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Cycle Shorts buying guide banner

Cycle Shorts Buying Guide

Unless you're riding a few miles to the shops or commuting to work, then you're going to want a pair of quality cycling shorts. They make long distance riding far more comfortable than casual shorts. 

Cycling shorts are designed to help keep you comfortable in the saddle with breathable fabrics that work to wick away sweat, and have shock absorbing pads to take the sting out of riding. They also reduce chafing with fabrics that move with you and don't bunch up.

There are two main types of cycling shorts, traditional close fitting lycra road shorts and more casual, loose fitting mountain biking (baggy) shorts. In this cycle shorts buying guide we'll look at the differences between road and MTB shorts and what to look for in a good pair.

How cycle shorts differ from casual shorts

  • They are optimised for a riding position (high waistbands, panel construction)
  • Padded inserts protect your sensitive areas
  • Vents offer cooling airflow
  • Breathable fabrics wick sweat quickly to keep you dry
  • Minimal excess fabric prevents chafing on longer rides
  • Flat seams offer a smooth surface next to your skin
road cycling shorts

Road cycling shorts - Lycra

The traditional skin tight road cycling shorts come in two main types – shorts and bib shorts. Bib shorts come with shoulder straps that keep the fabric taught against your skin, while standard shorts come with a waistline.

Road bike shorts are designed with minimal excess fabric that can bunch up and chafe, while also being more aerodynamically efficient – ideal if you plan on racing.

Despite the close fit of road cycling shorts, they are built from lycra or a lycra/nylon blend which offers a good amount of stretch. That means as you're pedalling these shorts will move with your body, offering good freedom of movement.

Shorts vs bib shorts

There is a reason bib shorts are the go-to for pro riders and competitors. They offer the best comfort and aero performance. There is no waistband that can dig in when you're bent over in a riding position. The shoulder straps (bibs) keep these shorts taught so fabric doesn't bunch anywhere making for a super streamlined profile that reduces drag. However, wearing bibs does make it more of a pain to go to the toilet.

What to look for

close fitting cycling shorts

Fit

You want a close fit with no excess material that can chafe. A close yet unrestrictive fit will also help wick sweat and moisture from your skin quickly, leaving you dry and comfortable.

A snug fit will also help compress your muscles, keep them supple and improve blood flow for performance and recovery benefits.

lycra cycling shorts

Material

Road shorts come in a range of synthetic lycra/nylon blends for different riding conditions.

Look for thermal shorts with brushed inner surfaces to trap warming air in cold weather. Or look for lightweight fabrics that come with venting on the bib straps or back panel.

padded chamois

Padding

The chamois pad is a key feature of any cycling short. Pads can be made from fabric, foams or gels to offer cushioning and shock absorption.

Thicker and denser pads are ideal for longer rides. Generally, the more you spend the better quality the pad will be with anti-bacterial and multi-density designs.

cycling shorts with flatlocked stitching

Stitching

Look for shorts with flatlock stitching for a smooth surface against your skin.

Remember cycling shorts are designed to be worn directly next to your skin and you don't wear underwear, so comfort is very important.

grippy silicone leg grippers

Leg Grippers

Leg grippers are a handy feature on any shorts.

A silicone or tacky band around the leg openings help keep the shorts fixed in place so they don't ride up and bunch as you pedal.

ergonomic cycling shorts

Panel Design

Shorts with a panel construction will conform to your body shape better. Generally the more panels used, the better the fit as each piece is optimised for that area of anatomy.

6 panels are standard but you can get up to 12 panels on premium shorts.

baggy mtb cycling shorts

Mountain biking shorts - Baggy

For leisure riding and mountain biking, baggy shorts are a good choice. The casual, looser cut of these shorts are also great for those concerned with modesty and off-the-bike style. They are the short of choice for mountain biking as they are built to be more durable. Fabrics that prevent rips and tears of bushes and brambles as well as reinforced seat panels are built in for the abuse of rugged trail riding.

Padded insert

Like road cycling shorts these will often come with a padded insert for comfort – either built into the baggy shorts, or as part of a removable padded liner that you can remove when you're off the bike.

Loose cut

Baggy shorts allow unrestricted movement thanks to a looser cut, ideal for energetic trail riding. The extra room also lets you slip knee guards underneath for added protection. These shorts will come with a high waist so they sit right when you're bent over.

Pockets

Many baggy shorts come with multiple pockets for stashing tools and ride essentials without needing to wear a pack.

Weatherproofing

The rule of thumb is the more you spend, the more weatherproof baggies become. Some have windstopper panels to keep the chill off, or a waterproof rear seat panel to keep your backside dry on wet rides.

Removable lycra liners

Nothing beats lycra for comfort, and you can still have this comfort when wearing baggy shorts. Simply slip a pair of lycra undershorts underneath the baggies for the comfort of road shorts and the modest style of baggies.

Leg adjusters

Baggies with a longer leg length may come with adjusters, these are great for preventing your shorts from snagging.

See our full range of baggy shorts

Summary

If you're going to be riding more than a few miles, then a pair of cycling shorts can make a big difference to your comfort in the saddle. Road shorts are designed for performance and offer the best in terms of comfort, while mountain biking shorts offer improved durability for rugged riding and a more modest design.

See our full range of cycling shorts