The Fit Model

 

I spent my formative years struggling between wearing clothes that were unfashionable but fit me and those that were fashionable, but didn’t remotely fit me. Not only did I not understand it, my mother didn’t either. Most of the pants I wore in grade school were loose at the small of my back; to keep them at my waist I had to pull my belt pretty snug. Most of my shirts fit okay at the shoulders and then billowed out as they went down, like I was wearing a tailored tent.

Eventually I began to notice from time to time that some clothes simply fit better than others. As much as I loved Patagonia casual wear, their polo shirts were flappy on me, even in small. Their pants and shorts either fit in the seat and loose in the waist or fit at the waist and tight across my crotch. Levi’s 501s stopped fitting me after I took up cycling. I had to switch to the 569s—sit at the waist and roomy through the seat and thighs. Those skinny hipster jeans? I’d never get ‘em past my knees, unless I went for the 40-inch waist.

It wasn’t until an ex-girlfriend taught me about fit models and how all clothing begins with pieces of fabric cut to fit some individual that I began to appreciate why some things fit and others didn’t. Understanding that actually made shopping easier; it eliminated whole product lines because I knew they weren’t cut for me.

When I first got into cycling I was pretty unaware of just how cycling clothing needed to fit. I got it more or less right, but I occasionally bought shorts that were too big and all my jerseys were a size larger than necessary. Even through the turn of the century, most cycling clothing had enough stretch to accommodate differences in physique within a given size.

More recently, with the advent of Power Lycra, compression panels and skinsuit-tight jerseys, I’ve begun to notice some stuff doesn’t fit as well as it used to, or as well as some of the competition. In my reviews of clothing I’ve begun to talk about the nature of the fit. The point isn’t to say this fit is good or that fit is bad, but to note how it fits. We can talk about features like materials, reflective piping, dual-density foam in pads and Power Lycra panels until our faces are cyan, but if you—like me—have a bounteous and spherical caboose, some bibs aren’t going to fit you all that well. It won’t make them bad, but it’s worth knowing that there are others that might fit you better.

The importance of this was driven home for me this past winter when I had an experience I really didn’t want to have. I’ve long been an admirer of Vermarc clothing, but I’d never had the opportunity to wear any of their stuff. It’s a big world and I just didn’t get around to it until this winter. I tried one of their top pairs of bibs. On my first ride, I cut a three-hour ride short because my ass hurt. How could that be? I was wearing the pride of Belgium. What gives?

In objective terms, I’ve been riding 143mm-wide Specialized saddles, though it was recently suggested to me that I might do well to try the 155mm-wide version of the Romin. Not the Incredible Hulk, but not bantam, either.

Well, as it turned, out my sit bones are wider than the widest portion of the densest foam in the pad. I was writing out of the margins, so-to-speak. It doesn’t mean they are bad bibs at all. It just suggests I’m seven feet tall and the owner of a new Mini Cooper.

While this won’t be complete by any means, I wanted to note my experience with some of the different lines out there to help give you a better basis for comparison. For the record, I’m 5′ 11″ and currently weigh 163 lbs., which I hate to admit, is heavy for me.

Bibs:

  • Assos—the Uno and Mille bibs are fairly consistent in their style of fit, though the Unos are a bit more snug on me. Like I said, I’ve got enough of a butt that I can’t do straight-leg jeans. The Mille in particular is a fantastic fit for me. And with both pads, my sit bones come down squarely in the middle of the densest foam. I wear a large.
  • Castelli—these are cut for riders with a slighter frame. For me, by the time I’ve crowded my ass into them they are a bit tight across the front. I’ve experienced this more with some of their bibs than others, but I do get it to some degree with all of them, save the Claudio (thermal) bibs. In my mind, most are climbers’ bibs. I wear a large.
  • Capo—This line is pretty remarkable for its middle-of-the-road fit. I’ve had no issues with their bibs, nor have any friends reported issues with their stuff. I wear a medium.
  • Voler—I’ve had issues with being sort of between sizes. I was too big for the smalls but the mediums weren’t as snug in fit as it seemed they ought. I can’t recall ever being between sizes with another line. The quality has come a long way from what it once was, but the pad will only stay put if the bibs are tight enough that you don’t catch the bibs on the nose of the saddle. I wear a medium.
  • Panache—this is another line that offers ample room for my bumper. In addition to being roomy enough to accommodate both of my glutes, the pad is one of a handful that can rival Assos’ for comfort in terms of width and placement of the densest foam. I wear a large.
  • Rapha—I’ve just begun wearing the new Pro Team bibs and have been impressed with the fit. They are cut with plenty of room for my glutes without being loose up front, which is what happens if the butt is too roomy (which I did experience once). I wear a medium.
  • Hincapie—like Castelli, these tend to lack a bit of room in need in back. I wear a medium.
  • Giordana—Giordana has so many different product lines, there’s no one essential truth to their fit. Most of their stuff fits me pretty well, though the FormaRed Carbon bibs use the same narrow pad in the Vermarc bibs I tried. I wear a medium.
  • Vermarc—overall the fit was good; I just need a wider pad. I wear a medium.
  • Etxe Ondo—these could use a bit more room in the butt, but overall the fit was pretty good given the Power Lycra panels. I wear a medium.
  • Specialized—these had a very traditional fit. It may be that the Lycra they used was just particularly forgiving (I believe it was 6-oz. throughout) and that what made the fit. I wear a medium.
  • Primal Wear—not quite enough room in back, so it ended up being a bit snug in front. I wear a medium.
  • Nalini—another pair of bibs that needed more room in back to keep the front from being too tight. I wear a medium.

Jerseys:

  • Assos—all the Assos jerseys I’ve worn have been cut on a pretty noticeable taper. However, there are always materials with such great stretch utilized that the fit ends up being remarkably forgiving. distinctly short, lengthwise. I wear a medium.
  • Castelli—the jerseys I’ve tried are cut a bit more straight than Assos jerseys, though it appears their top-shelf stuff is cut on more of a taper. Mid-line stuff is somewhat long, but the pro stuff appears to be shorter. It’s really easy to buy a size too big with Castelli. I wear a medium.
  • Capo—cut on a slight taper and cut on the short side, though not as short as Assos. I wear a small.
  • Voler—cut remarkably straight and nearly as short as Assos; it’s a unique fit, but one I like when I’m not in perfect shape. I wear a small.
  • Panache—these jerseys feature a significant taper and run short. Out of season I need to wear a medium; when I’m fit and want a pro-style fit, I’m a small.
  • Hincapie—these are cut straight and long. They’ve got to fit the man himself. I wear a small.
  • Giordana—again, Giordana offers so much stuff their fit is all over the place. Inexpensive stuff is generous in fit, while primo stuff like the FormaRed Carbon is short, snug and tapered. I wear a small.
  • Vermarc—they feature a tapered cut and run slightly short. I wear a small.
  • Etxe Ondo—yet another tapered cut, but these run on the long side, though not so long as Hincapie. I wear a small.
  • Specialized—this is a remarkably straight cut with a little more length than some stuff. A conservative, fit-almost-anyone cut. I wear a small.
  • Primal Wear—cut pretty straight and with a fair amount of length. I wear a small.
  • Nalini—tapered cut, almost as short as Assos. I wear a small.

Bottom line: I’m not trying to steer you into or out of any one clothing line. I have my personal likes, but the value in this is to give you a greater frame of reference for choosing clothing next time you go to buy something. Fit is at the root of comfort. Go be comfortable and ride well.

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33 comments

  1. randomactsofcycling

    Thanks Padraig. When I was new to cycling, I’d just go out and buy whatever was cheapest or from the bargain bins and wonder why I got saddle sores after 30 minutes of riding. Then I discovered different saddles, chamois cream, bibs (!) and actual bike fit!
    Now I ride because I am a complete addict and need to pay more attention to these things and I can completely appreciate this article. As a cycling newbie I would have read the first couple of paragraphs and thought “Are you serious? How could a different piece of foam make ANY difference?”
    I have to say that since finding a saddle that fits me, chamois selection is not as crucial as it once was and that I ride sans chamois cream. I will give a little plug to Pearl Izumi. I have three pair of their bibs and they are not only great quality but comfortable for me too.

  2. BoB

    Thank you very much for this article.

    I, like you have always had trouble with things fitting me. I have “thunder thighs” for sure. Think Chris Hoy. Finding bibs that fit them, but don’t leave my back side saggy is not at all an easy task. This is getting worse as I loose weight. I will be taking your information to heart as I search for fit.

  3. A Stray Velo

    These last few posts have been great to read. It’s hard to find useful original articles and it’s nice to know I can find them here.

    I’ve always felt shy in any cycling kit. A lot of that comes from knowing in some brands I need to buy a size or two up from what I normally wear. That just makes me feel bigger than I am and that’s never a nice feeling. It’s amazing how things differ from brand to brand.

    It’s interesting what you say about your sit bones in relation to the pad in the shorts. I never really thought of that as a factor but now I will. Come to think of it the brand I’m riding now feels great and it does have a bit wider pad that matches my bottom better.

    Nice kit and proper fitting kit goes a long way when it comes to riding enjoyment. Even more so than the bike itself sometimes. Good riding gear makes the whole experience that much better.

  4. SWells

    Thanks, Padraig. And still another hard point in getting it right is the amount of trial-and-error involved with returns especially with shipping/shipping online. I AM one who is routinely between sizes…I’m 6’2″ with a long torso so bibs are difficult for me. One’s that fit in the “money area” sometimes feel great…until I stand up all the way to find the bib straps aren’t quite long enough. My bib fit philosophy has changed in recent years – since I’m not going to be walking around or standing, as long as they feel good on the bike, I’m good with that. Of my 2 recent purchases – Castelli bib-knickers & Capo bib-shorts, the Castelli’s offer excellent fit and just enough “bib slack” to maintain circulation to, uh, vital areas, if I’m walking to/from. The Capo’s fit great, but have just a tad too much padding for me.

  5. Chris

    I am 6’3″ and while I’m probably 5 lbs heavier than I want to be this time of year my weight seems to settle in regions other than my rear. I ride a 143mm Romin saddle but the ass-o-meter put me in between the 143 and the 155.

    I’ve bibs from Capo which I don’t like, partly because the seem too roomy and partly because the pad doesn’t come up very high in the front and I feel when I’m wearing them that I might offend those with tender sensibilities.

    I’ve also worn Castelli which are a bit tight in the bib straps but comfy on the bike. But my current favorite is the Sugoi RS bib short. If anything the pad is a bit thick, but otherwise it fits my frame well and is my go to for long rides.

    As for jerseys I’ve yet to find one I’m really happy with. I’ll try a Hincapie and see if it’s length suits me better.

  6. sam findley

    Thanks for this. I must be on the opposite end of the shape spectrum from you, so even your negatives help me viz. fit!

  7. AJN

    Perfect timing for the article, I was about to indulge in some new bibs. Being 6;3″ and 165lb, I find I’m usually a large in most brands. I’ve enjoyed Capo bibs but their styling has fallen off lately, in my opinion. Trying to decide if I should make the leap to Assos …

  8. Bikelink

    Thanks so much…great info…I’m always trying to figure this stuff out. 5’10″ 160, bought assos Uno size large (usually wear a medium in team champ sys and now ccn stuff) and found nirvana. Padraig…I didn’t feel an overwhelming need to post a comment, but wanted to just give a +1…maybe rkp could use a button for that…+1 if especially good article, even if you don’t leave a comment. Perhaps you’d get a better sense of the ‘silent majority’ (though I’m obviously not usually part of that group!).

  9. gmknobl

    Thanks for this not talked about area of cycling. The most we usually hear is use butt butter.

    My own personal bugaboo is in the crotch area. I’ve gotten used to smaller saddles even though I have generous thighs and butt. However, on longer rides, especially in early season when calluses aren’t built up, I get nasty rubs on the inside of the thigh right where things meet the underside of the saddle. It’s probably a weight thing as I am a member in good standing of the guys that get fat in winter club. But even in late season with calluses built up, I get worn pants right at that location, seemingly on either side. I am 5’10.5 (neatly in between height ranges) but tall in the saddle using a 60 cm frame. At my best fitness I climbed very well and could attack nicely (for an amateur who doesn’t race) on 8-10% climbs and weighed an all time low of 170, if you don’t include my high school pre-muscle build up days. But even then, I got rubs in the same area. I was very low fat though at that point, having a pretty wide frame.

    Usually what would happen is one piece of flesh would get doubled over or pinched between the fabric or the seat. One time I even rode in pain for the first 20 miles of a century in August until a blood blister broke. All was well after that but it was not fun.

    Aside from keeping the weight off and keeping riding so calluses stay on, I’m not sure what can be done about this. It seems to be a combination of fabric and saddle versus my groin/thigh. And even if I keep riding and the weight off during the winter, I’m not sure things would be solved. Surgery is not an option.

    Any suggestions?


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Everyone: Thanks for your comments. It’s good to know this is helping. Even when our posts are practical, rather than introspective, it means a lot to know that the work resonates with you.

      Gmknobl: There was a Bill Cosby routine in which he talked about a competitor who was something like 6′ 6″. He said he was six feet of legs with the head on top. Now, unless you’re that guy, I can’t really come up with a scenario where I’d put a guy shorter than me on a bike bigger than mine. I suspect that you have some fit issues that need to be addressed, among them frame size and, yes, saddle choice. The small saddle is probably the root of your trouble. A wider saddle will likely (I can’t say for sure as I haven’t seen you on your saddle) give you better support by giving your sit bones a real perch. It should eliminate thigh rub. Simply put, what you’re experiencing is flat-out unnecessary. There’s a solution out there; just go find a really good fit tech.

  10. Kevin

    Interesting comments about “butt-room”. I often find in many bibs that the pad is too far back- ie the pad misses my sit bones completely by a few inches. Could this be because I have too much junk in the trunk and it pulls the pad back?


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Kevin: You’re facing a fit issue, for sure. It’s true that I’ve come across bibs where the pad was sewn in the wrong location (either too far forward or too far back) but those are rare. The last time I encountered bibs where the pad was too far back they were produced by a company full of very casual cyclists for very casual cyclists; they weren’t intended for people who rotate their pelvis when they ride. Regardless, the pad was still too far back. But yes, if you had less ass, the pad would shift forward and your sit bones would fall more in line with the location of the pad.

      Airbonner: Gee, thanks.

  11. airbonner

    This is the most informative thing I have ever read about cycling kit. I have probably already spent many hundreds of dollars on stuff that was “my size” and totally wrong.
    Keep the faith, brother! You do great work.

  12. Paul I.

    I’m 5′ 7″ and skinny, and I’ve not found any bibs that fit me as well as Capo. Hincapie were the worst – the straps were too far apart so that felt like they were falling off of my shoulders, and the pad bunched and got uncomfortable quickly. Castelli were, surprisingly, a little too tight.

  13. gmknobl

    Well, I need the longer frame as the shorter 58cm always made me feel like I was trying to emulate a lemon with my back. I’m average to short of leg and all torso. And the way the 60 stretches me out, even at the end of a long ride feels very good to my back. But even with that, I had to get them to buy a special long stem to put the handle bars further out.

    But a wider saddle may do the trick. It makes sense. I’ll ask at the local shop but they are the ones that put me on this in the first place. Maybe I can get them to look at this without charging me. The fact I haven’t bought a frame from them in about 15 years though, may be an issue. They do have a “professional” fitting service they charge for on special bike build ups for Serotta and others ordered through their shop.

    OT – when I first bought a road bike, I bought a Klein and loved the paint job. I’ve killed two frames since then by driving into my garage while having them mounted to my car roof, one by a bad bike accident and the last by frame failure on the road! I don’t put the bike on the roof anymore. The last two replacements were not a Klein of course and I miss them. Trek was nice enough to give me a roughly equivalent aluminum/carbon fiber frame at a discount. That frame though, gave up the ghost climbing a hill. It split at the crank. So, the new Trek frame is another mostly aluminum with carbon front fork. A 2.3 or something like that. As I’ve ruined bikes or had them die, the replacements are not quite as nice to my mind as the previous frame and now the most recent is way down the list from the almost top of the line bike I bought way back when.

  14. JG

    You must have one big caboose, Padraig. I’m 6′ 185 pounds currently and wear a medium in Assos and Giordana bibs and a small in Rapha bibs. I have a pretty ample backside and lower half, myself, especially when I’m fat like now.

    Useful stats, though. Thanks for the post.

  15. Wsquared

    I have been wearing Pearl Izumi “Elite” bib shorts for a couple of years now, as well as their winter tights Unlike some other brands, I particularly like how they don’t dig into my now less than washboard abs at the crease when I am bent over on the drops. They seem to spread abdominal pressure very evenly.

  16. Liam Glen

    Anyone out there got suggestions for a 6’3 153lbs guy with very skinny legs? Most bibs I’ve tried are either too loose in the leg, or too tight in the torso. I’m thinking a company needs to come out with a “Wiggins” fit for us stick insects

  17. dstan58

    5’7″ and 172 lbs, track racer, 33″ waist, 30″ inseam 44″ chest. Medium Hincapie shorts are a gift from the cycling gods. Enough room for the thighs, long enough still to cover the legs. Perfect. Likewise; Garneau shorts are also spot-on. Medium Primal Wear jerseys fit skinsuit perfectly on top. Large are a “club ride” fit.

  18. Scott

    Padraig – thanks for a great article. I am wondering if you could also share your measurements? I think that would be helpful relative to sizing. It seems like many of the folks who’ve commented, I’ve spent hundreds in search of a comfortable kit for long rides.

    I am 5′ 5″ and 155, 31 waist and 39 chest. So far, can’t find a thing that really works – Capo’s been the best so far (medium bib and jersey). I’ve been riding the Fizik Aliante – maybe it’s a saddle issue?

  19. CW

    Nice article. I’m 6’0, 155-160. 34″ inseam and 30″ waist. I would put myself in the junk in the trunk category as well. I have pretty wide sit bones and I agree with almost all of your sizing choices. In Rapha, I’m kinda between medium and large, but I honestly can’t fit my quads in the mediums or pull the straps up without looking like the hunchback.

    A short I wouldn’t recommend you try with your wide sit bones are the highest end mavics. I have the heliums and infinitys and they always bother me after an hour or so around the sit bones. Shame, because they are brilliant in fit otherwise. I know their mid range short, used to be called the stelvio has a much different chamois.

    I’ve had mixed opinions on pearlizumi over the years, but their latest pro 4d shorts are really comfortable. Ample sit bone width and the right kind of forward padding for hard efforts in the drops.

  20. Janet D.

    Padraig, this was very informative, though I did have a sneaking suspicion that it was your Christmas list…

  21. Pingback: Assos, Capo, Castelli and Rapha Bibshorts Review | Cycling Tips

  22. Rob

    Wow…

    I’m exactly your size… 5’9″ but 155 lbs… Big caboose as well, I can only wear loose fit jeans series. Thanks for the hints, I will use this as my reference from now on.

    As far as Castelli goes, I ordered a Medium and will report back what I think next week. Not sure why Large is your choice?

    Thanks again for the great work.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Rob: Where Euro brands are concerned, like Assos and Castelli, I have to wear large bibs because of my big, fat American ass. To put it in perspective, I can’t wear straight leg jeans. Just can’t. At all. Ever.

  23. Pingback: Assos, Capo, Castelli and Rapha Bibshorts Review | CyclingTips 日本

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