Bicycle racers and many recreational riders choose cycling bibs because they lack an elastic waistband. Shoulder straps hold up bibs to eliminate pinching, hair pulling and other maladies of stand-alone cycling shorts. Ready to make the leap? Read on to learn how to choose the best cycling bibs to fit your style.
Types: There are two common styles of bibs, the high cut waist and the low cut waist. The proper choice boils down to a personal preference and comfort. For women, cuts and styles can vary substantially between companies.
Materials: Nylon spandex, often referred to as Lycra, is the base material for cycling bibs. While stretchy and form-fitting, the material doesn’t breathe well, so manufacturers add other materials to make their own proprietary fabric blends to increase wicking, breathability and comfort. Higher-end versions may have fabrics with features such as dimples for aerodynamics or more compression to improve circulation. For a beginner the most important fabric choice is based around the weight or thickness of the material. A lighter fabric will be cooler and breathe better, while a thicker version is likely to be more durable.
Fit: Once the decision has been made on a high or low waist, the key to correct fit is in the straps. Like built in suspenders, the breathable nylon straps keep the shorts from sagging down. While standing the straps should feel a bit snug on the shoulders, so while crouched on a bike they will loosen and keep the shorts in the proper place. Leg grippers keep the shorts from riding up and with the broader thigh bands that have become popular, plumped up sausage leg is less of a problem. Overall the fit should be closefitting without causing discomfort.
One important note, European brands tend to run smaller than American versions by as much as a size or two, so checking the manufacturer’s sizing guide is imperative.
Inseam: Inseam length varies and while you will see short-shorts, most cyclists find that an inseam just above the knee will keep the shorts in place to prevent chaffing.
Chamois: Once made from leather and needing much care and oiling, new chamois are made from synthetic materials and do not need special care other than reading the washing and drying instructions correctly. The chamois is a vital part of the bib as it reduces friction, wicks away moisture, inhibits bacterial growth and provides cushion.
While there are many shapes, thicknesses and densities to be found in both men’s and women’s chamois, there are three main types available. A multi-density, open cell foam offers the highest performance and comfort on extended rides. Open cell gel chamois offer more comfort and cushioning but reduced breathability. While a closed cell version provides comfort on a budget. Many chamois will use a combination of materials to provide optimal comfort and performance.
In general recreational riders may find a larger, thicker chamois more comfortable, while long distance riders and racers may steer towards a more streamlined pad. In the end personal preference is king when choosing a comfortable chamois.
Panels: Traditional thought holds that the more panels the better and this holds true for the most part, so bibs with 8 or 10 or 12 panels will typically fit better than a 2 or 4 panel pair. The caveat here is that some high-end versions are utilizing new, high-tech fabrics and will often have fewer panels and in some cases the whole short is a single unit.
Flat sewn seams will also enhance the comfort of your bibs and be found on both more and less expensive garments.
With so many variables, finding the correct pair can take a little research and time, and just buying an expensive pair, while upping your odds is not necessarily going to guarantee a good fit.