With the promise of a exclusive ASU Cycling Team kit (of which I was not a member, so I felt especially honored), I went to try on my first pair of bibs.
The salesperson returned from the stockroom holding two packages.
“I brought you a Ladies’ small and medium,” he said, quickly sizing up my lower body and handing over the goods.
I laughed out loud. There was nooooooo way I was fitting into a small short.
After some discussion about the unisex chamois, I ended up purchasing a ladies’ medium jersey and men’s LARGE bibs.
Yep, you read that right.
Bibs, for those new to the term, are the cycling shorts kept up with suspender-like straps over the shoulders, instead of an elastic waistband (think: high-school wrestling team uniform). They’re usually worn with a matching jersey (top) as a part of a very professional-looking, sleek ensemble that almost looks like Blue Man Group body sock adorn with fancy sponsor logos, and is actually a two-piece set that makes up what’s called The Full Kit.
Since this first purchase, I have become an advocate of wearing bibs - in many circumstances, though not all. Also, since this purchase, this somewhat comical, somewhat embarrassing conversation over my size disparity has taken place in the doorway of many Cycle Shop fitting rooms (I often joke that I should have just handed the two packages back and suggested he try again). Which leads me to one of the down-sides of wearing bibs - the sizing.
If you’re considering buying some bibs, I’ve compiled a few pros and cons to be aware of:
- Better Breathing
- Maintaining a deep, consistent “belly” breath helps regulate overheating and exhaustion while on the bike, and the diaphragm and lower abdomen can move more freely in bibs.
- Along with less restricted breathing, bibs help you avoid the inadvertent nip-tuck tight shorts may give you, which can result in shallower breaths, stomach cramping, and even rash lines at the waistband. And, according to Trek University Online, a resource for Trek retailers and enthusiasts, bibs help keep the chamois in place, keeping your privates better padded.
- Great Conversation Starter
- “Hey, cool Kit, where is that from” or, “Oh, I’ve been to that shop/brewery/race” is a great way to break the ice if you spot a fellow cyclist out and about. I’ve started collecting kits from each vacation I go on, my favorite being from a cycle shop in Puerto Rico, and I’m thrilled to talk about it whenever anyone mentions my unusual kit, and I’ve noticed the same goes for others when I ask about their interesting logos.
- Look Slick, Build Confidence
- A main feature of wearing bibs is that they are more streamlined, “aerodynamic” (though probably won’t cut much time off your trails), and look sleek and pulled together. For a beginner cyclist this can be a huge confidence boost, like the concept of “fake it till you make it,” or the old adage about buying yourself a new gym outfit before starting a new workout program. Even the process of buying the bibs, as I described above, can be a learning experience in the world of cycling, and fodder for funny chit-chat with other cyclists who have inevitably had similar experiences!
- Potty Breaks
- Embarrassing but true, bibs are significantly more difficult to remove in a hurry if you’re rushing to the toilet. Unlike shorts, which you just pull down, to remove bibs you must completely take of your shirt (for women, at least), unhook the suspenders from your shoulders and then pull them down. I have done this in a porta-potty with my jersey and gloves between my teeth, squatting and trying not to touch anything or breathe… it can be a challenge. For this reason, if you are going for a short ride, go for the bibs, but if you’re anticipating a couple bathroom stops, especially porta-potties or the “natural” pit stop (aka squatting behind a tree), I would recommend shorts.
- Less Matching Options
- At any cycling store, you will find plain black bibs that can be matched with any top… in the men’s section. For women… not as common. Women’s cycling bibs usually come as part of a matching kit. There are some unspoken rules regarding The Full Kit, which I won’t fully cover here, but the gist is that The Full Kit should be worn as one set, and not mixed and matched. It makes sense, as the bibs and jerseys will have a particular color scheme and logos, which usually follow the lines of the body to make the kit look like one piece instead of two. Obviously wearing the bibs of one cycling club with the jersey of another will not only look weird, but may even be offensive. In general mixing and matching your bibs that are part of kits is looked at as poor taste, which leaves you with less outfits to pick from.
- Racing Styles
- Female bibs are usually part of a full kit, and full kits are designed with the professional in mind - aka the “Racing Style.” Racing Style Kits are thinner, tighter and may contain more mesh than your typical jersey and bibs. Therefore, the sizing may be a little off, as I described above, and the thin material may wear out quicker. Sadly, the chamois in racing bibs are often slightly thinner than regular shorts and may be unisex, meaning that the bibs won’t offer the best support four our bum and lady parts. Also, because of the thin material and abundance of breathable mesh, Full Kits are known to be see-through… so do some test squats and bends in the fitting room to make sure everything is covered :)