Wearing regular casualwear shorts and regular underwear during a long bike ride is likely to result in discomfort. Regular shorts and underwear have lots of exposed seams that are likely to chafe and this is aggravated even more with a build up of perspiration.
There are two main types of cycling shorts and both types can substantially increase your comfort during cycling compared to regular street shorts.
The first type is the form-fitting lycra type-usually black but also available in colors. This is the style most roadbike riders use. Form-fitting stretchy lycra is used so that the garment moves with you while you are pedaling instead of continually brushing against your skin, causing chafing. Another important component to the shorts is the sewn-in seat pad.
The second type of cycling shorts are baggy bike shorts-also called mountainbike shorts. These shorts take a inner lycra short, with sewn in pad and mate it with an looser fitting outer short. The main advantage of this style of short is that it combines the comfort of a traditional padded lycra bike short with a conventional looking pair of casual shorts. This style is great if you prefer the versatility of a pair of shorts that increase comfort while riding, but also look good during non-biking activities such as a visit to a store or a stop at a coffee shop.
Both types of bike shorts have a sewn-in seat pad that further reduces chafing by providing a much smoother surface to sit on-compared to wearing regular shorts and underwear. The pad in bicycle shorts also does a good job of wicking away perspiration, further reducing chafing.
What about cushioning? The pads in cycling shorts do provide a small amount of padding, but if maximum cushioning is what you are looking for, it is more effective to get a bike seat with thick gel padding.
The problem with a thick seat pad is that a thicker pad bunches up and holds more moisture, increasing chafing. So a thick pad can actually lead to a less comfortable ride in the long run.
There are different styles of seat pads. In general, I prefer a pad that is the same thickness throughout the entire pad.
In the last few years there has been an increase in shorts that use a multidensity seat pad—one that is different thicknesses in different parts of the seat pad. From personal experience, I have found that where this pad transitions from one thickness to another, is almost like seating on a seam and can create ’hot spots’ on a longer ride.
A comfortable pair of bike shorts is one of the most important contributions to a comfortable ride, but other aspects include:
- a properly fitted bicycle
- a good quality bicycle seat
- amount of cycling experience