Many new cyclists think of padded bike shorts as a frivolous buy since you can technically wear whatever you want when you’re cycling. However, a pair of padded bike shorts are so much more than that. They are an essential cycling kit that could make or break your trip.
That being said, choosing a pair of padded cycling shorts is not an easy feat. As mountain biking becomes more popular, manufacturers continuously introduce new designs that make them more appealing and comfortable. In this article, let’s look at some of the must-have features and types of padded bike shorts so you can make the best purchase decision for yourself.
Why Should You Wear Padded Bike Shorts?
For some mountain bikers, saddle sore is the push they needed to transition into padded bike shorts. Even if your saddle is cushioned, you’d inevitably suffer from these painful lesions without a pair of padded shorts.
Padded bike shorts form a layer of cushioning between your nether regions, rear, and saddle. Not only do they protect you from saddle sores, but they also relieve some pressure from your lower half. Besides that, the padding in the bike shorts also absorbs the vibrations from your bike tires that could cause soreness and pain.
Together with a good saddle, you’ll be able to get more out of your ride and go on for longer with a pair of padded shorts.
The Most Important Part Of Bike Shorts: The Chamois
The chamois is the star of the show as it provides all the benefits you get from wearing biker shorts. Simply put, it’s the final line of defense between your nether regions and the saddle.
Chamois are typically made with foam, gel padding, and a soft fabric cover. But, no matter what type of fabric cover it uses, it’s made of an antibacterial material to prevent urinary tract infection. Not only that, but the chamois pad is specifically designed to wick sweat and moisture away from your body.
Besides that, you can find chamois with varying thicknesses and densities to fit your position on the bike. You can also buy chamois with 3D padding and 3D gel padding to suit your riding style.
The chamois quality isn’t the only thing that matters-you’d also have to take a look at the position. As you’re constantly moving your legs, an ill-positioned chamois would cause more pain than comfort. Furthermore, the seams from a poorly-made chamois would create hotspots and chafing. You should also make sure that everything is kept in place to avoid uncomfortable bunching or friction.
It’s important to remember not to wear underwear under your padded bicycle shorts. With an extra layer of fabric between you and the shorts, you’re defeating the purpose of wearing these special shorts. For one, your underwear is not quick-wicking, meaning you’ll end up being in contact with wet and clammy material for the whole ride. It also softens your skin, making it more susceptible to chafing, and also provides the perfect breeding ground for bacteria growth.
You can also use chamois cream with a well-padded pair of shorts to further reduce the risk of injury. In addition, it prevents bacteria growth and reduces friction between your legs.
Different Types of Padded Bike Short
Mountain Bike Shorts (MTB Shorts)
MTB shorts are typically baggier and feature many practical design choices that a mountain biker would find helpful. They are made of rugged but lightweight nylon fabric that provides better protection and ventilation. They also come with many pockets.
- Best Mountain bike shorts: Bontrager Rhythm ($80)
The Bontrager Rhythm is built to withstand rough trails with durable but lightweight materials. Besides that, they also have plenty of smartly placed pockets (two front ones, one below your hip, and a small zippered thigh pocket) and a secure buckle system to help fine-tune your fit. The 14” inseam falls below the knee for many MTB riders, giving you the option to add knee pads if you want to.
Road Shorts/ Waist Shorts
Road shorts, or waist shorts, are the tight-fitting shorts that most people think of when we bring up cycling shorts. They are typically made of Lycra or some other moisture-wicking and breathable synthetic materials. Not only that, but the design also reduces wind speed and provides more aerodynamics, making them perfect for racing.
Road bike shorts are generally cheaper and often a good ‘first cycling short’ option for those new to the sport. You can quickly put them on and take them off since they are secured with an elastic waistband. The downside is that the waistband might cut into your waist on longer rides.
- Best road shorts for men: Baleaf Men’s 3D Padded Pants Tights ($29.99)
The Baleaf Men’s 3D Padded Pants Tights strike a good compromise between performance, fit, durability, and price tag. They use a stretchy, breathable, moisture-wicking fabric with reflective details to increase visibility. Not only that, but it also comes equipped with silicone leg grippers to hold the shorts in place.
- Best women’s cycling shorts: Samsara Performance 9” Short ($149)
As a women-led company, Samsara has tons of experience designing women’s shorts. The Performance 9” Short has an 11” chamois, making cycling for long hours extremely comfortable. It also uses a mesh-like inner layer to encase the chamois to avoid abrasions from the seams. These durable yet fashionable shorts are available in four colors.
Cycling Bib Shorts
Bib shorts have bib straps attached to the main body of the shorts. Since they are usually more comfortable and fit better, these are a must-have in every serious cyclists’ kit.
The bib straps hold up your shorts to eliminate the possibility of having a tough piece of fabric at your waist digging into your stomach. It’s also nearly impossible for them to slip off, so you don’t have to worry about exposing yourself to your fellow cyclists behind you. Not only that, but the straps also keep the chamois in place to reduce any blisters or unwanted chafing.
The downside to these shorts is that they make emergency toilet breaks a bit more complicated as there’s an extra step of taking them off. They could also be too hot to wear during hot days since heat and sweat accumulate under the straps.
- Best bib shorts for men: Giordana Men’s FR-C Pro Bib Short ($250)
The Giordana Men’s FR-C Pro Bib Short is explicitly made for high-mileage rides and races. It uses a blend of Lycra panels on different parts of your shorts to provide the most benefits. For example, it has anti-abrasion for the seat and inner leg with compressive Lycra on the front and sides. In addition, the upper part of the bib is constructed of breathable mesh to prevent overheating during long rides.
- Best bib shorts for women: Pearl Izumi Women’s Pursuit Attack Bib Short ($80)
The Pursuit Attack Bib offers moderate compression throughout the leg for better blood circulation and a wide silicon edge to the leg to keep your shorts from riding up. Not only that, but they also have a lot of stretches to accommodate different body types. They have a drop-tail design in the back that makes mid-ride nature calls a lot more pleasant and faster. These shorts are cut from recycled polyester, making them an eco-friendly and sustainable choice for nature lovers.
How To Find The Best Padded Bike Shorts
Ideal Fabrics To Look For
Most padded bike shorts use synthetic materials since these materials typically dry faster, keep sweat away from your body, and prevent bacteria from growing.
Nylon and polyester are two of the most commonly used materials in cycling shorts—nylon being the more rugged of the two. But regardless of the primary material, the most comfortable pair of biking shorts are blends that contain at least 15% spandex. That’s because spandex offers stretch and compression while holding up to the abrasions of the cycling motion against your bike seat. The higher the spandex content, the more stretchable it’ll be.
Lycra bike shorts are also great since they stay in place no matter how much you move. This limits abrasions and keeps you more comfortable when you’re cycling. Not only that, but they also shed heat very quickly and wicks moisture away.
Although you keep most of your gear in your backpack, you’d still need pockets on your shorts. You can store your trail map, energy bars, some cash, or even your phone if you’re feeling a bit more adventurous.
There are three different orientations of pockets for MTB shorts. Side cargo pockets are usually more spacious, making them perfect for holding bulkier items like your phone or wallet. Front slash pockets are located at your waist, while rear-center pockets are below your waistband.
We get it—you might not feel the most comfortable in skin-tight cycling shorts. But having your shorts adhere to your skin brings a few more benefits, like increasing your aerodynamics and speed while reducing the chances of being caught in a rogue branch.
Regardless, the most important thing when it comes to tightness is how comfortable you feel in them. If you’re more comfortable with baggy shorts, you can opt for loose cycling shorts with built-in leg gripper-elastic bands at the leg of your pants with silicon on them to prevent your shorts from riding up.
Inseam is the length of your shorts from your crotch to the end of the leg opening. As a general rule of thumb, you should choose shorts that end slightly above your knee. That’s because you need your shorts to protect your inner thighs from rubbing against the saddle. In colder weather, you can wear cycling shorts that are padded down to the legs.
Like we’ve mentioned before, the chamois is the most critical part of padded cycling shorts. They can be made from fabric, foams, and gels to offer optimal cushioning and shock absorption.
Typically, thicker and denser pad linings are made of 3D gel padding and are better for longer rides. Besides that, they should also be carefully placed to optimize your cycling position.
Panels And Construction
Cycling shorts are made of panels that contour the shorts to fit properly on your body when you’re cycling. As a general rule of thumb, the more panels your shorts have, the more curved they are and the more natural they feel.
The panels aren’t the only thing that matters—construction is essential too. For example, when buying cycling shorts, you should look for flatlock stitching that feels smooth against your skin. That’s because raised seams can cause painful pressure points and abrasions from the cycling motion.
Less expensive shorts usually have a 6-panel design, while higher-end shorts can go up to 12 panels. However, there are new designs that use stretch fabrics that fit pretty well without the paneling design.
How To Wash Padded Bike Shorts
Your bike shorts can handle a lot on the trail, but their lifespan might be severely shortened by strong detergent and unforgiving washing machine cycles.
We know that hand washing your gear is the last thing on your mind after a tiring biking trip. However, you should always hand wash your shorts to maximize the number of uses you get from your shorts. Not only that, you should soak your shorts in cold, soapy water to rid your shorts of all the bacteria from sweat after gently rubbing them in mild detergent.
Lycra and sweat are not best friends, and your shorts will erode after marinating in your sweat for too long. If you don’t have time, you should rinse your shorts with cold water and let them air dry until you hand wash them.
Alternatively, you can get machine-safe shorts that you can pop into the washer. Before putting your shorts in a delicate cycle, make sure to put them in a laundry bag to protect them from zippers, velcro, and the metal drum of the washing machine.