Cycling bib-tights. Or, to be more accurate, women’s 3/4 bib tights. If you’d asked me a few years ago if I’d have a large selection of them in the MTB kit side of my wardrobe, I’d have been quite amused. For road cycling, they are very handy, but for mountain biking…?
It turns out, 3/4 length bib tights, or bib knickers as they’re also known as, have become one of my staple items for mountain biking in the autumn, winter and spring. Here’s why:
1. They Keep You Warm
They’re obviously longer than shorts, and the 3/4 length keeps your knees warm and protected. Because they have the shoulder straps, they tend to at the very least sit higher up over your front and back than waist shorts or liners. Some bibs will have a back panel, usually made of breathable mesh, which gives you extra insulation but is wicking so will get clammy sweat away pronto. There are a few, and the Rapha bib tights spring to mind here, that actually have a high front and back. Plenty of insulation, but as I haven’t actually tested any of these in person I can’t comment on the comfort factor. They have plenty of fans though!
And of course you can get winter and summer weight options, with the former much more easy to come by. These will usually have a thicker, fleece lined material, which is toasty and warm.
2. …But Not Too Warm!
I tend to run quite warm generally, and particularly when exercising. If you’ve ever seen me exerting, you’ll notice my face goes a fetching shade of beetroot. So although I want some insulation, I also find I need some bare skin to help avoid overheating. For me, forearms and shins are the perfect level of exposure. I’d find full bib-tights too hot, so 3/4 is just right.
3. They Stop Your Knee Pads Rubbing
One of the issues I’ve had repeatedly, even after trying many different brands, is knee pads that rub. It’s only ever on one leg, in the same spot, so I’m beginning to think it some weird anomaly on my leg, rather than being all the knee pads fault. In any cast, popping them on over the 3/4 bib shorts mean no rubbing.
I’ve also had issues before where my knee pads and liner shorts have conspired to give me a protruding sausage of flesh around my legs above my knees because they don’t meet. This is normally not a problem, but a few times I’ve worn this combination when it rains, and if I’m out for more than a couple of hours, the result is that my outer shorts rub patches of flesh on my legs raw. Yes, it’s horrible and painful and unpleasant. Wearing 3/4 bibs means no gap here, and so no problem.
4. They Stop Grit Getting in Your Chamois
One of the things I dislike about winter riding isn’t so much getting a wet chamois (because frankly that’s pretty much inevitable if it rains!) but getting wet, horrible muddy grit in there. Mucky gravel is not the sort of stuff you want rubbing against your bits over the course of a 4-hour ride.
The higher back of bibs tends to block, or at least filter the passage of grit into the seat of your shorts, which can only be a good thing.
There are of course some downsides, which most people are well aware of. In case you are considering trying out bibs, then it’s worth considering these too.
1. Going To the Toilet
Having studied geology, then taking up mountain biking, I am no stranger to the fresh-air wee. In the winter, this involves stripping off more or less completely, particularly if you are wearing bibs because you usually have to take your top off or at least pull it up to get the straps down. I have once managed to get them down without taking my top off, but it involved a loose top, more wiggling than a Nicki Minaj video and took flipping ages.
This is an issue roadies have to deal with a lot too, and there have been some great new ideas to make this part of life easier, like the drop tail Pearl Izumi AmFib tights and the new Giro bib tights design. There have also been some terrible ones, like this offering (reviewed by Kirsty Ho Fat on Total Women’s Cycling) that included a zip RIGHT DOWN THE MIDDLE OF THE CHAMOIS! Crossing your legs and thinking ‘ouch’? Yes.
2. Finding Them
When I first started wearing 3/4 bibs for winter mountain biking, there were hardly any women’s options out there. I ended up buying some mens bibs because I couldn’t find any when I needed them. (For the record, they weren’t comfortable in the chamois department. I guess this was something to do with being designed for different anatomy!)
Looking for some women’s specific 3/4 bib tights? I’ve put together a list of products, prices and where to buy them!