Buyer's guide to women's bib shorts

Searching for the perfect pair of bibs? Here's what you need to consider

For many women, bib shorts can seem like an intimidating mess of straps, zippers, and buckles that look uncomfortable and difficult to use. However, with new designs and high-tech features, women’s bib shorts are more accessible and versatile than ever before. Here BikeRadar brings you a guide to the essential features you need to look for to find the perfect bib shorts.

If you’re shopping for your first pair of bibs shorts or want to update your cycling gear, we recommend focusing on several key features including chamois comfort, bathroom break accessibility, strap design, and leg hems construction. With these comfort elements in mind, the struggle to find the perfect pair of women's bib shorts will be long gone. 

Why bibs?

Cycling shorts just don’t stand up against bibs when it comes to comfort. Shorts typically have a tight elastic band around the waist, which can restrict breathing and cause stomach discomfort. Bibs, on the other hand, rely on straps to hold them in place, reducing pressure around the waist for easy breathing.

On the other hand, bibs are trickier to get on and off in a hurry so bathroom breaks are bit more involved. However, many brands are coming up with innovative ideas to tackle the difficult question of how to make answering the call of nature easier for female cyclists. With new strap designs and bathroom accessible models now available, woman can now focus on the comfort elements when shopping for a new pair of bibs.

Chamois

A chamois that fits well and feels great will make all the difference in ride comfort: a chamois that fits well and feels great will make all the difference in ride comfort
A chamois that fits well and feels great will make all the difference in ride comfort: a chamois that fits well and feels great will make all the difference in ride comfort

A comfy chamois lies at the heart of any good pair of bibs

A comfortable chamois is without a doubt the most important feature of any cycling shorts or bib shorts. Fancy straps and high-tech elements won’t make a difference if your chamois is uncomfortable and your ride is miserable. So spend the time you need to try on different brands and different chamois to find the best fit for your body.

Seamless chamois or ones with minimal stitching are an ideal choice when shopping for bib shorts. Scratchy seams can rub and pinch sensitive areas and lead to a really uncomfortable ride. Also, make sure the chamois is made from soft material and sits flush with your undercarriage. Too much material will cause bunching and chafing; too little material won’t offer up enough padding.

Beyond different designs, many chamois now also come complete with high-tech features such as anti-bacterial and anti-chafing materials. These features also contribute to comfort in different ways and can be much-appreciated additions.

Bathroom break accessibility

The number one reason women don’t wear bib shorts is because of the inconvenience when it comes to mid-ride bathroom breaks. Pulling bibs down far enough to take care of business requires removing your jersey, jacket or vest first. Not only is this process time consuming; it also leaves you exposed to the elements on cold days – not to mention out in the open for passing drivers and other cyclists to see.

However, many of the newest women’s bibs designs are making nature breaks easier and more modest with innovative strap designs and buckle systems.  These new designs allow riders to unhook the bib’s straps and pull the shorts down without removing their jersey. Quicker comfort breaks mean more time riding and less time searching for 'the facilities' – something we all can certainly appreciate.

Straps

Bib straps should securely hold the shorts in place without causing uncomfortable pressure on your shoulders. With many new strap designs recently hitting the market, there are plenty of options to choose from to suit your body shape and personal preferences. Several of the more common strap designs include:

  • Classic straps – two parallel straps that run independently over the shoulders
  • Halter tops – straps connect in the back just behind your neck
  • Buckle systems– a buckle hooks straps together and then easily releases for a quick bathroom break
  • Built-in base layer – usually seen with a zipper in the front, these remove the straps almost entirely making the bibs more like a lightweight body suit

Of these different designs, the halter-tops and buckle system bibs make for the quickest and easiest bathroom breaks. While accessibility is important, though, remember that comfort is a critical factor when deciding on new bib shorts. Make sure to try on several different designs to find the most comfortable bibs with the strap system that works for you.

Leg hems

Avoid the dreaded
Avoid the dreaded

Avoid the dreaded 'sausage legs' with leg hems that work with your body and your leg warmers

Leg hems are another key feature to check out when shopping for bib shorts. If the hems are too tight, you’ll get the dreaded 'sausage leg' look, which is not only uncomfortable but extremely unflattering. However, leg bands that are too loose will cause the shorts to ride up and you’ll find yourself constantly tugging them down while riding.

Another characteristic to consider is whether bibs have elastic or laser cut leg hems. Elastic hems are better at keeping bibs in place and preventing the shorts from riding up. They also keep knee and leg warmers snugly in place for cooler rides in the spring or autumn/fall. Unfortunately, elastic cuffs often feel tight and uncomfortable against the skin and can cause bulging around the seams.

On the other hand, laser cut hems are more flattering since they don’t have seems or elastic to constrict and contort your legs. They are, however, more prone to riding up because of their elastic-less hems and are better suited for summer riding when leg and knee warmers aren’t necessary.  

In either case, look for rubberized material on the underside of the hem. This will keep your bibs in place and play nicely with knee and leg warmers.

Popular brands

Several common brands we’ve had luck with over the years include Rapha, Assos, Velocio, and Castelli. While these bibs work for us, it doesn’t mean they're right for everyone so make sure you try different brands and styles until you find the right fit for you. While these brands are on the expensive side, it’s worth investing in a great pair of bib shorts that you’ll keep for years to come. To protect this investment, wash your bibs in cold water and hang dry to keep them in mint condition.

However, great fitting bibs don’t necessarily have to cost an arm and a leg. Brands such as Pearl Izumi offer several levels of bib shorts that range from expensive and high-tech options to more affordable bibs with fewer bells and whistles. The less expensive bibs typically use heavier, less technical materials but they’re often just as comfortable at a fraction of the price.

Women looking for plus size cycling bibs and shorts can find sizes 4-5XL from brands like Terry, Aerotech, and Northwave.

If you’re on the other end of the spectrum and need petite sizes, check out Castelli and Assos. These two brands offer XS sizes and they typically run a bit smaller than other brands.

Bibs for everyone

With so many women’s bib short options available, you can find a quality pair of bibs that suits your budget and your preferences. Spend some time trying on different styles and brands to find what works best for you. This extra time will make all the difference when you finally hit the road and feel more comfortable than ever before.

Kristen is a former professional triathlete, current elite cyclists, and lives for two-wheeled adventures the world over. She was one of six women to ride the entire Tour de France in 2012 as part of the women's Rêve Tour team. Besides riding and writing about bikes, Legan also coaches with APEX Coaching out of Boulder, Colorado.
  • Preferred Terrain: Dirt climbs and twisty mountain descents
  • Beer of Choice: Left Hand Brewing Milk Stout

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