Of the three contact points between your body and your bike, the saddle is easily the most crucial, by virtue of the fact that it carries the majority of your weight for the longest percentage of your time on two wheels. Consequently, the difference between a good and bad pair of cycling shorts can be immense. A badly fitting or poor quality pair can ruin even the shortest of rides, while the best cycling shorts can leave you riding comfortably for hours on end.
A well-designed chamois will go a long way to improve comfort but the chamois has to be supported by quality materials that are cut and constructed in a way that keeps everything in place, not only to avoid uncomfortable bunching without restricting movement while riding, but also to spare your blushes - and the eyes of the rider on your wheel.
For the latter reason, while waist shorts might seem the easier option when it comes to toilet breaks, the best cycling shorts will invariably be a pair of bib shorts.
It is hard to advise on a chamois as everyone's anatomy is different, however, certain considerations are important when deciding what may work for you. A chamois should fit close to the body with the key areas of padding located in your sit bone area when in a riding position.
It's not simply the thickness that will indicate comfort but size and shape should also be a consideration.
Thicker endurance-focussed pads will orientate padding towards the rear of the chamois to accommodate for a more upright position as opposed to a race designed chamois that will have more padding to the front to cater for an aggressive riding position.
Perforations and channels in the pad improve airflow and breathability to reduce heat and moisture build-up which can cause chafing. The use of antibacterial treatments keeps your shorts feeling fresh.
Material and straps
No matter how good the chamois is, it needs to stay in place when riding. Specifically shaped panels allow structure and stretch to be focussed where needed to achieve a close fit, offer muscle compression and utilise a material's specific properties in key areas. For example, some panels benefit from being more breathable while other parts need to be hard-wearing.
It is important to consider the properties of materials used when choosing a pair of cycling shorts. Some materials provide protection when riding in cold wet conditions while perforated mesh materials maximise cooling airflow on hot days. Materials can even be designed with dimpled surfaces to disrupt airflow for better aerodynamics. If you are a four-seasons rider, it is worth considering owning a couple of different bib shorts that suit a wide range of conditions.
Flat-lock stitching is popular on most high-end shorts as these flat seams reduce edges that can cause areas of discomfort whilst offering a smoother transition between panels to aid aerodynamics.
When it comes to cycling shorts, waist shorts are available, but bib shorts are more popular as they don't have a thick waistband that can dig in when riding, and even more importantly, they can't ride down and leave a gap between the top of your shorts and the bottom of your jersey. Instead, shoulder straps are used to hold the top of the shorts in place and keep the chamois in the correct position. These straps need to be stretchy, wide and ventilated to stop any pressure or irritation.
Shorts can have other features or details that may appeal to riders. Pockets can be built into the back and the legs of cycling shorts, which have become their own category of gravel-friendly cargo bib shorts, offering storage for minimal essentials like a race radio or cash, or slightly bulkier essentials on longer, bikepacking-type adventures. If you ride in hot climates and are choosing bib shorts that use lightweight materials, it is worth considering how much UV protection the fabrics offer to protect skin from sunburn.
As bib shorts are subjective, what works for one person may not work for another so it is beneficial, if possible, to try a pair of shorts on before you buy. This will allow you to check that the sizing, cut and chamois suits your anatomy and riding style.
Incredible quality and comfort for all-day riding
Gore Wear is a huge name in cycling clothing, and their high-end products are always incredible quality. The C5 bib shorts are so comfortable that you won’t even notice they’re there, making them the ideal option for all-day riding. The fabric has superior moisture-wicking properties, helping you to stay dry and comfortable, while the chamois is specifically engineered for racing: breathable and supportive for an aggressive ride position.
Unlike some shorts, where the silicone grips can feel harsh and restrictive, the C5s stay in place with the help of a thin strip of light gripper, as you’d find on aero jersey sleeves. This helps them stay firmly in place without any discomfort.
A great option for beginners and casual cyclists
These cycling shorts from Sponeed are constructed from a blend of polyester and spandex. They are lightweight and moisture-wicking, helping you to stay fresh and dry throughout your ride. The amount of cushioning they offer is just right, and the chamois is made up of six panels with 3D padding in key areas for optimal comfort.
To keep everything in place, the legs are hemmed with silicone grippers, and the shorts are available in six different color ways so you can easily match them to the rest of your kit. Be aware that the sizing comes up small, so order a size up to be safe.
Stash everything you need with cargo bibs
Cargo shorts are incredibly useful if you need to stash your valuables where you can see and feel them, or if you like to keep emergency gels close by. These men’s cargo shorts from Baleaf are made from a blend of Nylon and Spandex, which is stretchy, durable, breathable, moisture-wicking and quick drying. If that’s not enough, it also offers UPF 50+ protection.
Throw in 12 different color options and you’ve got a lot of choice. Each pair of shorts features two pockets, one on each leg, and they’re big enough to hold a cellphone that’s up to 5.5 inches long. The 3D padding is sizeable enough to provide decent protection for long-distance riding.
Excellent quality for a reasonable price
Part of Pearl Izumi’s ‘Select’ series, aimed at beginners and intermediate riders, the Quest shorts bring a solid chamois and comfort level for the very reasonable price. They’re made from Select Transfer Dry fabric, which sets the benchmark for compression and moisture-wicking for all day freshness.
The Select Escape 1:1 chamois is made up of three layers with variable density, to prevent chafing. It’s on the large size, offering full coverage and support to the seat bone area, and allows you to move around the saddle easily. You can change position while staying comfortable, something that’s very valuable for road cyclists.
Simple basics to do the job
For the price, you really can’t go wrong with these Sportneers cycling shorts. Made from a blend of Nylon and Spandex, they’re engineered to transfer moisture away from the skin to keep you dry, while flatlock seams help to prevent chafing. You’re in for a comfortable ride.
The 4D cushioning is very comfortable, and helps to dampen vibrations from the road, reducing muscle fatigue and helping you ride for longer. Silicone leg grippers at the hems will keep everything in place, while reflective detailing helps you stay visible in low light conditions for added safety. Size up if you’re between sizes, as some customer feedback reports that they run slightly small.
Blend in off the bike with these casual shorts
If Lycra’s really not your thing, there are plenty of looser fitting shorts out there. Mountain biking shorts are often heavy duty and durable, while supremely comfortable. If you can get a pair that comes with a padded liner, you’re in for even more value for money.
These MTB shorts from Ally have the casual loose fit you’re probably looking for, while also looking super stylish as well. If you lock up and head to the store, you’ll blend right in. The fabric is water repellent, which helps shed any muddy water splashes and light rain showers. The material itself is highly breathable, keeping you cool and comfortable throughout your ride.
Wear these under any of your outfits
If you’ve already got a selection of your favourite (unpadded) shorts in circulation, consider opting for some padded underwear instead. Worn just like normal boxers, these will provide ample cushioning for your ride, while pairing with your go-to clothing. They make a great choice for casual cyclists who prefer not to wear Lycra. As long as your regular clothing has enough room at the rear to accommodate the chamois, these will go with pretty much anything you feel comfortable cycling in.
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