Mountain Biking Shorts...
The Double Short...
The mountain biking craze of the late 1970's introduced cycling to a whole new generation of enthusiasts, and gave birth to an entirely new cycling wardrobe. Gone were the tight fitting Lycra® shorts, and form fitting brightly colored polyester jerseys. With the "fat tire revolution" came looser fitting jerseys manufactured out of technical wicking fabrics in muted colors that had the look and feel of cotton. The skin tight Lycra® short was replaced by a "baggy short" that had the look of typical street clothing, but hid a padded cycling liner inside.
Today, baggy shorts range in price from $ 35.00 all the way up to $ 150.00 depending on the design, construction and fabrication of the short. The following are some features of today's "double shorts":
The Outer Shell
|Zoic Contraband||Fox Livewire||Endura Burner|
The outer shell of most baggy shorts is made of a nylon or a polyester based fabric. Nylon was developed as a synthetic (man-made) substitute for silk. Nylon is great for off-road cycling apparel because it is exceptionally strong, elastic, abrasion resistant, and easy to care for. Both nylon and polyester are great alternatives to traditional cotton fabrics because they do not retain moisture. That means that garments made from nylon or polyester will not become heavy with moisture from sweat. Nylons and polyesters can be produced in a wide range of colors and textures making garments fashionable as well as functional. In general, polyester based fabrics are not usually as strong or abrasion resistant as nylon based fabrics.
How Fabric Affects Short Pricing
Baggy short pricing will vary depending on the type of fabric that is used in the outer shell. Lower price point shorts tend to be made of a 2-ply nylon, whereas the more expensive garments will be made from more specialized fabrics. Adding Spandex to a nylon or polyester based fabric gives the outer shell the ability to stretch, providing greater comfort and freedom of movement on the bike. Shells made from Cordura® are more durable and abrasion resistant than shells made from standard 2-ply nylon. In addition, fabrics can be made by weaving the nylon or polyester yarns in different patterns. There are "twills", "taffetas" and "rip stop" fabrics. There are yarns that go through air-jet texturing processes referred to as "taslans". There are brushed fabrics such as "Tactel®" and "Supplex®", and extremely soft fabrics such as microfibers.
Common Types of Fabric Used in Outer Shells of Baggy's
|Cordura® is a nylon fabric from INVISTA®. It is known for it's exceptional strength and durability. Cordura® is 10x more durable than cotton duck, 3X more durable than standard polyester, and 2x more durable than standard nylon.|
|Microfiber Polyester is a polyester fiber with less than one "denier" per filament (denier is the size of the fiber). Fabrics made with microfibers are exceptionally soft, they wick moisture and hold their shape well.|
|Rip Stop Nylon refers to a plainly woven fabric with coarse fibers ribbed at intervals to stop tears. Lightweight and durable, ripstop is also wind and water resistant.|
|Supplex® is a registered trademark of INVISTA®. Supplex® is a nylon fabric that has the look and feel of cotton, but the durability of nylon. The fabric is fully breathable, able to hold its shape without wrinkling, and is faster drying than cotton.|
|Tactel® is a lightweight, very soft feeling nylon fabric from INVISTA®. Tactel® gives you the durability of nylon, but has a much softer hand. Tactel® is 3x stronger than natural fibers such as cotton, and dries 8x faster than cotton. Tactel® nylons are also extreemely breathable.|
|Taffeta refers to a plain-weave fabric with a slightly ribbed texture.|
|Taslan® refers to fabric that is created when yarns go through an air-jet texturing process; providing the fabric with a cotton-like feel similar to Supplex®, but coarser.|
|Twill refers to fabrics made with a special weaving process. The filling threads are woven over and under two or more warp yarns, producing a characteristic diagonal pattern that produces a diagonal rib on the fabric.|
Stretch Panel in the Rear Yoke of the Short
|Off-road cycling requires the cyclist to be in the saddle bent over the bike, standing, and even walking at times. This means that a great fitting short will move with the cyclist in all these different positions. A shell made of a 4-way stretch fabric will provide the cyclist with the greatest freedom of movement. In the alternative, companies using less expensive, non-stretch fabrics, can provide the cyclist with greater mobility by placing a stretch panel or, "yoke" as it is sometimes referred to, in the rear of the short.|
Also affecting the price of the baggy short is the way in which the waistband is constructed. Less expensive baggy shorts usually have a simple elastic waistband with a drawstring. More expensive shorts will have adjustable waistbands using Velcro®, elasticized drawcords with side toggles, or a rear cinch that allows waistband elastic to be adjusted.
The more technical baggies allow the cyclist to adjust the legs of the outer shell to fit snugly to prevent the shell from catching air. This also prevents the leg of the short from catching on branches and brush.
In traditional clothing, a crotch gusset is a diamond shaped piece of fabric that is inserted into the crotch area. The gusset eliminates seams in the crotch and also provides greater flexibility in the crotch area. Most cycling specific baggy shorts have a modified crotch gusset, instead of a diamond shape gusset. The gusset is a stretch panel that runs all the way down the leg of the baggy. This serves several purposes. It eliminates seams in the crotch area that are uncomfortable to sit on while cycling. It also allows the short to move with the cyclist as they pedal, preventing seams from catching on the saddle as the cyclist moves back and forth on the seat. The gusset is usually made of a stretch fabric such as Spandura®, a fabric that combines the toughness of Cordura® with the stretch of Lycra®. Having a full stretch panel in the crotch will also allow a short with leg cinches to be effectively tightened without being restrictive.
Pockets serve two purposes. An off-road cyclist needs a place to store car keys and other valuables without fear they will be lost on a trail. Secondly, it is the pocket design that gives each baggy design a unique style. Adding elaborate pockets with zip, velcro or button closures adds to the expense of the baggy short. Less expensive baggys will have fewer pockets with simple closures.
The Front Fly
Depending on the style of the baggy, some shorts have front flies. The front flies can be functional (allowing men to go to the bathroom without dropping their short), or can be decorative (as in the case of some women's baggy designs).
Seam Placement and How Seams are Sewn
When you start sewing woven fabrics together, the seams can get "thick" as with your typical blue jeans. Thick seams can be very uncomfortable to sit on. Sitting on seams, sliding back and forth on the saddle can cause irritations in the crotch area. This is why most baggy shorts are made of nylon or polyester fabrics... fabrics that feel lightweight and soft, but are durable. Softer fabrics have thinner seams.
In addition to seam thickness- look at the placement of the seams. Most high-end baggies completely remove seams from the crotch area, by placing a stretch gusset in the crotch.
How the garment is sewn determines how durable your short will be through repeated use. Bar-tacks are horizontal stitches at pockets and seams that help reinforce the stitching making sure pockets won't rip from the body of the short. Bar-tacks also ensure that seams will last through repeated laundry cycles.
The shells of some baggy shorts can get quiet stylish with lavish pocket systems. For safety reasons, you don't want to choose a baggy short that has a lot of "decorations" hanging off the short. Pocket flaps, toggle loops and other such additions can get caught on branches and be a safety hazard. Balance style with functionality for the best riding experience.
The greatest cost difference between an inexpensive baggy, and a top of the line baggy, has to do with the design and construction of the padded liner attached to the baggy short's outer shell. Padded liners can be as simple as a padded brief style underwear, or as elaborate as a fully detachable 8-panel padded bike short with leg grippers and elastic waist band.
Most liners are made of mesh, or a technical fabric that has the ability to wick moisture and breath.
Padded Brief Liners
Padded brief liners are basically a padded underwear attached to the shell of the short. The only thing a cyclist needs to be concerned with when wearing a short with a padded brief liner, is whether or not the leg elastic in the brief will irritate them during a ride.
Full Liners... 4-panel... 6-panel... or 8-panel design
|Full liners have "panels" that allow the garment to be contoured to fit the human body in the cycling position. Additional panels allows the short more curvature. This is very important when the liner fabric has very little stretch. As a general rule, higher end baggy shorts have liners that are usually made of a stretch fabric in a 6 or 8-panel design, with less expensive -"introductory" shorts made in a 4, or 6-panel design.
For those individuals who are bothered by the sewing seams in the crotch area of the traditional 6 and 8-panel bike short, there is an alternative. A new style of short has been developed referred to as a 4/6 -panel, or 6/8- panel. This new style of bike short is cut anatomically, like a 6 or 8-panel short, but the leg in-seam has been eliminated to prevent chafing from sewing seams in the crotch area underneath the bike pad.
Many of the higher end baggy shorts have "detachable liners". This allows the cyclist to remove the liner from the short so that they can wear the outer shell as regular street clothing, and not just for cycling.
Cycling Pads aka "Chamois"
Comfort on the bike is the function of three things:
- Bike geometry... aka "bike fit"
- Bike seat ... aka "saddle", including saddle design, construction and adjustment, and
- Bike short design and fit... including style of short (4, 6, or 8 panel) and pad construction.
The purpose of a bike pad is to wick moisture and to prevent chafing. It is not designed to be a "cushion".
The original bike short chamois were nothing more than a single layer of real leather designed to prevent chaffing. Fabric technology and new pad construction have increased a manufacturers ability to construct chamois that are not only more comfortable, but functional as well. There are many different styles of chamois on the market; materials and construction vary greatly- so finidng the best chamois for your body type and style of riding is the first step to comfort on the bike.
Most chamois are made of several layers of material. The "padding" is usually made from a foam, gel, or fleece, and varies in thickness... from very thin (like the original natural leather chamois) to very thick. The top layer is usually made of a technical fabric that wicks moisture, breaths, and prevents the propagation of bacteria.
Cycling shorts, and liners for baggy shorts are designed to be worn without underwear, and to fit skin tight like a "second skin".
NEVER... NEVER... NEVER...
Wear Underwear Under Your Bike Short!
Finding the Right Short for Your Body and Riding Style
Since every "body" is different, it is very important for each individual cyclist to consider short design and pad construction... seam placement, thickness, wicking properties, and breathability when selecting which baggy short will be best for them. When trying on any bike short, always remember to bend over in the cycling position and make sure that the short will fit you well, both on and off the bike. Make sure that when you are in the cycling position, the pad does not bunch, and that you are not sitting on seams which may irritate you on a long ride.