If you read our latest guide on what to wear on the bike then you already know there are some things to consider when selecting the right gear. Externalities, such as variable weather, can have an impact on what you choose to wear on your ride. In this article, we will be taking a step back to examine a more general factor cyclists face when it comes to shopping for the perfect cycling kit – men's and women's cycling clothes. Let's be honest, most men wouldn't be caught dead in women's cycling clothes, but for a long time women didn't have many options so the waters have been muddy. Fortunately, Castelli was the first major cycling brand to offer a complete women's line and others, such as Sportful and POC, have followed suit.
At first glance, it may appear that men's and women's cycling apparel only differ from a fashion standpoint. Women's jerseys tend to come in brighter colours and have a larger variety of designs when compared to men's jerseys (although there are some rather...flamboyant...men's kit as well). Looking at bibshorts, the differences even seem to disappear, with most coming in darker colours, like black or blue. However, manufacturers are finally starting to focus more on the growing women's market and there are indeed important aspects (in terms of the technical design of these clothes) that are unique to the male and female variations.
Different shapes to start. Women's jerseys will often have a curved shape. They start out wide in the chest area, become narrow around the waist, and flare out at the hips. The measurements for men's jerseys, on the other hand, are typically more uniform, causing a straighter, more rigid shape. Cycling clothes are meant to be form-fitting after all, and manufacturers keep this in mind when tailoring their products. Pretty simple so far.
Bibshorts are where things get a bit more complicated. Differences in waist and hip measurements are similar to jerseys. Waist bands are smaller for women's bibshorts, and the hip section is typically larger than it is for men. In terms of length, men's bibshorts mimic the tendency for men's clothing to provide coverage towards the knee, reaching the quadriceps, while women's variations are shorter and closer to mid-thigh. Again, different shapes and fashion preferences.
More importantly, the major difference in men's and women's bibshort designs is in the chamois - you know, the real reason we wear these wonders of the stretchy world. Let's just say it, men and women have different nether regions that deserve some specific consideration. Top brands have made major strides in chamois design and comfort by varying shapes and pad densities to remove pressure from sensitive areas. Specifically, men's pads support the sit bones and attempt to provide channels to remove pressure from the perineal region, thus increasing blood flow and preventing numbness. Women's pads are wider at the sit bones and provide more consistent support all the way forward. Bottom line, finding the right padding around the undercarriage could either boost or sabotage performance.
There are gender differences in the placement of the bib straps as well. Men's shorts almost ubiquitously have the strap cross over the shoulder and straight down to the front off the short, while women's shorts provide some optionality. There are variations that are similar to men's straps and those that come over the shoulder and taper into a single strap that proceeds down the centre of the chest, which is purely a comfort and preference sort of thing.
And finally, the topic men tend to ignore - going to the bathroom. Long, properly hydrated days in the saddle will eventually result in the need for a roadside tinkle. Men know the drill - pull over, give a quick look in either direction, instant relief and back in the saddle 3o seconds later. Ladies, we know it isn't that easy for you. Even after clamouring into the bushes in your cleats, those pesky bib straps make it very difficult to drop your drawers without removing your jersey. However, there are solutions with many brands including snaps or buttons that allow for quick release of the straps and more efficient garment removal. Some brands, like POC, have even made the straps on their women's bibshorts stretchier than men's to facilitate quick restroom breaks, sans restroom.
At the end of the day, to achieve maximum utility, comfort, and the best riding experience, a cyclist's gear should meet their own body measurements and personal needs. That is why it is recommended that you check out the size charts and buy based on your specific measurements, rather than your T-shirt size. Our bodies are unique, and cyclists should not feel restricted to solely buying the clothing for their gender if it is not working for them. Finding the right fit for you is complicated by saddle selection, position on the bike, and the type of riding that you are doing so a little on-bike trial and error may be necessary.
One last piece of advice if you're prioritizing your spend, don't ignore the value of an excellent fitting and high-quality pair of bibshorts. They are worth it, regardless of your gender.