What Are Cycling Bibs? The Complete Guide


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With any hobby, there are specialist things you only learn once you start to do it. One such thing to cycling is cycling bibs. Unless you’re an experienced cyclist you will very likely never have heard of them, so today I will explain what they are.

Cycling bibs are skin-tight garments used in cycling that has advantages over traditional bike shorts. Bike shorts are prone to rolling over, sliding down, and moving out of place. Cycling bibs solve these issues. However, they are more difficult to remove to go to the bathroom.

They look identical to the uniform used in wrestling, the main difference is they have what’s called a ‘chamois’ which is a padded groin region.

There are some cases where it’s better to wear bike shorts for cycling, so in this article, I will cover why they’re worn, and when it makes more sense to wear bike shorts, a cycling bib, or regular clothing for cycling.

What are cycling bibs?
Cycling bibs are gaining in popularity for a range of reasons

Why Wear a Cycling Bib Instead of Bike Shorts or Clothes

In general, tight-fitting lycra like a cycling bib is faster than baggy clothes, and much more comfortable than shorts. On average you gain 1.2 miles per hour (2km/hr) of speed just from wearing tight-fitting lycra clothing over normal loose-fitting clothing.

It’s possible to get something similar to a cycling bib by wearing bike shorts and a lycra top.

Most people report that cycling shorts can dig into your belly which can be uncomfortable. Especially, because when riding you’re generally in a crouched position.

Here are some lists that show the main advantages of each broad type of outfit.

Advantages of each clothing type for cycling:

There are pros and cons to each type of clothing you can wear when cycling. Here’s a list of the advantages of each:

Advantages of baggy fitting clothes

  • Doesn’t show your whole body in detail (more modest)
  • You don’t look like professional cyclist (you fit in more with the crowd)

Advantages of tight-fitting clothing (typically lycra)

  • You go faster
  • Generally, more comfortable than regular clothing
  • Easier to change out of than a cycling bib
  • Less likely to cause chaffing

Advantages of cycling bibs

  • You go faster
  • More comfortable than wearing individual garments of tight fitting clothing (lycra)
  • Even more less likely to cause chaffing

Disadvantages of each clothing type for cycling:

Although, each of the different kinds of clothes you can wear when cycling has advantages, there are also some trade-offs. Being aware of these will allow you to make the best decision about what clothing will be best for you when cycling.

Disadvantages of baggy fitting clothes

  • You don’t go as fast
  • Not as comfortable
  • Can cause chaffing

Disadvantages of tight-fitting clothing (typically lycra)

  • Not as comfortable as a cycling bib
  • Your whole body shows, kind of like being naked

Disadvantages of cycling bibs

  • Hard to change out of compared to normal clothes or tight fitting lycra
  • Your whole body shows, kind of like being naked
  • Need to wear a shirt on top

Because lycra is tighter fitting in a regular hour of riding you can go an extra 1.2 miles (2 km), this is quite a long distance. If you ride for even longer say 2 to 3 hours the difference becomes very pronounced. 

With no extra effort, you travel much further. Although, working your body and getting tired can feel quite good to some. You get much more bang for your buck out of your riding with lycra. Therefore, you can enjoy your riding more.

Here’s a table that shows how much further you go wearing tight fighting clothing that you normally see professional cyclists and serious hobbyists wearing:

Time spent cyclingHow much further you go with the same effort wearing tight clothing compared to normal clothing
30 minutes0.6 miles (1 km)
1 hour1.2 miles (2 km)
1.5 hours1.8 miles (3 km)
2 hours2.4 miles (4 km)
2.5 hours3.0 miles (5 km)
3 hours3.6 miles (6 km)
3.5 hours4.2 miles (7 km)
4 hours4.8 miles (8 km)

As you can see from the table, if you go for a reasonably long bike ride you can go significantly further with no extra effort just by wearing lycra.

But, the difference in the distance you can travel is quite large. Even if you’re only going for a short bike ride you can enjoy your ride much more because you don’t need to stress your body as hard.

Woman cyclist wearing cycling bibs
If you are looking to optimize your speed, while minimizing your chaffing, then cycling bibs are a good fit

Common complaints about bike shorts from cyclists

There is a range of complaints cyclists have about bike shorts. These are that bike shorts tend to fold over at the top, and slide down. These often cause a person’s butt crack to show. 

Many cyclists say that they have frequently seen people’s butt crack when the other person is wearing bike shorts.

This is not a very classy move, but it can happen by accident.

With cycling bibs, this doesn’t happen as the shorts are all one piece and are held up by the straps that go over the shoulders.

Advantages of bike shorts over cycling bibs

Bike shorts are much easier to take on and off than cycling bibs. When wearing lycra clothing you should not wear underwear underneath.

So, if you need to go to the bathroom you need to essentially get naked to take a poop. Whereas, with bike shorts, you can pull them down like regular shorts.

For guys taking a pee isn’t a big deal when you’re wearing bike shorts or a cycling bib. The reason is that the cycling bib material is flexible enough that you can pull it down at the front enough to take a pee. 

Whereas for women it’s much more difficult to take a pee with a cycling bib, and they need to essentially get naked to take a pee. For this reason, there are bibs that have built-in zippers that people report work as really well.

Using a cycling bib for a commute to work

A cycling bib is more difficult to take off than cycling shorts.

If you use your bike to commute to work, then cycling shorts can be a better option if you have limited room to get changed such as a bathroom stall.

After some time cycling bibs will wear out and they need to be replaced. Here’s a helpful article from Road.cc that explains how to know when to replace your cycling bib shorts.

Do You Wear Anything Under Cycling Bibs?

A cycling bib looks a bit out there unless you watch competitive cycling. The design of them is such that it’s possible to wear underwear or shorts underneath. But, is this the best practice when it comes to cycling bibs?

You do not wear anything under a cycling bib. A shirt or tight-fitting shirt under your torso is not recommended. The reason is that the main benefit of cycling bibs is they stop chaffing. Clothing worn underneath will cause chaffing and is frowned upon.

It’s perfectly fine to wear something over the top. For example, if you want to wear something for extra warmth such as a t-shirt it’s best to wear it over the top rather than underneath. Underneath it can bunch up especially if it’s a bit loose. And it looks much better to wear it on top.

Are Cycling Bibs Comfortable

Cycling bibs look a bit odd at first glance and are something a person would wear on a typical day. Therefore, you may be wondering how comfortable they are, here’s what cyclists report.

Cycling bibs are comfortable. Virtually everyone who wears a cycling bib cycling for the first time they’re much more comfortable than bike shorts. The reason is the shoulder straps stop the shorts from moving out of place, and the top doesn’t fold over and/or dig into the skin.

Cycling shorts are better than baggy clothing because you travel further with the same effort.

But, cycling shorts tend to move out of position as you’re riding. They can also often slide down. Because you’re not supposed to wear underwear underneath it can show the top of your, ahem, but crack.

Sources

Martin Williams

Martin has been tearing up all sorts of trails on a range of bikes ever since he was young. He once cycled across France, and once fell into a canal on a hybrid. He writes about everything to do with cycling on our site. You can find out more about him at bicycle2work.com/about-martin-williams/

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