Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Padded Bike Shorts

I am going to start this article off with a bold statement; “wearing padded cycling shorts will boost your comfort and health while riding your bicycle”.

In my opinion padded bike shorts add as much to your biking experience as do clip in shoes. Now I know it maybe hard to initially wear a pair of tight shorts. You may feel self conscious. But believe me, after riding with them on for a while you will not care what people think. In fact your legs and backside will be looking so good after exercising on your bike that you will be eager to wear the shorts at every opportunity; your local coffee shop, bar etc.

For those of us that cannot get over feeling slightly self-conscious in tight lycra, an alternative could be to buy the baggy design of shorts. These look like regular shorts, so once you get off the bike you won’t look conspicuous.

If you have been cycling for a while you know how important padded bike shorts are. The cycling shorts you wear should be quite tight, yet comfortable. They should not be too restrictive or too loose. They should protect your legs when or if they rub on the saddle. There should be a comfortable amount of padding and the fabric should be able to abrade without tearing. Also they should have elastic to keep the shorts in place around your legs and not bunch up.

If you get a pair of shorts with all these qualities they will definitely help to avoid soreness and also other far more serious ailments relating to being on the bicycle seat for long periods of time.

If you have just started cycling you will realise how nice they are after you have finished your first 30 mile bike ride. Bicycle saddles are usually not made for comfort but to increase pedal efficiency.

Bike saddle

As you can see by looking at the saddle pictured above there is not much padding for your rear end. A good fitting pair of shorts with the padding in the correct place will make your riding a much more pleasurable experience.

So the answer to the question of “is shopping for a pair of ladies or mens cycling shorts really worth it?” is a resounding yes. To be honest, in the event you intend to ride a bike on a regular basis then most certainly, they are definitely worth buying and if you do buy them you will be more likely to ride on a regular basis!

Of course as with any product available these days there is a myriad of options to choose from. Everything from a $20 pair from your local Wal Mart to a pair costing $519.

As is often the case the more you pay, the better product you get. It all depends where you want to draw the line between good shorts and high price. Usually with a higher price you are going to get a better fit with higher quality material, comfort and also the shorts should last longer. But please do some research online.

Two road bikers

A Short History!

Let’s have a bit of history of padded shorts. In the old days cycling shorts were made of black wool that was knitted and had a piece of chamois leather for the padding. The chamois leather provided a great degree of comfort and was very breathable. This was kept soft and supple by applying chamois cream to it. You can still buy shorts with chamois leather padding although they do tend to be a bit more expensive. I did find one place that will replace the pads in your favourite shorts with old school chamois leather padding.

The reason the shorts were black was because that colour hid the oil and grease marks. Nowadays there are a lot of different colours and patterns out there. A lot of people still prefer black as it seems to go with pretty much any colour shirt and “they” do say that if you wear black it makes you look thinner!

If you do a lot of riding at night time you may want to get a pair of lighter color shorts with a highly visible reflective sheen sewn in.

These days bicycle shorts are made for men and women and are composed of flat stitched panels. The more panels they have the more expensive the shorts are probably going to be. At the less pricey end of the scale you will see most shorts have four panels and the higher priced shorts can have eight, which will fit much better on the contours of your body.

Group of cyclists

Padding of Shorts

The padding is also made differently for men and women and because this is not an anatomy/biology website I am just going to say both sexes need different protection. So the shape that the padding takes in women’s shorts is different when compared to the shape of the padding in men’s shorts.

If the padding is in the right place it will protect your sensitive areas . One concern you will have is in your riding style. If you have an aggressive more aerodynamic riding position you will want the padding to be placed towards the anterior of the short. If you ride in a more upright relaxed style the padding should be towards the posterior of your shorts.

The padding also varies in thickness. A triathlete will want a pair of shorts with a thin layer of padding so they can swim, bike and run in the same pair of shorts in moderate comfort. You will notice if you try different shorts on at the store that the thickness of the padding feels different and maybe even a bit uncomfortable when you are walking about. When you actually get on the bike however the padding will feel great.

One consideration when buying shorts that are made with synthetic padding is that some of the modern materials are not as breathable as the chamois leather padding. This may mean that while the new padding is very comfortable, you may end up getting sore on longer rides just due to the fact that the material doesn’t breathe properly.

Group of cyclists

Fabric of Shorts

Now let us talk about the fabrics the shorts can be made of. The less friction that you produce when you are cycling means the more smoothly and efficiently you will be able to pedal. Nylon, Lycra and Polyester are common materials used in bike shorts because they reduce air drag and friction between your body and the saddle. They are also soft, elastic and are able to wick away sweat.

The seams of the shorts are strategically placed so that they do not cause any rubbing on your legs. Another advantage of these new man made materials over the wool that the shorts used to be made of is that these materials are flexible and they allow a full range of motion on the bicycle. They are also breathable fabrics which means they allow the air to pass through to keep your legs cool.

While we are discussing fabrics, please try and keep away from anything manufactured from natural cotton as this tends to absorb sweat and never breathes very well, consequently producing discomfort and potential soreness.

More expensive bike shorts utilise features like muscle compression and better ventilation. They also use different materials in different places to get the maximum benefit out of each piece of fabric.

Cycling in padded bike shorts

Inseam or Length

You can also choose the length of your shorts. In technical terms this is known as the inseam length. For some reason people tend to wear shorter shorts in spinning classes. I have no idea why this trend has taken off. I taught indoor cycling classes for 10 years and always wore my regular length cycling shorts. As the instructor it was always nice to see shorter shorts on the legs in front of me but I am sure the participants in class were not wearing them for my sake.

Triathletes wear shorter cycling shorts because they do different activities in them and they need them to dry quicker than the longer pairs would. For the average rider an inseam that ends just above the knee should be good enough to prevent chaffing of the inner thigh on the saddle. In cooler or cold weather you can buy padded tights that cover the whole of your leg.

Man wearing mountain bike shorts

Style of Shorts

Bicycle shorts come in a variety of styles starting off with the traditional road biking style. These shorts are tight fitting to reduce wind resistance as you pedal along. Now if you are in a race this is very important. Even if you race mountain bikes or cyclocross it is still important and you may want to wear a pair of tight fitting shorts when you race these events.

However if you just ride along your local canal towpath with your family you are probably not too concerned with wind resistance. You are probably still concerned with comfort though so you still need a pair of padded shorts, just not necessarily tight ones.

Mountain bike shorts are looser than shorts worn by road bike riders. They are for protecting the cyclist if or when he/she falls rather than for aerodynamic efficiency. Also the position of the padding is a little different because mountain bikers tend to have a more upright riding position that road bikers.

If you don’t want anyone to know you have padded shorts on at all or if you want to be totally inconspicuous when you wander into your grocery store for an energy bar after biking 37 miles, you can buy a pair of baggy shorts. These are normal shorts but have a layer of padding inside.

If you have a favourite pair of shorts already that you think you would like to wear while riding your bike but do not want to get sore do not give up. You can buy a pair of padded liners that are like padded underwear. These are designed to be worn under regular shorts, thus turning any pair of a shorts or even long pants into comfortable bicycle riding gear.

Another type of bicycle padded short is called the bib short. These are shorts that are held up by a bib or shoulder straps instead of an elastic waistband. Some people prefer these because they do not feel too tight around the waist. These bib shorts may however be a little more costly.

Happy cyclist

Look After Your Shorts (and they will look after you)

Caring for the cycling shorts is essential so be certain that they’re washed often. Most may be washed in a washing machine however it is usually best to line dry them. The UV light in sunshine kills the bacteria that may survive a cool wash, both the bacteria that might have a health impact and those that cause clothes to smell.

As I said before you can research good shorts online but you do really need to try them on. All the manufacturers have a different feel to their shorts with the padding and materials used. To get the best pair of shorts for you individually you may have to try on a dozen different ones at 3 different stores. But they are going to last a long time and they are protecting some pretty important parts of your body so the time you invest in searching is time well spent.

This article was crafted by Paul Galloway, a seasoned expert, bringing years of experience and knowledge about all types of bikes. Our goal is to provide you with accurate, reliable, and valuable insights to help you make informed decisions and enhance your biking experience.

Should you have any questions or require further clarification on the topic, please feel free to connect with our expert author Paul Galloway by leaving a comment below. We value your engagement and are here to assist you.

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Paul Galloway

Paul Galloway

After years of racing and teaching cycling in Oregon and Colorado, Paul is adjusting his life-work balance by enjoying the responsibilities of being a stay at home dad, while cycling everywhere the North VA and DC area allows.


7 thoughts on “Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Padded Bike Shorts”

  1. i’m sorry, but i must vocally disagree. you even state my reason for disagreeing right in your argument — “Bicycle saddles are usually not made for comfort”; well there’s your problem then, why are you buying saddles that aren’t comfortable?

    keeping your rear end in comfort on however long a bike ride you wish to take is what the saddle is FOR. if it’s not doing its job, toss it and get one that will.

    in my not at all humble opinion, people who feel the need to pad their shorts after only thirty miles of riding (so little!) are band-aiding over the sucking chest wound of having spent too much money on a (often fancy, high-tech, “racing”) saddle that isn’t worth any, due to not being rideable in comfort for even a short daytrip like that.

    and it’s not like comfortable saddles are a new development in cycling — John Boultbee Brooks was selling perfectly good ones over a century ago. his company still is. (i’m not affiliated with them, just thankful that their products have solved this very problem for me on two separate bikes now. they’re probably not the only ones either, just one that i know works.)

    • That’s my thought exactly! I have a Specialized women’s saddle, with some firm padding but not too much and not too wide, and a nice big dent for my lady bits. I can ride 30 miles perfectly comfortably, and hope to ride 50 later this year. My “kit” comes from Target’s athletic dept. Exercise capris with flat seams and a gusset and men’s athletic tees, in short and long sleeves, that don’t look like a couple of layers of tinted plastic wrap. I also recently discovered that for longer rides, slip shorts work well in place of the underwear that chafed around the elastic.

  2. Best shorts i’ve ever had, trimbo workout shorts for women, crazy heat and sweat, thighs on fire during spin class, i lost weight initially through sweat (water loss) but weeks later genuine weight loss, only problem is they get soaked in sweat so 2 pairs really needed if u r a gym goer. Don’t know why they don’t make them for guys.

  3. Padded shorts are not necessary for every cyclist. It all depends on what bike you have and what you use your bike for.
    In the 1960s people had bikes with a sprung saddle and an upright (sit up an beg) riding position. Padded shorts hadn’t been invented at that time because they weren’t needed.
    I have a Pashley Roadster Sovereign and a Surly Cross-Check, both with Brooks B33 saddles and upright riding positions, but I don’t have any padded shorts or any other kind of padding – I don’t need it!
    Padded shorts are only needed by those cyclists who have bikes with low handlebars (and less comfortable saddles), where they ride not really sitting with their buttocks on the saddle (maybe a tiny part of their buttocks is on the saddle), but more like resting their groins on the saddle. If you want or need high speeds, then you’ll just have to sacrifice the comfort that I and many others enjoy.

  4. I am going to start this article off with a bold statement; “wearing padded cycling shorts will boost your comfort and health while riding your bicycle”.

    Not bold. Just inaccurate. A saddle that fits you will surpass any perceived “comfort” received from using the wrong saddle and a pad. Using a saddle that does not fit leads to health issues that. Padded shorts delay the discovery of an ill fitting saddle. The padding itself can create issues the human body is designed to avoid. A ill fitted saddle with thick padding can lead to decreased circulation locally and to the lower extremities. A proper fitting saddle will permit correct blood flow with or without padding.

    There been many studies completed examining the materials used, construction of the garment, and compression versus conventional fitting clothing. Research funded by and cited by the industry has found there is a significant benefit to using their products. Studies completed outside the industry show marginal gains and indicate the continuous habit of exercise far outweighs any marginal gain obtained from purchasing shorts, shirts, shoes, or any product.

    It is correct to point out that using correct equipment and materials is superior to using incorrect or ill fitting equipment and materials. But to report padded cycling shorts are essential to cycling success is not accurate and misleading.

  5. Comfort is the holy grail all cyclists seek, but correct saddle choice is more likely to make the difference than shorts. Yes, cheap shorts quite often fall short of best comfort but even cheap shorts are likely to provide adequate comfort. Not so with the saddle. Even an expensive saddle can prove to lack adequate comfort. Unfortunately one has to try a range of saddles before finding the right one for you and that may involve buying several saddles and then selling the unwanted ones on, usually at a loss. Once you find your ideal saddle I recommend buying more than one in case it goes out of production.


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