It could have started a riot when the French pro cycling team AG2R La Mondiale made their appearance in their brown, white, and blue cycling kits. Some people raved about these non-traditional digs. Others were taken aback by this departure from the basic black cycling shorts we have all come to know and love. There is no question that the majority of cycling shorts are black.
But why? Why are cycling shorts black?
Cycling shorts are black because pro cyclists were once required to wear black shorts. Plus, black cycling shorts have the additional benefits of hiding dirt and minimizing stains from bike seats. The black color also makes cycling shorts more modest and makes them easy to pair with other gear.
If that overview was enough to make you curious, then you’ll be very interested in the deeper details I’m going to cover below.
Let’s get to it!
Table of Contents
1. Because the Pros Wore Black
Surprisingly, colored cycling shorts weren’t always welcome in the pro peloton. In fact, up until the 1980s, pro cyclists were actually required to wear black shorts. No other colors were permitted in professional bike races.
However, in 1981, cycling clothing manufacturer, Castelli, broke the cycling fashion rules and brought forth a line of colored cycling shorts for the Giro d’Italia. The riders that jumped at the chance to wear the colorful green shorts were given a fine for breaking protocol and going against UCI rules.
UCI Cycling Kit Approval
And although the UCI now accepts colored shorts, pro teams’ cycling kits must be approved prior to the races. If the teams don’t take the time to get their kit designs approved by the UCI, the riders and teams will face hefty fines.
For example, EF Nippo was fined heavily for introducing their Quackers the Duck-themed jersey for the 2020 Giro d’Italia. It seems they neglected to get the new kit approved by the UCI – even though it had black cycling shorts! You can read the rest of the story here.
It seems, though, that although a few teams wear brown or dark blue cycling shorts, most pro teams and club riders still rely on the old faithful black cycling shorts as a throwback to the time when pros only wore black.
But pro cycling tradition isn’t the only reason we wear black cycling shorts. There are other practical reasons to wear black. For example, black cycling shorts will hide grease stains when you’re out on the road.
2. To Hide Grease
If you’ve ever worked on your own bike, you’ll know just how much grease and dirt your bike can hold. Just run your finger along your bike chain if you aren’t sure!
When you’re riding your bike, you very likely will need to stop here and there to adjust your bike or fix a mechanical issue. Unfortunately, even something as easy as fixing a dropped chain can get your hands covered in grease.
Since you probably aren’t carrying around the kitchen sink to wash your hands, you’ll most likely end up wiping your hands on some of the only fabric you can find – your cycling shorts. They’ll hopefully be black to hide the grease that went from your bike to you.
If you are wearing a light-colored jersey and shorts, the whole world will know you had a mechanical issue and tried to fix it yourself. But you’ll keep your secret if it doesn’t show up on your shorts.
Grease and grime easily stain your shorts. Riding your bike can also give you some pretty embarrassing seat stains.
3. To Minimize Seat Stains
Cycling clothing developed alongside the sport of cycling due to the need to have clothing that enhanced, rather than encumbered, the pro cyclist. However, when the penny-farthing was invented in the late 1800s, cycling clothing didn’t exist, and street clothes were worn to go cycling.
It wasn’t until after the dawn of the safety bicycle – a bicycle with two of the same sized wheels, a chain, and brakes – that the need for cycling clothing was noticed.
The Original Bike Seats Caused Seat Stains
The safety bicycle is the precursor to our modern bikes today. The saddles were made of oiled leather, such as the Brooks B-17, which was popular in its time. After riding the leather seat for a few hours, the oils would come to the surface, mix with the rider’s sweat, and leave stains on their pants.
Cyclists began to wear black pants to hide these stains.
Modern Bike Seats Can Still Cause Seat Stains
Modern saddles typically don’t have this issue. However, dark-colored and black cycling shorts are still a good idea. Dirt, grime, and road debris can spin up from the back wheel, especially in wet, rainy conditions. These can leave unwanted – and totally embarrassing – marks on the backs of your shorts.
Falls, spills, and taking a seat on the ground can also lead to dirty shorts. If you want to avoid those obvious, tell-tale signs, stick to dark, or better yet, black cycling shorts because the stains just won’t show as much.
Of course, we want to hide stains, but we also want to think about hiding other things, too. Cycling shorts, or at least black ones, will help you feel a little bit more modest.
Modesty on a bicycle is a rather delicate topic to cover. When it comes to road riding, cycling shorts and jerseys are designed to be form-fitting for both safety and aerodynamics. But such tight-fitted garments tend to reveal everything you might be trying to cover underneath your street clothes.
For example, white bike shorts might be eye-catching and sharp at first. But when the first bit of sweat begins to trickle down your back, your white shorts will suddenly become see-through, revealing everything underneath – including the fact that you aren’t wearing any underwear.
White Versus Black
On the other hand, black cycling shorts will keep you well-covered and keep those unmentionable parts politely covered and discreet. In fact, the club rider who rides behind you will likely say thank you if you switch from your favorite white cycling sorts to black ones.
Basic black is quite smoothing and can even help to hide any undesirable lumps, bumps, and, well, bodily bulges. It will also conceal embarrassing sweat marks from hours in the saddle. And unless you want your cycling friends to stare at the front – or back – of your shorts, you’ll probably want to consider purchasing them in black.
Besides, those basic black shorts will go with everything in your cycling closet.
5. Easy Color Coordination
One of the best things about black cycling shorts is that they pair with pretty much anything. Like the little black dress of cycling, there isn’t a jersey that won’t go with a basic pair of black cycling shorts. Black is just so easy to pair with many other colors!
Almost any color jersey will go with your basic black. If you like simple, bright colors like orange or hot pink, they will contrast nicely with your black shorts, helping you stand out so drivers can see you. On the other hand, if you like more intricate patterns and bold shapes, your black cycling shorts won’t detract attention from that eye-catching jersey.
Why Are Cycling Shorts Black?
Cycling shorts are black for good reasons. Sure, rules are meant to be broken and if you prefer other colors of cycling shorts, go for it! But black cycling shorts will offer you much more than tradition. They’ll hide those cycling-specific stains, like grease and sweat, and they’ll also do a better job of covering your body. And, they just match everything.
So for me, I’ll stick to basic black shorts. How about you?