Mythbusters: Are High Waisted Shorts Inferior to Bib Knicks?
We ran a recent Facebook poll on padded shorts vs bib knicks, and the results were overwhelmingly (76%) in favour of bib knicks, so we thought we would write a little blog mythbusting the common misconceptions about high waisted shorts!
Cycling Knicks - A History
If you aren't yet aware, cycling knicks have come a long way since the days of yore. Historically, knicks were made of wool (perfect for hiding oil and grease stains and able to conjure a particularly nice brand of thigh sweat for those of us who live in the tropics) and had an actual chamois leather pad stitched into it. As in, the actual hide of a European mountain goat, cut to the shape of a butt, stitched into a woollen pair of shorts.
And this was only in the 1980s.
The idea of bib shorts developed from the suspenders that cyclists once used to hold up those old-fashioned wool shorts, which had a tendency to become loose and heavy from riders' sweat! Literally, bib knicks were developed so that shorts could be 'held up' without an uncomfortably tight waistband.
Modern Day Knicks
Fastforward 40 years, and with the introduction of technical fabrics, synthetic chamois and a great deal of innovation in material and manufacturing means - whether you opt for bib knicks or padded shorts - modern day knicks offer us the benefit of:
- Protection against friction
- Sweat absorbtion
- Keeping us cool
- Reduced fatigue in the leg muscles, and
- Providing support and comfort to the genital region - particularly during longer rides.
Then, of course, there's the reduced wind resistance if aerodynamic efficiency is something you are into.
But, somehow, padded shorts are still considered inferior to bib knicks which - if you've ever needed to go to the toilet in a hurry - you would know have many advantages.
I had a stroke 10 years ago and since then, my bladder control hasn't been the best. I started wearing padded shorts over bib knicks back then, and I never looked back!
This isn't a blog to convince you to switch from bib knicks to padded shorts. You do you! It's merely a guide to help you understand that the reason to choose bib knicks over shorts may not be as accurate as you think.
So, let's get mythbusting!
Myth #1 Shorts have a waistband which digs in
Anecdotally and research online, the fear of a tight waistband seems to be one of the biggest myths around regarding padded shorts. And, perhaps, once upon a time it was a legitimate concern.
If you're as big of a fan of activewear as we are, you will have seen a huge change in the waistband of tights and leggings over the past 5-10 years. What used to be black tights with an elastic waistband which would get baggy within 2 wears has now transformed into wider bands, higher waists and even some companies claiming a 'stomach holding in' property which is reminiscent of THAT scene in Bridget Jones (very popular with grannies the world over).
In a similar way, the waist bands on modern padded shorts have evolved. Think the comfiest pair of leggings you own, and now imagine they have a chamois for you to wear on the bike. No longer do you have to put up with a super-tight waist band crushing your internal organs and affecting your breathing.
I have big hips and a smaller waist, and I love the way padded shorts fit on me. They're super snug on my hips and thighs and - while firm - the high waist band still leaves plenty of room without moving.
Myth #2 Shorts ride down without bibs
So, this is a funny one because it really harks back to the story of how knicks evolved... with suspenders needed to hold up those soggy woollen shorts.
These days, whether you choose bibs or shorts, they need to be practically second-skin tight. Like, not so tight that they cut off your leg circulation, but otherwise, really tight.
If your shorts are riding down, quite simply, you're not wearing the right size. Additionally, many women's cut shorts are high waisted (ie the broad waistband cinches in at the waist) making it even less likely that the shorts will ride down.
If anything, you get the benefit of feeling all nice and tucked in (like you do in bibs) without having the straps.
Myth #3 Bibs hold your chamois in place
This myth seems to have evolved alongside myth #2 in that somehow the bib straps are what keep the shorts and chamois in place. If you’re relying on shoulder straps (or even a waistband, to be fair) to hold your shorts and/or chamois in place - you are wearing the wrong size.
Certainly with modern designs and women's fit, high waisted shorts will hold your chamois in place exactly the same as bib knicks - IF THE FIT IS RIGHT.
Two of these riders are wearing high waisted shorts, and two are wearing bib knicks. Yet, all four have comfortable heinies because they're all wearing the right size and fit.
Myth #4 Shorts have poorer quality chamois
Again, this one may have been true in the past, and if we look at activewear in general as a guide to this, it may be helpful to understand how far we've come.
Where bib knicks have been lauded as the choice for high performance cycling, time and investment has followed. Chamois shape, material and engineering deserves its own blog, but rest assured there's more to it than cutting out a bit of foam and sewing a synthetic fabric overtop.
Before shorts, and especially more women's cut modern padded shorts became available, it probably was the case that they had a poorer quality chamois. HOWEVER, it's important to recognise that as women have become a larger market within cycling, and our needs are being looked at more carefully, that more attention and investment has gone into ensuring high quality items.
Today's padded shorts have exactly the same chamois quality as bib knicks, which means:
Either Way: Quality is Key
If you've ever had the distinct unpleasantness of riding in clothing that is ill-fitting, poor quality or poorly put together, you will know that sometimes the old adage is true: You get what you pay for. The material your knicks are made from will have a huge impact how on how luxurious and comfortable the garment feels as well as how it washes and wears.
The majority of cycling clothing is made from Lycra/Spandex (though some are sill made from wool) - a synthetic fiber known for its exceptional elasticity (stretching up to five times its length) and strength (it's more durable than natural rubber).
It's important to remember that there isn't just one type of lycra. Fibres can be produced in four different ways which impact its elasticity, its ability to return to its original shape after stretching it and its ability to dry faster than ordinary fabrics.
Different blends and combinations of lycra and other fabrics within your knicks will determine how expensive it is to purchase wholesale and then how expensive it is for the manufacturer to work with. It pays to make sure the materials in your knicks are worth it.
No-one wants to spend time in the saddle wearing uncomfortable shorts! Understanding that the type of materials used can impact the price is important.
Yes. They're reminiscent of drawings a 13-year-old boy might doodle in their school books, but the chamois is - without a doubt - the most integral feature of cycling shorts. Think about it. When you're out for a spin, you might be averaging 80-100 pedal strokes per minute. That's between 14,400 to 18,000 revolutions in three hours.
Without a good quality chamois, you may as well start putting sandpaper between your thighs. Throw some between your buttcheeks too, while you're at it.
Whether shorts or bibs, a good pair of knicks will:
- Have a chamois that has bacteriostatic properties, which IS NOT the same as antibacterial treatments - these are often chlorine-based, which can lead to skin irritations and an imbalance in good vs harmful bacteria on your skin.
- Absorb sweat and leaving the skin in the intimate parts as dry as possible, preventing chafing
- Enable you to maintain better posture in the saddle, meaning no shifting around to find a more comfortable position
In short, the sole purpose of the chamois is to protect your nether regions and deliver the highest level of comfort possible for the type of riding you are doing.
Ultimately it's all down to personal preference, but we've definitely been able to BUST the top myths that exist around padded shorts being somehow inferior to bib knicks.
High waisted shorts that are good quality will take you just as far (as comfortably) as a pair of bib knicks... and you might just get to the toilet with a little less stress too!
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