This is a pretty popular question for us. If you don’t know, the pad is a Chamois, otherwise known as a “shammy.” Way back when, it was leather, first from the Chamois Goat, then later, from sheep typically. When I first started riding, they were leather over some slight padding. Now, they are synthetic.
Be happy about that. Leather shammies needed some break-in, moisturizing, more effort in washing, and took longer to dry. And they were less comfortable. Good ridance.
But should you wear shorts with one? I’ll call them pads for this discussion, and if you’re asking this question, it is likely because you don’t wear them now. Maybe you’re not riding the daily distances ridden on a Ramble or never ridden four days in a row, but pressure from seams, garment chaffing, etc., all start to build up, and one crucial aspect of a shammy is they also absorb moisture: the first stop on the road to sores. You won’t get that from your jorts.
So whether you’re wearing riding baggies with a padded liner, or standard shorts/bibs, the answer is yes. Use a pad.
The second part of the question is more nuanced. We don’t have a clothing partner, so I’ll tell you now that each brand makes some decent stuff and some great stuff.
First, I prefer bibs. Shorts can hit you funny in the abdomen, which can be uncomfortable and move around more. Bibs are more comfortable while riding for most.
Here are three that I ride weekly, and I thoroughly recommend knowing their limits. Those limits are fabric, pad, and fit.
About the pad.
I prefer a medium thickness pad. Some are thick, others not enough. This is where you need experience, but a medium-thick pad like these below is an excellent place to start. Pads will compress over time, often before the Lycra fails, so keep that in mind if you’re looking for longevity.
I also prefer an Italian pad—typically better construction, absorption, comfort, etc. An Italian pad doesn’t mean Italian shorts, however. Several brands buy pads rather than make them. My experience has also been that Asian-made pads break down faster. Still, many brands design their own, like Giro and Pearlizumi, so the quality of those Asian-made pads are excellent. But that’s me. The important part about buying bibs is to ask around and probably spend some money on bibs you won’t wear much. These brands below have women’s fit, and I know Pearlizumi supports larger sizes. My comments apply to both.
Know too that every pad has a sweet spot for mileage. I rate my bib shorts comfortable for 60 miles and under to over 90 miles. I grin and bear those thirty miles in between.
Here’s what I wear.
I wear three pairs, riding four to five days a week, washing and line drying in between. They are all holding up well, and this is my second season for all. I don’t like spending a lot on bib shorts because they are a commodity, and I retire them from weekly riding at most after two years. I have others that don’t get worn much, but these three are my favorites for various reasons. None of these are cargo shorts, though those styles are available too.
#1: Black Bibs.
The first in the image, they are basic bibs that are inexpensive but anything but cheap. Well made with thick Lycra, good grippers, Golidlock length (not too short, nor too long), and a standard bib fit with a higher waist. It has a decent Asian-made pad that I find comfortable for about 50 miles. After 50, the pad’s shapes start to put some uncomfortable pressure on my bum, and I recently wore them on a 70-mile ride and wished I hadn’t. YMMV. The good news is I know the limits and ride in these shorts three days a week for 40-ish mile rides. I bought these on a whim and will be buying more, though, with the upgraded pad (which makes them $80 and still a great bargain). These bibs are a great place to start.
$100 (currently on sale online for $75).
In the middle we have Attack bib shorts. Light and comfortable, the straps have more give without giving too much. I’ve worn a lot of Pearl clothing over the years and really like what they offer. The fabric is lightweight and dries quickly. The front waist is a little lower, so guys, you can take a nature break easier (women’s bibs have features that make nature breaks easier, too), and you don’t have to bend over as much as more traditional fit bibs like the Black Bibs. The Asian-made pad is flat, lacking the extra pressure point padding as my others. It’s comfortable though. I ride these often and up to about 75-80 miles, though less if it’s raining or hot. Why? The pad doesn’t absorb moisture well past that for me, and if I’m already wet or sweating more, that mileage threshold comes down. I begin to chafe. I could probably size down so that the pad is smaller and better held in place, but I’m a true large, so a medium might be a stretch—literally.
I’ve ridden these bibs well over 100 miles with no real issues but a degree of discomfort at the end. Still, a great pair of bibs for longer days.
Last are Silverline bibs, which are my go-to all-day bibs shorts. The more expensive FR-C bibs are also very good and a favorite, though about $75 more. The fabric and pad are just a bit nicer with the FR-C line. I’ll probably buy those for my next round, keeping these Silverlines in rotation. These bib shorts are very comfortable and the best fitting of what I have. Giordana nails fit, in my opinion. The fabric is noticeably nicer than the others but still very lightweight. I recently crashed, resulting in a big hip raspberry with no damage to the material. Not knocking the others, but they would have torn or been damaged. The fabric is textured, which helps with abrasion (essential for me because my pedaling style wears bibs on the inner thigh), and has the highest compression of my bibs. The compression helps on long rides. My longest one-day ride in earlier iterations of these bibs is just over 300 miles in humid conditions. The pad is excellent, super comfortable, and stays dry. Sizing is European; I wear an XL in these, whereas the others are large. Because I have short legs, I love that they make them in shorter inseams. Giordana makes its clothing in Italy, at their own factory (in the hometown of founder Giorgio Andretta I believe), but it’s a US family-run company based in Charlotte, NC.
But premium bibs come at a premium price, and you can get several pairs of upgraded Back Bibs for the cost of these. Even from Giordana, there are more expensive bibs, but it’s hard to think what you’re getting for more money, especially over the FR-C level.
If it’s a long day or hot, these are the ones I go for.
When you’re new, I think it’s wise to start with some affordable bibs, and take the time to feel, what feels good to you. Knowing how you ride and how often will help guide some decisions. Premium bib shorts are worth the investment, but I think it takes some time to understand what you’re after and which brands and pad shape best fit your anatomy.
I’ve owned probably 20 different brands over the years but still not tried them all. Giro makes excellent clothing I’ve used, and I’ve heard great things about Rapha and Eliel, too, though both are premium bib shorts. If I spend $250 plus on bib shorts, I’ll probably stick with Giordana or Pearlizumi because I know they work for me.
Have a favorite pair? Please share with us in the comments.