Bicycle shorts – your trusted riding accessory

It may come as a surprise to many that bicycle riding gear (shorts/jersey/gloves) are technically engineered garments and go a long way in making your rides comfortable and sometimes even adding to your performance.

Key benefits of using a bicycle shorts

  • Riding comfort due to sufficient Padding (Gel / Foam) for the ischial (sit) bones
  • Freedom of movement of legs for cycling motion
  • Freedom from Saddle – Sores due to engineered pads and removal of seams
  • Wicking of sweat in the heat of exercise
  • A snug fit to enhance performance

Six elements make up a cycling shorts

  • Fabrics
  • Stitching
  • Panels
  • Padding
  • Thigh Grippers
  • Elastic Waistband

The key Selection criterion for each of the parameters can be discussed as below

Synthetic fibres make the fabrics in any bicycle shorts. The fabric composition is mostly 80% Polyester / nylon to 20% spandex / Lycra, but that can change a few percentages either way. When looking for bicycle shorts, make sure the fabric is stretchable in all directions (typically called as a 4 way stretch) Polyester gives the bike short its stretch, and the nylon provides compression and rugged structure. Look for a short that is at least 15% spandex. The higher the spandex content, the higher the stretch. 
The thickness of the fabric also matters a lot. Typically you should look for a 240 gsm (grams per sq. mtr) fabric as this gives enough strength to the fabric to withstand the abrasions and the leg movements during cycling. A lighter gsm fabric may be transparent and it may also not give you the longevity.

Cycling as an activity involves tremendous movements of your lower body. The bicycle shorts is typically form fitted to give you riding comfort. In such cases a simple aspect like stitching also becomes an important selection criteria. The stitching between the panels and that for the chamois pad should not be protruding as it can cause bruises during extensive riding. The stitches should be non-protruding – double flat locked, which will be smooth to touch.

A special cushion or pad is stitched in to the bicycle shorts so that it gives protection against abrasion.
Most pads use high-performance synthetic fibers like Coolmax brand polyester or polyurethane fibers. The surface of a pad is usually hydrophobic, which means they stay dry. The good quality padsare often treated with an antibacterial finish to diminish bacteria growth, leading to saddle sore prevention. A clean pad is an ideal way to prevent saddle sores.
Gel-filled pads are thick and ideal for absorbing shock and adding comfort to a sore butt. The gel provides a soft layer that absorbs the bike ride’s shock into the ischial sit bones. The gel adds a layer of comfort for new cyclists and those moving up in their mileage. A gel pad is suitable for all rides, long or short.
The correct pad can be a personal decision. Some people prefer thick to thin or foam to gel. Triathletes prefer lighter / thinner pads (most of them foam based). The position of the pad within the shorts is also most important. Most riders in competitive or endurance rides will prefer the pad placement so as to have the sit bone padding in the correct spot when in an aggressive riding position.

Modern fabrics with high (4 way) stretch fit much better. These fabrics are cut into panels to make a “custom-fit” short. Bicycle shorts are created by sewing panels together. The most popular number of panels is six, but four and eight are also common. Higher panel counts allow us to create shorts that fit the cycling position better. If you hold up a pair of six or eight-panel shorts, you will see a curve built into the short. This curve also helps keep the pad in the correct location. 

Waist Band and Thigh Grippers:
These elastic components go a long way in holding the shorts in the correct position even after rigorous cycling motions of the body.
A good waistband will be fi and stiff enough to facilitate free motions for the rider in all the riding positions – standing, sitting or aero mode.
Thigh grippers are the bands in the bottom of the legwhich hold the shorts “in place” and stops them from riding up. Thigh gripper elastics come in many different styles and widths, but all pretty much serve the same purpose. A good thigh gripper should be wide enough and should have a soft but firm grip. Most of the grippers today are of fabric with high stretch. Such grippers do not cause allergic reactionsas in erstwhile silicone grippers and also do not cause injuries due to repeated friction of gripper against skin.

The graphic above gives components and selection considerations in a nutshell. Please note that a properly chosen and fitted shorts will always enhance your cycling experience.