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Are Cycling Shorts Worth the Money?

cycling shorts costOne of the annoying consequences of the overall joy of cycling is the dreaded ‘sore butt’. If you’ve ever had it, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

The scenario where you have just arrived at your destination and are trying really hard not to walk like a penguin. You can’t sit down comfortably anymore and need a couple of days before you feel back to normal.

Most cyclists have suffered from it at some point or another, and it’s not a nice feeling to have to take a break from cycling for a while to recover.

One of the easiest ways to reduce the chances of this happening to you, is to use cycling shorts.

In short, are cycling shorts worth the money?

Yes they most definitely are, but only if you cycle for long enough or often enough. And investing in a really good quality pair means they will last you for years to come. 

Do I really need them?

When deciding if you need to bother with cycling shorts or not, there a few thing to consider:

  • The distance and frequency of your rides
  • The type of bike and saddle you have

The Distance and Frequency of your Rides

This is going to be the biggest determining factor. Let’s break it down…

Up to 5 miles…

For very short distances of up to 5 miles, you probably won’t feel any discomfort at all from riding in just ordinary clothes, especially if it’s only once or twice a week. But here’s something to bear in mind. The new cyclist will not have developed a tolerance for the cycle seat in the right areas just yet.

When I first started to cycle, I was riding around 6 miles at a time, and I felt sore afterwards. I decided that a pair of cycling shorts were needed and asked my cycle buddies which ones I should buy.

They told me to be patient and see if I still felt I needed them after a few sessions.

They were right. After a few sessions, I didn’t feel the need to use cycling shorts because my body had gotten used to the distance and I didn’t feel sore anymore.

It may be worth going without cycling shorts for a while until you have given your body enough time to get used to the saddle.

Up to 10 miles…

If you are doing anything more than about 5 miles, you will probably find that some cycling shorts will make your ride more comfortable and reduce the likelihood saddle soreness, especially if you’re riding more than twice a week.

More than 15 miles…

Once you are cycling more than 15 miles, you want to really think about buying the most comfortable and best fitting pair you can afford. It will make a huge difference to your comfort levels and reduce the need for recovery time afterwards.

The Type of Bike and Saddle you have

The type of saddle and bike you have will make a difference to how sore you get and how quickly. Bikes that sit you in a more upright position will give you less soreness.

Getting a proper bike fit will ensure you are in the most comfortable position possible for your bike, and this will reduce the likelihood of feeling sore too quickly.

There are certain saddles that you can fit onto your bike that reduce the discomfort you get. This might be worth considering if you use your bike to ride around town to run errands and don’t have the time or lifestyle to think about getting kitted out before every cycle journey.

Having a padded out seat will mean extra comfort for you, but bear in mind that different seats will feel different from person to person, so it’s best to try before you buy.

What kind of shorts should I buy?

There are 2 main types available on the market:

Shorts – These are the traditional shorts style. They have the advantage of being easy to put on and take off, making toilet breaks easy, but they have a tendency to move out of place sometimes which can be pretty annoying in the middle of a ride. Some people also find that the elasticated waist band is not too comfortable.

Bibs – These are basically shorts held up with braces rather than a waistband. They stay in place far better and don’t dig in at the waist, keeping you comfortable during your entire ride. Most serious cyclists prefer bibs, and are willing to put up with the inconvenient toilet breaks and extra hassle of getting changed out of them, in exchange for the comfort they feel when they ride.

As you can see, there are definite advantages to buying bibs over shorts, but it’s not really worth spending on bibs if your journeys are only short. In that case, just go for a good quality pair of cycling shorts and it will keep you comfortable for long enough.

What to Look for when Buying your First Pair…

Here’s a few pointers:

  • They should fit you nice and snug, and be most comfortable when you are in a cycling position.
  • When choosing a size you must go with your body measurement, not your clothing size. Once you find a brand that fits you comfortably, with padding in all the right places for you, it will be easy for you shop for bibs or shorts online. But for a first time buyer, I suggest going to a shop and trying on different brands and types, to get a feel for what you want.
  • They should have a good grip on the legs so that they stay in place and don’t ride up.
  • They should have moisture-wicking properties to help keep you cool and comfortable.

How Much Should I Spend?

It goes without saying that the longer the distance, and the more frequent your rides, the more you will probably want to spend on your shorts.

You do get what you pay for when it comes to this arena.

Anything up to about 10 miles of riding, and you can probably buy from the mid-priced range of cycling shorts.

Doing longer rides however, such as more than 15 miles would make it necessary to have a good quality pair of cycling shorts. Going for the higher price range would mean getting a pair with all the relevant features.

Check out my Recommended Gear page for more information on what to look for when buying cycling shorts.

Other Things to Bear in Mind…

  • They should be worn sans underwear! Cycling shorts just won’t serve their purpose if you wear your underwear under them. The seams in your underwear will cause chafing and defeat the purpose of the shorts. Don’t do it! (Don’t worry, nobody will know!)
  • You tend to get what you pay for. It may take some trial and error before you find the perfect pair but once you do, it is revolutionary to your cycling ride! Cheap ones will definitely do the job for shorter journeys, but most people find themselves upgrading after some time to a better pair. The extra money for a good quality pair is definitely worth it, because when it comes to cycling shorts, you do get what you pay for.

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