Cycling shorts vs bib shorts: is straps or no straps the best solution for your cycling comfort?

Cycling shorts vs bib shorts: from cool commutes to comfy competitions, which short style suits your cycling?

Ribble R872 Enthusiast Disc Review
(Image credit: Rapha)

Ah, the age old debate still rages: Bib Shorts vs Cycling Shorts. The world of cycling, on the whole, tends to be all tight fitting materials, padded crotches and circulation-restricting hems that grip to leg hair like superglue, but despite what the professionals might tell you, there is choice outside of this realm of Tour de France-style kit and it is often referred to as the Waist Short… or just a pair of cycling shorts if you can’t be bothered with the bike jargon. 

The bib short, meanwhile, packs the same sort of characteristics mentioned in the previous paragraph, but adds a pair of fabric braces to keep them in place. For me, they are by far the best choice for those putting in serious miles, as they are aerodynamic, comfortable and designed to act as a second skin when out on the road.

However, for those looking for something a little less figure-hugging, there are many cycling shorts on sale today that don’t reveal so much, erm, appendage, but still boast comfort-enhancing features and handy things, like pockets, that make any time spent on the bike that little bit easier.

In this article, we look at the pros and cons of both bib shorts and more generic cycling shorts (or waist shorts, if you must) to determine which is the best fit for your style of riding, whether that’s a short pedal to the shops in the morning, full-on trail exploration or punishing road bike racing. It's THE big question that's rocking the cycling world: should you buy the best bib short or the best cycling shorts? I will now answer your questions…

Rapha Women's All Day Leggings and Shorts collection

(Image credit: Rapha)

Bib Shorts v Cycling Shorts: price and availability

Like so many things in the cycling world, pricing varies wildly between brands, with basic dhb (Wiggle’s own-brand) Waist Shorts starting at around £30. Brands like Assos will charge £100+ for something similar, thanks to a more technologically advanced pad (or chamois) and the fancy materials involved.

On the whole, Bib Shorts tend to be more expensive, as they are the choice of the professional road cyclist so generally have more R&D heaped upon them. They also tend to use the Pro Peloton links as a marketing tool, with many road cyclists wanting to wear the same gear as their idols. As such, expect to part with the big bucks, with prices ranging from around £40-50 for basic models and upwards of £300 for those offered by Castelli, Assos and Rapha. 

Altura bib shorts 2021

(Image credit: Altura)

Bib Shorts v Cycling Shorts: fit and comfort 

A set of bib shorts, by their very nature, are going to feel unnaturally tight to the uninitiated and that’s because they are designed with maximum aerodynamic efficiency and long term comfort in mind.

For pro cyclists, even the smallest piece of flapping fabric can be detrimental to overall performance, either because it causes excessive drag or simply because it rubs against the skin as the legs endlessly rotate, causing discomfort and even chafing during the more arduous high mileage events.

For that reason, companies such as Le Col, Rapha and Assos (all of which tend to cost a small fortune to buy) have spent hours in wind tunnels, selecting and perfecting the lightest and most aerodynamic materials for their products. NoPinz, for example, sells a set of Bib Shorts that feature “Speedscalez” fabric - a material with lots of minute dimples that is said to encourage airflow and slice through the atmosphere like a golf ball, saving cyclists precious watts.

If you’re happy with the skin tight look and require the ultimate in cycling performance, a set of Bib  Shorts is likely going to be the best option for you, as the additional straps that hook over the shoulders (like braces) help keep everything in place and prevents the rear or the front of the shorts from slipping. They are arguably more comfortable because of this and come in shapes for both men and women

However, the straps can feel a bit restrictive for some, so there are also skin tight, male and female-orientated performance “Waist Shorts” out there that shun the straps, Rapha’s Core Shorts being some of the most popular. There’s also a Cargo version of the same product that feature pockets for stashing kit, meaning you don’t need to wear a jersey to carry stuff.

For a more relaxed fit and casual look, there are a number of chino style shorts that look more like something you’d wear to the pub on a sunny day, but are generally constructed from stretchy elastane fabric for improved movement and detachable padded linings for those who need a bit of additional saddle comfort.

Rapha + Snow Peak Outdoor Set price availability

(Image credit: Rapha)

Bib Shorts v Cycling Shorts: styling 

As previously mentioned, it can be a bit disconcerting if you turn up to the office or, we dread to think, drop the little ones at the school gates wearing a skintight set of Bib Shorts and an equally revealing jersey.

There’s just no real need to be on the cutting edge of cycling performance for shorter hops or more social rides, so something like the Endura Hummvee Chino Short is perhaps the better choice. They are stretchy enough to be comfortable (and they include removable padding or chamois), yet look ten times more fashionable than Lycra.

Just bear in mind that these casual shorts can feel a bit bulky, thanks to them sporting various linings and additional padding, so make sure you test a pair out before committing to buy to ensure the bulk doesn’t get in the way of your biking.

Now, let’s talk Bib Shorts. Sure, if you have legs like ham hocks, the body fat percentage of a racing whippet and a Californian suntan, a set of Bib Shorts might look relatively flattering in a sort of Victorian strong man kind of way, but on the whole, they aren’t designed to look good on a night out… or in a board meeting. 

The ultra-tight fit tends to reveal a lot and when paired with an equally cloying jersey, they don’t do much to avert the eyes from a slight paunch or worse, the old man sausage. So leave the Bib Shorts for longer rides on the road bike, where maximum comfort and kudos points are needed among comrades, or when genuinely racing and every ounce of effort counts.

Similarly, cycling shorts are also available for various disciplines, so you’ll find a specific mountain bike shorts, for example, that boast waterproof properties, as well as pockets to stash essential pieces of kit and snacks. 

And now, time to shop

Leon Poultney

Leon has been writing about automotive and consumer tech for longer than he cares to divulge. When he’s not testing the latest fitness wearable and action camera, he’s out in a shed fawning over his motorcycles or trying not to kill himself on a mountain bike/surfboard/other extreme thing. He's also a man who knows his tools, and he's provided much of T3's drills coverage over the years, all without injuring himself.