Finding the right bike gear for you is always a tough process, whether you’re a new rider or you’ve been at it for decades – and the truth is it’s probably tougher if you’ve been riding for a long time. Well, we get it. Our goal is to sort through the details and strip out just the information that most matters to you. When we look at products, we measure them according to six weighted factors and remove as much subjectivity as possible.
Why Special Shorts?
So why do you even need a pair of dorko cycling short? Won’t a pair of baggy mountain bike shorts or even a pair of basketball shorts work? Sure. The most important part of cycling is the engine (your legs and heart, let’s say). But if you intend to do a ton of riding and want to do it comfortably while optimizing speed, cycling specific shorts are going to help get you there. They have padding best suited to hard, fast riding and materials that offer tight, aerodynamic fits that also help wick away sweat to keep you cool and dry.
Most athletic gear is made of materials picked for their breathability and their ability to wick sweat away from the skin to evaporate on the outside of the fabric. Merino Wool is a natural variety of this kind of fabric, but nylon, polyester, and spandex are all synthetic varieties that are usually found in athletic shorts. You don’t need a bike-specific short to go for a bike ride — as a kid, you probably didn’t gear up before hopping on your bike (we’ve all seen the Facebook memes pining for the good ‘ol days before anyone wore helmets). However, once you get into the world of cycling and you get serious about riding far and hard, you need some protection between you and the saddle.
Both roadies and mountain bikers wear shorts that have a chamois in them. They’re usually foam or gel padding, true chamois is a fine leather made from a European mountain goat or some other type of wild ungulate and real chamois hasn’t been commonly used in riding shorts for many decades. Ever taken leather Timberlands out to do work and had it rain or had to work in water puddles and waited for those things to dry the next day (they become craggy, hard, and unworkable)? Just image the superior comfort offered by sweat-hardened leather strategically placed directly under the weight-bearing contact points of your unmentionables.
Roadie padding is usually more ergonomically shaped, designed for an aggressive forward position. This prevents fabric from bunching up, which would create serious discomfort in the saddle. This is also why the chamois is bowed — you can’t lay the chamois flat on the ground. The chamois is usually fixed in place and positioned toward the front of the bib or short, unlike mountain bike chamois, which are often on removable liners and in the middle of the short.
The fit of tight cycling shorts is another distinguishing factor. Unlike baggy mountain biking shorts, form-fitting Lycra reigns supreme, and a tight, aerodynamic fit is the norm. This creates less friction on the road bike when you are in one position for longer periods of time. It also decreases wind drag, allowing you to cut the air in a more streamlined fashion. Baggy mountain bike shorts focus on protection from falls and unrestricted movement with a looser-fitting short.