Road Cycling Clothing

Bib shorts: the joy and the pitfalls

The pros of bib shorts are advocated by experienced riders who rave about the extra comfort that comes from good quality bib shorts. Round-Britain cyclist and editor of Total Women’s Cycling Kirsty Medlock agrees, but wants to see women’s needs better catered for.

If you haven’t already make sure to check these out our 8 Essential Things to Think About When Buying Cycling Shorts.

Conventional, most popular shape of bib shorts with built-in braces.

What you choose to wear on your bum makes a big difference to your ride. I’ve struggled to find any useful information of the pros of bib shorts to help make a selection.

Here’s a distillation of the things I’ve found out about bib shorts over the years including things that I wish I’d known before wasting hundreds of pound on pairs that I just can’t wear.

Why bib shorts?

There are a couple of reasons why I prefer bib shorts with built in ‘braces’ to regular elastic waistband shorts. The pros of bib shorts with braces is to avoid the horrid gut ache of a tight lycra waistband digging into your stomach.

An added bonus is that the bib shorts encapsulate your whole back and tummy so you can shun the dreaded muffin top too.

On top of this, for someone who is in the saddle for hours at a time, there is a lot of shifting positions on the bike and with bib shorts you don’t need to worry about pulling up shorts or pulling down your jersey to cover-up exposed skin.

If I’ve convinced you, then welcome to the minefield. Here are just a few of the features you have to think about when buying bib shorts.

– The pad or ‘chamois’
– Braces on the bib
– Leg length
– Width of the leg holes
– Anti-slip gripper band

Before you jump on the bib-short bandwagon, be warned, there is a rather tricky drawback to overcome and that is the accessibility issue when trying to go to the toilet. For guys it’s just a quick pit stop, but for us it involves us turning into contortionists and baring all to the world.

After being in the saddle for up to eight hours a day for 62 days when I cycled the coast, I developed a good technique, similar to taking a bra off while still clothed. What I couldn’t get around was stripping off the top layers of long-sleeved tops and jackets to access my short-sleeved jersey. Although disrobing the layers was time-consuming and pretty chilly, I could at least use them to drape on my bike to protect my modesty.

Top 10 Performance Bib Shorts for Women

Commando? Really?

Over the years, I’ve persuaded quite a few ladies to get into cycling, and when we get to discussing what’s best to wear they’re always a little surprised when I mention going commando under bib shorts. To me, it just seems the obvious thing to do; the more layers you wear under tight lycra the more you’re going to be prone to some nasty chafing.

With your legs doing god knows how many revolutions on a long ride, your inner thighs will be rubbing the side of your saddle for hours and the thought of having the seam of your knickers rubbing in the nether-region is just unbearable.

On top of the inevitable chafing, remember that you’re exercising, getting hot and sweaty. The pros of bib shorts is that they are designed with an in-built chamois liner; essentially some much needed padding in the crotch area. Chamois pads are designed to eliminate chafing but are also made from anti-bacterial material that helps to wick sweat away. If you wear underwear, you will lose this benefit, and at worst you could possibly end up with an unwanted UTI.

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Chamois pads

For me, it’s the chamois that’s one of the biggest pros of bib shorts, being the most crucial component and often the most difficult to find one that’s ‘just right’.

Finding the right shape, material, density and thickness can be an absolute nightmare. To date, I’ve only managed to find one pair of bib-shorts from Descente that I bought back in the ’90s that have been comfortable from the get go and I’ve not been able to find any similar ones since.

I’ve had a fair few gripes with chamois pads over the years, but one thing I’ve noticed across the board is that they’re getting thicker, wider and for some reason – ridged. I believer that bigger is not better in the chamois department, but that’s just my personal preference.


The chamois is much more comfortable without these ridges many modern bib shorts are designed with.

As the nose of my saddle is quite wide, it helps if I have a relatively narrow chamois to prevent chafing on the inner thighs. I’ve had shorts where the chamois was so wide that it kept getting snagged on my saddle on the up-stroke, causing rubbing and the inevitable chafe.

7 Tips to Finding the Perfect Saddle

Another thing to look out for is the length of the chamois. It it’s too long, it will bunch up, causing all manner of discomfort when you’re leant over on the handle bars for a while. The added pressure of having a lot of extra material there has sometimes caused a little bit of numbness.


If the creases close around tender bits, it’s far from comfortable.

It’s a mystery to me why chamois pads have developed ridges in the last few years; who-ever invented these needs to be shot. They can catch parts of your delicate anatomy, and over many miles it will hurt. A lot.

The Descente bib shorts I mentioned earlier so comfortable was that the chamois was just a thin slither of material, hardly padded at all with no gel lumps or bumps or ridges. Does anyone still make anything like this?


The thin, flat and comfortable chamois in some late-90s Descente shorts

I’ve spent literally thousands of miles cycling in these shorts. Because the chamois is so thin and flat, without any lumps or bumps, I can hardly tell I have them on when I wear them. Only problem is, the lycra is perishing…


When I bought my first pair of bib shorts, there was only the standard option two straps over the shoulders. Nowadays companies are trying to differentiate themselves with all manner of styles, some doing a better job than others.

Assos brought out the ‘monobib’ essentially one strap that rises out of the shorts in the middle, passes across the middle of the boobs and splits to go over the head before reverting to one strap to join the shorts at the back. I eventually caved in to this trend and bought a pair from Look:


Look’s bib shorts with braces had a very tight and uncomfortable ‘monobib’.

However, after wearing these shorts for just one day on the coastal ride I can really understand why the model has chosen this particular pose.

To start with, she’s had to adopt such a wide stance, because the thickness of the pad is preventing her from closing her legs. The amount of material, the depth, the lumps and bumps and ridges on this chamois pad made it one of the most uncomfortable I’ve ever experienced.

The gel inserts were in the wrong location and as mentioned earlier the ridges that were both width and length-ways meant I got my lady parts nipped and it wasn’t pleasant.

The poor woman is grabbing her neck because of the tension on the mono-strap. I guess to prevent the strap from sagging they’ve had to make it incredibly taught. It wasn’t painful but I was acutely aware of having the straps around my neck, more so than on standard duo-braces.


The clip on the Look bib shorts when positioned correctly.


A little jostle on the bike, and this is what happens to the clip on the Look bib shorts.




To alleviate the problem of having to hoist the neck opening of the mono-strap over your head when you need the toilet, there is a plastic fastener at the front. It’s basically an S-shaped horizontal hook that slides into a material loop. Unfortunately I found it was prone to slip and start trying to undo itself. I ended up constantly checking on it – not something you want to be faffing on with on long distances.

To be fair to Look, these shorts are no longer made. That’s a good thing as far as I’m concerned because they also introduced me to another indignity: ‘competition cut’.

Competition cut

From all of the cycling I do, my legs aren’t too bad. They could always be thinner in the thigh area but who doesn’t think that about themselves? I’m not too worried about how I look in lycra but this all changed when I stumbled on a shape of shorts I’d never seen before, the rather revealing ‘competition/sports cut’.

I tried the shorts on in the safety of a changing room and everything seemed fine. Maybe they were a tad shorter than previous pairs, but nothing too noticeable. It was only when I was in the saddle that I caught my inner thigh trying to escape.

As I’m not a pro, I do have the inevitable area of unwanted flab around the upper thigh, usually hidden in the safety of my shorts. As long as shorts just reveal my relatively toned quads I don’t mind, but the competition cut is just too short for me. So if you don’t want the discomfort of having to keep stuffing your thighs back in or yanking down the shorts, watch out for the leg length.

Leg grippers

The pros of bib shorts is the leg grippers which help stop the shorts from riding up the leg when you’re pedalling. Usually, silicone tape or zig-zag elastic strips are built inside the hem to help the shorts stay put, and this is my preference.

If your skin reacts badly to silicone or elastic, then the more modern approach of an elasticated hem that relies on pressure to stop the legs of the shorts shifting about is probably best. The problem I have with those is that the hem is usually made from another material and ends up not being tight enough so it rides up.

Bib shorts: still the best option


Kirsty Medlock and her favourite bib shorts.

I know I’ve discussed a lot of issues with bib shorts, but don’t be daunted; the pros of wearing bib shorts far outweigh the alternative of wearing baggy casual sports shorts. I’ve just highlighted the gripes I’ve had to enable you to choose more wisely.

Kirsty Medlock blogs about cycling at ‘Round The Edge’ which includes her story of her 4,000-mile ride round the Great Britain coast with her dad.

Liked these cons and  pros of bib shorts? Why not also read:

Commuting: The Joys of the Brompton Bicycle

Top 10 Performance Bib Shorts for Women

8 of the Best Value Bib Shorts


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