Padded shorts make a huge difference to your comfort in the saddle and are indispensable kit for regular cyclists, even on relatively short journeys. They are designed to have minimal seams to prevent chafing or rubbing and the pad provides some softness and shock absorption. They come in two different styles; bib shorts which extend over your shoulders to hold the shorts up, and normal shorts that finish around your waist. Each have pros and cons depending on your riding style and personal choices.
Many new riders start with these because intuitively they look more familiar and less ‘serious’ than bib shorts, and they are often a bit cheaper as well. The first big advantage is that they make loo stops much easier, especially for female cyclists, as you don’t have to grapple with bibs or take off your top layer. In hot weather having no material over your back can feel cooler, especially if you are carrying a rucksack.
When buying these types of shorts make sure the waist band is broad and comfortable so it doesn’t dig in and restrict your stomach or breathing. Tight elastic around your middle, as well as being more uncomfortable, can also make your silhouette a little lumpier than you might like! When leaning forward on your bike if your top rides up it can leave your lower back, or worse the top of your bum, exposed so check they have high enough coverage.
If you are riding harder or faster these shorts are great because they have no tight restrictions around your gut, which can lead to stomach discomfort, and they don’t restrict your breathing. The high full back gives good coverage under your jersey and some shorts also have a small concealed pocket that’s perfect for your phone or keys. Bib shorts tend to flatter most body shapes as there are no tight areas around the stomach or hips. When trying them on lean forward into your cycling position to check they are long enough and don’t pull tightly at the crotch.
The complications of toilet visits put a lot of people off this style of short, however it isn’t that tricky! Most have enough stretch to be pulled forward and some even have a Y-pant style access panel. Female cyclists can also find bib shorts with zip or stretch panels so you don’t have to take off your outer layer.
The benefits of stomach comfort, good coverage and better fit for most outweighs the downsides – give them a try!
Lycra or not Lycra
Regardless of whether you go for bibs or normal shorts you can always wear ordinary baggy or tailored shorts over the top to maintain your own personal style. Whether you go for the pure Lycra look or hide them beneath some stylish chino shorts is totally your choice but having a hidden layer of padding will help keep you comfortable in the saddle and prevent any seams digging in or chafing from your outer shorts.