For comfort on long bike rides, along with a well chosen saddle and a properly fitted bike, decent cycling shorts are a must have. If you’re going to be putting in the saddle time, cycling shorts are not an item to skimp on. Follow these buying tips and check out the advice of Phil Burt, lead physiotherapist with the Great Britain Cycling Team, on avoiding saddle soreness.
Bib shorts vs non bib shorts
Although some riders are initially put off by the look of bib-shorts, the shoulder straps and bib are hidden under your jersey once on the bike. The shoulder straps ensure that the shorts can’t slip down and, when you’re leant forward on the bike, that your lower back doesn’t become exposed to cold air. The main downside of bib-shorts is that they can make toilet stops a bit of a palaver but that minor inconvenience is far outweighed by their superior performance on the bike.
Cycling shorts should fit tightly but not feel restrictive. There should be no looseness or wind catching bagginess. It’s not unusual with bib shorts for the shoulder straps to feel as though they’re pulling slightly when you’re standing as they’ll be cut to accommodate a forward leaning position on the bike.
Women should pay particular attention to how the shoulder straps feel and fit over their chest and should consider female specific shorts.
Leg length does vary considerably between brands and models, from just above the knee to mid-thigh, so you’ll need to try a few and see what suits you best.
Manufactures will often specify the number of panels in a pair of shorts. More panels will generally mean a better contoured fit and you should look for six as a minimum but ideally eight.
If you do decide to opt for non bib shorts, make sure that the waist comes reasonably high, does not slip or ride down when you lean forward and has some form of drawstring or grippy elasticated waist.
The main difference between budget and mid/high-end shorts is the quality of the pad. Modern synthetic pads have come a long way from the chamois of old and offer features such as high wicking antibacterial fabrics and cooling channels.
Don’t think that a bigger, thicker or softer pad is necessarily best. Many of the best pads are fairly firm, supportive and are anatomically cut.
Finally, for a pad to wick properly and give you as comfortable a ride as possible, it’s essential not to wear additional underwear. Cotton underwear especially will hold moisture increasing your risk of discomfort and of developing saddle sores.
All stitching should be flat-lock and there should be minimal stitching on the inside of the legs. Look closely at the internal seams and check that they are smooth and not in areas that may potentially rub.
Quality cycling shorts are expensive so make sure you follow the manufacturer’s care instructions closely to prolong their life.
Only wear them when riding, for the sake of hygiene, preventing saddle sores or infections and snagging them accidentally, don’t hang around in your shorts after a ride.
Silicon leg grippers can make a big difference, preventing the legs from riding up. Similarly, on non bib shorts, silicon around the waist can help stop slipping.
Some bib shorts have a small pocket just below the shoulder straps in the middle of you back. This is designed to accommodate the small radios professional cycling teams use to communicate when racing but they can also be handy for carrying keys or some emergency cash.
Reflective decals on shorts can make a big difference to your visibility at night or in poor light conditions.
On mixed autumn and spring days or if you have a cool early morning start, a pair of knee warmers will convert your shorts into 3/4 length tights and are incredibly useful and versatile pieces of kit. Once you warm-up, you can simply slip them off and stuff them into your jersey pockets.