The purpose of bib shorts is simple - they prevent your shorts from riding down when you're in a low riding position without requiring a restrictive waistband.
Well, not exactly. Over the years, an explosion in innovation and development has made the bib short essential, providing new levels of comfort and performance for cyclists of all levels. They're versatility and simplicity has seen them adopted across almost all cycling disciplines, while fabrics and features continue to be developed.
Anatomy of the bib short
No matter your riding discipline, experience, or the current conditions, there is a bib short to suit your needs. Here's just some of the main features and elements you need to become acquainted with.
The seat pad, or chamois, is the secret to the success of the modern bib short. Shaped to fit the vulnerable parts of male and female riders, they prevent chaffing through excess rubbing or clamminess. Few experienced cyclists would even consider cycling long miles without a quality chamois, and those who have are likely to have regretted it.
One element to consider is the thickness of the pad, although it's worth noting that thicker material does not necessarily mean more comfort.
And - before you ask - no, you never wear underwear under bib shorts.
It’s worth noting that chamois care is essential to prolong their lifespan. 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.
The bib shorts fit
Bibs come in a variety of lengths, but whether you want on the knee, high on the thigh, or somewhere in between is really up to you. In terms of overall fit, however, you should aim for your bibs to be like a second skin, worn tight to the body. Loose material or gaps can cause chaffing and put an end to any ambitious rides over long distances. Having said that, there are many different types of bodies out there and many bib shorts accommodate this with different levels of fit - profit, performance, and active fit.
- Pro fit: These are super tight, providing the highest level of aerodynamic advantage.
- Performance fit: A little more forgiving and comfortable than pro fit, but still offering performance benefits.
- Active fit: Much more relaxed in terms of fit, and a good choice for beginners or those style getting down to their performance weight.
Common features found in bib shorts
Depending on your level of experience, you can take advantage of a variety of features, offering everything from a more aerodynamic profile to fabrics that combat cold weather.
Seamless bib straps reduce chaffing and reduce wind resistance. Breathable materials ensure you stay cool even when hammering up a steep climb. Flatlock seams provide an aerodynamic advantage, while four-way stretch materials ensure comfort and ease of movement.
An important addition for many is the inclusion of quality leg grippers to prevent the shorts creeping up on your thigh and causing discomfort - this can be very frustrating on long rides.
There are also a number of women-specific features, such as the halterneck style straps which make it a lot easier to get out of the shorts when you take a loo stop at the cafe.
If you're likely to be riding in cold conditions, then look for fleece-backed shorts and water repellent fabrics - perfect for riding through spring showers and autumn downpours.
Do I need bib shorts?
If you’re riding for a reasonably long time, bib shorts provide a wealth of benefits. Their usefulness has ensured their popularity among road cyclists, mountain bikers, and adventure riders alike, while the comfort of a good chamois is unrivalled when compared to your everyday underwear and shorts.
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 lower 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. Halterneck options are equally gaining pace, allowing easier loo breaks for female riders.
Examples of bib shorts from Wiggle
Wiggle offers an extensive choice of bib shorts, including many women-specific options and a wide choice for riders of all levels - from beginners to everyday club riders, and performance level athletes to distance riders, you'll find the right bib shorts for you.
Bib shorts for performance riders
The Aeron Lab Raceline 2.0 shorts have been engineered using the best components available including an Elastic Interface® Road Performance Pad for all-day comfort even in an aggressive racing position. Aerodynamic fabrics mean a second-skin fit without feeling restrictive.
Using their vast experience of cycle apparel engineering and with input from multi-time world champion and Olympic gold medalist Fabian Cancellara, the Gore Wear C7 Race Bib Shorts+ are designed for comfort when riding and racing at speed.
The Free Aero Race 4 are the go-to race shorts for Castelli's pros and with many riders clocking up 30,000km a year on the saddle they're very exacting with regards to their kit. Castelli listen, learn, tweak and improve products and the result for this season is shorts that are minimalist, aerodynamically slippery and still comfortable.
As nice as it is to see on a riding day, the sun’s warmth can make things very difficult in the height of summer. The Pro SL Bib Shorts are designed to keep you going when it really heats up, thanks to the Coldblack technology contained within. It works hard to reduce the heat as it builds up.
Bib shorts for every day and club riders
Castelli's entry-level shorts are packed with features that have filtered down from their professional racing range, making these a great value choice for everyday rides. Mesh straps keep you cool and the Giro 3 leg grippers are smooth and comfortable whilst still effectively ensuring the shorts stay put.
With high-quality premium fabrics and a top-quality seat pad, these shorts were created with comfort in mind and will make long rides a lot easier. The raw-edge rib hem has super-fine silicone grippers to keep the shorts in place without feeling restrictive. For female riders, the women's version features an innovative zip system to make 'nature breaks' a breeze.
These versatile shorts will see you through anything from the daily commute to long training rides and even racing. The Assos elastic insert technology means the pad moves with you, limiting the chances of rubbing and discomfort. Type.439 Diadema textile, which has two different rates of 4-way stretch, is used to deliver an incredible fit, light muscle compression and unrestricted pedalling.
Bib shorts for long distance
The C7 Long Distance Bib Shorts+ make use of a knitted 4-way stretch material with an ultra-fine gauge giving you freedom of movement and an extremely soft and comfortable sensation against the skin. The fabric also wicks away sweat remarkably quickly to leave you feeling dry at all times while, thanks to its quick-drying performance, it will never feel damp and clammy even after an epic ride in warm conditions. Wide leg-grippers, with silicone grippers, give the shorts a snug fit but spread pressure evenly.
The Endurance 2 shorts benefit from the use of Endurance Evolution fabric that gently compresses your muscles to keep lactic acid at bay without causing discomfort, while a breathable material mix regulates body temperature as you put the power down. A brand new Progetto X2 Seamless seat pad provides comfort on the longest day and is soft against the skin.
Making the most of high-quality compression fabrics, the Oakley Endurance 2.0 shorts keep blood and oxygen flowing to your hard-working muscles and help push back fatigue as the miles fly by. The real star of the show though is the premium carbon seat pad that you’ll find within, providing optimum comfort as well as promoting blood flow.
Entry level bib shorts
From cafe rides to Gran Fondos, the dhb Classic bib short is versatile enough for all your rides. With silicone leg grippers, flatlock stitching and a Cytech Elastic Interface ‘Giro Super Air' chamois, this is a perfect introduction to the world of bib shorts.
With their moisture-wicking fabric, BioMap construction and pill-free, and a K130 pad constructed from highest load-bearing capacity foam on the market to ensure nonstop support, the Northwave Fast is an entry-level bib short with features usually reserved for shorts twice the price. Great value comfort for all your riding.
The technologically advanced ProGel™ 3D Pad in these bib shorts has been strategically placed for optimal support and comfort. Darkproof® fabric on the outer layers means you'll be hard to miss on low-light rides.
Bib shorts for indoors
Any regular Zwifter will tell you how sweaty and uncomfortable indoor training can be. Castelli created these indoor bib shorts from moisture-wicking Inferno fabric with a Doppio waistband for extra stretch.
The fast-drying, elastic fine knit fabric and Expert Vent seat insert on these minimalist bib shorts make them perfect for those scorching hot summer days as well as indoor sessions.
Technically not bib shorts, but the dhb Aeron Turbo shorts deserve a mention. Lightweight, breathable panels at the sides and the rear keep you cool during the toughest workouts and the high-cut waistband keeps the shorts in place without feeling restrictive.
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.