Disclosure: I may receive referral fees from purchases made through links on BicycleVolt. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. But I always stand by my opinions and recommendations.
As a passionate cyclist (and new-gear-buying addict!), I’ve always been on the hunt for the perfect bike shorts. They can make or break a ride – can’t they? And, there’s nothing worse than discomfort when you’re trying to conquer that hill or push through the final miles of your route. Thigh chafing… numb butt cheeks… Over the years, I’ve tried and tested countless bike shorts, and I’ve finally found the formula for choosing the perfect pair. In this blog post, I’ll share my hard-won wisdom and guide you through the process of selecting the ultimate bike shorts in just four simple steps.
Whether you’re an experienced cyclist, a weekend warrior, or a beginner just starting your journey, the right padded bike shorts can make all the difference. They not only provide comfort, but they also help prevent raw chafed skin in sensitive areas, and can improve your overall cycling experience. So, without further ado, let’s dive into the four essential steps to choosing the perfect bike shorts.
Step 1: Understand the Different Types of Bike Shorts
Before you can choose the perfect pair of bike shorts, you need to know what’s out there. Bike shorts generally fall into two main categories: road cycling shorts and mountain biking shorts.
Road Cycling Shorts
These shorts are designed specifically for road cycling and are typically made from a stretchy, moisture-wicking fabric that hugs your body. They’re built for speed and aerodynamics, with a snug fit and minimal seams to reduce air resistance. The chamois (padding) in road cycling shorts is usually thinner and denser than in mountain biking shorts, providing optimal support for long rides in a more aggressive position on the bike.
They’re not for everyone though – the streamlined look can be great for reducing wind resistance, but not so great if you’re looking to minimise extra ‘padding’ (Editor: aren’t we all?!)
Mountain Biking Shorts
Mountain biking shorts, on the other hand, are more rugged and durable, designed to withstand the rough terrain of off-road trails. They often have a looser fit and are made from a combination of stretchy and abrasion-resistant materials to allow for a greater range of motion. The chamois in mountain biking shorts is generally thicker and softer, offering more cushioning for bumpy rides.
These looser shorts give a more forgiving fit than the tighter road cycling shorts, but won’t be as aerodynamic and can have a tendency to flap around some once you get up to higher speeds.
Pro Tip: Don’t Assume One Type Fits All
Ben’s Mistake: Early in my cycling journey, I assumed that any pair of bike shorts would work for both road and mountain biking. I quickly learned that the differences between the two types of shorts were more significant than I thought, and wearing road cycling shorts on a rugged trail left me feeling sore and uncomfortable.
Don’t be like Ben: Always consider the specific type of riding you’ll be doing and choose bike shorts designed for that purpose. Road cycling and mountain biking shorts are tailored to provide the best support and comfort for their respective disciplines, so make sure you invest in the right pair for your needs.
Step 2: Consider the Fit and Sizing
The fit of your bike shorts is crucial for comfort, performance, and injury prevention. Here are a few things to keep in mind when determining the right fit for you:
A proper waistband should sit comfortably on your hips without being too tight or too loose. Look for shorts with an adjustable waistband or elastic to ensure a snug fit. Some road cycling shorts may have bib straps, which help keep the shorts in place without the need for a waistband. These can be a great option for those who prefer a more secure fit. I’m a big fan of bib style cycling shorts as I find that shorts without the bib straps tend to work their way down off my waist as I ride.
Bike shorts come in various lengths, from thigh-high to knee-length. Your preference may depend on factors such as personal style, comfort, and sun protection. Keep in mind that longer shorts may offer more compression benefits and coverage, while shorter shorts can provide greater freedom of movement.
Inseam and Leg Grippers
The inseam of your bike shorts should be long enough to prevent chafing and ride-up while pedaling – I find that mid-thigh works great for me in avoiding chafed skin on my inner thighs. Look for shorts with silicone or elastic leg grippers to help keep them in place during your ride.
Bike shorts sizing can vary between brands, so it’s essential to consult each brand’s sizing chart before making a purchase. If possible, try on multiple sizes and brands to find the best fit for your body type. Remember that bike shorts are meant to fit snugly, but not so tight that they restrict your movement or cause discomfort.
Pro Tip: Resist the Urge to Size Up
Ben’s Mistake: When I first started buying bike shorts, I often opted for a size larger than recommended, thinking it would be more comfortable. However, this led to bunching, chafing, and a generally poor fit that negatively impacted my rides.
Don’t be like Ben: Stick to the recommended sizing based on each brand’s sizing chart, and remember that bike shorts are meant to fit snugly. If you’re between sizes or unsure, it’s best to try on a few pairs in-store or consult customer reviews for guidance on sizing.
Step 3: Evaluate the Chamois Quality
The chamois is the padded insert in bike shorts that provides cushioning and support for your sit bones, reducing pressure and preventing chafing. A good chamois can make all the difference on long rides, so it’s worth investing in shorts with high-quality padding. Here are a few factors to consider when evaluating the chamois:
The best chamois materials are breathable, moisture-wicking, and quick-drying. Look for chamois made from synthetic fabrics like microfiber or polyester, which have these properties and are less likely to cause irritation compared to natural materials like cotton.
Thickness and Density
The thickness and density of the chamois should correspond to the type of riding you do. As mentioned earlier, road cycling shorts usually have a thinner, denser chamois for optimal support during long rides, while mountain biking shorts have a thicker, softer chamois for better cushioning on rough terrain. If you’re a casual rider or commute by bike, a moderate thickness and density will likely suffice.
Shape and Contour
A well-designed chamois should follow the natural contours of your body, providing support where needed without excess bulk. Look for a chamois with a seamless or low-profile construction to minimize chafing and discomfort. Bear in mind (or, should that be “bare in mind”?) that you shouldn’t wear underwear with your cycling shorts. The shorts are designed to be worn next to your skin and extra layers of underwear can cause fabric to bunch up uncomfortably. If you do find yourself getting chafed skin, then it’s worth taking a look at the chamois cream options as these can also make a big difference.
A chamois with antimicrobial properties can help prevent bacterial growth and odor, keeping you feeling fresh even after long rides. Many high-quality chamois pads are treated with antimicrobial agents, so keep an eye out for this feature when shopping for bike shorts.
Pro Tip: Don’t Skimp on Chamois Quality
Ben’s Mistake: In an attempt to save money, I once bought a pair of bike shorts with a low-quality chamois. The result was a painful and uncomfortable ride that left me regretting my decision.
Don’t be like Ben: Always prioritize chamois quality when choosing bike shorts, even if it means spending a bit more. Investing in a high-quality chamois can make all the difference in your comfort and enjoyment on the bike, and it’s worth every penny in the long run.
Step 4: Don’t Forget About Style and Additional Features
While the fit, function, and comfort of your bike shorts are of utmost importance, you shouldn’t completely overlook style and additional features. After all, you’ll be wearing these shorts for hours on end, and it’s always nice to feel good about how you look on the bike.
Color and Design
Bike shorts are available in a wide range of colors and designs, so you can choose a pair that reflects your personality and style. If you want to make a statement, go for bold patterns or bright colors. If you prefer a more understated look, opt for classic black or neutral shades. I typically find myself steering more towards black for cycling shorts – it’s a neutral color and I can pair it with brighter jerseys when I’m looking to make a statement.
Pockets and Storage
Some bike shorts come with built-in pockets or storage compartments, which can be a useful feature for carrying essentials like keys, cash, or energy gels. If this is important to you, look for shorts with zippered pockets or stash pockets integrated into the waistband or at the rear where they won’t dig into your belly when you lean forwards over the handlebars.
If you plan on riding in low-light conditions, consider bike shorts with reflective elements to enhance your visibility and safety on the road. Many shorts have reflective logos, piping, or other accents to help you stand out when it’s dark out.
Pro Tip: Remember That Form Follows Function
Ben’s Mistake: I once bought a pair of bike shorts that looked fantastic but lacked essential features, like a secure waistband and moisture-wicking fabric. This oversight led to an uncomfortable and less-than-enjoyable ride.
Don’t be like Ben: While it’s important to consider style, never sacrifice function for fashion. Make sure your bike shorts have all the necessary features to keep you comfortable and supported during your rides. Once you’ve covered the basics, you can focus on finding a pair that matches your personal style.
Conclusion and summary table
There you have it – four simple steps to help you choose the perfect bike shorts for your cycling adventures. Remember to consider the type of riding you do, prioritize fit and sizing, evaluate the chamois quality, and don’t forget about style and additional features. If you’re still suffering from sore butt cheeks after cycling then it’s worth considering a number of other options too. With these guidelines in mind, you’ll be well on your way to finding a pair of bike shorts that not only look great but also provide the comfort and support you need to ride with confidence and enjoyment. So, gear up, hit the road or trail, and experience the difference a perfect pair of bike shorts can make.
How to Choose the Perfect Bike Shorts in 4 Simple Steps
Understand Types of Bike Shorts
Don't assume one type fits all - choose shorts designed for your specific type of riding (e.g. MTB/Road)
Consider Fit and Sizing
Resist the urge to size up - stick to recommended sizing based on brand's chart
Evaluate Chamois Quality
Don't skimp on chamois quality - invest in a high-quality chamois for comfort
Style and Additional Features
Remember that form follows function - Prioritize function over fashion