Weekends with Womack

Bibs vs. bike shorts for women: no contest, the bibs have it

This week I got my newest bibs in the mail and tried them out.

No, I don’t mean these.


I mean something like these:


In nature, with a person in them (in this case, me) complete with jersey, helmet and bike, they look like this:


Many readers of this blog who are cyclists or triathletes no doubt already own cycling shorts. And if you ride a bike often but haven’t taken the spandex plunge, I can’t recommend it highly enough. Wearing spandex shorts makes cycling so much more comfortable in lots of ways. They provide coverage and a smooth and tight fit without seams, chafing, flapping, etc. And of course the chamois inside provides a bit (but not too much) padding to make extended saddle time comfortable.

Well, if you liked cycling shorts, you’ll love bib shorts. I bought my first pair a couple of years ago and almost never wear my regular cycling shorts anymore.

Why, you might ask?

On principle of not reinventing the wheel here, another cyclist blogger has already made the general case for bib shorts here.  However, my favorite reasons for wearing them are the following:

Advantage 1): They are very well-behaved and stay in place—no tugging, hitching, or pulling needed.

Advantage 2): They help provide full coverage during a ride, even if your jersey rides up or moves around, because they are higher waisted (with no waistband, just continuous fabric through the suspenders).

Advantage 3:) They feel smoother, sleeker (perhaps even a teeny bit faster), because they’re a little tighter and hold you in place. For me, bibs on the bike make me feel like a speedo does in the pool—sleek and smooth, rather than flappy or scrunched or wadded up. The fabric is taut and held in place by the suspenders, and the jersey lies flatter against it.

Advantage 4): Some bibs even come with a little radio pocket. And if you’re not busy using it to for your race radio to get tactical advice from your team manager, you can use it to stow your phone. That’s handy.

In fairness to opponents of bib shorts, though, here are some standard objections to them, along with my replies.

Objection 1): Bibs make bathroom breaks a big pain.

Reply 1): In some ways, yes—you have to take off your jersey (which may not have a full zipper, as most women’s jerseys don’t, for reasons which passeth understanding). But you get used to it, and honestly, the no-waistband feature makes them easier to get smooth when putting yourself back together.

Objection 2): Bib shorts are hotter than regular shorts because of the extra fabric for the suspenders and higher waist.

Reply 2): Honestly, when I’m cycling, I sweat a bunch anyway, so I can’t really tell that bibs are any hotter than shorts. I’ve even mountain biked in the summer in them, when one gets maximally hot, and they seem about the same. Pro cyclists wear them, and even wear an under layer beneath their jerseys, and they don’t seem to mind. So there…

Objection 3): Bibs often cost twice as much as regular cycling shorts.

Reply 3): Yep, that’s a fact. But if you’re into cycling, this shows that you’re already willing to lay down some serious money for a recreational sport. Take heart—at least cycling gear and equipment costs less than polo, Formula one/Grand Prix auto racing, and yachting. That’s something. Besides, they do go on sale—I got a deal on two pairs last week.

Objection 4): So if you like bibs so much, how do you account for all those sex-kitten photos of women wearing them topless?

Reply 4): You know, not everything is my fault. Besides, bibs don’t exploit women; stupid cheesecake photographers and misogynistic marketing people exploit women.

One last bib shorts etiquette note: if you’re likely to be photographed wearing bibs (and about to cross the finish line, triumphant), make sure to zip up your jersey first.  Don’t let this happen to you:

jersey unzipped

So readers:  do you wear bibs?  Do you hate bibs?  Do you wish all your pants had suspenders?  I’d like to know.

13 thoughts on “Bibs vs. bike shorts for women: no contest, the bibs have it

    1. Hey there– I checked out those bibs and they look great. All they have is red in my size… Hmmm…

  1. I love this post. You’re such a philosopher. Compelling reasons for bib shorts complete with an objection-reply section. But will they make me fall in love with the bike?

    1. Thanks, Tracy– we were both trained well in this tradition… re bike love conversion: well, for me, the more gear I own in a sport, the more obligated I feel to participate in it. 🙂 They have limited powers, but will make you feel more sleek and swift, which is something…

  2. Yes! Bibs are amazing! The lastest halter ones from Giro are my new favorites. However they only go upto xl. I wish there were more options for plus sized women. Volver has 2xl ( as I see you got above) but a lot of times I end of buying men’s bibs which sometimes leaves a bit too much chamois.

    1. Hi– I will check out the Giro ones. And yes, I meant to research bibs for sizes larger than XL (which is the size I’m wearing in the pic) and I did see that Voler has one size larger. But alas, many brands don’t (don’t get me started on Castelli sizing– argh…). However, it seems like more manufacturers are realizing there’s a market for athletes of all sizes, so I hope more will become available soon.

      1. Totally! I some how can still fit into my Twinsix bibs xl, but other than volver, getting anything above xl is a pain. I do hope more manufactures would do a limited run of higher sizes….

  3. Never would have known otherwise and probably gone with regular bike shorts. Thanks for the tip and recommendation!! 🙂

  4. Um, no am not interested in bibs. Primarily because of the washroom hassle and nearly having to take off part of top off to get the bib straps off. I go for long rides with my packed panniers.

    A great opportunity for a sports-garment designer to rethink a totally different solution for women.

    Given my frame size I may worry less by present jersey/top and bike shorts. (Well, I don’t wear even chamois padded on 50-100 km. long rides in 1 day.)

    1. Jean– you are the ultimate tough gal! I know from your posts that you are so completely used to being on a bike all day, every day, that no bibs are necessary for you. And yes, garment manufacturers need to think of alternatives for men and women who do lots of everyday cycling.

  5. Gotta go on the no bibs side, mainly because I pee more than anyone I know…but also, I’ve really transitioned out of wearing spandex gear. I just don’t find it comfortable anymore. Even when I’m on longer recreational rides instead of commuting or Joey-hauling, I’ll wear baggies and a t-shirt or wool t-shirt. I think we are opposite though as I am not really a gear person. Just a wool person – if I had an unlimited clothing budget, I’d wear Ibex head to toe!! 🙂 Love your posts anyway though!

  6. HI Karin– glad you are liking the posts, and I’m also glad you’re reading them! You really are my everyday cycling heroine, so comfortable on a bike doing just about anything. I remember you jokingly saying a good while ago that if there were a crit in which everyone had to ride a commuter bike with full panniers (maybe through traffic), you would win. I believe it…

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