... aka "Second Skins"
Comfort while cycling is the combination of bike fit, bike short fit, and bike seat style and position. The best thing any cyclist can do to ensure riding pleasure, is visit a good bike shop. Have an expert make sure that the bike you are riding is properly adjusted for your body and the style of riding you plan to enjoy. Then you can start looking for the right bike seat and a comfortable pair of bike shorts.
How To Find The Right Short For You
There are hundreds of companies that manufacture bicycle apparel. Multiply this by the number of bike shorts that each company offers and you'll see that there are thousands of bike shorts to choose from. Although all bike shorts may look the same at first glance, they do not fit the same. The following tips will help you find the short that is best for you.
The Difference Between A Men's And Women's Bike Short
Most men and women can fit in the same bike short from the hips down. The big difference comes from the hips to the waist. The small of a women's back tapers up to a narrower waist. As such, a "women's cut short" has a tighter waistband and more tapered fit just above the hips. In general, women are also longer waisted than men. Most companies cut the front in-seam longer in a women's short. The final difference is leg length. In general, women prefer a shorter leg length than the traditionally cut men's short which is long enough to cover the cyclists quadricep. Understanding these basic differences can help you select the short that is best suited for you. Don't be afraid to cross gender lines. For example, if you are a larger women built straight up and down, you will probably find a men's cut short to be more comfortable.
4-Panels... 6-Panels... 8-Panels...
Bike shorts have "panels" to allow the garment to be contoured to fit the human body in the cycling position. Additional panels allows the short more curvature. This was very important back in the days of wool shorts when fabric had very little stretch. Stretch fabrics have made this distinction less important. However, as a general rule, higher end bike shorts are usually made in an 8-panel design with less expensive -"introductory" shorts made in a 6-panel design. Use of a 4-panel design is usually limited to work out clothing where the cyclist is in a more up right position on the bike. 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.
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.
Pads aka "Chamois"
The purpose of a bike "pad" aka "chamois" is to wick moisture and to prevent chafing. It is not designed to be a "cushion".
The original bike shorts had chamois that were nothing more than a single layer of real leather that had to be meticulously maintained. Fabric technology and chamois construction have made the pad more comfortable as well as functional. There are many different styles of chamois on the market. Most chamois are made of several layers. The "padding" is usually made from a foam or fleece and can vary greatly 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.
Since Every "body" is different, and since the type of riding that you do affects your seating position on the bike, it is very important for each individual to consider pad construction... thickness, wicking properties, and breathability when selecting the bike short that is best for them. If you think that you need some additional "padding", you may want to consider putting the padding on your seat, rather than in your short. There are seat covers that are designed specifically to add some "extra cushioning" to the seat. But remember... more "padding" does not always mean more comfort.
Price points for cycling shorts are usually based on the fabric that the short is made of, and the type of pad that is in the short. Better materials usually cost more and result in a more expensive cycling short. Nylon spandex, the base for most cycling short fabrics has great stretch and durability. However, nylon spandex does not have the ability to wick moisture and breath without a finish being applied, or a special construction in the knitting of the fabric. Spandex is now mixed with other yarns such as polyester to promote moisture transference and breathability. These special applications increase fabric pricing and are the main reason that you see such a wide range of prices in bike shorts.
Leg Length and Gripper
Leg length can vary anywhere from 3" to 10 1/2". Traditional wool racing shorts were usually cut long so that the fabric covered the quadricep muscle, keeping the short from riding up into the crotch and chafing the rider. The advent of stretch fabrics and elastic leg gripper have allowed manufacturers to make shorter shorts with without compromising function.
The length of the short can be divided into three categories:
- Short: 3"-5" "hot pants" length (usually designed for cross training, spinning and triathlons)
- Medium: 6"-8" average cycling short length
- Long: 9"- 11" past the quadricep (usually a "European-cut pro-racing length")
Waistbands range from 1/2" covered elastic to 1 1/2" athletic waistband with a drawstring. The major consideration in a waistband is comfort. Be sure to bend over into the cycling position when you are trying a cycling short on in a store so that you can see how the waistband will feel on the bike. If you have a "belly" and don't like the feel of elastic around your waist, try a bib short if you are a man, or a one- piece riding suit if you are a woman. You can always wear a jersey over the top, and it will look like you are wearing a bike short, but you'll be a lot more comfortable! For more information on bib shorts click here!
A size medium can vary from one company to the next. Try on several different shorts before buying. Fabrics and construction will cause each short to fit differently. REMEMBER! When trying on cycling apparel, put yourself in a cycling position. You will not be riding the bike standing straight up and down. To fit properly, a cycling short should fit like a "second skin"... snug, but comfortable with no bagging or wrinkles.
NEVER... NEVER... NEVER...
Wear Underwear Under Your Bike Short!
The materials used in today's chamois are designed to wick moisture, breath and prevent the propagation of bacteria. As such, they are more sanitary than your underwear. The whole purpose of the bike pad is to prevent chafing. In order to work, the short must fit your body like a second skin. Having a layer of clothing between your body and your bike short will prevent the short from working the way that it should, and will increase your chances of experiencing chafing and sores where the underwear sits against your body.