Basic Guide to Cycling Shorts
Many riders new to cycling view cycling-specific clothing as just part of the uniform. They figure that fit people wear tight fitting clothes simply to show off. And while there may be some truth to that, the reality is that cycling clothing, especially cycling shorts, are a vital piece of equipment.
If you’re just spinning down to the corner store and back, don’t worry about cycling shorts. But on any ride longer than an hour, you’re doing your body (and especially your butt) a favor by slipping on a pair of chamois pad-equipped cycling shorts. A well-fitting pair of bike shorts with built-in chamois will pad your backside and eliminate skin chafing, plus the tight fit increases aerodynamic efficiency and helps dissipate heat.
Also note that cycling shorts are designed to be worn without underwear, which will just increase the potential for skin irritation. If you’re not comfortable wearing such tight fitting clothes, pull a pair of synthetic baggy shorts overtop your chamois shorts. In fact, there are lots of mountain bike-specific shorts that have a chamois sewn inside otherwise normal looking shorts.
Here are some key features to look for when shopping for a pair of cycling shorts:
CYCLING SHORTS MATERIAL
Shorts material ranges from soft and absorbent cotton/Lycra blends to high-tech wicking synthetics that support leg muscles for increased power output. Here is a look at the various materials:
- Cotton/Lycra Blend: Soft with a flattering appearance that is less shiny than full synthetics. This blend is used frequently in gym apparel and leotards. Cotton/Lycra is typically very stretchy for ease of movement, and it may be the only material riders with sensitive skin or mild allergies to certain synthetics can wear.
- Nylon/Lycra: Typically found in liner shorts, this strong, light and durable fabric is easy to care for, and won’t shrink when washed. The nylon component increases the short’s ability to withstand highly-acidic perspiration, and mud and dirt don’t stick very well. It’s also quick-drying and extremely resistant to damage or staining from petroleum-based products such as chain lube.
- Nylon-Lycra Blends: Usually engineered to have wicking capabilities beyond a standard Polyester/Lycra blend, there are many bike shorts made with trademarked Nylon-Lycra blends on the market. These include the popular Pearl Izumi Microsensor and Ultrasensor fabrics, and multi-density fabrics like those produced by Eschler AG of Switzerland and others.
Another important consideration is the number of panels that make up a pair of bike shorts. A six-panel design provides good support and flexibility. Eight-panel shorts have better ergonomic fit and increased compression of muscles for increased endurance. Ten contoured panels provide the best ergonomic fit, further enhancing compression and support, while maintaining flexibility during your hardest efforts. Just remember that bike shorts should be comfortable from the moment you put them on. If legs and waist are tight or uncomfortable in the dressing room, they won’t feel any better on the bike.
Because everyone has their own unique anatomical shape, chamois pads are manufactured in a myriad of shapes and sizes in order to accommodate all these differences. Don’t be afraid to try on a number of different shorts before making your selection. Chamois pad options include:
- Antibacterial chamois: Wicks away sweat, delivers cushioning. Example: Performance Classic Short
- Anatomical, multi-channeled chamois: Variable density conforms to the body for exceptional support, cushions sit bones, reduces vibration and wicks away moisture for dry comfort. Example: Performance Century Short
- Italian-made Quadrotto chamois: Four-way stretch offers comfortable cushioning and a silver ion finish that delivers antibacterial protection and multi density comfort. Example: Performance Elite Short
- TMF Italian chamois: Comfortably moves with riders, wicks away sweat and features an antibacterial finish. Example: Performance Ultra Short
- Micro Cell Silicone chamois: Cushioned supportive silicone found in our Century short. Example: Performance Gel Short
CARING FOR YOUR BIKE SHORTS
Wash your shorts after every ride using the gentle wash cycle or wash by hand with regular detergent, preferably unscented. Avoid fabric softener and do not put your shorts in the dryer, as the heat will prematurely wear out the chamois and Lycra material. Never ride with dirty shorts. Clean shorts and a clean backside are essential to preventing infection and painful saddle sores.
Chamois cream was originally designed to soften the pure leather chamois of yesteryear. Today’s modern chamois are made from synthetic materials that remain soft through washings, so chamois cream is no longer a necessity for most modern shorts. Instead, the use of chamois cream has become a method of personal skin lubricant to reduce friction and prevent irritation during long rides. Cream ingredients vary, so always check the manufacturer’s instructions if you have skin allergies.