Choosing your first pair of cycling bib shorts
If there is one piece of bicycle apparel that has the potential to strike fear into the heart of every newbie cyclist, (or even some pro cyclists for that matter), it is the bib short. Oddly shaped and lump flauntingly tight, cycling bib shorts are nevertheless Ride Essentials if regular road riding is on the menu.
Rest assured that if you have ever felt a twinge of unease when caught surreptitiously browsing through sets of bib shorts, then you are not alone. In this, as in all cycle clothing matters, let Always Riding demystify the demystify-able; as we present our guide to choosing your first pair of cycling Bib Shorts.
Lycra is your friend
Almost all cycling bib shorts are made of lycra, or derivations of this wonder, stretchy material. Blended with carbon fibre, merged with cordura, or constructed from plain vanilla lycra, this is the core of a bib short. Your non cycling friends may laugh, and your loved one may have to grapple with the stair rail in hysteric disbelief the first time you stride out of the bedroom ready to ride, but remember, it's all about context. Astride the bike, you are rider, a majestic noble soul tainted by hidden passions for French vernacular. Stand more than ten metres away from the bike however, and you're just a guy in lycra out in the middle of the day scaring passers by.
Strapped in like Rocketman
The bib straps - designed to hold your bib shorts in place, these often wide and soft edged fabric loops are essential in preventing 'loose botty' during your ride - and believe you me, this is to be avoided at all costs. Some of the very top level bib shorts will make you feel a little hunched over off the bike, as the bib straps try to push you into a sloped back racing position. However, this is intentional, as a road rider will spend 99% of the ride on the bike, with a 1% coffee stop break. Riders that reverse these percentages, hang your heads in shame.
The Pad (or Chamois)
Delightful. As good a word as any for describing the feeling of merrily pedaling along with a comfy chamois between your legs, yet what makes for a good one? We've felt literally hundreds of pads (without the riders being in them), and after much squeezing, we believe it is all down to three things - stretch, material and breathability. Without wishing to distill what is a complex piece of fabric and product engineering into too glib a description, if a brand has got these 3 things right, comfort should follow, take a look:
Stretch - A pedaling motion is complex, and to fully be one with the rider, the pad must ideally stretch in 4 ways to take the two and fro of the cycling position.
Material- Light, dimpled or just plain smooth, a chamois can be constructed from many different layers of material to create the ideal trouser sandwich. Lower end bibs will often house a more rudimentary pad, let's call it a workhorse for shorter rides. Higher end bibs on the other hand, will tote a chamois clever enough to date an Oxford graduate, and offer a level of comfort that nearly always justifies the price.
Breathability - A pad that breathes is your ride Wingman. You may not hear muffled Americanisms spouting forth from your shorts as you ride, but it's there keeping things on track. On a hot day, you will put out a lot of sweat, and that sweat, along with a whole host of heat, has to travel through your pad if you are to stay comfortable; and that is just what a good bib short pad will allow - breathability.
Give me a leg up
You ride a bike, you rock lycra - you do not wear Hot Pants.
Unless you particular like flaunting your upper thighs to your fellow man, a well proportioned bib short thigh length is what you should be asking from your bib short. As a rule of thumb, the more pro the bib short, the higher that leg will go; to a point that is. In our experience, unless you are really tall, let's say over 6ft 5", and as long as you have bought the correct size, you should always be able to work a good leg length without ever risking hot pant territory.
The silicon leg grippers, the essential final flourish to keep the bib in position. Lavishly applied or smartly echoing the brand's logo, you will find silicon leg grippers at the bottom of most cycling bib shorts. However, like all rules there are exceptions, most notably Etxeondo, who's incredibly popular but sadly now defunct Dicolor bib does away with leg grippers entirely, and still rocks hard. This might be a good time to point out that bib shorts stay in position a lot better with SHAVED legs, as the gripper loves clean skin contact without the hair creating a slippery surface.
Moving to the exterior, and a nicely produced bib, whether budget or bling, will nowadays sport careful attention to detail. From the brand's logo to the colour styling, everything should sit well and ideally match with your cycling jersey. In our view, the bib short is an extension of the jersey, so having an eye for style here will pay dividends on the road. No style? Don't worry, just choose classic black with minimal extras, and then you can match it with anything. If you do go for a bib with some colour, then try to match it with your bike and jersey for a cohesive look.
That's all for today, but if you have a moment, put your new found knowledge into practice and browse our range of cycling bib shorts in store.
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