I’ve spent hundreds of hours in cycling shorts (not an exaggeration). But, when I first started cycling, I didn’t have any bike shorts and so I did all of my biking without them.
Looking back on this now, I’ve decided to take a moment to answer a common question for you: “Are Cycling Shorts Worth It?”
Cycling shorts are worth the cost and effort of using them, IF you’re serious about cycling and will be doing relatively long, frequent, or rigorous rides. On the other hand, if your idea of biking is rolling around the block to grab ice cream or a coffee, then you probably don’t need cycling shorts.
That’s the short version, but if you’re still with me, then you probably have an above-average interest in cycling. So, for you, I’ll dig deeper into the following topics:
4 Things to Consider Before Buying Bike Shorts
Before you drop a chunk of cash on some bike shorts, there are a few other things that you’ll want to understand.
1. Your Bike Seat
Your rear end gets the brunt of your rides, whether you’re riding 1 mile or 100+.
Before investing in expensive cycling shorts, make sure you have a quality seat that is comfortable and suits your riding style.
If you have a bike seat that is uncomfortable or doesn’t fit your body properly, you won’t get very comfortable, even if you have the nicest pair of bike shorts on the planet.
For ladies, you may need an anatomically designed saddle. Because everyone is a different size or weight, seek saddle advice from seasoned riders or your local bike shop.
Investing in a better saddle will go a long way in providing comfort, increasing your power, and improved bike handling.
2. Distance / Frequency of Your Rides
If you only ride a couple of miles here-and-there, then you probably don’t need bike shorts at all. For example, you probably don’t need bike shorts if you only ride a couple of miles, like in the following situations:
- Occasional rides to a nearby coffee shop, restaurant, etc.
- Rides around a short campsite loop during summer camping trips
- Rides around the block with young kids
But, if you’re a bit more serious, and you average about 20-miles a week, then you can probably get by with a pair of inexpensive shorts or maybe even cutoffs.
However, if you have your eyes set on a race, or a long distance bicycle tour (like the ones I’ve done), then you really should invest in a high-quality pair of bike shorts.
3. Your Riding Style
If you are a road cyclist, your shorts will differ from those who mountain bike or commute.
This isn’t a marketing ploy. Each style is designed to make bike riding comfortable and enjoyable.
And if you do a couple of different types of riding, then you’ll either want to get shorts designed for the type of cycling you do the most, or (if you have the money) get one of each.
Whether you decide to buy bike shorts or not, this is helpful to know, because if you ever do decide to buy a pair, you’ll want to make sure you get something that aligns with your style of cycling.
4. Your Wallet
You’ll need to also consider how much you’d be able to spend on bike shorts.
Like most things in life, you get what you pay for.
Expect to spend $100 on a good pair of shorts, and if you want to really burn some cash, some shorts skyrocket up in price to around $300. Sure, you can find $25-$50 cycling shorts online, but these are best used for those only logging small miles with less frequency.
Why? Remember, your rear end gets the brunt of road shock while also supporting your upper body on long rides. The higher-end shorts have better chamois for such distances. Don’t short-change yourself; your bum will thank you for it!
Benefits of Cycling Shorts
Now that we’ve dug into those 4 high-level considerations, let’s drill-down a bit more into the benefits and downsides of cycling shorts. To learn more about how cycling shorts help bikers, you can check out our separate article that goes into more detail on the topics below.
Reduces Butt Soreness
This is the first one that comes to mind for most cyclists. High-end road shorts have a built-in chamois, or cushion, that gives some “cush to the tush.” The more expensive shorts are designed with more panels and better chamois.
Even if you never plan to ride 100 miles, rides over 20 miles wearing standard shorts will chaff your inner legs. I learned this the hard way. As a newbie, I vowed to never wear lycra. But after a long ride with my cutoffs, my inner legs looked like raw hamburger.
In addition, if you’re serious about improving as a road cyclist, you need to aim for a higher cadence (80-90 rpm.) That’s a lot of spinning and contact between your legs and saddle. Lycra and spandex protect you from such abrasions.
Cycling shorts are designed to allow airflow, which helps your skin (underneath the shorts) to breathe. This can help to cool your body, so you don’t overheat.
If you’ve never tried cycling shorts before, you’d immediately notice how much more breathable bike shorts are compared to casual clothes like cotton pants/shorts.
Wicks Sweat and Dries Quickly
Bike shorts are also designed to help with moisture management, by wicking away sweat, rain, etc. The materials also dry pretty quickly.
These moisture management factors can help reduce your chances of saddle sores, or even infections that can occur from moisture being trapped up against your body on long rides.
As you can tell just by looking at them, bike shorts are form-fitting, which means you don’t have to worry about them getting snagged on your bike’s seat, pedals, chain, etc.
The same is not true of baggy clothes like jeans and cargo shorts, which tend to be pretty uncomfortable for long rides. Sidenote: some people wonder if they can wear other clothes over bike shorts, we wrote a whole article about that here.
Increases Speed / Reduces Effort
Bike shorts are aerodynamic.
The enemy of all cyclists is the wind and wearing form-fitting bike shorts helps riders cut through stiff headwinds.
Unlike cotton and other porous materials, spandex is smooth, allowing air to pass over the surface better. Racers typically wear what’s called a “race cut,” which is very snug. Casual and club riders prefer the “club cut” that has a looser jersey fit.
Allows You to Ride Longer
Due to the reasons we’ve covered above, a secondary benefit of bike shorts is that they can help you to ride further, longer, and more comfortably.
If you like the idea of a long ride on a bike (perhaps on a Saturday morning), a pair of bike shorts can actually make the whole experience easier on your body.
Reduces Recovery Time
Finally, bike shorts are snug and offer some compression. Some people find that this compression helps with circulation and supports muscles.
Combine this with the reduced risk of chafing and saddle sores, and bike shorts can help reduce the amount of time you need to rest (or heal) before your next long bike ride.
The Downside To Cycling Shorts
I’ve been wearing road cycling shorts for years, and there are only a few issues to contend with:
You WILL get funny looks and (potentially) snickers when you saunter into a coffee shop or food stop sporting a pair of bike shorts.
My unsolicited advice: Ignore them! Walk with pride! Remember, you’re now part of a fun club of men and women known worldwide as cyclists!
SBS (Soggy Butt Syndrome) is a summertime issue when cyclists sweat like dogs.
Bike shorts are designed to wick moisture away from your skin, but that only goes so far when temperatures hit 80-90°.
Sweat-soaked bike shorts, especially that thick, cushy chamois, can feel uncomfortable, especially when you dismount. Unfortunately, there isn’t a solution; it’s just the nature of the beast.
However, I urge you to change out of your cycling shorts as soon as possible on such days. If not, you run the risk of getting fungal infections like tinea cruris or “jock itch.”
Only Comfortable While Cycling
Bike shorts are pretty amazing while riding a bike, it really does make a big difference on your riding comfort.
However, bike shorts are pretty uncomfortable when you’re not on a bike.
The cushioning in the backside tends to feel a bit heavy/saggy, which almost makes it feel like you’re wearing a diaper. Yeah, it feels a bit weird.
Annoying to Put On for Short Rides
Bike shorts are pretty simple, but they are a little difficult to put on.
And if you’re just going for a short ride around the block, going through the effort of getting the shorts on, might not be worth it for such a short trip.
Bike shorts can be somewhat pricey. It’s nothing compared to the price of a nice bike. But still, $100 bucks isn’t chump change.
How Much Do Cycling Shorts Cost?
As I mentioned earlier, you get what you pay for.
Bike shorts can cost anywhere from $25-$300+. Beginners can get entry-level cycling shorts for $25-$40. If you are serious about cycling as a hobby, then you’ll likely want to upgrade to shorts closer to $100. And if you’re a hardcore cyclist, then you could consider premium shorts with prices up to $300+.
With that being said, if you’re new to cycling and are budget conscious, then try a pair of shorts in the $25-40 range. Riders who use shorts in this range typically report that:
- The shorts felt good and performed as advertised
- On long rides, they complained of soreness or body fatigue
As you improve and mature as a cyclist, you’ll come to appreciate the difference between bike shorts of lesser quality and those of a higher quality.
If you’re a road cyclist, then you may also want to consider bib shorts over regular cycling shorts. Bear in mind that bib shorts are more expensive. But, they can be worth the extra money because the straps help keep the chamois positioned. Regular shorts tend to shift and move, which means so will the chamois.
The choice of materials for shorts also affects the price. But again, these costly materials perform better than their cheaper counterparts. This translates into greater comfort, better moisture-wicking ability, a better “feel” on your body, and in the case of mountain bike shorts, water resistance.
Insider Tricks & Tips
If you’re a bargain hunter, then investigate discount cycling websites for killer deals. Discontinued brands or last year’s models can sometimes be 50% off.
Another way to find deals on shorts and kits is to join a club or race team. Organizations like these are given better discounts since they order in bulk. You can also buy kits at Gran Fondos or club events.
Lastly, check on how sizes run with a cycling manufacturer. Some of the finest (and most expensive) cycling apparel come from Italy. Brands like Castelli tend to run small, at least for men, so you may need to order a size or two up. Product reviews can be helpful with this, and sometimes online stores have ordering tips based upon their customers’ feedback.
I hope this post has answered your questions regarding cycling shorts. And remember, it’s your bum, so keep it comfy!
Do You Really Need Bike Shorts
So, to summarize some of the key points we covered above:
If you’re serious about cycling, then you need bike shorts. Bike shorts reduce seat soreness, prevent chafing, increase airflow, and even improve your speed. However, if you only occasionally go on short rides (e.g. 1-2 miles around the neighborhood), then you probably don’t need bike shorts.