The saddle makes the biggest contribution to posterior comfort, but you cannot underestimate how much a good pair of padded cycling shorts will improve your comfort on the bike seat. Wearing board shorts or jeans on a casual ride is fine, but for a ride of any length – whether it’s for fitness, commuting, a road ride, or off-road – should have you reaching for your favorite padded cycling shorts.
Fitted cycling shorts move with you. They glide over the saddle with less friction, hold the padding in place exactly where you want it, and are very breathable, not to mention comfortable. The padding on bike shorts is there to protect you from the saddle and minimize the chance of chafing.
The pad, which is referred to as a chamois (pronounced ‘shammy’), can vary greatly. The construction can utilize memory foam and other materials in different sizes, shapes, and thicknesses to maximize comfort and they are designed to be gender specific.
If going into public with spandex shorts is not your thing, there are lots of great alternative riding shorts that have a padded snug-fitting liner under a looser fitting outer short that transitions easily from the bike to the coffee shop or brewpub after the ride. These liner shorts can be worn like boxers under street clothes.
From the materials to the construction, a good pair of cycling shorts is going to outlast and outperform a more basic pair.
When choosing a pair of shorts, compress the chamois between your fingers. Some pads compress all the way down while others are denser. The more dense and substantial the chamois the better the comfort — especially on long rides.
You want your shorts to fit snugly. It’s important that they fit almost like a second skin so the chamois doesn’t move around. On the other hand, snug does not mean tight. You don’t want the fit to be restrictive. Size varies by brand and style so make sure to try them on at your local shop to find the pair that works best for you.
Cycling shorts are designed to be worn commando. No undies, please.
The shorts and chamois are designed to limit irritation and chafing. Having an extra layer of material effectively negates the benefits of wearing padded cycling shorts. The material can bunch and the seams can irritate, both of which could cause saddle sores.
Cycling shorts need to be washed after every ride. This might seem obvious, but keeping your shorts clean feels better and helps to prevent saddle sores. Wash them inside out to ensure you are really getting the chamois clean. Follow the manufacturer’s washing directions and always hang your shorts to dry; Lycra does not like the heat of the dryer and will break down quickly with repeated drying. Following these tips should help your shorts to last a long time.
For those who have never worn bib shorts, the idea of tight lycra shorts with suspenders can be rather off-putting. But they have advantages and are the shorts of choice for any serious cyclist.
Unlike a wrestling singlet, cycling bib shorts are not a complete outfit. You should always wear a jersey over the suspenders. (Note: the photo above is to show bib shorts and not an example of how to wear them — keep your jersey zipped!)
Consider giving bib shorts a try. ERIK’S has a 30-Day “Love’em or Leave’em Guarantee” on cycling shorts. If you don’t love the shorts you buy, within 30 days of purchase you can bring them back for store credit. We find that cyclists who try bibs never want to go back to regular shorts.
Originally cycling shorts were padded with a leather chamois. To keep it soft, pliable, and comfortable, you had to condition it with a cream. Fast forward to today and chamois cream is an antibacterial lotion, balm, or cream that riders use to prevent chafing or saddle sores. It is especially helpful for cyclists putting on lots of miles or riding in hot conditions. It helps to reduce friction and adds an extra layer of comfort to the saddle.
Use chamois cream sparingly. You only need a little bit. It should be applied directly to key areas of contact between your body and the chamois. Some folks apply it directly to their skin before pulling their shorts on. If you are riding with cycling shorts and experiencing chafing, consider chamois cream.
There’s a belief out there that biking isn’t supposed to be comfortable. Cyclists are supposed to put up with a certain amount of misery when riding. But when it comes to sitting on our bikes, there are many solutions to get more comfortable. Getting set up correctly will help you better enjoy the ride – and if you enjoy the ride, you’re more likely to ride more.