Do Cycling Shorts ACTUALLY Help? (Quick Guide for Beginners)

If you get discomfort or pain from sitting on your bike seat, then you may avoid riding or quit a ride early to avoid the problem. This discomfort could come from chafing, rubbing, aches, pains, etc. And since you’ve found this article, then you’ve probably heard something about cycling shorts and you may be wondering:

Do cycling shorts actually help? 

Cycling shorts do help you feel more comfortable when you ride your bike. Cycling shorts will help you by reducing butt soreness, reducing chafing, improving breathability, wicking away sweat, preventing snagging, increasing your speed, allowing you to ride longer, and even reducing your recovery time. 

If you’re wondering how a pair of cycling shorts can do all that, you’re not alone. In this article, we’ll help you understand all the ways a pair of cycling shorts can help you feel more comfortable on the bike, which translates to longer, faster, more enjoyable rides. We’ll go over some of the downsides of cycling shorts, too, and help you know when you need to wear them and when you don’t. 

First, we’ll take a look at all the ways that wearing cycling shorts can help you feel more comfortable on your bike. 

8 Ways Cycling Shorts Help Riders

1. Reduces Butt Soreness

If you find your derriere is tender after a ride, the quick fix could be a quality pair of cycling-specific shorts. These are form-fitting, stretchy shorts or tights with a pad in the seat. 

The pad, called a chamois, is a specially shaped piece of foam or layers of foam sewn into the seat of your cycling shorts. The pad is typically wider and shorter for women to accommodate and protect their wider sit bones, while men may have a cutout in the middle to reduce unwanted pressure.

The foam provides a layer of protection to keep your tush from getting sore when you ride. It serves as padding between your sit bones and the hard seat of your bike, which can be incredibly uncomfortable, especially if you’re not used to it. A chamois also absorbs some of the vibrations from the road, which can cause discomfort. 

2. Reduces Chafing

Another benefit of a pair of cycling shorts is that they can reduce chafing in delicate areas. If you have ever worn underwear, regular shorts, or even jeans on a bike ride, the chafing can become unbearable. Sweat combined with the friction of your clothes can create severe sores, called saddle sores. 

Saddle sores are spots where the chafing turns into a boil, pimple, or another sort of open wound. These kinds of sores can keep you off the bike and recovering for days, if not weeks. Severe saddle sores and chafing may require a trip to your doctor’s office and prescription medication for treatment. 

The chamois, or foam pad, is designed to stick to your skin without sliding around. Wearing a pair of shorts with a chamois will reduce the friction that rubs your skin raw. It also protects your skin from seams that could dig into your skin. 

3. Improves Breathability

Cycling shorts are designed to let your skin breathe so you don’t overheat. Wearing too many layers of clothing or clothing that isn’t very breathable will trap heat and moisture. Overheating will cause increased heart rate, fatigue, and sometimes even dizziness. 

If you overheat too much, you’ll probably have to end your ride sooner than you wanted. The breathable fabric of cycling shorts will help keep you cooler for longer as it allows heat to dissipate more quickly. 

4. Wicks Sweat and Dries Quickly

Sweaty shorts can cause chafing and even gross fungal infections. Even wearing a pair of underwear when you ride can keep the moisture up against your skin, causing chafing, soreness, and even jock itch or yeast infections. No one wants that from riding a bike! 

Cycling shorts are made out of fabrics and materials designed to wick sweat away from your skin, especially in those more sensitive areas. The fabric dries quickly, as well. Quick-drying fabric will lessen your chance of infection and saddle sores. As the sweat evaporates from your skin, you’ll feel cooler and more comfortable, too. 

5. Prevents Snagging 

Baggy clothes are a big no-no on the bike. Dresses, wide-leg pants, and jeans can easily get caught in your chain and cause a nasty fall, ruined clothes, injury, and damage to the bike. Clothes that are loose in the seat can also get caught on the nose of your bike saddle, causing you to fall or slip. 

On the other hand, Bicycle shorts fit tight to your body, preventing loose material from getting stuck in your bike. It’s safer and easier to ride. 

6. Increases Speed / Reduces Effort 

Aerodynamics and weight are everything in cycling! Well, maybe not everything, but they do play a large part in riding faster. Bike shorts typically weigh less than other types of clothes, and because they fit tight, they are a bit more streamlined. 

Heavy, bulky clothes can really slow you down. The weight of denim or other heavy clothes will take more effort to pedal your bike, and the wind can catch clothes that are loose, baggy, or oversized. 

On the other hand, cycling shorts won’t flap in the wind like other clothes, giving you a quieter and more aerodynamic ride. The lighter weight will drag you down less as you pedal, especially on hills. The more aero fit of cycling clothes will allow the wind to slip over you more efficiently, reducing drag from the air that slows you down. You’ll go faster with less effort. 

7. Allows You to Ride Longer 

Although nothing is a substitute for hearty training to help you ride longer, having suitable chamois shorts is a definite plus. Since you’ll be more comfortable in the saddle, you’ll be able to ride longer and faster. 

Sit bone pain, chafing, saddle sores, overheating, and general discomfort from wearing the wrong types of clothes can make you cut your ride short. But when you are comfortable and not encumbered by heavy clothes, you’ll be able to ride and ride. 

8. Reduces Recovery Time

Cycling shorts are snug and offer a compression fit. Some people find that this compression helps with circulation and supports muscles. Combined with less pain and soreness from chafing, you’ll have a shorter time recovering off the bike so you can get back out there sooner. 

While all of the benefits of cycling shorts are terrific, there are a few downsides to wearing them.  

4 Downsides to Wearing Cycling Shorts

1. Only Comfortable While Cycling 

Cycling shorts feel great when you are on the bike, but they’re not so comfy when you’re not riding. For example, if you’re going to be riding to dinner, walking around a museum, or doing other activities, you might feel pretty uncomfortable in your chamois. 

A chamois can feel a little bulky in the backside, like a diaper. You’ll appreciate it while you are riding, but when you’re not riding, you don’t really want to wear one. 

2. Annoying to Put On for Short Rides

It takes a bit of work to put on your cycling shorts. It’s kind of like putting on a pair of pantyhose – you squish up the leg and squeeze into one side. Then repeat, all the while making sure all the right pieces are in all the right spots. You might have to do a little dance to get them up! 

If you’re just going for a quick little ride, it might be annoying to spend all the time and effort just to put on your cycling shorts. You might prefer street clothes, instead. 

3. Can Be Unflattering

There’s no hiding in a pair of cycling shorts. All of your lumps, bumps and other parts that you might otherwise hide are quite visible because these kinds of shorts are highly form-fitting. Plus, the large bulge of foam that covers your derriere is quite a sight to the uninitiated, making them appear rather unflattering. You’ll likely feel a bit conspicuous the first few times you wear your bike shorts in public. 

4. Expensive

Simply put, bike shorts aren’t cheap. You can easily spend upwards of $200 for a single pair of good-quality cycling shorts. That’s a significant investment to save your backside, especially if you don’t ride a lot. If you don’t usually spend that much on clothes to wear every day, would you consider spending that much on bike clothes?  

If you’re still undecided about cycling shorts, you can see below how the pros of wearing them outweigh the cons. 

Pros and Cons of Cycling Shorts

Pros of Wearing Cycling ShortsCons of Wearing Cycling Shorts
Reduces butt sorenessOnly comfortable while cycling
Reduces chafingAnnoying to put on for short rides
Improves breathabilityCan be unflattering
Wicks sweat and dries quicklyExpensive
Prevents snagging 
Increases speed/reduces effort 
Allows you to ride longer 
Reduces recovery time 

Who Should Wear Cycling Shorts?

After reading the pros and cons of cycling shorts, you might be wondering who should wear cycling shorts and if you they are really for you. If you’re just tooling around the block or heading for the nearest ice cream shop, you probably don’t need to wear cycling shorts. But there are times when you definitely want wear them. In general… 

Always wear your cycling shorts if you are: 

  • Riding more than 5 miles on the road (or any distance that causes your backside discomfort)
  • Riding with a group of road cyclists, no matter the event
  • Riding an indoor trainer for any amount of time or distance
  • Riding when the temperature is hot, or conditions aren’t great 

You might not need to wear cycling shorts if you are: 

  • Taking a short spin around your neighborhood
  • Heading to the ice cream shop or an event where you need to wear street clothes 

Are Cycling Shorts Worth the Money?

Cycling shorts, although expensive, are definitely worth the money if you ride enough. They’ll save you a lot of discomfort and soreness, which can cause time off the bike, doctor bills, and other problems. If you think of cycling shorts as an investment in your overall health and fitness, you’ll be more likely to get yourself a quality pair that will keep you riding faster, longer, and happier. Cycling shorts really do make a big difference.

Ever wondered why cycling shorts are black? Then check out our article about the reasons and benefits of black cycling shorts.


JJ here - I've spent a lot of time on a bike, including completing the 3,000+ mile Southern Tier Route (CA to FL). I started Cycling Beast to "demystify" cycling topics, and to help people overcome roadblocks and level-up their skills.

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