Clothesline: Two women’s drop-tail bibs put to the test

Pearl Izumi and Gore bring to market ladies' bib shorts designed to level the playing field on nature breaks

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Call away, Nature. Even if I’m wearing bib shorts.

So the other day I had an experience that I’m sure most 20-something women have had. I showed up to my dad’s house for a bike ride, and he answered the door dressed in the same outfit I was wearing. As all women discuss the fit of their clothing with their fathers as well, so did I as we rolled out.

The jury was decided that the jersey was a showcase of human ability, while the shorts were a train wreck.

“I can’t stand them,” I responded to his question about what I thought about the shorts.

“I know! When you try to go to the bathroom, the bib comes up way too high in the front and you have to take your jersey all the way off to go,” he vented in response.

I blinked at him, awed that he would actually think that would be the reason that I had snubbed the shorts. “Yeah,” I responded slowly, emphasizing the irony in my voice, “but that didn’t really occur to me.”

Neither pair of the bib shorts on review here were those anecdotal shorts, but both have acknowledged the fact that when women wear men’s bibs, we always have to take our jersey all the way off to answer the call of nature, and the designers have taken sympathy on us for the challenges we face when removing layers in a Porta Potty.

Gore and Pearl Izumi have approached the dilemma in two very different ways. Pearl’s Women’s P.R.O. In-R-Cool bib short uses a drop-tail system and the Gore Alp-X Lady bibs use a patented two-zip system.

Gore Alp-X Lady bibs $189.99

Designed with a woman’s body in mind, Gore’s Alp-X Lady bibs tackle several anatomical particularities that concern women, and feature some added flourishes as well.

With a clasp in front to keep the straps on the breastplate rather than directly over the breasts and a hinge-and-zip system for natural breaks, Gore designers clearly started from the drawing board to make a true women’s bib.

Starting from the back, the Gore bibs unzip from both sides around the waist, until the shorts and the bib are essentially separate pieces except where both straps meet in the front. By unzipping the two pieces, the rider can pull the shorts down essentially as she would a pair of standard shorts, with no need to pull off the shoulder straps. The system is a great solution and on long rides these shorts were life savers.

The zippers lock, but when unlocked they unzip the moment you bend over, so be sure to flip them closed when you put the shorts on.

I expected the strap placement to be hot and sweaty, but they really didn’t keep my chest too warm and they fit so comfortably that I’ve since put clothes pins on many of my men’s bibs to accomplish the same result. The clasp sits at heart rate monitor level and never chafed me.

Interestingly, the Alp-X Lady bibs feature a pocket in the shorts, just the right size for a gel pack, on the right leg.

The chamois is the Alp-X Lady seat insert, Gore’s long-distance mountain bike chamois. As Gore claims, it is breathable, soft and quick-drying, but it is also a massive chamois that feels like a diaper. Call me out of touch, but wearing a bib and a diaper make riding a little too youthful. With thick, seven-inch-wide padding, it is no doubt comfortable for long days of seated climbing, but not for walking or running with your bike. Gore pegs the Alp-X Lady as a mountain bike chamois, but I wouldn’t wear it again for cyclocross or technical riding where I might have to push the bike. The insert would be well suited to multi-day tours, perhaps.

Gore offers a similar short, the Xenon 2.0 Lady bib short, with the Xenon Sonic Lady seat insert, which I haven’t tried, but Gore says it is more suited for general long-distance cross-country or road needs and appears better suited for walking. The Xenon 2.0 Lady shorts also offer the two-zip system and hook closure in the front, and to my eye are more attractive. They also lack the coarse, cross-hatched fabric panels that the Alp-X shorts have, which would be an improvement. They are available for $199.99, 10 dollars more than the Alp-X.

Pearl Izumi Women’s P.R.O. In-R-Cool bib short $175

Pearl Izumi designers took a different approach to the issue of women’s natural breaks in bibs with the Women’s P.R.O. In-R-Cool bib. The straps come together in the back to hook to the bottom of the shorts, like a bra closure.

The P.R.O. Bibs have a similar clasp system in the front as the Gore Alp-X, thought it sits a bit lower. It didn’t chafe and certainly made the straps more comfortable.

The chamois is comfortable, easy to move in whether riding or running, and is very soft, but the leg bands are particularly sharp along the edge and over time they chafed annoyingly.

Returning to the natural break issue, these shorts missed the mark. The whole idea of the drop tail is to make going to the bathroom in bibs more simple, but unless I am willing to ask for help or use them as standard bibs, the clasp makes the process such an excessive operation that once I left them unhooked and just pulled them up like normal shorts. To their credit, the shorts stayed up fine.

Picture, if you will, a halter top. One loop goes over your head around your neck, rather than two straps going over your shoulders. From the halter around your neck, there is a tail that hangs down with hooks at the end. They hook to the “drop tail” running up your spine.

Most likely, the system would work great if it hooked just above the tailbone, or even at waistline, but at any rate the tail from the halter should drop down to the hooks. Instead, it hooks between the shoulder blades, and you bring the bottom part up to the top section.

When dressing, my shoulders are just flexible enough to allow this. When dressing underneath three layers with gloves on in a Porta Potty, there was absolutely no reaching the strap to hook it again, unless I asked an overly-friendly rider in the parking lot to go far beyond the call of courtesy and help me.

Besides that, it just wasn’t easy to pull the shorts down with the strap around my neck, and it turned into an all-around unpleasant experience.

The MSRP on these is $175, which is less expensive than the Gore options, but in the same price range. While they are a great pair of shorts on and off the bike, and nicely designed with women in mind, I use them like regular bibs and wouldn’t recommend them if you are hoping for shorts that won’t make you a burden when your group ride pulls over and it takes you five minutes longer than the men to pull your shorts up.

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