Thursday, October 18, 2012

How To Wear Bike Shorts

Yes, after all this time online, my new "How To" series has finally moved this topic off the To Do list and onto the blog.

In all my years in managing bicycle stores; this was probably the topic that was the most difficult to address and that customers and salespeople alike knew the least about. My intent here is to take my experiences and put them down in a fashion that you can use it as a buying guide for your first few times around the block buying padded cycling shorts.

I'll address every topic here (and if you think I've missed something or still have questions; leave a comment and we'll address that too...), but still keep it G rated as is my style. So no worries; go ahead and read this at work. :) That said; let's begin:

  1. No, you don't wear underwear under them (but please do when you're trying them on). There are a few reasons for this - first being that wearing multiple layers here increases chafing and is much less comfortable. Second, the padding (called a "chamois") is designed to go next to your skin for the best performance. Finally, the fabrics are high-performance and will wick and disperse perspiration best when they are the first layer. Comfort, comfort, comfort - it's all better here without your undies...
  2. The pad is supposed to feel funny when you're walking. If these were walking shorts, that would be different; but they're riding shorts.  They feel much better on the bike. Yeah, the "diaper" feeling takes some getting used to; but after an hour or so on the saddle you'll be glad you have the padding. Also, they're not meant to be worn all day - so get out of them as soon as you're able. Save your riding shorts for riding.
  3. Choose the tighter ones over the loose ones if trying to choose between two sizes. If the larger size has any loose fabric that isn't snug around the waist, hips, thighs, or elsewhere; size down. This will keep the shorts and padding from migrating during riding. Additionally a minor function of some shorts is muscular support which they accomplish through their snug fit. This helps with circulation and fatigue reduction. "Comfortably snug" is the phrase I use.
  4. Those funny looking "bib" shorts really are more comfortable than the regular shorts with a waistband. (Photo at top) These also take some getting used to - unless you're a wrestler - as they fit sort of like a wrestling singlet. But, the elimination of the waistband makes them much more comfy to wear when you're bent at the waist for hours on a long ride. The other benefit is that you're less likely to flash a look at your lower back to those riding behind you if your shorts are too low or your jersey is too short...
  5. Yes, Chamois Cream really does make a difference. Another aspect of the cycling experience that takes some getting used to; but it helps relieve chafing on a longer ride so that you can get back on the bike tomorrow. Women should avoid the "euro-style" creams with menthol and/or witch hazel; otherwise it's a matter of preference.
  6. Yes, they really are more comfortable than regular shorts. If your modesty gets the best of you - get some of the baggy shorts with a padded liner or just wear baggy shorts over your riding shorts. I'll wear baggy riding shorts for commuting or mountain biking and there is nothing wrong with that. But, if you are nervous about getting cycling shorts and think you can compromise with a softer seat - you're still missing out.

    Padded shorts make a good seat better and a great seat the best. Allowing your clothing to do some of the job of cushioning should also allow you to ride a slightly firmer saddle than you would otherwise which in turn is more supportive and tends to chafe less.
  7. Better, more expensive shorts really are better. The fabric is more technical and functions better. They tend to fit better and last longer due to better construction methods. The padding is more sophisticated and tends to be multi-density so you get the cushion where you need it. It is better to have one or two pair of mid- to high-end shorts than a bunch of cheap shorts. So; save your coins (or find a sale) and get the better ones.
In the end (no pun intended...), I've never known anyone to try riding with padded cycling shorts and then go back to riding without them. Also; pro cyclists are generally very practical people and won't do anything that doesn't have a performance advantage or make them a better rider. Pros all wear padded shorts and they wouldn't if it weren't better. (Trust me; it's not because of the skin tight fashion...most of us are aware that the farther you are from your bike, the worse you look in your cycling clothes; even the pros.)

So, take the plunge if you haven't already and get some padded shorts. If you have some already but aren't satisfied - hopefully I've been able to clear up some issues for you.


  1. Simple advice that a lot of people would probably be grateful for. and just remember number 1! Or be prepared for major discomfort

  2. Great advice, and all things I wish I would have known as a newbie cyclist. I would just add that bike shorts are meant to be taken off as soon as you are done riding. I have known alot of people to linger in their bike shorts long after the ride is over. This encourages bacteria growth...umm.... under the shorts, and it can also create a "perma-stink" in the shorts.

    1. Good point - probably worthy of adding as item #8 on my list (and one I somehow overlooked).

      That bacteria growth can lead to all sorts of undesirable conditions - saddle sores among them.

      Thanks for commenting, guys!



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