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OK, I'm convinced. Bibs are useful. Until about 40-km rides I was quite comfortable with cycling pants, but starting from 50+ km I see that the waist rubber band really digs in, and when hunched over, one's stomach naturally protrudes. The pressure becomes uncomfortable.

If bibs have one advantage, it's that they rest on the shoulders and put no pressure on the waist. Maybe there are other advantages (no slipping—but the strong rubber band was doing a good job of that—what else?), but releasing waist pressure for longer rides is enough of a reason for me.

But if comfort is what it's about, what's with the insistence that bibs be worn on the skin underneath a shirt—for men and women alike. Wouldn't it be nice to distribute the pressure by wearing the bib over the shirt?

Is it that those who want to distribute the strap pressure need to wear an "underwear" no-sleeve shirt, then the bib, then a shirt? Wearing two layers on top would be unpleasant when the temperature is +30C.

(The keywords to use while searching for such a garment seem to be "cycling sleeveless base layer", or just "sleeveless base layer".)

Which leaves elegance as the likely reason. The cyclist looks a lot cooler (in the sense of 'hip') when no suspenders are to be seen. I agree. It'd even be a bit of a sore sight to see the suspenders. But elegance be damned. What if I just want to be super comfortable and have no intention of being photographed that day (poor you, Harrison Ford, you can't cycle in peace—they have to hound you). What if I'll ignore the looks coming from the cycling buffs who will no doubt look towards me with amusement, or with downright contempt.

Doesn't wearing bibs over—rather than under—a jersey make more sense, in terms of convenience and comfort for the rider—disregarding that it's inherently less elegant?

For the purpose of this question, we will assume that one has found a shirt that can itself be conveniently and comfortably worn against the skin.

In case it makes a difference, I'm talking specifically about road cycling.

Postlude

One of the main unstated premises to this question is the ability to wear the same cycling pants or bibs two or three times before washing. This means that the rider does contradict the advice of bicycling magazines and does wear underwear under the pants or the bibs (it's quite all right if you disagree; but that makes your context fit for a different question). Merino base layers for winter sports can famously be worn several days in a row on a trip without washing, because wool is rather inhospitable to bacteria, which are what cause the foul smell. The lycra and other synthetic materials used for cycling pants and bibs are also a bit resistant to bacterial growth. Hence two rides in the same pants/bibs (travel; spend the night; return) are quite all right. Carrying extra underwear is easy. Perhaps you see now that this scenario provides a more compelling use case for wearing a suitable cycling jersey under the bibs, and also carry along a change of jersey. If the bibs do not fit too tightly, that's a recipe for poor aerodynamics from the sail-like bibs—as Criggie suggested—but on a long trip a bit of air inside tight-fitting bibs might be welcome anyway, even if it drops one's speed (we are hardly talking about racing here). The question remains whether some riding requirements make it compelling enough to wear bibs over a single jersey.

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  • 2
    So you're describing an under shirt, aka a base layer, worn underneath bibs with nothing else on?
    – Criggie
    Jun 6 at 23:02
  • 2
    A lot of people ride with an ultra light layer under the bib. Jun 7 at 1:01
  • 1
    @Criggie You're right. Used like this the (under) shirt is a problem by itself. A regular top will have a band at the bottom that makes it unsuitable, and a sleeveless shirt would score too low in the looks department, even by my relaxed standards, not to mention that it's nice to protect one's upper arms from the sun and the torrents of gnats in wooded paths.
    – Sam
    Jun 7 at 3:11
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    @NathanKnutson Nice to know it's done. I suppose it'd even be a welcome addition when it's 55°F to 70°F, but is wearing a base layer plus a jersey a workable solution in July/August when it's over 90°F?
    – Sam
    Jun 7 at 3:14
  • 4
    I'd like to challenge the assumption that wearing bib straps over non-rigid shirt would significantly spread the pressure. I'm expecting to this question to be about wearing bib over shoulder pads sooner or later.
    – ojs
    Jun 7 at 7:52
6

Three things come straight to mind.

  1. Pockets - there is no storage in bibs, other than a small pocket in the back intended for a race radio only, and this is just on high-end race-specific items

  2. UCI rules - I bet there are some written rules around jerseys, sponsor's logos, and skin suits that will have an effect on what can be worn, and when.
    A sponsor wants the full impact of their advertising money naturally.

  3. Aerodynamics - I suspect bib shorts by themselves aren't as aero as bib shorts with a well fitting jersey on top.


For personal riding, you can wear whatever you want, however you want. There are no restrictions other than common sense (sun protection, abrasion protection in a fall) and perhaps local laws. If you want to ride fast, then aerodynamics will lean toward the style of clothes that the pros are wearing anyway.


Personally, on my road bike, I wear a base layer (which is a tee-shirt made out of fancy-stuff or polypropyline, maybe long or short sleeves), then on top of that I wear bib shorts, and then a riding top over that. For hot summer rides I might forgo the base later, for winter rides I add full leg and arm warmers.

My bibs have relatively wide shoulder straps, they do not dig in when worn on the skin directly.

I would not go riding in just bib shorts, and I'd always wear a riding top because of pockets and sun protection. I also wear normal trousers over my bib shorts, because pockets. The only time I ride dressed all race-like is in a race or endurance event.


Other options exist too - there are padded boxer-style shorts, and tights with short/medium/long legs available. These have an elasticised waistband, and forgo the shoulder straps. This style might suit you, and neither would be termed Bibs.

This can be reversed too - I've seen saddle covers that have the padding inherent in the cloth, so it becomes part of the bike and stays there. I've never personally used them so can't comment on the effectiveness.

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  • 1
    That's a good point. +1 for aerodynamics.
    – Sam
    Jun 7 at 3:01
  • 3
    4. In case of a somewhat loose or long jersey it can fold and wrinkle under the bibs (just try it). 5. You can’t open a full-length front zip if it’s under the bib
    – Michael
    Jun 7 at 5:16
  • 1
    Some newer models of bib shorts designed for gravel riders and enduroists do have pockets in them.
    – Andy P
    Jun 7 at 12:03
  • 1
    Also (@AndyP) Rapha at least do some with mesh pockets on the thigh, and triathlon shorts may have pockets aimed for gels.
    – Chris H
    Jun 7 at 12:48
  • 1
    "For personal riding, you can wear whatever you want, however you want" is right, but don't forget comfort. I have a tourer with a road saddle, and a couple of very gentle hours in everyday clothes (cargo shorts) got a little uncomfortable. That was a family ride, not worth getting dressed up for, and in hindsight I'd taken the wrong bike, but we had a nice time
    – Chris H
    Jun 7 at 12:50
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Strange question, and certainly not one i'd considered before.

I'd argue that a typical base layer is going to do little/nothing to spread the load, and the correct course of action if you feel the straps are uncomfortable is to either try a different brand of shorts or a size bigger.

Personally i go up a size in Castelli shorts for exactly this reason. I'm slim enough to fit in a size small, but too tall for the straps so a medium gives a much better fit overall.

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  • I use a base layer (sometimes a short sleeve jersey to allow me to change into cooler layers after a cold early start) under bib tights/shorts+leg warmers at times, and agree that it does nothing to spread the load. If your bib straps are moving around and getting uncomfortable a base layer may help, but it would be better to address the real problem - different brands' straps sit differently as well as being designed for different heights.
    – Chris H
    Jun 7 at 12:47
  • I must be much taller than you - I'm too tall for XL Castelli, though last I tried L in the waist (probably XL at the moment). They're known to come up short anyway; I gave up and bought Endura.
    – Chris H
    Jun 7 at 12:47
  • I’m 1.8m and buy size S bibs (Rose, Gore, Specialized). The shoulder straps feel a bit tight for the first few rides but then they are perfect.
    – Michael
    Jun 7 at 14:27
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    Castelli bibs cost more than my entire bike !
    – Criggie
    Jun 7 at 19:40
  • @Michael Castelli and some other Italian brands are known for coming up short
    – Chris H
    Jun 8 at 14:51
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Reasons not to:

  1. you block access to your jersey pockets
  2. it won't be doing much to spread the load
  3. If your bib is so uncomfortable that you think you need something to pad it with, you need a correct size bib.
  4. if they ARE correct size and the straps are still cutting into you, you're wearing them WAY too low. Pull up. You need to jam them right up there
  5. you look like a right berk

I've never really felt discomfort from bibs on my shoulders. Sometimes they pull a bit when you sweat and bend over, but then you can just reach in and pull the straps a bit. I've had visible marks after a longer ride, and I have experienced pain there, but that's not due to the bibs, rather due to riding hundreds of kilometres, and lots of other things hurt too (strangely, the skin above the hips, among other things).

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