Cycling shorts, if you are new to cycling you might wonder what all the fuss is about. Anyone wearing cycling shorts looks faintly ridiculous, especially when not riding their bike, but most riders still use them. They don’t look like anything special so what’s the deal?
When you turn a pair of cycling shorts inside out you will see a padded section in the crotch area, this offers cushioning and protection when you are riding as it forms a barrier between you and the saddle. In the old days of cycling this would have been made from real chamois leather that cyclists would need to carefully wash and oil to ensure it remained supple. You may still hear the insert called a chamois or ‘shammy’ but now they are made of synthetic materials such as expanded foam or foam filled with silicone gel.
If you ride a bike in your ordinary shorts or even jeans you’ll quickly discover that standard seam placement is right where it will cause most irritation when riding your bike. Thick seams on the inner thigh rub on the nose of the saddle and the joining of several panels often leaves a raised bump right in the centre of the crotch, exactly where you sit on the saddle.
Cycle shorts are designed to move seams away from the areas of the short you sit on and anywhere they might cause rubbing and chafing. They are also cut to feel comfortable and unrestrictive as you pedal, allowing room for your thighs to move freely and long enough in the back to keep you covered as you lean forward to hold the handle bars.
If you are riding hard you are likely to work up a sweat, the technical fabrics used in cycling shorts are designed to help carry sweat away from the skin so that you always feel dry. The stretch in cycling shorts is resilient so they return to their shape without going baggy, even after hundreds of miles of cycling.
Cut and fit
Ordinary clothing is not designed for the position we are in when we ride our bike. Bending and straightening our legs to pedal, combined with leaning forwards to reach the handle bars, means that our hips and lower back can often be left exposed if wearing non-cycling kit. Cycle shorts are cut much higher at the back to ensure coverage, both for modesty and to keep you warm.
At the front the waistband or stomach panel is shaped to avoid any tightness or pinching which can feel uncomfortable if you are breathing deeply. Many shorts also feature ‘bibs’, instead of finishing at the waist they continue up your back with straps over your shoulders to hold the shorts in place, these completely avoid any restriction around your belly. It’s a style that takes a bit of getting used to but for long rides makes a difference to your overall comfort.
Cycle short alternatives
Even with all of these positive points the look of cycle shorts is not for everyone. On short journeys the inconvenience of changing your outfit outweighs the comfort of wearing cycling kit, however there is a solution. Cycling pants, briefs and boxers feature a thin cycling insert but fit like you’re your normal underwear, so can be worn under a suit, jeans or a dress.
Cycle shorts are designed to be worn directly next to your skin so no other underwear is required.
What’s your favoured cycling style? Are you head to toe in Lycra or do you prefer to ride in more casual outfits?