For any cyclist, bib shorts are an essential piece of kit and arguably the most important to get right. We explain what you need to look for
As cycling grows in popularity, so does the range of brands and kit available to anyone from beginner to pro. Cycling bib shorts come in a huge range of options for cyclists of all shapes and sizes.
Choosing the right pair of bib shorts can be difficult, especially as you can’t really try before you buy – for obvious reasons. However, finding the best pair is essential for comfort and to keep you riding.
This guide explains why cycling shorts are so important, and what to look for.
At Cycling Weekly, we’re lucky enough to regularly put newly released pairs of cycling shorts through their paces, and if you’re looking for product suggestions you’ll find them on the pages below:
- Best men’s bib shorts product picks
- Best women’s bib shorts product picks
- Best cheap bib shorts product picks
- Read more cycling bib short reviews here
Why do cyclists need padded cycling shorts?
Bib shorts are the most important part of any cyclist’s wardrobe.
They protect riders from saddle sores and chafing – both of which can force a rider off the bike for days or even weeks – by providing a layer of padding which is shaped to suit the riding position.
Cycling shorts are also constructed from high-wicking, quick drying fabrics which encourage sweat to leave the surface of the skin thus keeping the rider dry and whiff-free on hot days and helping to reduce the discomfort associated with riding in the rain.
How much should I spend on cycling shorts?
You can pick up a pair of cheap cycling shorts from as little as £30, as demonstrated by our collection of cheap cycling shorts.
These all come with a chamois pad and are constructed from lycra which won’t flap about on the bike – thus answering your basic needs.
Spending more – cycling bib shorts can carry price tags over the £150 mark – will provide you with more durable fabrics and extras such as compressive materials, more flattering fits thanks to the use of multiple panels and carefully constructed leg grippers. The chamois will often offer more breathability and multi density padding that provides more targeted comfort.
The middle ground is around £70 to £100 and for that you can expect to buy a high quality pair of bib shorts that will provide several seasons of cycling in comfort.
Cycling bib shorts: What to look for
Cycling shorts are designed around a chamois created to provide padding and relief to all the right areas. Therefore, men’s and women’s shorts are different – hence we have product lists for both (see:best men’s bib shorts buying guide and best women’s bib shorts buying guide)
Waist shorts vs bib shorts
Bib shorts have straps that sit over the shoulders, fitting a little bit like a large adult babygrow, or a wrestling suit – depending what way you look at it. This does take a little bit of getting used to. However, bib shorts are generally considered much more comfortable – they do away with any cutting in at the waist, it’s impossible for them to fall down (leaving a patch of exposed cold or sunburnt skin) and the chamois stays in place better.
Waist shorts are favoured by riders seeking the simplest, and often cheapest, approach – and are effective enough, if not quite as comfortable.
The choice of materials for designers is huge, from thicker leg material used on thermal bib shorts for chilly spring conditions to well-ventilated back panels for summer heat.
It’s a good idea to have a selection of bib shorts in your collection, with varying options depending upon weather conditions.
More expensive bib shorts will use fabrics which aid blood circulation through compression. Those aiming for the aero edge may also feature technologies aimed in this direction.
Cycling shorts should be constructed from multiple panels of fabric. The more panels used, the better the fit – a single panel per leg would give the appearance of two moving chipolatas wrapped in lycra. Using multiple panels also increases comfort as the fabric isn’t forced to stretch too far in any given area.
You need to ensure the shoulder straps are comfortable. Some come up short, feeling a little restrictive, even for a rider of average height. Wherever possible, try on bib shorts (over underwear) and – as silly as you may feel in the dressing room – adopt a riding position to get a clear idea of how they’d really feel on the bike.
Styles vary as well – some riders like cycling shorts that reach almost to their knees, whilst others prefer them to finish mid thigh.
The other details are important to consider, but the chamois is the absolute key bib short component. Get it right and your shorts will offer years of comfortable miles. Get it wrong and the pad can become uncomfortable.
Cycling short chamois pads are shaped to suit different sorts if riding – often the product description will give you an insight into the pad sewn into a pair you’re looking at.
Endurance focused chamois pads will be thicker to cater for greater hours in the saddle and will usually have denser foam at the rear to cater for an upright position.
A chamois that’s designed for short, hard, race efforts will often have more padding at the front as riders on the rivet will usually rotate more to sit on the end of the saddle.
Many brands buy in their chamois from an external company, such as Cytech, and can often use the same pad as a competitor.
The chamois often comes with some additional features, such as perforation to provide breathability, and an antibacterial treatment to keep the shorts fresh.