This is going to sound like a Monty Python sketch (see below…), but when I first started cycling, shorts were made out of wool with a leather chamois inside. Before you put your shorts on, you had to rub this nasty grease into the chamois to soften it up a bit to make the cycling experience slightly less unpleasant. The first time I saw bib shorts, I thought the guy in the bike shop was winding me up, but now they are pretty much universal (at least for men). We spend an awful lot of time here at Carvalho Custom working on making our ustom bib cycling shorts more comfortable and we have tested endless different designs. So here it what you need to know when buying a pair:
Bib shorts are better than non-bib shorts for 3 reasons:
– they don’t have cut into your belly
– they pull the chamois into place firmly against your backside so that it will not move out of place or rub
– they cover the small of your back so that there is not a window of exposed flesh as seen between the bottom of your jersey and the top of non bib shorts
Obviously some bib shorts are better than others, but there are some nonsense claims made by some of the higher end manufacturers which simply don’t stand up to scrutiny. The important things to bear in mind are that:
– they should be made out of a strong lycra that will not go transparent after a few washes and will give you some compression on your legs.
– they should naturally hang in a curved position if you hold them up by the straps and as a result should be more comfortable to wear when you are bent forward in a riding position than standing up straight. So when you try on bib shorts, try and do so on a bike, or if not available at least in an approximation of a cycling position. They should not fit properly when you are standing up straight! A good pair of shorts will have the panels cut in such a way as they will sit naturally in this riding position – the actual number of panels is less important than that they are well configured, so “8-panel” shorts are not necessarily better than “6-panel” shorts.
– leg grippers are a personal thing. Increasingly lycra leg grippers with or without silicone beads are being used, but a lot of riders still prefer full silicone bands (at Carvalho Custom we give customers the choice). Without a full silicone band, you will typically get some movement of the shorts on the leg when you pedaling, but if they are decent shorts, they should not ride up too easily. This also depends of course on how chunky your legs are….
– the chamois is by far the most important thing to consider. Our chamoises are made by Cytech and use mesh rather than foam for the padding (it holds its thickness for much longer and doesn’t absorb moisture) and also has carbon threads which strengthen it and are anti-bacterial. The problem when looking at a chamois is that you can only really tell their worth after a few hours on the bike and also several months wear. After exhaustive testing, it is clear that mesh is better than foam, but there are arguments to be made about gel. My personal feeling is that gel does not have the same longevity as foam (it can get lumpy or leak as well as loose its cushioning) and although it is very comfortable when you first sit on it, it does not breath as much as foam, so you can get a clammy feeling from it. The ergonomic shapes of chamoises with all the cut outs and so on is not as important as some brands like to make out, although there is some room for personal preference here. Much more important is the shape of your saddle.
I am not going to start on female bib shorts here as that is a story for another day……