It finally happened after my first year of cycling. I put on my favorite pair of cycling shorts, and the chamois was lumpy and uncomfortable. It seems the last washing was the final straw that ended the life of my shorts. I was disappointed that I had to give them up so soon! I really had to know: how long do bike shorts actually last?
How Long Bike Shorts Last (Rule of Thumb)
Bike shorts can be expensive, but they don’t last forever. Yours may need replacing after 500 hours of cycling (generally 1-2 years of wear) or when there are visible signs of significant wear: broken stitching, worn out Lycra grippers, or increased discomfort or sores while riding are all signs it’s time for new shorts.
How Long Bike Bibs Last (Rule of Thumb)
Bike bibs serve the same purpose as bike shorts, and essentially fit the same way. Just like shorts, good quality bibs should last you around 500 hours (or 1-2 years) of cycling.
And although wear and tear are different for everyone depending on your body shape, riding style and conditions, you need to replace them when they are worn out to the point they can no longer protect you or provide comfort during your rides.
Bike shorts and bike bibs are subject to a lot of stress from pedaling, inclement weather conditions, sunlight, and washing and drying. The more severe the conditions, the quicker your shorts or bibs could wear out.
Do Bike Shorts Really Wear Out? (What Happens!?)
1. Your cycling shorts can become see-through. Over time, the fabric of your cycling shorts can break down. Bike shorts are subjected to repeated stretching in all directions, which speeds up the degradation of the fabric.
Add to that rainy weather, sweat, moisture, body heat, and lots of washing and drying. These conditions can make the fabric thin and see-through, especially on the backside, which is more exposed to the elements (and to other riders!)
2. The threads begin to unravel. The seams and stitching are one of the first parts of cycling shorts to break down. Stretching places a lot of strain on these areas, and even though they are strongly reinforced, the stitches can break. Finding loose threads is often one of the first signs that your cycling shorts are starting to wear out.
3. The Lycra loses its compression. Your cycling shorts should fit snugly but not be so tight that they cut off circulation or you feel like you can’t breathe. They need to fit tight enough to keep your chamois in the right spot without it sliding around. But if your shorts are old, the Lycra’s stretchiness can begin to break down. It will lose its compression and snug fit.
4. The chamois breaks down. Your chamois should fit tightly against your body without sliding around. It’s there to prevent fiction and also cushion your groin against the seat and absorb vibration. Over time though, the chamois can break down, feel lumpy or misshapen. Once it loses its shape, it can no longer protect you as it should.
5. The silicone grippers no longer hold. Silicone grippers keep the waist and leg openings of your shorts where they should be. But over time, these silicone grippers or elastic strips will wear out. Once they do, they won’t be able to keep your shorts in the right spot. In addition, the material could dry out and become hard and cracked, which makes it uncomfortable.
6. Your bike shorts are smelly. Odor-causing bacteria from your sweat can permanently set into your bike shorts. Then, no matter how many times you wash them, they still smell bad. You can try rinsing them with vinegar, but the smell becomes permanent at some point.
7. Your shorts are faded or stained. Over time, your shorts might become dingy, faded, or stained from wear, accidents, dirt, the natural oils from your body or even washing them in hard water.
8. Your bib straps fall down. If your bib straps stop staying in place, they may be stretched out from use. Bib straps are typically made of Lycra or elastic, and the fibers can break down or stretch out, just like the rest of your shorts.
When to Replace Your Bike Shorts (9 Signs)
- Your tolerance for long rides is getting shorter and shorter because your bum hurts more and more. If you feel like you just can’t ride as long as you used to because your butt is getting sore, it might be a sign that you need new bike shorts. This can happen when the chamois breaks down from wear and repeated use.
- You’re getting saddle sores more frequently. Saddle sores are another sign that your short’s chamois has worn out or the Lycra is failing. Your shorts should hold your chamois in place, and the chamois should protect your delicate skin from chafing and saddle sores. But if you suddenly find that you’re getting them more frequently, worn-out shorts might be the culprit.
- No one wants to ride behind you because they can see through your shorts. Unfortunately, you may not realize when the back of your shorts has worn thin enough to see through until a friend gives you the honest truth. Replace those shorts before you find yourself in an embarrassing situation.
- Your shorts don’t fit snugly anymore. Your shorts should have a compressive fit, but if they’re getting loose, it means the Lycra is beginning to break down and needs to be replaced.
- The legs of your shorts ride up when you pedal. The silicone or elastic grippers on the edges of your shorts should keep them in place when you ride. If you notice they start slipping around when you pedal, it might be a sign that your shorts are ready for replacement. Also, if the edges feel like they are scratching you rather than hugging you, the elastic might have become stiff and brittle, another sign it’s time for them to go.
- Your shorts don’t smell good anymore, even after you’ve washed them. No one wants to stink, especially if you ride with friends. But if you just can’t get the funk out of your shorts anymore, it’s a sign that bacteria has permanently set in, and you need to buy a new pair.
- Your bike shorts stop being aero. Part of the reason we wear cycling shorts is that they fit smoothly over our bodies, making us more aerodynamic. But shorts that are stretched out or no longer smooth out our lumps and bumps are surprisingly less aerodynamic and need replacing.
- Your shorts don’t look nice anymore. If your shorts just don’t look good anymore, it might be a sign to replace them. They may have a stretched-out, dingy, stained look to them, which is a pretty good sign that they are wearing out and need to be replaced with something new.
- You’ve worn them a long time or frequently. If you regularly wear your shorts for hours and hours of cycling, or you’ve had them for many years, it’s probably worth ordering a new pair.
How Often Bike Shorts and Bibs Should Be Replaced
Trivelo states that bike shorts and bibs should be replaced after 500 hours in the saddle. However, different brands of shorts and different fabric qualities will affect how long your shorts will last. So will how you wash your cycling shorts: for example, hand-washed and air-dried shorts may last longer than shorts that have been washed in a washing machine.
On the other hand, if your bike doesn’t fit well or you’ve had an accident, your shorts might have holes or tears that require faster replacement. Some higher-end cycling apparel companies offer warranties on their cycling apparel. Check their website to see if your items will qualify for repair rather than replacement.
To put it simply, your shorts are ok if they have that broken-in feeling, but if they are causing discomfort or not doing their job of keeping your delicate parts protected, you need to replace them as soon as possible.