Saturday, 2 May 2015

Update on Womens Bib Shorts

I posted recently on my experiences with a variety of women's bib shorts from brands making an effort -- with varying degrees of success -- to create innovative designs enabling toilet breaks without the need to completely strip off (not fun on a night ride, whether in suburbia or out in a dark country lane with the foxes and frogs). While some (such as Gore) do not differentiate the way they market to men and women, they do, I think, quietly "get it". Others (like Pearl Izumi), on the other hand, trumpet their women's specific designs as a unique selling point yet miss that point in some crucial aspect. 

Fortunately, more brands are having a go at designing solutions to this challenge. I stumbled across an article in Outside Online magazine today applauding women's bib shorts designs from six cycling brands. I have not personally tried all six, but again it looks like a mixed bag of the good, the bad and the rather silly. Here are my initial impressions, along with UK pricing details. Where possible, I am including from the manufacturers' own websites photos that show the specific "bio-break" design features, rather than simply an overall front view. 

My favourite Gore Power 2.0 bib shorts are at the top of the list. At £99, they are the second cheapest pair of shorts featured and very good value. The placement of the zips has been altered in the latest update to this design, so I cannot comment on that. I would caution that the keyhole front dips below the belly button, which for some women will not be the most flattering look. 

Photo: Gore

Velocio's Superfly Bibs are the only bibs I've seen with a criss-crossed back. Some riders will like this, others may not. I like racerback designs so might consider giving these a try. I am however sceptical about how comfortable (or otherwise) it might be to have that single zip running down the spine of the lower back. I'd expect to feel that while riding, even through a base layer. As for pricing, it is a pleasant surprise to see a realistic currency exchange rate between the UK and US markets, at £149 and $229 respectively.  

Photo: Velocio

Next up is the Giro Ride Halter Bib. I like the baselayer effect of the light mesh top, but I am fundamentally opposed to the idea of a halter strap. I have enough problem with fabric on jerseys bunching up, without the fabric of another garment also sitting on the back of my neck all day! I may be cynical but when I read claims that this design is comfortable for road cycling, two phrases come to mind: "protests too much" and "Emperor's new clothes". My other gripe with Giro is a general one with regard to their approach to sizing and cut. Their garments are "Italian fit" which is glamour-speak for narrow and unforgiving. And designing size 12 to be "extra large" is insulting to real life women (athletes!), as well as being out of sync with the clothing industry at large. 

Photo: Giro

No. 4 on Outside Online's list is Pearl Izumi's Elite Drop Tail Cycling Bib. As I've written about previously, these are great for the toilet break but unreliable on the bike. The only type of riding I would do with 100% confidence that a gap would not open up between the bottom and the top of these bibs is my London commute, on a city bike with a fairly upright position. But for that, jeans will do. My personal experience is that this design is a Fail for the sporting road cyclist at any price, even one as (relatively) low as £80. 

Photo: Pearl Izumi (no rear view photo available)

Following the current trend for magnets in cycling clothing (a "trademark" feature of Vulpine's Rain Jacket and Rain Trousers and adopted more recently by Sugoi in its Versa jacket), Specialized has launched it's SL Pro Bib With Hookup (surely a misnomer given no hooks or claps are involved). Using magnets as a means to temporarily fasten together bib tops and bottoms is an intriguing concept. While zips spread tension across large surface areas, I would expect any  magnet strong enough to hold two large panels of fabric together to exert all the tension in one small area, with a risk that surrounding fabric will eventually tear. 

So is the Hookup Bib robust enough to last a whole season? At $180, you would hope so. But I am not optimistic.  Also, as far as I've been able to find, the Hookup version of the SL Pro Bib Short is not (yet?) available in the UK. The "regular" SL Pro Bib Short, without magnets or any other "bio break" feature, sells in the UK for around £110. 

The colour scheme will doubtless be a Marmite thing - you'll either love it or hate it!

Photo: Specialized

The last pair of women's bib shorts featured by Outside Online is the Course Race 2 Bib Short from Louis Garneau. This design features a clasp on the front, resting between the breasts and waist. The idea is that, unclasped, the front of the bib top rides up enough to allow bib bottoms to be pulled down in back. In practice, I'm not so sure how easy this will be. I can envisage being annoyed by having something up against the front of my throat while attending to business... annoyed enough to raise the whole top over my head and then have a devil of a time fishing it back over again to re-fasten the front. This may not be too much of a problem in the well-lit toilets of a cafe, but squatting behind a roadside hedge in the dark? 

These bibs are available in the UK for around £140 from Evans and others.

Photo: Louis Garneau

Another offering I became aware of recently is Wiggle's dbh Areon Race Halterneck Bib Short. This didn't feature in US-based Outside Online's article but is relevant to the UK market. As this is another take on the halterneck solution, it's not an attractive option for me but at only £49.99 (cheaper with Wiggle's various discount schemes), this could well be the magic solution for many women. dhb punches well above its weight in terms of value so it's well worth checking out as an alternative to the more expensive models from other brands. 

Photo: Wiggle

Photo: Wiggle

If you've had personal experience with any of these bib shorts, please could you share your thoughts on the pros and cons in the comments? 

3rd May 2015

Women's bib shorts seem to be Hot Topic of the Week across the cycling media world!

Last night, I spotted Bike Radar's Buyer's Guide to Women's Bib Shorts, which gives pointers on what features to look for when considering buying your first pair. Bike Radar are US-based and their article does not name-drop or recommend any individual brands.

Total Womens Cycling, however, seems to have been following a parallel path to the Outside Online article that was the basis for my blog post and has published an article titled "Ready, Steady, Pee: 5 Toilet Friend Bib Shorts to the Test". TWC have "put 5 pairs... to the test to find out what really work and really doesn't". (This review came out last week but they only posted up a link to it on their Facebook page today which is how I became aware of it.) Their verdicts?

  • Giro Halterneck as shown above - they loved it, considered the fabric of the torso "base layer tank style" top to give enough support that the halterneck strap itself could be made very soft and stretchy. 
  • Dare2be's Breakaway short with a hook system similar to the Louis Garneau Course Race 2 shorts shown - pretty much the same problems I anticipated with this design: easy enough to get out of but a real pain to put it all back together again. They made no comment as to whether the hook could be felt while riding on the back. 
  • Hincapie Power Bib - the same idea as the Dare2be/LG's hook but instead of putting the attachment/clasp on the front, they've put it at the back. TWC's tester said in practice this worked better than having it at the front (which surprises me) but had complaints about the sizing. She is 5'9" and wears size UK 10 5'9" and concedes this bib may better suit petite women. 
  • Endura FS260 Bib Short - with one long zip across the rear below the waist. TWC hated this. As I've seen noted by other reviewers, the zip itself and its placement is uncomfortable and anxiety-inducing!
  • dhb Aeron Pro Halterneck as shown above - TWC found this iteration of the halterneck design very different from Giro's. The fabrics used are very different and the tester found the fabric created strain around the back of the neck on long rides, while appearing too flimsy to hold up well over time. 

I hope pulling this feedback from other sources all together in one place is helpful. 


  1. I wish I could comment on any of these, but I cannot from personal experience add anything to the mix. I will second your thoughts that I grow weary of a size 10 or 12 being considered an XL (or in some cases these sizes are even tagged as XXL). It's frustrating to those who really need the XL or XXL sizes... or at least, if they insist upon sizing this way, go up to a 4XL or 5XL if needed. I don't care what the number says on the tag. I just want it to fit. Okay, enough of that rant, I suppose (it's difficult not to rant though).

    I think Bicycling Magazine had the same article you came across as I am pretty sure it's the same list of bib shorts they listed (either that or it's highly coincidental). The one thing I've found about Pearl Izumi shorts (of any type - regular or bib) is that when I try them on, it seems to do something horrible to my legs. It could just be me because I carry a good portion of my weight there, but I'm fascinated how different makers can create such different fits on the body. What I do appreciate about PI shorts is that their sizing seems (at least to me ) to be more generous than most manufacturers.

    Of all the ones listed, I think I'm most tempted to try the Gore model. I am hesitant because of the sizing and fear that even a 2XL size won't fit properly. It might be worth a try to see, but it's so frustrating to not know if it's going to work well. I have also considered the Louis Garneau, but the prices I've seen seem a bit lofty to me.

    Curious to see if anyone has tried these and to read their thoughts/impressions.

    1. Yes, the sizing thing raises its ugly head again. I highlighted Giro because "Italian fit" isn't just about being "small" but also oddly disportionately narrow and long. As for making clothing available in a range of sizes to fit the range of sizes that real live people come in, the usual complaints can be levelled against most, if not all, of these manufacturers. It doesn't help that different regions/countries use different sizing systems that do not always correlate neatly with one another. Again, I picked on Giro for its "XL=12" size chart, but it could be argued that it's shorthand for US12 = UK14-16 = EUR 42 = XL. Viewed like that, Gore uses a sizing system that produces similar outcomes but the cut is not "Italian" so there is more room for curves. :) I can wear Gore but not Giro.

      Gore's top size in these bibs is EUR 44 which is roughly equivalent to UK 16 which is roughly equivalent to US 12-14. I find it very difficult to find EUR 44 stuff in stock in the UK. I am top heavy and wouldn't mind getting 44 for tops/jackets. EUR 42 (XL) has suited me fine for shorts & bibs. That said, I've got a problem at the moment with lymphatic drainage and am straining all my Gore items to their limits. :(

      Point though is that, in terms of designing bib shorts that (1) perform well for their main purpose (cycling), (2) while incorporating special "toilet break" features that actually work, and (3) without impacting the main purpose... Gore has it sussed. So far I've not seen any other approach to this challenge that does equally well without rendering the garment in some way less comfortable for the main job of actually riding.

  2. I got a pair of the Velocio Superfly Bibs last week, and I'm happy to report that for me at least they worked quite well. Like you I was skeptical about the zipper, but after two 70+ mile rides, I can say that I honestly never even noticed it. I was also a little concerned that they don't come up high enough in the back, since this is one of my reasons for liking bibs. With a base layer, I had no problem with the dreaded gap. With a really snug jersey or one with elastic at the waist, this could be a consideration. But I had no issues with minding the gap! Normally wearing a size small in many other shorts, I ordered a small. The sizing is true to the measurements they provide. I should have ordered a medium, and in fact now have (so I'll have two pairs). While the small shorts look and fit fine, they are a bit snug when using the *feature*. So pay close attention to the measurements/size, especially around the hips. They are definitely on the pricey side for everyday use, but the point/design is that they are for the looooong rides where their special feature will be appreciated. I made use of this special feature multiple times on my two outings so far. Hopefully they'll make tights before I need them next winter!

    1. Thanks very much for your feedback - really good to hear. I'll move these up on my shopping list!


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