Should you go for elastic waist shorts or bib shorts for cycling? This post will give you the information you need to get started and buy your first pair.
The battle between choosing cycling waist shorts and cycling bib shorts is a lot fierier than I realized before I jumped into forums to get input on the matter.
And while cyclists are split as to which style of cycling short is better (and why), there is a general trend to be aware of: most beginner or casual cyclists opt for waist shorts, while more experienced or race-focused riders prefer bib shorts.
Of course, though it's a matter of personal preference, there are a few things to consider before making a decision. Here’s a little primer to the main points in the cycling shorts vs bib shorts discussion.
Before picking whether you want to use waist shorts or bib shorts for cycling, there are a few general considerations to keep in mind regardless which type of cycling short you use.
You definitely don’t want a cycling short that starts to feel uncomfortable as you ride. While cycle shorts are generally designed for comfort, not all can stand the test of long-distance cycling.
To avoid the horrors of saddle sores and skin chafing, you need the right cycling shorts that would be comfortable no matter the distance you’re cycling.
In a perfect world, cost wouldn’t be an issue for anyone. We’d all automatically get the best gear that’s perfectly tuned to our bodies and our riding styles. However, that’s not the case, and cost is certainly a factor when it comes to choosing what gear is right for you.
Cycling bib shorts tend to be more expensive than their elastic waist counterparts.
Loose material is a no-no for cycling, and in the same vein you don’t want something awfully tight. If the fabric isn’t breathable (doesn’t allow for airflow) or is too tight, then you’ll build a lot of heat and friction in your lower region. That’s you signing up for saddle sores among other discomforts.
To avoid dealing with a sore bottom or crotch, your cycling shorts should be well padded. What’s more, the padding must sit firmly in place so you don’t feel it shifting while cycling.
Cycling Bib Shorts
Initially, bib shorts were designed with suspenders. Cyclists would keep the shorts in place by drawing up the suspenders. However, cycling bib shorts have gotten an upgrade in style. Nowadays, you’ll find non-removable suspenders or shoulder straps meshed into the shorts, which can be worn directly. They’re breathable and hardly pack any weight on the shoulders.
No itchy waistband – Cycling bib shorts will rid you of any potential itchy waist discomfort that comes with regular cycling shorts. Aside from the itchiness, you’re less likely to feel restricted in your breathing as there’s no waist band digging into your abdomen.
The pressure is taken off your waist, and placed lightly on your shoulders, hence leaving you comfortable to go long distances without losing your breath.
Breathable and fitting – You’re less likely to deal with heat, sweat and potential skin chafing. This is because the fabric is breathable and fits more comfortably. Thanks to shoulder strap design, you’re less likely to deal with your shorts slipping off as time passes on the saddle – the integrated suspenders keep the shorts in place.
Style – The added straps make cycling bib shorts fanciful in the sense that they’re distinctly for cycling. Additionally, your shorts as well as a vest (if you’re using one), are kept in place. It’s a benefit that regular waist shorts don’t always manage.
Pressure on the shoulders – While you feel waist is given relief from elastic, your shoulders may sting from the prolonged pressure of the shoulder straps. This happens especially when you’re cycling long distances.
Longer time taking off the shorts – Imagine needing to get to the bathroom quickly. While you can easily take off waist shorts immediately, you first have to remove the shoulder suspenders then take off your bib shorts. This might prove uncomfortable for emergency bathroom stops.
Note: depending on the cut of your bib shorts, if you’re a fella, you may be able to pull the front low enough to relieve yourself without needing to remove your straps. Sorry, ladies…
Awkward sizing on taller, hefty cyclists – While bib shorts may be stylish, it can be difficult to find a well-sized bib short for taller and heftier cyclists. They’re often too tight on the crotch and look skimpy.
Cycling Waist Shorts
As the name implies, cycling waist shorts are designed with snugly fitting elastic waist straps that keep the shorts from falling off. Unlike the bib shorts that introduce extra materials for suspenders, which ultimately increases heat, cycling waist shorts ease you of such stress. They’re breathable and fitted, and are fairly suited for varying distances.
Cooler – No suspenders equals less material to trap heat. The difference isn’t massive for most people, but if you’re the type of person that tends to overheat, it’s worth noting.
Easy sizing – as you don’t need to worry about finding a short that has the appropriate waist and shoulder size, it’s easier to find a pair of cycling shorts that fit you comfortably, especially if you’re a person that doesn’t conform to the standard sizing expectations of cycling companies (which are, honestly, ridiculous.).
Easy to wear and take off – you won’t have to spend an extra 20 seconds putting on or taking off your cycling waist shorts, since you can get all done in one swift motion. This gives it an edge over bib shorts that require extra time with the shoulder straps. Feel free to take emergency pee-stops without hassle.
Slides off overtime – depending on the distance, your cycling waist shorts can slowly slide off or roll down your waist as you ride. Hence, you’ll may need the occasional unnecessary stop to adjust your shorts.
Pressure on your waist – while the waist strap ensures a tight fit, the pressure on your waist can be quite uncomfortable at times. Due to its tightness, you may feel as though your breathing is restricted, and your waist would gradually begin to sting. This happens especially if you’re cycling over a long distance and your shorts have bunched.
Shows a little skin – due to the waist limits, your lower back may be exposed while riding. This happens especially when you’re crouched forward whilst cycling. And well, sunburn can be painful.
Cycling is a great sport, and like every other, it comes with its own gear. Wearing the right shorts could be the difference between an uncomfortable ride and a thrilling one. While both cycling shorts styles are great, they come with minor issues that you can decide to either ignore or make amends to. It would seem that the only major issue for both styles, is cycling distance and fit.
Most longtime cyclists have a tendency to lean towards bib shorts due to the added comfort of not having a waist strap. They're also much more popular with pro cyclists. Beginners often start with strapless cycling shorts because bib shorts are notably pricier...and if you're not used to them, they're kinda weird to look at.
Personally, I still own and wear both. If I had to choose, I like my bib shorts more, but standard cycling shorts are great, and I often wear them under regular shorts when I go on casual rides with friends.
If you’re into spin classes, I’ve noticed people tend to wear strapless cycling shorts to them (but admittedly, I’ve not been to many spin classes…I prefer riding at home with The Sufferfest or Peloton).
In the end, if you don’t have a strong preference, it’s worth trying out both and seeing which you enjoy wearing most.
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Christopher A Poepping says
As a "heftier" I find bib shorts much more comfortable. Even when I wasn't Hefty waist shorts rolled down in the front.
Been a biber for since 1997 not going back.