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Cycling Shorts Basic Guide

Many beginner riders view cycling clothing as just part of the uniform. It usually takes one or two good rides without bike shorts to realize there is more to those tight-fitting, brightly colored garments than meets the eye. For many riders, a good quality short is their most important piece of clothing. With the seat being one of three contact points you have with your bike and a significant weight bearing point, the importance of a good cycling short with a high-quality chamois pad (pronounced "shammee"), moisture wicking properties, and good fit becomes immediately apparent. Cycling shorts are designed to be worn without underwear, but they can also function as underwear beneath your favorite pair of baggy shorts, tights (without chamois), or cycling pants.

There are a few key features to look for as a beginner cyclist shopping for your first pair of shorts:

A Modern Chamois
  • Integrated padding or chamois pad. Chamois are manufactured in a myriad of shapes and sizes. Everyone has their own unique anatomy, hence the necessity for manufacturers to provide a wide variety of styles to accommodate everyone’s needs. Do not be afraid to try on a number of different types of shorts before making a selection.
  • Technical construction. Most cycling shorts are made of a form-fitting, light-weight elastic material (Lycra) that maximizes comfort and support and wicks moisture away from the body.
  • Fit. Multi-panel construction allows good fit without relying on the stretchy nature to accommodate your shape. The tight fit prevents movement between fabric and skin to alleviate chaffing. The tight fit also prevents flapping fabric, which reduces wind resistance and increases your pedaling efficiency. If the tight-fitting appearance is not for you, there are baggy cycling shorts that incorporate a padded liner and feature pockets if you prefer a more relaxed, casual appearance and fit. Bib shorts provide increased support for more comfort during longer rides.

Bicycle shorts improve comfort on your bicycle, plain and simple. They dissipate heat in hot weather, prevent chaffing and saddle sores. You will greatly appreciate the chamois padding on longer rides. Remember--form follows function. The tight fit is more than just part of the cycling uniform.

Lycra Cycling Shorts
Lycra Cycling Shorts
Baggy Cycling Shorts
Baggy Shorts (w/ chamois)
Bib Shorts
Bib Shorts

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Caring for Your Bike Shorts

Never ride your bike with dirty shorts, no matter how long you are riding. A combination of clean shorts and a clean backside is essential in preventing infection and the dreaded saddle sore. Wash your shorts after every time you ride on the gentle wash setting or by hand with regular detergent, preferably unscented, and avoid fabric softener. Do not put your shorts in the dryer, as the heat will prematurely wear out the chamois and lycra material.

Chamois cream was originally designed to soften pure leather chamois. Modern chamois are made from synthetic materials that remain soft through washings, so chamois cream is no longer a necessity for most modern shorts. Instead, chamois creme has become more of a personal lubricant and protectant to reduce friction and prevent irritation. Materials can vary, so always check the manufacturer's instructions if you're not sure.