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Talking Lycra: The Pros and Cons of Cycling Bib Shorts

Posted on Sep 16, 2015 by Paul Easto

I feel as if I should start this gear review with a confession. For over 20 years I was of the “not to be persuaded mindset” that the only form of biking worth doing was mountain biking.

Consequently bib shorts were somewhat of a novelty. In fact, up until a couple of years ago when I got my first proper road bike, the thought of exposing any lycra to the passing population was a line which should never be crossed.

cycle bibs

Back in 2012, everything changed and I discovered the simplicity and joy of road biking. Zero faff required – no need to drive to the trailhead, no backpack required, no endless washing of bike and kit required. Simply pull the road bike out of the garage, ride and revel in the speed and ground covered. It was a revelation. So much so, that of the 2,500km I have ridden this summer probably no more than 10% of those have been off-road.

Advantages:

  • Pad Comfort
  • Support
  • Feel & Appearance

Disadvantages:

  • Comfort
  • The Bathroom!
  • Appearance!

This season I have been trying out the Endura FS260-Pro SL Bibshort. I’ve also been using the Bibknicker (3/4 length) from the same range. For more than a decade, I’ve been a fan of Endura bike clothing. Much of the gear I bought for mountain biking many years ago is still going strong – always a testament to quality and value.

It’s also nice to be supporting a UK business, based not too far away in the central belt of Scotland.What has this all got to do with a pair of bib shorts? Well, after a few months on the road it quickly became apparent that riding around with baggy shorts and bike jerseys and a peak on the helmet just doesn’t cut it.

Beyond a certain point, road biking and mountain biking requires different kit and the longer you ride the more you start to appreciate the value of well fitting, comfortable clothing.See some of the best highland road cycling routes here!

This review is as much about bib shorts as it is the Endura FS260 Pro. I figure that’s helpful as many of our clients ask about them and equally I have many friends who have recreationally ridden on the road for years but don’t own a pair of “bibs”. Having made the switch from shorts to bibs (I still use shorts for shorter rides), here’s my take on the advantages and disadvantages:

The Advantages of Cycling Bib Shorts

  1. Pad Comfort – whether you’re using shorts or bibs, the all important part of the garment is the pad or chamois. With bibs, this pad stays in place with movement. This is something which can be an issue with shorts. Movement = chaffing and chaffing = problems. In simple terms it’s akin to a pair of shoes or biking boots that don’t fit properly.
  2. Cut & Support – the braces or suspenders ensure that bib shorts stay in place providing great support around the core. I find this invaluable on longer rides. They also avoid the embarrassing situation of exposing a bit too much of your rear. If you use shorts and like riding on drop handlebars, those car horns from behind might not just be warning you that there’s a vehicle about to pass.
  3. Feel & Appearance – this may be a bit more intangible but a good pair of bib shorts look and feel great compared to shorts. It sounds ridiculous but I honestly feel like a better and stronger rider in bib shorts. Marginal gains and all that.

Cycle bibs

The Disadvantages of Cycling Bib Shorts

Comfort – while comfort can be a big plus, bib shorts might not work for everyone. I have tried several pairs and the suspenders are too tight and/or narrow and uncomfortable. If you have a long back like me that could be an issue for you. Some people also complain that bib shorts can contribute to overheating but in the UK that’s a nice problem to have.

The Bathroom – arguably the trickiest part of becoming a bib short wearer. The quick pit-stop at the side of the road is no longer a simple affair. Without going into too much detail, using the bathroom with bib shorts involves various states of undress. Not a problem if your ride involves a leisurely lunch but problematic if you’re riding for a time in your local sportive.

Appearance – as long as your cycling jersey is on, you’re fine. No-one will be able to discern whether you’re a bib wearer or not. However, as soon as you remove your jersey be ready for ridicule from anyone who has the misfortunate of seeing you. It does no wonder of good for your ageing confidence when your 7 year daughter says “what on earth are you wearing Daddy?”

Endura FS260-Pro SL Bibshort

The Endura FS260 Pro Bib Shorts have been my go-to bibs this year, especially for longer rides. I find them incredibly comfortable compared to some other bib shorts I have owned in the past. For sure, there are cheaper bib shorts out there but what Endura offer with the FS260 range is the ability to customise the shorts to your body shape. While we’re not talking Saville Row for cyclists, you can, in addition to the regular size choice, choose between three different widths of pad (narrow, medium, wide) and two leg lengths.

Cycle bibs

Endura suggests that the choice of pad width will depend upon several factors including your sit bones, saddle and rider position. There are currently ten stores in the UK which have the technology to create the ultimate fit by mapping “backside” pressure (a non-technical term) and matching this with the pad choice. I kept it simple when ordering by using the approximate guide available on Endura’s website here, measuring my saddle and matching it to the pad.

My experience with leg length on bib shorts varies widely. Far too many pairs I have make Daley Thompson’s shorts from the 80’s look a generous cut. It doesn’t do much for your confidence or comfort when you’re riding in a pair that look more like dodgy hot pants than bib shorts. For this reason, I opted for the longer leg length in the Endura shorts and they fit great despite me not having particularly long legs.

In terms of sizing, I have always found Endura to be pretty generous. I’m 6ft 1” and 80kg and the medium fit works well for me.

Throughout a whole range of rides this year, I have found the Endura bib shorts to be a great addition to the cycling wardrobe. I’ve come to really appreciate the quality and fit of the pad on longer rides. On first sight I was concerned that the leg grippers wouldn’t last but they have held fast with no signs of deterioration.

The braces/suspenders are a good width so no issues with the fabric cutting into your shoulders which I have found on other pairs. The only downside I have found is that the label is positioned rather awkwardly on the middle of the lower back. When you first put the bibs on you think it’s going to an issue but it’s hardly noticeable after 10 minutes in the saddle.

In summary, I believe it’s hard to go back to wearing shorts after my bib experience. Mountain biking is less of an issue due to the range of positions you ride in and, be assured, any lycra remains well hidden while in an off-road environment. However, for road cycling, I am converted – it’s bibs all the way even if it does mean occasional abuse from the family!

At Wilderness Scotland we have become so enamoured by the Endura FS260 range that we have included their bib shorts in our Top 5 Items to Take on a Cycling Holiday!

 

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