Cycling shorts have moved on a lot in the 25 years I have been riding a bike. The first pair of shorts that I bought were made from wool (that is old fashioned scratchy wool rather than silky Merino) and the chamois was a real chamois (a piece of leather which you had to rub with a special vaseline like cream to keep it supple). In those days you weren’t expected to make a fuss about how comfortable your kit was. It is all very different now….
We seem to spend more time on bib short development than anything else here at Carvalho Custom (and we have to do it twice, as we have female specific as well as male bib shorts!). The first thing we think about is getting the shape of the shorts right so that they move easily with your legs round the peddle stroke and also the straps sit comfortably on the shoulders without giving you a wedgie, but holding the shorts in place. The first thing to do when you pick up a pair of shorts for the first time is to hold them by the top of the straps and you should see that they hang in a curved shape, with the backside sticking out a bit. This approximates to the shape they will be when you are on a bike with your hands on the handlebars. A good pair of bib shorts should be designed to fit most comfortable when you are bent over rather than standing upright. A cheap pair of shorts will just hang straight down when you hold them by the top of the shorts, which are OK for unicycle riders, but not for everyone else. The other key thing of note here is that the straps should be made from very stretchy and breathable material as this will make them a lot more comfortable to wear over your shoulders.
With regard to the chamois (or pad), having tried out endless numbers of them, we think that the best kind of pad is made from mesh – foam absorbs water (sweat or rain!) that gives you the nappy feel and loses its structure over time, so losing its primary role as padding. Gel can go lumpy over time and can lose it shape. Our chamois uses mesh (think steel wool, but softer), so it does not absorb moisture and keeps its springiness for literally years. The actual anatomical shape of the chamois is less important than some manufacturers make out and there are a lot of gimmicks out there.
Finally, the leg grippers. First there came elastic, which can dig into your legs, then silicone strips which work very well, but again can dig in to your legs a bit. Now a lot of bib shorts just use double lycra bands (like out custom bib shorts), which do not keep the shorts as perfectly in place as silicone, but do not have any of the constriction problems. We can make our new bib shorts with silicone for those who prefer it. We will shortly be adding to our range silicone patterns added into the lycra leg grippers but not in a band form to give you the best of both worlds, as they do not constrict, but help the shorts stick in place.
As with all of our custom cycling clothing, we put a lot of effort into product development, because the market is just changing so fast, we just cannot afford to get left behind. It is a shame in one sense, because I really used to like my old wool shorts…..