I’ve been asked a few times by fellow female cyclists for advice on the best bib shorts out there for women – so I thought I’d write out my reply so it’s here for all to see.
Firstly- now is an excellent time to buy them. Summer kit is on the way out, and the major players have some big reductions. Of course, you might be preparing for the sting of purchasing a winter wardrobe, but summer shorts can be teamed with leg warmers or chamois-less tights to cater for winter rides, and you’re still getting a saving on a quality chamois.
On the bibs vs waist argument – it’s all about the bibs, I only really wear waist shorts if I’m doing a turbo session, or have run out of bibs to wear. This can happen over the course of a week because you should wash your shorts after every wear. Most have antibacterial properties, but they’re not self cleaning and you should not be wearing underwear underneath. Underwear with cycling shorts undoes all the clever research that goes into creating the pad.
Waist shorts are ok – I can’t say I’ve ever suffered from discomfort often blamed on the waist band digging in – quality shorts should have a wide waist band which prevents this. However, with bibs you know that you can lean over and never have a triangle shaped gap between jersey and shorts, and that would just be so un-roady… That and the straps keep everything in place and comfortable.
Of course, the conundrum for ladies is that waist shorts just pull down, but bibs can require an entire undressing procedure unless well designed. The good news is, most of them are well designed.
Clothing brands like to come up with their own super exciting new technologies and give them all names. I’m not going to decode them here. Truth be told, usually real people just want to know what they’re going to be getting from the wearer experience if they splash out. So here’s a really quick round up of my favourites:
Hincapie Sportswear Power Women’s Bib Shorts – here
These were my first pair of bib shorts, and I’m a mixture of proud and ashamed to admit I still have and wear them. They’re probably around 2 years old now.
The pad isn’t quite as thick and squishy as it used to be, but it has always been thinner than some of my other options – I quite like that but if you’re planning some very long rides you might want more cushioning.
These bibs have a lovely soft material, and the legs are finished with a wide band that stays put, but isn’t made of that nasty silicone rubbish that usually results in a double-muffin-thigh. Multiple panels have been used on the legs as well which makes for a much better fit (fewer panels means more material stretching), and Hinapie have used more resilient lycra on the inner thigh and saddle area for longevity – which I can vouch for.
The comfort break mechanics going on here also impressed me. I’m told not dissimilar to Assos – but I wouldn’t know as I’m not paying Assos prices and their marketing turns me off them. A clasp at the back unclips, loops over the head, and allows you to pull the bibs down – easy. Once comforted, you pull them back up, swing the loop over your head and you’re good to go.
The negatives on these are that the reflective logo and decals peeled after about a year – that’s a fair wear but a shame. Secondly, the top of the bib meets between your breasts – perfectly comfortable, but on a warm ride you look a tad silly if you unzip your jersey by even an inch.
Evans Cycles stock Hincapie in the UK, but there is presently no stock so you’d need to order in. I’m an 8/10 and have these in a small.
Castelli Palmares Due Women’s Bib Short – here
I bought these on a whim because they were on the shop floor and I didn’t want to order something down and wait for it. They aren’t the most expensive (£52 on sale at the moment, bibs can be over £100) – but they are so very, very comfortable.
Silicone grippers on the legs are present, but they aren’t that tight and a kind layer of material over the top prevents muffin thigh. The pad is quite thick, but not overly so – fine for 3 hour rides, but not at all resembling a nappy.
It is worth noting that the legs on Castelli shorts are always much shorter than other brands. I learned this when I spent a week touring in Louis Garneau and Specialized bibs, then pulled on Castelli for a day – the result was a day spent displaying a serious tan line.
What I adore about these is the soft material. Castelli call it ‘SoftFlex’ and the name rings true – these are a pleasure to pull on and ride in, and I dig them out first after every new wash.
The pad in the Castelli bibs is their ‘kiss’ pad. I find the name a bit weird, I have to admit – but it is incredibly comfortable, and I’ve got a very old pair of waist shorts with the same pad that have well and truly stood the test of time. This isn’t a thick pad, but it’s plenty adequate for 3 hours and the light fabric means no chafing or rubbing.
The only downside is that Castelli seem to think women want to undress completely to wee, because there is no clip, clasp, or zip – you’re going to have to remove your jersey to get these off. That’s ok – just find a decent sized bush and hope no one walks past.
Despite Castelli’s reputation, I’ve got these in a small – I’m a size 8/10 and would usually expect to go medium for Castelli.
Gore Bike Wear Power 2.0 Lady Bibtights Short+ – here
This is the only pair I have included, which I don’t own. Naughty, I know. I have tried them on, though.
I’ve got a pair of Gore women’s tights, and they have the neatest comfort stop solution, with a zip the entire way around the waist – hence the inclusion. I know this works and I really appreciate it.
I have tried these bibs on, and similar to the Castelli’s, you get lovely soft material that feels great against skin. The reason for not purchasing them was that the leg grippers for me were a little tight. I love the stripe detail and they look swish when they fit, but these weren’t for me. Another major plus here is that they come with a red and white ‘go faster’ stripe option – something women’s cycling clothing so rarely benefits from and I appreciate that.
Louis Garneau Women’s Elite Laser Bibshort – here
I’m not going to go into lots of detail on these, because currently Evans Cycles don’t have any any stock – and they’re exclusive to Evans in the UK so you may struggle to get them now. However, I’m adding them in as there will no doubt be a new version when the new season kit arrives. You could order them from here or do some research if you really fell for them.
These are a higher end version than those above, and the key difference is compression on the legs, designed to boost blood flow and enhance muscle support. I can’t quantify how effective this is, but these are comfortable and they feel much more racey than some of the softer, cosier options. I’d probably be more likely to pull these out for a tough event, where I want to feel suited and booted to go hard. The pad is a bit thicker than that in the Castelli and Hincapie bibs, this is ok but I prefer the lighter option I’ve got from the other brands as I find an overly thick pad can crumple a bit.
The top of the bib unclasps as per Hincapie’s design – so you get the same convenience, and the same odd look should you want to loosen your zip. My only gripe with these is that the material is tad thin, and I have occasionally questioned if it could be a little opaque in some of the grey areas. I’ve got them in a small but do wonder if a medium might combat this…
Obviously, we’re currently seeing signs of autumn and winter is on the way in – I know, I’m sorry too. That doesn’t mean you need to buy a brand new wardrobe. Cycling bibs are expensive enough, without needing a full replacement with expensive chamois and all.
Through autumn, I’ll team my bibs with a pair of knee warmers. For me, that’s my Speicalized ones. I’ll always choose the option with the widest band at the top. I know I’ve mentioned muffin leg heavily – but from conversations with fellow female cyclists, it isn’t just me that hates the overflow caused by super tight fabric on ‘feminine’ thighs.
Come winter, I’ll add non-padded bibs over the shorts, this means I can still make use of my pricey summer shorts, whilst also benefitting from extra warmth when needed.