Bib shorts are part of the classic, slick cycling look that comprises of clean lines, aero fitting, and air-slicing clothing.
The bib short’s popularity is due to its simple solution to some basic problems – how do you achieve this slick line and aero fit without an uncomfortable and restrictive waistband, and, how do you prevent your shorts from riding down while you’re in the drops?
Two shoulder straps solved a variety of problems in one fell swoop and the bib short was born, adopted by road cyclists the world over.
It combines a range of innovations into one multi-purpose design, solving many problems in one go. That’s why these shorts have become popular among cyclists both on the road and on the trails.
Do I need bib shorts?
If you’re riding long miles – over an hour at a time – or spend a long time on the trail in cold weather, then bib shorts are a no brainer.
Not only do they act as a second skin, but they also incorporate a chamois to provide extra comfort and limit chafing during long spells on the saddle.
They act as an important part of the cyclist’s base layers, ensuring you stay warm, while giving you the freedom of movement to deliver a strong performance while you’re out there.
So, if you’re serious about cycling, then a pair of quality bib shorts is essential.
What makes a good set of bib shorts?
Lightweight and snug to the skin, Lycra shorts are the most comfortable and aerodynamic option for long, pedal-intensive riding.
Modern shorts are made from breathable materials that allow water vapour to escape through the fabric, and drawing away sweat to limit discomfort and chafing.
High-quality bib shorts are made from a number of individual panels that aid the best possible fit, and it’s the fit that can make all the difference in finding the perfect shorts.
Chamois quality is also of vital importance. This padded material lines the gusset of the shorts, providing padding between the touch points of the saddle, your sit bones, and delicate parts.
Premium shorts come with contoured, multi-density padding that’s more supple and comfortable on long rides and less prone to bacterial build-up and odour.
It’s worth noting that chamois care is essential to prolonging the life of any shorts. Post-ride washing is obligatory, while many cyclists carry out pre-ride chamois treatments, rubbing on cooling and moisturising chamois cream either directly onto the garment or themselves for both comfort and long life.
What’s the difference between MTB and road bib shorts?
The main difference between the bib shorts of both disciplines is the cut and chamois placement. Mountain bike shorts will have a more central chamois, designed for a more upright seat position, while road shorts are designed for long periods spent in the more aggressive forward hunch. MTB bib shorts will also favour durability over weight-saving and tend to be slightly thicker and more resistant to scraping or ripping.
While bib shorts are an accepted part of the uniform for road cyclists, MTB and casual riders still tend to wear baggies over the top of their Lycra layer.
What are the differences between male and female bib shorts?
Female bib shorts have a differently contoured chamois to provide more appropriate support for the female form. A different approach to the shoulder braces is also becoming increasingly common to limit chaffing using a centrally positioned brace.
Let’s take a look at some examples from the 2018 bib short range at Wiggle.
Female bib shorts
dhb's innovative Aeron Women's Halteneck Bib Shorts incorporate an ingenious halterneck-inspired design, saving you from having to remove the neck strap or outer layers (jerseys, jackets) during your 'comfort' break - no wonder they're best sellers on Wiggle. With high-quality Italian fabrics, and a CyTech Tour HP Super Air chamois, these shorts will make long rides a lot easier. Shaped leg elastic with silicone particle grippers keep the shorts in place without squeezing the leg, adding comfort to these innovative and popular shorts.
Castelli Women's Velocissima Bibs are perfect for everyday riding, adopting many features from the brand's higher-end shorts at a more affordable price. The features include newly engineered bib strap construction, a flat-form waist, and Giro3 lie-flat leg grippers.
The mono-bib design with magnetic clasp is the first striking feature of these bib shorts that also come with a female specific next-generation chamois insert. With a performance fit and breathable mesh materials, these Assos bib tights ensure high performance is maintained no matter the distance.
Designed for comfort, even on the longest rides, these Sportful Women's Tour bib shorts have powerful sweat-wicking properties to keep moisture off the skin. Flat lock stitching and a lie-flat leg bands eliminate rubbing, while the 15mm Infinity Body Fit pro seat pad provides maximum comfort.
Used by professionals and amateurs all over the world, the Ale Womens PRR Camo bib shorts look as tough as the are. Ergonomically designed for the female body, the W4H chamois uses micro-fibre construction for market-leading comfort on the trails.
The first uniquely female, high-performance mountain bike shorts from Assos, the T.rally_s7 mountain bike bib shorts offer quality compression fabric and a female-specific chamois insert. The magnetic clasping single brace design aids comfort on the trail and is perfectly designed for the female body.
An updated version of the Aeron pro shorts, these build on the Aeron heritage, making advances in compression, comfort, and ventilation. Specifically designed for long-distance rides, the CyTech Tour HP Super Air thermo-moulded chamois provides high levels of comfort for up to five hours of riding, so you can enjoy those epic spins in style.
Castelli's Vovo bib shorts are trusted by serious riders for their outstanding stretch, aerodynamics through flat-lock stitching, and mesh wraps for comfort and breathability. Its 'Kiss Air' seat pad, meanwhile, delivers on comfort for extended rides over a mixture of terrain
For those transitioning from their winter to spring/summer gear, these Aeron FLT Roubaix Bib Shorts are the solution, with their Roubaix fleece fabric offering warmth on changeable days, with versatility when combined with leg warmers. The CyTech Elastic interface Tour HP Air chamois provides excellent comfort, while flashlight technology ensures you remain visible during the still dim evenings. Just as happy on the trail as they are on the road, these shorts are among the most versatile bib shorts available.
Assos T.cento bib shorts are designed for ultra-long distance riding, utilising a comfort fit that reduces the compression around the waist and abdomen. A unique chamois insert offers protection against chafing, even on the most extensive of rides, while the powerful construction is perfect for robust body types.
Stolen Goat's Orkaan bib shorts feature a high compression fit with four way stretch fabric and water-repelling properties. A soft roubaix brushed lining, windproof outer layer, and elasticated grips ensure you remain warm while everything stays in place. These shorts are designed for riding in cooler weather, with 4 - 17 degrees being optimal.
With a multi-panel construction these striking shorts also feature an embossed MATRIX fabric on the crotch area, which is particularly resistant to abrasion while remaining lightweight. The side panels are made from polyester fabric suitable for print and with a controlled elasticity. Their lightweight design makes these shorts ideal for temperatures between 18 and 30 degrees.
Assos's MTB bib shorts are their first off-road specific T.rallyshorts_s7. Designed with racers in mind, the shorts feature great looks, a slim fit, flexibility, and for the first time, built-in impact pads on the hips.
Frequently asked questions about bib shorts
Can you machine wash cycling shorts?
Of course! Modern cycling shorts are machine washable.
Can you tumble dry cycling shorts?
Yes, but keep to a low setting, such as a sports or synthetics setting. The garment should still be slightly damp when you take it out before hanging until drying is complete.
How important is compression when buying cycling shorts?
The general rule is tighter is better - any loose material can start to rub and cause painful chafing, especially when out on a monster ride. Compression shorts are designed to aid blood flow and recovery, but not all cyclists agree that compression is key. It will largely depend on your own tastes on whether you want to go for a short with a lot of compression.
What do you wear under cycling and bib shorts?
Nothing! If you're wearing any sort of underwear under your cycling shorts, you're negating their benefit. You should have nothing against the skin except short, chamois, and some chamois cream if needed. Any extra layers or materials will cause chafing, which is exactly what the shorts are designed to counteract - and that means not even a g-string.
Why are cycling shorts always black?
Due to the revealing nature of super slinky cycling shorts, the general consensus has arisen that dark colours are essential for maintaining as much dignity as possible. Navy shorts have been growing in popularity recently, and are worth a look for the season ahead.