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The Evolution of the Cycling Bib Short

The cycling bib short has seen a staggering rate of evolution, driven largely by widespread popularity of the sport and increasing demand from customers for more. Never in the history of cycling has so much technology and development gone into the bib short in a relatively short period of time. 

*a 1985 Ad for cycling shorts. Credits : Performance Bicycle ,  http://bit.ly/1Ljhfk9


To truly appreciate just how far bib shorts have come, we're going to focus on 4 components of the bib short. We're going to tell you where they originally came from and how cyclists of yester-year used to do without them. These 4 components are :

  1. The Chamois
  2. Lycra
  3. The Bibs
  4. The Gripper


1) The Chamois : An evolution from leather to synthetics

"A bib short is only ever as good as it's chamois"

You've probably heard this phrase thrown around a lot. We're also pretty sure that when you're shopping for a new pair of bib shorts, one of the 1st things you do is to turn them inside out and give the chamois a firm squeeze in an attempt to figure out if it'd be comfortable on a long ride. However, the modern synthetic plush chamois that you're familiar is actually a pretty recent innovation.

chamois leather for bib shorts

Cycling shorts first came with piece of leather stitched inside. The leather chamois was originally intended to only provide respite from the repetitive friction between the legs and the bicycle’s saddle, protecting the user from painful sores after long days in the saddle. It required seasoning and care, much of which was done by regularly rubbing chamois cream into the leather to keep it supple.

In the 1980s, the development of synthetic fibres changed this. As mass production processes drove prices down and availability up, cycling clothing developers embraced the new range of fabrics and foams to create a modern interpretation of the leather chamois. At first, the attempts were basic. Early synthetics chamois’ were nothing more than synthetic cloth and foam, cut into shape and stitched into bike shorts.

Eventually, designers explored the compressibility of foam and the ability to mould, layer & shape it to create constructions that were greater than the sum of the raw materials used.

the redwhite chamois for bib shorts

*The chamois used in The BIB. Constructed of 6 different components that are moulded together into a 1-piece construction. Read more here.


2) Lycra : An evolution from Wool 

Before we begin, lets make one fact clear – modern wool fabrics (largely merino-based) are wonderful. They have undergone a tremendous amount of evolution since the early days of cycling, becoming technical fabrics that are widely used in modern variants of the “classic” cycling jersey.

The Cannibal Eddy Mercx in wool bike shorts

*We don't endorse riding without a helmet. "The Cannibal" in wool shorts.

However, as a versatile fabric for building bib shorts, lycra is tough to beat. 

Lycra fabrics are exceptionally versatile, allowing use in a wide variety of situations. On warm summer days the modern cyclist is guaranteed to stay cool and dry in lycra. When the temperature drops, simply layer up with a thermal variant of lycra , which regulates body temperature while still wicking away any moisture.

Being a synthetic material, lycra’s physical properties are not fixed in stone. Relentless tinkering has resulted in a huge variety of exotic blends. For example, the Giant-Alpecin pro-cycling team rode the 2015 Tour de France in lycra with abrasion resistant propertiesSome manufacturers are developing lycra blends that use luminescent fibres for increased night visibility. Others have developed lycra that has water resistant properties – perfect for bad weather protection.


3) Bib straps : We take them for granted

Did you know that the stretchy mesh bibstraps that we take for granted weren't always there?


eddy mercx in early bib shorts that used suspenders

* Eddy Mercx using suspenders to hold up his wool bike shorts. Credits : cyclismas.com

Cycling shorts of old were held up by an elasticised waist band. As we know now, its a rather uncomfortable, especially when you’re putting in big efforts and require some freedom around the waist in order to breathe. Plus, with the rise of the MAMILs , often carrying a few extra pounds around the lower belly, the traditional waist band tends to dig in, causing discomfort.

The old pros got around this problem by using wool shorts that were held up by clip-on suspenders. Wool tended to get heavy with sweat, often sagging over the course of a long race, and these clip-ons came in handy. The obvious downside of this was the rust issues with the clip-ons as well as the problem with the metal clips digging into belly flesh.

Cyclingtips.com reviews The BIB bib short

*mesh bib-straps used on The BIB. Credits : CyclingTips.com. Read their review here.

We aren’t 100% sure when the modern bib short with braces came into existence. Several firms lay claim to its invention, and without conclusive evidence, we simply can’t answer this question. However, we can all agree that whoever this genius was, he/she revolutionised on-bike comfort.


4) The Gripper : Band to Microdots

The tacky 1-piece silicone strip is slowly being phased out. This is a good thing.

Let’s face it, the silicone band can be pretty terrible. Its 1 continuous piece of rubber that doesn’t let your skin breathe. Its constrictive, causing “sausage-leg” syndrome. It has been known to cause rashes. For a really long time, it really was the only way to ensure your lycra shorts did not run up your legs.

silicone band for bib shorts

These days, the silicone band is being replaced by a variety of fabrics. Some manufacturers use tighter cuts of lycra to hold bibshorts in place. Some use elasticised bands & also lycra impregnated with strands of rubber. Each solution is elegant and have been used in a many new bib shorts in the market today.

One fine example is the Silicone Microdot Gripper . It's a lovely piece of fabric that combines the best qualities of a super-breathable lycra fabric & the grip of the old silicone band into an elegant piece of fabric that both grips and breathes extremely well - without relying on a tight fit.

* hundreds of microdots of silicone rubber are impregnated into lycra fabric to create our Silicone Microdots Grippers. Credits : CyclingTips.com

Each microdot of silicone rubber imparts a small bit of friction on you skin. When the hundreds of microdots come in contact with you skin, together they impart a large amount of friction on your skin, keeping your bib shorts in place, without squeezing your thighs tightly. The gaps between each silicone dot allows moisture and heat to escape easily, making these grippers extremely breathable as well.


About RedWhite Apparel

RedWhite Apparel designs and manufactures bib shorts for long distance racing & riding. Subscribe to our TGIF Newsletter below to stay up-to date with us.



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