How To Buy Bike Shorts

After a bike and a hel­met, a good pair of bike shorts is your next best invest­ment. With so many options out there, there is a pair that will work just right for you. This guide will help you choose the best bike shorts for your next ride. 

Types: The first ques­tion to ask is: bag­gy or tight? There are basi­cal­ly two types of bik­ing shorts, those with a tight-fit­ting, stretchy inner short and a loose-fit­ting out­er short, and then those with no out­er shell. There are trade­offs to each, but gen­er­al­ly the road rid­ing tribe wears span­dex while the moun­tain bike set wears bag­gies. There are excep­tions, of course. Road rid­ing to work or the cof­fee shop? Go bag­gy. Rac­ing your moun­tain bike? Go spandex.

Road Bik­ing: The high­er speeds of road rid­ing can make flap­py bag­gy shorts annoy­ing, and slow. Also on a long, hot climb when it feels like the asphalt is melt­ing beneath your tires, sin­gle lay­er shorts will keep you cool­er than dou­ble lay­er bag­gies. With­in the tight-fit­ting vari­ety, there are two sub-types:

Bib Shorts: These bik­ing shorts have inte­grat­ed mesh sus­penders and are the top choice for rac­ers. Bibs have the advan­tages of stay­ing up in the back (avoid­ing the dread­ed cycling plumber’s crack) and not con­strict­ing your breathing.

Bib-less Shorts: With­out any­thing over your shoul­ders, bib-less shorts have one big advan­tage: you can answer the call of nature with­out tak­ing off your jersey.

Moun­tain Bik­ing: On the dirt, bag­gy shorts reign supreme. To gen­er­al­ize, moun­tain bik­ers are going slow­er, stop­ping more, and hang­ing out post ride, giv­ing com­fort­able bag­gies the edge. Pro tip: look for bag­gy shorts where the inner short detach­es from the shell. This way you can wash the inner short sep­a­rate­ly, and mix and match as your short col­lec­tion grows, even going with bib shorts under bag­gy shells for the best of both worlds. 

Mate­r­i­al: Bike shorts are made out of var­i­ous lev­els of stretchy inner shorts and nylon out­er shells. There are a few con­sid­er­a­tions. The inner short mate­r­i­al should wick away sweat and sup­port your mus­cles. The out­er short should be durable and at least a lit­tle bit water repel­lent. With bibs, the more mesh in the upper half, the cool­er you will feel. For bag­gies, con­sid­er the weight, stiff­ness, and stretch­a­bil­i­ty of the shell. Lighter will be cool­er and a lit­tle stretch goes a long way. And don’t for­get sound – some bag­gy shells can make a loud swish with every ped­al stroke!

Chamois Type: Bike shorts can come with a whole range of dif­fer­ent chamois (say: “shamy”) pads, the bike-seat shaped cush­ion that makes them so mag­i­cal. Chamois vary from a basic uni­form foam pad, to a wick­ing, three-dimen­sion­al mas­ter­piece of mod­ern tech­nol­o­gy. Some of the best chamois pads have dif­fer­ent lev­els of padding, with thick­er padding under the “sit bones,” where most of your weight hits the seat.

Fit: Despite how stretchy bike shorts are, they are not one-size-fits-all. Dif­fer­ent brands and dif­fer­ent ver­sions can fit very incon­sis­tent­ly. (When Inter­net shop­ping, be sure to check the brand’s fit guide to see which size is right for you.) Look for leg open­ings that will fit snug with­out con­strict­ing or rid­ing up on your legs, a chamois that doesn’t sit too far for­ward or too far back, and enough cov­er­age for your low­er back. For the out­er shell, an adjustable waist­band is key to on and off the bike comfort.

Num­ber of Pan­els: Fit is also par­tial­ly deter­mined by the num­ber of pan­els sewn into the shorts. Sim­ply put, more pan­els = more mon­ey = bet­ter fit.

Inseam: Both span­dex and bag­gy shorts come in var­i­ous lengths. Your ide­al length will be deter­mined by the length of your legs and your rid­ing style. One rule of thumb: the more sus­pen­sion your bike has, the longer your bag­gy shorts. Women’s shorts often have short­er inseams, but not all women pre­fer this and there are options for longer bag­gy and non-bag­gy shorts.