treated myself to a pair of these Rapha Women’s Cargo Bib Shorts* (on sale – cos they’re £215 full price) to try out. They have two mesh pockets on the legs and two more on the back.
Bib shorts with pockets means more storage for snacks as far as I’m concerned. Plus easier access to said snacks ‘cos twisting my arm round to jersey pockets when riding sometimes feels like I’m gonna dislocate my shoulder.
The way the bibs are designed on the shorts basically mean they eliminate the need for a base layer so all that’s left is to throw on a baggy t-shirt (or jersey if you want go full lycra) and get riding.
I’ve only tested these shorts on an indoor ride so far, and I didn’t even notice the saddle or the shorts. I took a pair Rapha shorts on my London to Paris ride back in 2017 so I also trust the quality of the brand.
So are you team bib shorts or team shorts for cycling?