Bibs & shorts – what to look for

Hot summer weather has returned to central Texas. My ride yesterday was in 93F heat, with a stiff southerly wind and a burning sun. After 18 miles, I was done in, and slept for an hour and a half after supper.

I don’t know if this had anything to do with it, but I wore my pair of bibs on the ride. In the past, I’ve complained about my bibs, mainly because I didn’t like the feel of the straps over my shoulders, and the mesh top added another layer of clothing, which on hot days didn’t help.

For the most part, I’m over those complaints. I’ll grab the bibs as quickly as any other pair of bottoms in the drawer. I guess I’ve gotten used to them, and the additional support I get around the midsection does feel better. Still, in hot weather they’re not my first choice, especially after the reminder I got yesterday.

Reader Don from California says he much prefers his bibs — but he has a problem. A seam in the chamois pad hardened up after the bibs were washed, and now causes him discomfort. He admits these bibs were inexpensive, and is now looking for a new, better pair. So he’s asking Bike Noob readers for advice: “If I were buying shorts or bibs for the first time, what should I look for?”

I’ll be the first to weigh in: go for quality. I have two pair of cheap Nashbar shorts. They’ve held together for almost two years, but the chamois on one pair is ripped along much of its seam, and the fabric on the other is losing its compression and bunching on the leg. I still wear them for rides of under an hour, but lately, I spend real money to buy my bottoms.

What else can we advise about bibs and shorts? What are the must-have features you look for?

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15 thoughts on “Bibs & shorts – what to look for

  1. I guess assos is the best, or at least that’s what their advertising leads me to believe. Assos Switzerland I like the way Louis Garneau fits, too.

    The prices on both make my eyes water more than a 50-mph decent though, so whatever.

    • Several times a year, I enjoy getting the Colorado Cyclist catalog that features all the high-end bike clothing, including Assos. Fun to flip through — but I doubt I’ll ever pay that kind of money for shorts or bibs or jerseys.

  2. You should look for flatlock stitching, and typically the higher panel counts are better. If you’re trying to save money, Performance Bike’s Elite bibs always get good reviews, are a good bargain, and I think they’re pretty comfortable and well made. I also like Castelli, which aren’t cheap, but aren’t the most expensive either. The best bibs I’ve ever owned were Santini, but were long $$$$.

    In general — you get what you pay for. If you can find last year’s models at a discount this year, then that’s great, but price is a great indicator of quality when selecting cycling clothing.

    • My wife gave me a pair of Castellis for my birthday two months ago, but they were of that really small European cut, and didn’t fit me. When I took them back for a larger size, the bike store had none. So I wound up with a pair of Sugoi shorts. Very different from the Castellis. The Sugois have the largest chamois pad I’ve ever seen, which a lot of folks might not like. The Castellis had a relatively thin, small pad, but the salesperson said the thinness was because the pad was more dense, and would actually cushion better.

  3. Well, I currently have a cheap pair of shorts with a thin pad that has gone flat over the course of about a year. I have a much nicer pair with a thick gel chamois that I got on the performance bike website. They are comfortable, but the leg elastic isn’t tight enough and they ride up. So, I agree with Noob about going for quality, and I add that you should be sure to get the right size. It’s worth a few extra bucks and a try or two for the right shorts. Your junk will thank you.

    • I’ve heard a lot of negatives about gel inserts — that they tend to harden after awhile, and become uncomfortable. I wouldn’t know, I’ve never had gel pads. Anyone had that kind of experience?

      • By the way, Missy — welcome to Bike Noobville! I’ll be watching your progress as you build toward that century. Oh, and I’ve never called them “junk.” Those are my family jewels.

  4. I started with the $35-$40 rack which was ok, till I went up to the $80 rack and thought, “Wow what a difference in comfort especially on 3+ hour rides”. This past Christmas I got a pair of $150 Sugoi bibs, big mistake! Now my $80 bibs don’t compare, I get a little giddy on the days I get to ride in them. They are my going out on a special ride attire. Be forewarned if you see me show up for a ride with my Sugoi’s be prepared to ride fast. Of course all that ends once the ride starts, if you can’t ride fast you better look fast…

    Not sure if this is what happened but Don, don’t put your cycling stuff in the dryer. Let it air dry, not sure if that is what contributed to the hardening of your chamois.

  5. I have one pair of bibs and they’re a Nashbar brand that probably cost me about $35. They’re pretty comfy but the gel pad is starting to bother me a little. They do have wide straps which are great.

    I prefer a bib to a standard short any day. It probably has to do with the fact that when I wear shorts I suffer from a clothing defect that plaques a big boy like me. It’s called rolldownitus. You know. When the waste bad rolls down because my stomach is too fat.

    What I can’t fathom is the cost of what is apparently quality cycling apparel. I think I’m going to have to make a blog post about that.

  6. Interesting comments. I spent about $60 on two pairs of bib from an online retailer. I didn’t want to spend a lot because I didn’t really know what I was looking for. As Mr. Noob mentioned, a seam hardened over time and they were killing me to the point that I began inserting gauze over the seam so I could wear them. (I washed them in cold water, gentle cycle and hanged them to dry.) I tried other online retailers but none of the bibs were quite right, and I ended up returning them all, and eating the shipping charges. About two weeks ago I finally bit the bullet and purchased Pearl Izumi Attack bib shorts from a Pearl Izumi Factory Store that’s about an hour from my home. These bibs are great and have become a baseline for what I would want in bibs — comfortable, hopefully durable, quality material.

  7. Having won and worn out plenty of bib shorts (which I wear exclusively). The best fit, comfort and quality are Hincapie and Louis Garneau, hands down. I’ve tried ‘em all. They both must be made at the same manufacturer, because they are so similar. But they fit like a glove, and the chammois never wear out.

  8. For me, shorts are one of the no-compromise items. I like the quote from the Assos catalog: “Cycling shorts are the epic comfort center of everything”. If you aren’t comfortable, you’re doomed and you’ll hate riding.

    I agree that the Performance Elites are a great bargain, especially for < 50 mile rides. The 3D chamois in the Pearl Izumi microsensor shorts are really good. Recently, I’ve become a fan of Specialized’s body geometry bibs (SL and RBX), and I’ve also dipped into the bottom tier ASSOS, WOW!

    I think with any short though, DON’T BUY THEM TOO BIG! They are meant to be tight and snug; bibs should pull on the shoulders some! The chamois pad should not move while riding!

  9. I’m a bib convert! I grab them whenever they are clean and prefer them over my shorts now, despite my previous comments about them.

    I agree with Nico – make sure they are snug and fit well. If they are loose they will shift and be uncomfortable. I also find that one single pad is uncomfortable on long rides. A multifaceted pad will be more comfy. Remember: you get what you pay for!

  10. I have had great luck with the Performance Ultra bibs. The material is also a bit more breathable than the Performance Elite. I have found no need to try another brand.

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