Bibshorts: MAMIL sausage

Wherein I compare the comfort and usefulness of the various bib shorts I've used

Bibshorts matter a lot to me because they are most in contact with my body and where my body contacts the bike. And I keep hoping that the next pair I buy will make me feel like I’m floating on air.

As if.

You want the chamois between your ass and the saddle. Nowhere else. Not on your inner thighs. Not half way up your butt cheeks. I read that you are supposed to hang the shorts from a clothes hanger and see if the chamois pokes out the back. If it does it probably will on your body too. Which means it may not be well placed. The fabric – does it bunch up in your crotch? Can you pull down the front to pee easily? Do the straps dig into your shoulders?

The legs cuffs. Do they ride up? Do they hold their place by digging in? Do they pull at your leg hair? Should you have any. Can you feel seams? How do they feel? Like razors? That’s probably bad.

I’m a relatively recent convert to bib shorts, I think because my first pair were put together so that it was pretty much impossible to take a pee break. As in I had to pretty much disrobe. I remember once looking frantically for a private place to pee and found only the formerly infamous biker bar, The Swan, on River Road.

It was a revelation to find other bib shorts that could actually stretch low enough that I could whip out my penis and let it all go discretely by the side of the road.

So it’s been all bib shorts ever since. Because tight elastic around your waist is not what you want. Chamois working its way down toward your knees with every pedal stroke is not what you want. Muffin top is not what you want.

It is not so easy for women. I’ve seen some bib shorts that feature a clip of some kind on the suspenders so you can drop them and pee, but most are just curvier versions of the men’s item. And even those with the suspender clips, I would think re-attaching would prove a time consuming challenge for a task where seconds matter. (Modesty and performance, naturally). I’d love to know which ones work.

Sam Brennan, publisher and editor of the awesome Fit is a feminist issue, recommends  these:  Specialized Women’s SL Pro bib shorts which use a magnet to hold the back strap together. But with a little flexibility you can unhook, drop and pop a squat.

I have a bunch of bib shorts. I’m ranking them by how long I can ride in them before feeling obvious bib-short-related discomfort.

All day bibshorts: Rapha Pro Team and Danny Shane

I rode eight hours in a pair of Rapha Pro Team shorts July 25th. It occurred to me twice — fleetingly — that the shorts were causing some discomfort. Once at 4:20 and once after about 6 hours. My post ride shower was nonetheless free of stinging agony. Compare and contrast with the more expensive Assos T.Cento (see below). They are quite form-fitting – race fit you might say. The stitching is excellent. Cheaper ‘race fit’ shorts have errant threads sticking out after a few rides. Not these. Their grippers do their job without making you feel like you’re wearing glue or a tourniquet. The crotch is stretchy enough to make nature breaks perfectly comfortable. Still looking for a built in privacy screen. Anyone? Anyone? The straps hold the chamois in place without digging into your shoulders or compressing your spine. They want everyone around you – up to about a 300 metre range – to be aware of the brand you’re wearing, but it’s a single name, in clean unornamented lettering, so tolerable. Plus, hey — it’s Rapha.

Danny Shane’s bib shorts are the other ones I reach for if I am going long. They are warmer than the Rapha ones but they stay comfortable about as long. They have the added benefit of being quite stylish but there’s no mix and match with them. They want to be worn with the matching jersey. And the arm warmers. And the cap. Their fit is more relaxed than the Rapha Pro Team, but you never get the feeling like the chamois is slipping down. They handle moisture really well. The crotch is pee-break worthy.

Three hour bibshorts

Gore Oxygen

Gore Oxygen fit tighter than most bib shorts I have with the exception of the Castelli Aero-Race ones. These have a chamois that seems well suited to riding hands on the hoods. It doesn’t stick out the back. They’re not oppressively hot but they wouldn’t be my choice for mid-day rides or on the hottest days in summer. I mostly ride early in the morning so I’ve not found a temperature at which they become a problem. They’re stretchy enough for a comfortable pee break, and reasonably well put together. I expect mine will last me longer if I had gotten a medium.

Castelli Aero-Race and Inferno

The Aero Race bibs are more like body paint. But Castelli also makes an aerosuit with that name. Don’t let me confuse you. These are set it and forget it shorts. As in you will forget you are wearing them. That’s good and bad. It means they are cut well. They sit comfortably especially in aggressive bike positions. But it’s bad insofar as you like to be reminded that you are wearing a chamois and that it’s keeping your bum comfy. The Aero Race are minimalist in that respect.

I also have a pair of Castelli Inferno bib shorts. These are meant to be a more relaxed fit than the aero-race shorts, meaning you can actually pinch the fabric while wearing them. But they have sort of mesh-y side panels which are meant to keep you cool on hot days. The front is cut lower so that there is less doubling up of fabric between the upper part of the bib and your jersey. They are cut well for aggressive riding positions and I do get the feeling that they’re cooler than your average lycra sausage casing. I don’t know how I could quantify that.

Castelli Velocissimo

The Castelli Velocissimos, I’ll admit, I bought for the colour. I decided I needed a bike for riding gravel, rough roads and the like. And the one I wanted only came in radioactive snot green. I figured it was a lot easier to find new kit than a new bike. But it meant finding stuff that matched. I will admit of the vanity that drove that particular decision. You may not choose your clothing based on how you look. That would be what I would consider an intelligent approach. But I am weak. And vain. I figure maybe if the visuals are good people won’t notice the flawed anatomy.

Nevertheless, the Velocissimos, despite the name’s implication, are much more relaxed than either the Inferno or the Aero Race. They use Castelli’s Kiss chamois, as opposed to the Progetto X2 in the other two racier, higher-priced models. Honestly I can’t tell the difference. I do notice, however that I heat up faster in the Velocissimos. As in on a hot day, my legs become the MAMIL sausages alluded to in the post title. And I feel the trickle of sweat coming down from lower back into butt crack and making me think “salt in the wounds, inflammation” with every corner I turn. But for a 2.5 hour ride, any of the Castellis will do you perfectly well. They are great work-a-day bib shorts that aren’t so precious you are scared to wear them or end up resenting the place that sold them to you because they failed to deliver perfection.

Just mind the temperature.

I must say, though, I hate the branding. That scorpion bugs me. No matter how they tart it up, a scuttling arthropod is just not what makes me think of cycling. And it’s everywhere on all their stuff.

Panache Viking

These too you really have to buy as a kit. I expect some people think that’s dorky or for posers, but I just don’t see any way around it, sartorially speaking. These go on easily and – so long as you’re not staring at them directly – fade into the back of your thoughts. They fit that comfortably. They’re a race fit, but they feel much less fragile than the Aero Race bibs. In saddle the chamois works for me. It’s in the right place and it lands in about the same range as the nicer Gore bibs. The straps hold the pad in place without digging in. They’re a touch less stretchy than some others – you’ve got to lean into it a bit if you’re going to pee. I confess I’ve not tried them on a five hour ride, because I’m just not that adventurous. My support vehicle never shows up in time with the replacement kit in the event what I’m wearing turns out to be a disappointment.

But they can carry it for three hours without punishing me. And it’s not at all clear to me that they caused that accident. I’m sure something else must have been distracting the driver.

Two hour bibshorts

Cuore – Strava-branded

These were a bit of a revelation. After I completed my first Strava challenge I was so tickled I decided to buy the “finisher’s kit”. Non-US riders beware. Massive border-crossing charges await you if you do this. (Update: Strava seems to have given up on the whole ‘finisher kit’ thing for riders who complete challenges. I’m guessing the revenue wasn’t worth the hassle). But the other lesson I learned from these is that properly cut bib shorts can actually be comfortable and useful. I’m not sure which of the Cuore models Strava sells. They were also the first pair I noted getting pinchy in the groin. They do tend to have a more relaxed fit than others in my stable. They can be a little loose around the groin. Which I hate. The chamois, though works. And for two or three hours in moderate temperatures they will do you just fine. The leg grippers are great. Assertive enough to stay in place but not clingy. A great role model for human behaviour generally.

Gore Power 2.0

Another purchase based mostly on looks. Relaxed fit. Stretchy. Too stretchy. So stretchy I feel like they’re falling down while I’m riding. The chamois is comfortable and works well when it’s in the zone but I feel it moving down my hips when I ride. A major reason to buy bib shorts is so that you’re not hitching up your bottoms all the time. These I find are needing adjustment every hour or so. Once in place, they are great. But I confess I like ‘set it and forget it’ clothing. Mind you they’re the low end of the Gore bib short range so let us not go dumping Danny Shane-like expectations on them without pointing out that at $120 US you can almost buy two of them for the cost of one pair of Danny Shane Selbys.

50 minute bibshorts

Assos T.Cento S7

These have to be the biggest disappointment. Billed as their all-day, comfort-driven shorts, they are crazy expensive. Expect to pay upwards of CDN $320. When I pull them on they felt great on my legs. Hems hold in place without that sticky feeling. Taught fabric without seams. There’s a tighter, more compressing fabric on the legs which almost makes you think it’s channeling those fast-twitch muscles of yours more effectively, making you faster, with greater stamina. The material on the crotch is form fitting but more breathable. I reckon that’s good because moisture will escape rather than pool and cause irritation, much like diaper rash in infants. Wide, smooth straps which don’t roll up or fold creating a shoe-string effect. And they are almost entirely plain black with next to no ornament or branding. So you can wear them with anything. If that matters to you.

But the chamois. I should have known. It’s their biggest, puffiest. Too much so for me. It felt like I had a small travel pillow between my legs. And the fabric around it hung loose, waiting to fold in and rub against my skin. I saw a lot of Assos bibs in use by the Ottawa GranFondo’s Suprfondo set. But I couldn’t tell which of the models was the most popular. I’m guessing it’s not the T.Cento.

The chamois shape and size might work for you. But for me, not so much. I needed fewer pressure relief breaks than with some of my other shorts but the stinging feeling of skin rubbed raw never went away. I tried pulling the fabric up an away from my crotch and that provided some relief for a time. But the action of pedalling always wants to put your skin back in harm’s way.

And in the shower after my three hour ride, I felt like I had a dozen timy, fresh razor cuts down there.

You do see a lot of these on eBay. Mine have joined them. I have nothing against the brand. They make my favourite gloves and my favourite base layer. But I would not recommend this model of bib short.