How to choose your cycling shorts

Choosing the right pair of cycling shorts is the key to unlocking a world of cycling comfort – here’s how to get it right

New cyclists usually think that picking the correct saddle is key to your on-bike comfort. While that’s true to some extent, your saddle isn’t actually the most crucial ingredient – it's your shorts.

Choose the wrong shorts and your cycling enjoyment will be drastically compromised.

There are two pieces of good news, though. First, the more you cycle, the more comfortable you will become as the softer parts of your anatomy get used to time on the saddle. And secondly, by wearing cycling shorts that feature the right padding, the right freedom of movement and the right technical properties, you can be spinning happily from the start.

So here’s what you need to consider.

Lycra or baggies?

Think of cycling-specific clothing and probably the first garment that comes to mind is a pair of Lycra shorts. There is a good reason why Lycra is the material of choice for cycling shorts: products such as our Triban RC100 shorts essentially work as a second skin, supporting your muscles while offering completely unhindered freedom of movement, excellent moisture wicking, and most importantly helping to keep padded inserts exactly in place.

But Lycra shorts aren’t the only option and baggie shorts are a decent alternative. Unlike Lycra shorts, baggies don’t offer quite the same freedom of movement but have other benefits, such as extensive pocket storage and a more hardwearing nature. You don’t even have to forego comfort: baggies such as our Rockrider ST100 shorts come with padded inserts just like Lycra shorts.

Baggies are particularly useful for mountain bikers hopping in and out of the saddle. However, for people putting lots of steady miles, especially on the road, Lycra shorts are hard to beat because they keep the padded insert just a little more securely in place.

It’s worth remembering that, if you really don’t like the styling of Lycra shorts, you can still benefit from most of their performance advantages by wearing them or a specialist under-short, such as our Rockrider ST500 under-short, under more ‘normal’ clothes.

Padding

For all the talk about freedom of movement, you’ll already have noticed that one specific feature of cycling shorts is spoken of more than anything else: padding. This is the most important performance benefit of wearing specific cycling shorts and picking the right shorts with the right padded inserts will make riding your bike a complete joy.

Padded inserts tend to be made of either gel or foam. However, there’s a big difference between having ‘a lot’ of padding and having the correct type and design of padding. When it comes to shorts, padding quality is better than padding quantity.

For example, our Triban RC500 padded shorts feature an ergonomic pad that is shaped to avoid chafing and comes fitted with gel inserts to absorb vibrations and impacts as you ride. This kind of attention to detail and specific performance provides far more useable pedalling comfort than simply sitting on a giant cushion!

Waist or bibs

We mentioned earlier the fact that Lycra shorts tend to keep padded inserts really securely in place. However, there is a further element to think about when it comes to Lycra shorts: do you go waist or bib?

The most simple and straightforward shorts designs use a waistband to hold them in place. These are easy to put on and remove, however, they can dig into the tummy if they feature particularly tight and thinner waistbands. Instead, look for wider waistbands that spread the load, such as that found on our Rockrider ST100 women’s cycling shorts.

Although waistband designs are a fine way to start enjoying the padded comfort of cycling shorts, as you grow more serious about your cycling, you'll see they don't offer quite the same levels of support as full bib shorts, which feature straps that go over the shoulders. These are particular good for riders putting in lots of miles because they keep the padded insert even more securely in place.

With all that extra Lycra next to your skin, bib shorts do face the challenge of overcoming breathability issues, though. So look for bib shorts that feature highly breathable fabric or even mesh sections in high-sweat areas at the back and straps – such as our Triban RC500 bib shorts. Also, just as you don’t want waistbands to be too tight, make sure the shoulder straps are wide enough to spread the load.

Cut and design details

In addition to these cycle shorts basics, there are some specific design details to look for. With high-performance shorts especially, you may find a range of different panels have been used in their construction for ultimate pedalling support. Garments such as our range-topping Van Rysel Road bib shorts utilise a selection of panels for a really close, performance-orientated fit.

In theory, extra panels means extra seams and potentially more chafing points where those seams come in to close contact with your skin. Luckily, well made cycling shorts avoid this by using flat seam construction. Even our entry-level Triban RC 100 shorts employ flat seam construction to avoid unwanted rubbing.

Finally, we’ve talked a lot about how waist and bib tights are kept up, but for comfortable cycling you also need the short legs to be kept down while going through the full pedalling motion. Elasticated hems and silicone leg grippers – such as those found on our Triban RC500 bib shorts - work well to do this. While you’re riding hard, you don’t want your shorts riding up your legs!

So cycling shorts are so much more than just skin-tight Lycra so if you pick wisely you’ll be able to face miles and hours in the saddle without worry. In fact, the right pair of shorts is your passport to the world of total in-saddle comfort.

Finally, whatever style of cycling shorts you choose it’s always worth spending the maximum your budget will allow it’s an investment that will repay you every time you ride your bike. Luckily your budget doesn’t have to stretch too far to get a feature packed pair of shorts from our selection – from entry level right through to the top of the range, we’ve got you covered.