How to Choose Cycling Shorts

Cycling shorts are an essential item for cycling, and choosing the right model can make all the difference to the level of enjoyment you get from your rides. Here, we're going to give you a few tips on how to choose the right cycling shorts for your activity.

Cycling shorts are not only an essential garment for intense and prolonged use, but they also provide comfort for beginners and leisure riders. We’re going to look at the features and properties and talk about which shorts are suitable for each type of cyclist and their price range.

range of cycling shorts

1. The Chamois

The chamois pad is the most important part of cycling shorts, because it protects the perineal area or pelvic floor, which is in direct contact with the saddle. When sitting on a saddle, pressure is not only put on the ischial or sit bones, but also on the soft tissue of the more sensitive perineum and genital areas, and these need special protection from:

  • Saddle sores and friction
  • Impact and vibration
  • Humidity and bacteria caused by sweat

This is a difficult task and the design of the chamois pad has to take into account both the shape and composition. Let's see how this is achieved.

1.1 Composition of the Chamois

The soft padding usually consists of different types of foam; from the simplest, in the most economical range, to viscoelastic foam, in the higher ranges, which achieves the best performance known to date. The two factors that define their quality are density and resistance to deformation. Thickness does not necessarily imply quality, as a thick but not dense foam will compress under pressure and provide little protection or cushioning. On the other hand, too much volume can cause discomfort and does not perform well against heat or sweat.

The density of the chamois pad is measured in kg/m3 and you will find around 40-50 kg/m3 in the more economical range , between 70-120 in the mid range and up to 200 kg/m3 in the higher range . The density can be uniform throughout the chamois pad or variable , depending on the impact or pressure suffered by each zone, with the highest density in the ischial area.

density of the chamois

The higher ranges feature durable, viscoelastic memory foam with variable density, designed to recover its original shape after use and delay deformation. This range also often features chamois pads with carbon microfibre inserts, for increased performance.

Other chamois pads have a gel insert to increase cushioning in the most exposed areas and some even use gel as the main component but these are recommended more for leisure or occasional cycling. Gel is durable and offers good cushioning, but it lacks breathability and can lead to overheating.

Whatever the composition, as chamois pads are in contact with your skin, they must be hypoallergenic and include antibacterial treatment, to avoid infections.

1.2 Shape of the Chamois

The shape of the pad is also important. The first thing to bear in mind is that there are specific chamois pads for women, designed to adapt to the anatomical difference in the hips and perineal and genital areas. All quality brands offer women’s bib shorts, with both the chamois and the short specifically designed for women.

The width depends on the distance between the sit bones, and this can also be a decisive factor to take into consideration, when choosing cycling shorts. A chamois pad that is too wide can be uncomfortable for riding and lead to chafing, but one that is too narrow will not offer protection. If your saddle is the correct size, it can be used as a reference to estimate where the ischia will rest on the pad.

chamois shape

2. The Fabric and Pattern of Cycling Shorts

A short should also have the following essential properties:

  • Stretch but a snug fit, for greater comfort and a more aerodynamic fit.
  • Breathability to wick body moisture away and for temperature control.

The main fabric used is Lycra, which varies in quality, depending on its density, level of compression and weight.

Winter cycling shorts are made of thermal Lycra and they sometimes feature a membrane for better insulation against wind, cold and rain, without losing out on the other qualities.

Quality shorts provide a good fit using lightweight, comfortable Lycra fabrics. They also achieve optimal compression throughout the quads, hamstrings and glutes, which, apart from preventing movement and chafing, helps to reduce muscle fatigue by facilitating venous return and supporting tendons and ligaments. Some brands are also developing solutions to protect in the event of a fall, normally with side inserts made of shock-absorbing materials or more abrasion-resistant fabrics, such as Etxeondo Dyneema.

Dyneema de Etxeondo

In very basic shorts the Lycra has a lower density and quality , which results in a poor fit and reduced durability, or they achieve the required level of compression and a suitable fit by using thicker fabrics , which provide little stretch and are more uncomfortable.

Bib shorts are more recommended than waist shorts, as they keep everything in place. But it is important that the braces are made of highly breathable fabric and have the right length and design, to prevent discomfort or chafing (especially on nipples). Women’s bib shorts usually feature straps that fit around the bust and some brands even make them removable or feature a zip opening for lowering the shorts without removing the upper.

bib shorts

The number of panels used to make the shorts, and the quality of the stitching are both key elements for comfort. The more panels used, the more ergonomic the fit, especially in the riding position, which is the position you should adopt when shopping for bib shorts. The most comfortable seams are flat seams, and if possible, external flat seams, which are normally used in high-end bib shorts.

The legs should be finished with an elastic retention system to prevent the fabric from slipping on the thigh. In the simpler ranges this consists of a rubber reinforcement and in the medium and higher ranges silicone band grips or similar materials are used. They should give a comfortable but firm hold, that does not strangle the blood vessels or muscle.

3. Choosing Cycling Shorts

We have seen which qualities a good bib short should have, but now you need to find a balance between the chosen quality and your real needs and decide on a budget. It is worth considering this carefully as shorts, along with the helmet and goggles, are one of the most important elements, and poor quality can end up being more expensive in the long run.

To make this task easier, we have categorised the ranges of use and approximate prices, starting from the lowest possible quality that covers a cyclist’s needs – anything lower, that does not cover the basic needs is not included. In short, to answer the question: How much should I spend on cycling shorts?

  • Casual use and easy rides.

    For short, easy rides, particularly in urban environments, it is not necessary to wear specific cycling shorts and casual clothing is sufficient. Trousers and shorts for urban cycling are available, however, and they provide greater pedalling comfort in all weathers
  • Occasional cycling with distances up to 30 km. Between €35 and €55.

    Already, at this price, you can find bib shorts with the minimum requirements that provide protection and comfort for these distances.

Photo 1: Eltin Darkspace | Photo 2: Spiuk Anatomic | Photo 3: Endura Xtract Bibshort II
  • Regular, daily or weekly use with medium distance rides. Between €60 and €90.

    In this price range you can find a wide range of products with an excellent price-quality ratio. Bib shorts and chamois with good materials and technology for the average cycling route, between 40 to 60 km in the mountains or around 100 km on the road.

Photo 1: Gobik Limited K10 | Photo 2: Castelli Entrata | Photo 3: Endura WMS FS260-Pro DS II
  • Intensive use and competition. From 100€ and above

    Very demanding amateurs and competitive cyclists require garments that are high quality and with the best technologies, materials and designs. Extremely lightweight and breathable Lycra offers the optimum level of compression, designs adapt perfectly to the anatomy in the pedalling posture and highly technical chamois pads offer excellent protection and moisture management for long hours of activity.

Photo 1: Gobik Absolute | Photo 2: Castelli Competizione | Photo 3: Etxeondo Rali
  • Long distances and stage races. From €120

For these challenges, top brands have developed specific cycling shorts called Endurance or long-distance shorts and the main difference lies in the chamois, which is developed to offer protection over 6 hour sessions or on several stages in a row.

Photo 1: Etxeondo Exo Superdry 2 | Photo 2: Castelli Endurance | Photo 3: Assos T Equipe Evo

4. Some Final Tips

We hope this has helped you decide on the type and range of bib shorts you require. We'll finish with some tips on how to maintain the properties of cycling shorts.

  • Choosing the right size is essential for cycling shorts to perform correctly. Most brands provide size charts as a guideline, but ideally, you should get advice from the professionals you will find in our stores.
  • Choose and adjust the saddle correctly, because no cycling shorts can prevent the discomfort and pain of an inadequate or badly adjusted saddle.
  • It is inadvisable to wear underwear under bib shorts. Technical clothing is designed with technology and fabrics that is designed to provide comfort and protection when in direct contact with the skin. If an unsuitable garment is placed between your skin and the garment, performance will be hindered. If you still prefer to wear underwear, avoid cotton and choose sports underwear. In this video you can see more information about the use of underwear with shorts.
  • Use specific protective creams for long rides, which provide lubrication and antibacterial and regenerative effects. Here you can see the best-selling creams.
  • Take proper care of your cycling shorts, as we explain in these videos on how to wash technical cycling clothing and how to fold it. This will extend its lifespan and maintain performance.

These tips will help you get the best performance from a good pair of cycling shorts and will give greater enjoyment to your cycling adventures.

All the cycling shorts mentioned in the article and many more can be found at Mammoth shops

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