What Makes A Good Cycling Bib Short?

by | Oct 11, 2022 | Bike, Buyer's Guide

Finding the right cycling bib for you takes a bit of work. We speak to the experts on design and performance to break it down for you.

Cycling Bibs Shorts For Comfort And Performance
Cycling bibs need to withstand the demands you put on them out on the trail or tar. (c) Craig Kolesky

“A good pair of bib shorts is essential for any rider. The part of the body that moves around the most while riding is your legs so you want to make sure you’re wearing a tight fitting bib with a comfortable chamois that is going to let you ride as long as you want to without feeling any discomfort.”

Marco Joubert – Pro MTB Racer

When it comes to the sport of cycling, it can seem like there is an endless list of essential kit that is needed; helmets, shoes, gloves, special jersey and pants, and don’t even get me started on the sock situation. If you’ve done much riding around on a bicycle in a casual way, you’ll probably have noticed that having all the “right” gear isn’t that crucial.

A helmet? I would 100% advise that, no matter the occasion. Shoes? You can get a lot done with some takkies and flat pedals! Gloves? They do help preserve the skin on your hands when breaking your fall (which I do quite a lot of..). Cycling bibs? Well.. if you’re not accustomed to your bicycle seat or you’re looking to step up the miles that you’re covering, this can become a very important item on your kit list.

Cycling Bibs Shorts For Comfort And Performance
A good pair of cycling bibs boasts a snug fit, a quality chamois insert and comfortable shoulder straps that keep things in place without restricting your movement.

I myself have flopped back and forth between riding with and without cycling bib shorts a fair amount over the years but the majority of serious cyclists will swear by them. I am fortunate to ride quite regularly so “that region” is accustomed to the presence of the saddle. The style of riding that I enjoy is also very dynamic and doesn’t have my butt plastered to said saddle for hours on end, thus I can typically get away with just some light wear and tear “down there”.

I have found my situation to be fairly uncommon and thus have called on some people who are in the know about designing and wearing cycling bibs and are well positioned to shed some light on what makes a good cycling bib and how to find the right one for you! 

What Goes Into The Design Of A Good Cycling Bib

Lauren Neethling is a Senior Product Manager at Ciovita, a Cape Town based manufacturer of quality cycling apparel. When we asked Lauren what goes into designing a great cycling bib and she had this to say: “Being clear on the end use of the bib is critical. As soon as this has been identified, it influences everything – the fabric & chamois selected, style lines, pattern construction, trims used. With this framework, the performance testing process is extremely important.” She went on to note; a quality chamois, straps that are supportive but not too tight, a secure leg cuff, durable fabric, and nothing restricting your movement on the bike, as some of the key factors that make up a good cycling bib.

When it comes to finding the right bib for you, Lauren shared that it can take a bit of work but  that your main considerations should be; “What riding conditions am I using these bibs for? – This covers time on bike, terrain, and, for some bibs, weather conditions; ‘Is it comfortable?; and What is my budget?” Lead with those and you’re likely going to end up with a good cycling bib to suit your needs.

If you are taking your cycling very seriously and are needing a high performing set of cycling bibs then you may be familiar with the concept of a chamois with a floating insert. “This chamois is focussed on moving with your body,” explains Lauren, “as the normal chamois can at times move separately from your body, moving more with the bib itself. It avoids the risk of chafing and in general provides more comfort as this should move as ‘one’ with the rider.” If you’re performing at a high level and demanding a lot of your equipment, the floating insert option could be worth the extra spend. You can find an example of a bib with a floating insert here.

Cycling Bibs Shorts For Comfort And Performance
Personal preference and individual needs are important considerations with this item of kit. (c) Paige Fiddes

What Types Of Cycling Require Bib Shorts

You may not be sure that the riding you’re doing requires you to invest in some cycling bibs. Perhaps you’re getting into the trail focused side of mountain biking or you’re just into mellow weekend cruises with your mates? Not all kinds of riding are going to make a cycling bib a necessity for you, it is a matter of preference at the end of the day.

If you find that the type and amount of riding that you are doing is leading to discomfort or even pain where your body makes contact with the saddle, then a pair of bibs with a decent chamois are going to help you a lot (as might a better fitting saddle). For short time spans and low mileage rides, a budget friendly bib will likely suffice (I have had a pretty good experience with this bib from First Ascent).

Keep in mind as the demand on your equipment becomes greater and more intense, you should look for a cycling bib that has been tested with your specific use case. The designers at Ciovita take this seriously in their R&D process: “The bib needs to be tested for the end use – if it is a MTB bib, you can’t test it on the road. Your performance tester needs clear direction on how & what to test it for, so that the information you receive back is relevant.”, notes Lauren Neethling.

What Do The Pros Have To Say About Cycling Bibs

So what do the pros have to say on the topic? They are typically the ones who are putting in the most hours and longest miles with their equipment, especially in the case of Tegan Phillips who is about to cycle from Cairo to Cape Town in less than 50 days! 

Tegan: “My priorities when buying bib shorts start with fit and comfort as the obvious big ones and that can look different for different people. I think that the importance of bibs is proportional to how long you’re planning on riding. I think for an hour (even 2 hours) or less you can get away with a lot. I know I’ve done quite a lot of riding in normal clothes, and it’s fine… I think the problems start as soon as it gets hot and there is sweat, and then also long distances when you’ve got chafing and pressure”

Cycling Bibs Shorts For Comfort And Performance
Tegan Phillips ready to take on the African continent with her bib shorts and bicycle. (c) Paige Fiddes

One might ask: when there are issues, where do they arise?

“I often struggle to differentiate the issue from the bib or the saddle or just my riding position. I went to a biokineticist who said that they solved a lot of their client’s saddle sore issues by changing their bibs to a pair with either a wider chamois or a floating insert etc, whatever it was specifically that she thought would suit them better.”

Tegan isn’t shy of epic multi-day rides. In those conditions, small niggles on day 1 can become catastrophic down the line if not managed properly. This was her wisdom on keeping trouble at bay during a multi-day tour.

“When I was doing these recent 200km/day rides in America in extreme heat – which I think is when you need to watch saddle stuff and bib hygiene because the sweat causes ALL the problems – what I found very helpful was being religious about changing my bibs to a clean dry pair every 4 hours or so. Also applying fresh chamois cream and making sure to dry my body where any chaffing could be an issue. Every night I would also use some diaper rash cream (sort of like talcum powder but in a paste that one of the pros over in the States showed me) to dry the skin out and that all helped a lot!”

While not matching Tegan on hours in the saddle, a pro rider who pushes toward the extreme of speed and intensity is Imbuko {type}DEV’s Marco Joubert. Marco took a stage win alongside Pieter du Toit at the 2021 ABSA Cape Epic and is a podium regular at XCO and Stage Racing events around South Africa. While not matching Teagan on hours in the saddle, he is undoubtedly pushing his kit to the limit in racing situations. Want to know how the Cape Epic tests kit? Ask Marco.

 “I’ve done 5 Epics now. In my first Epic, the kit I rode in wasn’t that good and by day 3 my bibs actually started getting holes in them where the chamois meets the lycra! So you don’t want to cut corners when it comes to big rides like the Cape Epic and then sit in a situation where you’re trying to buy new bibs. Doing a long ride in a brand new bib can also cause a lot of problems because you actually want the chamois to wear-in a little bit. Like buying new shoes, you need to run them in a bit.”

Do you think the pros ever ride without cycling bibs?

Marco: “So the last time I rode with a bib was about a week ago (being on off season) and that morning I spent 3 hours in the saddle. That afternoon I did a short trail ride without a bib and I promise you I was struggling to sit on the saddle without a bib for more than 5 minutes, haha.

A step I take to ensure more comfort on long rides is chamois cream. I use quite a bit of chamois cream, especially on the long rides, because if you do end up chafing you won’t then get an infection in that area as most chamois creams have an antibacterial solution in them. I would definitely recommend using chamois cream.”

Cycling Bibs Shorts For Comfort And Performance
You don’t earn a Cape Epic win for nothing. (c) Nick Muzik / Cape Epic

“Priorities when buying a pair of bib shorts? I would say make sure that the bib is really tight (within reason), you don’t want any material to move. The whole point of the bib short and why it is made of lycra is to keep everything in place and to create as little friction as possible” says Marco.

The Value Of A Good Saddle

It is worth noting that no chamois can save you from a terrible fitting saddle. This is a crucial part of your bike setup to get right to ensure that you can sit comfortably for the duration of your ride and get the power down when you need to! Check out our guide to saddle setup here and speak with a local bike shop if you’re unsure that the saddle you’re using is right for you.


In summary, the essentials to comfort and performance with cycling bibs are:

  • Fit (personal preference – snug enough to stop anything from rubbing)
  • Specific use case (MTB, road, hot, cold)
  • Keep things clean and dry as best you can for long rides
  • Baby powder is a secret weapon on multi-day adventures
  • Chamois cream, as the kids would say, has the ‘juice’ (it’s the good stuff)
What Makes A Good Cycling Bib Short?
Decent chamois cream, like Ass Magic, could literally save your bacon.

And with that information overload, you can go forth and begin the adventure of finding the cycling bib that suits your body and the riding you do. Kiss goodbye the saddle sores and chafe for good!

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