Padded Cycling Shorts: Why They’re Essential and Which To Buy

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Whether you’re a casual rider or a seasoned pro, padded cycling shorts are essential if you want to stay comfortable, optimize your performance, and get the most out of your ride.

Whilst wearing tight lycra is certainly a big wardrobe adjustment for those who are new to padded cycling shorts, once you’ve experienced the benefits there’s no going back.

What about indoor cycling? Well, whilst padded cycling shorts are more common amongst outdoor cyclists, those who prefer to use an exercise bike can still reap all the same benefits as those who ride outdoors.

In this article, we’ll be covering:

  • Padded Cycling Shorts: Why They’re Essential
  • Should You Wear Underwear Beneath Your Padded Cycling Shorts?
  • How To Choose The Right Pair Of Padded Cycling Shorts
  • The 5 Best Padded Cycling Shorts For Men And Women

Ready to get the lowdown on padded cycling shorts?

Let’s dive in!

Padded Cycling Shorts Guide: Title Image

Padded Cycling Shorts: Why They’re Essential

If you’re in the saddle for a long time, then without proper padding, you can find yourself in discomfort and enjoy the ride less.

The saddle is the main point of contact between yourself and the bike. This means that when cycling, a lot of weight is placed on this one small area, which may result in significant pain when cycling for extended periods of time.

There are a whole bunch of important nerves that run through this area which can be compressed by your weight and movement on the saddle, resulting in pain and numbness that may even radiate down the legs and feet.

Furthermore, the continual movement of your legs means there is constant friction between yourself and the saddle, which can also cause further chafing and saddle sores.

This is where padded cycling shorts come in.

The padded inserts, known as chamois, sit between your bum and the saddle, providing a soft cushion for your weight to rest on, thereby spreading the pressure more evenly.

The padding and specialized fabric also work to reduce chaffing, due to the fact that it reduces friction between you and the seat as you move your legs.

In addition to preventing pain and reducing chaffing, a well-made pair of padded cycling shorts with good fabric will help you stay streamlined, maneuverable, and comfortable at all times whilst you’re on the saddle, keeping you in the zone and optimizing your cycling performance.

However, padded cycling shorts aren’t just for comfort.

Nowadays, most padded cycling shorts use elasticated materials which compress your muscles, improving blood flow and optimizing muscle performance.

Furthermore, if you’ve got a need for speed, then padded shorts are for you, as the tight lycra material is also much more aerodynamic than standard clothing.

Needless to say, if you experience any sort of pain, numbness, or discomfort whilst cycling, it’s certainly worth trying out a pair of padded cycling shorts.

A cyclist in black padded cycling shorts leans his road bike against a barrier.

Should you wear underwear Beneath your Padded cycling shorts?

The short answer is… no.

Padded cycling shorts are designed to be against your skin in order to maximize breathability. Furthermore, wearing underwear beneath cycling shorts just generates more friction, thus reducing the effectiveness of the shorts.

A cyclist in grey padded cycling shorts and a pink jersey leans against her bike next to a flight of stairs.

How to choose the right pair of padded cycling shorts

#1. Sizing

They should feel snug and skin-tight fit around your legs, but without being overly tight, as that could just cause more discomfort down the line. In particular, make sure to check that the leg grippers and the elastic waistband or bib are not uncomfortably tight.

Ideally, you should try on a pair of cycling shorts before you buy them. However, if buying online, make sure to check that they’re the right waist measurement.

#2. Bib or no bib?

In order to keep them from falling down, padded cycling shorts may have either an elasticated waistband or a bib that wraps around the shoulders.

A bib is preferred by many cyclists as it is often more comfortable than a tight waistband. Furthermore, they do a better job of holding the rest of the shorts in place, as an elasticated waistband is more likely to slide down whilst you’re moving about on the bike, resulting in looser shorts and possible chafing.

On the other hand, bibs are generally more expensive, hotter, and certainly a bit more inconvenient for toilet breaks.

#3. Inseam (length)

Whilst the inseam doesn’t make a huge difference to the performance of the shorts, if you’re cycling in cold weather you might want to opt for a longer length inseam for more insulation.

#4. Style

If you’re an aggressive rider who tends to ride in a more forward, aerodynamic position, you may want to opt for shorts where the padding is placed more towards the front of the shorts.

Alternately, if you’re self-conscious of super tight-looking lycra – don’t worry – you’ve got other options. On the one hand, you’ve always got the option of wearing skin-tight padded shorts underneath normal shorts or trousers. Or, on the other hand, you can buy a purpose-built pair of shorts that look just like normal shorts, but have the padding built in.

You can also get mountain bike shorts which tend to be looser, yet are made very sturdily in order to withstand the wear-and-tear of offroad riding and to help protect the rider if they come off. They are usually non-bib, and sometimes waterproof.

#5. Fabric

The material should be quick drying and breathable, which as long as you invest in a decent pair, should not be an issue. You want the sweat to evaporate with ease and prevent any dampness.

Back in the day, padded cycling shorts used to be made out of wool, with leather for the chamois. Nowadays, they are usually made of nylon, lycra, polyester, or a mix of these materials.

All these three materials have similar properties:

  • Elastic
  • Tight-Fitting
  • Flexible
  • Aerodynamic
  • Lightweight
  • Breathable

High-end cycling shorts often have custom-made high-tech fabrics designed to be as lightweight, breathable, and high performing as possible.

#6. Pricing

Regardless of your price range, there are options for you. Although, as with most things, you’re likely to get a better performing and more durable pair if you’re prepared to spend a bit more.

However, there are still some good bargains to be found.

The 5 Best Padded Cycling Shorts For Men And Women

All of the following padded cycling shorts are available for both men and women.

Assos Dyora RS S9 Bib Shorts (Women)/Assos Equipe RS S9 Bib Shorts (Men)

Assos Dyora/Equipe Padded Cycling Shorts: Manufacturer Image
Credit: Assos

These top-of-the-range shorts are for those serious cyclists who are really looking to optimize their performance.

The high-tech and innovative design process used by Assos has produced an incredibly comfortable, supporting, and lightweight pair of padded cycling shorts with just two panels.

With its unique butterfly-pattern textile panel, this minimal (but by no means basic) design offers a snug and uniform compression, whilst the fabric and stitching keep it feeling soft, comfortable, and stable.

The A-shaped bib is specifically designed to limit vertical stretching, thereby keeping the chamois stable and preventing any discomfort in the shoulders.

Women’s Padded Cycling Shorts

Men’s Padded Cycling Shorts

Giordana FR-C pro Bib Shorts

Giordana FR-C Padded Cycling Shorts: Manufacturer Image
Credit: Giordana

As they’ve been producing cycling gear since the 1970s, Giordana have spent years perfecting the design of their padded cycling shorts.

They’re designed to mirror the body’s natural riding position as much as possible so that the high-compression lycra optimizes muscle performance by increasing blood flow, whilst still feeling soft and comfortable against your skin.

For the padding, they have a three-layer variable material chamois made of nylon microfibre, memory foam, and ventilated padding, in addition to an aloe vera infusion to help cool and protect against bacteria.

Women’s Padded Cycling Shorts

Men’s Padded Cycling Shorts

Aero Tech Century Cycling Shorts (Non-bib)

Aero Tech Century Padded Cycling Shorts: Manufacturer Image
Credit: Aero Tech

The Century shorts are made from a fabric specially designed by Aero Tech – a polyester and lycra blend – that remains soft whilst providing compression, elasticity, and breathability.

What’s great about these shorts is that Aero Tech offers a wide range of sizing and inseam length options, as well as specialized designs for tall people, who often struggle to find appropriate sizes.

The shorts have a minimal pad design that has been extensively tested to optimize comfort on long rides. The pad has a modest thickness of 13mm, yet the high-density foam and ergonomic design mean it feels a lot thicker than this.

Aero Tech shorts in general are also known for their strong durability.

Women’s Padded Cycling Shorts

Men’s Padded Cycling Shorts

Pearl Izumi Quest Shorts (non-bib)

Pearl Izumi Quest Padded Cycling Shorts: Manufacturer Image
Credit: Pearl Izumi

With these non-bib shorts, Pearl Izumi shows us that you can still get a pair of high-quality, high-performing padded shorts even if you’re on a budget.

Supportive, yet not restrictive, the Quest shorts feature a six-panel design to enable excellent maneuverability whilst maintaining a good level of compression.

Whilst they are one of the cheaper options on our list, they still maintain the sleek design and excellent build quality of Pearl Izumi’s more expensive shorts. However, whilst the moderately thick chamois is ideal for commuters and casual riders, some may find it lacking in support for long-distance endurance riding.

Women’s Padded Cycling Shorts

Men’s Padded Cycling Shorts

Endura Hummvee II Shorts (Mountain Biking/non-bib)

Endura Hummvee II Padded Cycling Shorts: Manufacturer Image
Credit: Endura

As these shorts are designed for mountain biking, the padding is detachable. As with most MTB padded shorts, they’re made with stronger lycra than standard shorts, thereby offering a decent amount of protection and durability in case of falls.

Whilst these shorts are baggier than those designed for road riding, they still offer quite a slim fit relative to other mountain biking padded shorts, meaning that you get more maneuverability and a more casual look without completely sacrificing all aerodynamics.

These shorts also feature zipped thigh vents for extra ventilation when needed, multiple zipped pockets to store anything you might need for a long day out on the trails, and an adjustable belt and elasticated rear waistband so you can make sure they fit perfectly.

Women’s Padded Cycling Shorts

Men’s Padded Cycling Shorts

A cyclist on a black road bike pedals through hilly grasslands.

Found this padded cycling shorts guide helpful? Check out more from the BikeTips experts below!

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Hailing from Brighton, UK, Felix is a lover of running, cycling, and all things active. When he's not exploring a remote corner of the globe on a bike-packing trip, Felix enjoys meditating, making music, and running as far as his legs will let him!

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