Why you should invest in cycling bib shorts

Bib shorts may seem expensive, but this is one part of your cycling kit you should consider splashing out on.

Clock11:00, Thursday 1st June 2023

If you’re new to cycling, you might think that cycling shorts look a bit weird. And to be honest, we’d struggle to argue with that: the skin tight fit, the shoulder straps, the padded bum… They certainly are quite different to your average pair of shorts. But there’s a reason that cyclists swear by cycling shorts, and it’s because they make cycling way, way more comfortable.

If you’re wondering whether cycling shorts are right for you, read on. We’ll talk about why cycling shorts make cycling more comfortable, give you some buying tips if you’re in the market, and explain why it’s worth investing in a really good pair.

Why cyclists love cycling shorts

Comfort

The number one reason cyclists wear cycling shorts is comfort. A road bike saddle isn’t exactly cushy, but with a good pair of shorts, you’ll be able to sit on it all day long.

In part, it’s thanks to that foam pad, which gives you cushioning in the right areas, and takes the harsh vibrations out of the road. A good pair of cycling shorts will be padded along your sit bones and underneath your hips, distributing the pressure away from your sensitive parts. This pad is known as the ‘chamois’, so called because the first cycling-specific shorts used a piece of leather chamois to provide padding.

That oh-so-sexy skin-tight fit has a part to play in making you comfortable too. By keeping the fabric snug and close to your skin, there are no creases, folds or flaps to cause chafing.

Finally, there’s the shoulder straps, known as a ‘bib’ (yeah, we’ve been wondering who came up with that one too). They hold the shorts in place, removing the need for a tight waistband, which could dig into your waist while you’re riding.

Aerodynamics

The tight fit of cycling shorts isn’t just for comfort. It also makes riders more aerodynamic, which allows them to ride quicker for the same effort. Who wouldn’t want that?

The difference between low-end and high-end shorts

Not all cycling shorts are created equal. Better quality shorts are more comfortable and more aerodynamic than low-end ones. Of all your cycling kit, we think that bib shorts are the thing that it’s worth stretching your budget on. Here’s why.

Better padding

They might look simple, but there’s far more going on in a quality cycling shorts pad than meets the eye. If you look closely at a quality pair of shorts, you’ll notice there are in fact three layers.

There’s the top layer that is in direct contact with your skin, which uses a soft fabric.

Underneath, there’s the padding itself, which has different thicknesses and densities in different places to control where your weight rests on the saddle.

Then you have the third layer, which is in direct contact with your saddle. This will be a slippery, low-friction lycra to reduce the chance of chafing.

More aerodynamic

The best cycling kit manufacturers aren’t content with just a close fit. They perform extensive testing in the wind tunnel, and make countless adjustments to make their kit as aerodynamic as possible. They’ll change seam placements, panel design, and play with different lengths and materials until their kit slips through the wind with minimal resistance.

Seamless construction

On cheaper cycling shorts, the seams and hems can cause skin irritation and chafing. The panels are made as simply as possible, without much consideration for how they’ll feel for the rider.

On high-end shorts, designers put a lot of work into making sure there’s nothing that could cause irritation or chafing. They’ll move seams away from high friction areas, and even use seamless technology and laser cutting to make every surface as smooth on the skin as possible.

Women’s specific shorts

These days, men’s and women’s shorts are specially designed for the different needs of male and female bodies. For the most part, this comes down to the shape of the pad, but there are some practical considerations too.

For women, going to the toilet in a pair of cycling shorts is no mean feat. Getting the shorts off so you can have a nature break can be a real hassle. That’s because cycling shorts have shoulder straps that sit underneath your jersey, so you’ve got to remove a lot of layers before you can be free of them.

You might be tempted to go for a pair of shorts without shoulder straps to get around this issue, but it’s not quite as simple as that.

Shorts with just a waistband can be less comfortable than shorts with a shoulder strap or ‘bib’. That’s because the waistband can dig into your stomach when you’re bent over your bike.

Once again, this is an area where spending a touch more will give you the best riding experience. Good quality women’s shorts are cleverly designed to enable nature breaks without having to take all of your kit off, usually by adding in a way to quickly detach and reattach the shoulder straps from the shorts.

Cost

So here we are banging on about buying expensive shorts, but how much is enough? Well, like a lot of things in cycling, bib shorts aren't cheap. And, like most things, you can spend a crazy amount of money on shorts if you really want to. But ultimately, the mid-range is where you want to be. Stretch your budget to £50/$65/€55 or more, and you’ll end up with something comfortable, aero, and practical.

Kit worth investing in

No matter your experience level, a good pair of cycling shorts is key to a happy life in the saddle. And remember, if you can spend a little bit more, you’re going to get a noticeable improvement in quality and comfort. Of all the elements of your cycling kit to splash out on, this is the one we recommend.

If you’re still struggling to get comfortable, even with a good pair of shorts, perhaps you need to try a different saddle. To learn more about getting the right saddle for you, have a look at our advice for choosing the right saddle for you.

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