How to choose cycling shorts – First, is it your style?
A short is not a short. Or is it? It can be confusing. Is a $150 pair of cycling shorts going to make you a better rider, or will the $79 pair keep you just as comfortable?
Certainly everything is a matter of degree, but there are distinct differences when it comes to the construction and use of cycling shorts. We suggest that you find yourself below, then evaluate shorts and their features/benefits based on the type of riding you’d like to be able to do.
- Performance: ride hard, long distances (50+ miles; 3+ hours) and challenging terrain; race, tri, mountain bike. Plan to spend $80+ on a performance-level pair of shorts.
- Touring: long distances (50+ miles; 3+ hours) and multiple days in a row; bike touring with overnights away from home (and washing machine), cross country riding, centuries and life by bike. Again, plan to spend $80+ on touring shorts.
- Fitness/Fun: 10-40 miles (1-3 hours) per ride in a variety of conditions and temperatures; around town, events, group rides, commuting, bike paths, weekend outings, spinning/gym use. You can find good quality bike shorts from $50+.
Cycling short construction – what’s the right number of panels?
The more panels in the construction of your cycling shorts, the more sculpted the fit becomes and the lower the potential for chafing. However, more panels also means more sewing and higher cost. Here’s the general rule of thumb:
- Performance: 6+ panels
- Touring: 6-8 panels
- Fitness/Fun: 4-6 panels
How to choose cycling shorts based on the fabric.
Look for fabrics that are moisture wicking, fast drying, nice feeling against the skin. There are so many different fabric blends available in sportswear today, but they can and do differ in their levels of moisture control, texture and compression.
- Performance cycling shorts typically use higher compression fabrics. The more spandex, the more compression (which can help improve muscle efficiency/recovery) and the tighter the fit of the short. Fabrics also vary based on the specific technical needs. Tri shorts, for example, require fabrics that can provide UV protection, withstand the effects of chlorine and air dry quickly.
- Touring shorts really require the best moisture wicking, quick dry fabrics so you can spend all day in them, launder at night and potentially use the next day. Synthetics are used in bike shorts to aid in moisture transfer – the key to staying dry and comfortable.
- Fitness/Fun shorts can run the gamut when it comes to fabric. It’s important that it has some degree of spandex so the shorts will retain their shape and it’s also important to avoid any blends with cotton (which retains moisture).
The most important part of your cycling short choice – the chamois.
The heart and soul of any cycling short is its chamois. It’s a significant part of the construction and the cost of the short. It can make all the difference on a ride, so it’s important that you end up with your soulmate here. These are the things to consider when evaluating the differences between shorts with different chamois:
- Ventilation and moisture control (super critical for Touring). Due to proximity to lady parts, antibacterial and bacteriostatic fabric surface treatments are also important to evaluate.
- Four-way stretch that allows your chamois to move with you, providing comfort while pedaling (particularly important for long distances, high pedaling cadences and long hours). Elastic Interface® Technology is the standard and is the patented technology from Italy used in our Flex and Flex Air chamois.
- Unpadded wings reduce bulk through the center of the chamois which means greater freedom of movement and less potential for inner thigh chafing. You won’t find this anywhere other than Terry – it’s a unique feature of our Flex and Flex Air chamois on Touring and Performance shorts.
- Seamless construction (for all riders). No seams mean less irritation and abrasion. Most chamois are seamlessly molded with varying densities of foam, strategically placed for maximum comfort and support of your sit bones.
How to choose the best leg banding for your ideal cycling shorts.
The devices used in keeping cycling shorts from riding up have really come a long way. No longer do you have to accept the sausage casing look or feel. Historically, elastic banding has been the norm but there are new silicone-based grip tape, soft woven elastic, wide power lycra bands and additional gripper-free alternatives. No matter what level rider or short you’re looking for, you can find a range of options. In general:
- Gripper with silicone is the most secure, most restrictive, tightest feeling, used in Performance and Touring shorts.
- Enclosed elastic in the hemline is old school but secure, not as tight feeling. Used primarily in Fitness/Fun level shorts.
- High compression banding is found in Performance-level shorts and provides a low level of security, definitely not tight feeling against the lower thigh.
Now you know how to choose cycling shorts perfectly matched to your needs, browse our complete selection of bike shorts for women here. We have added the ability to choose the features most important to you and narrow the selection of bike shorts to the ones that match – check it out!
Check out our “how to choose” articles on cycling tights and cycling knickers, and if you find this information helpful please share!
Carol Campbell says
I was wondering if there is a varying thickness (or fabric) used for the chamois or is shape the only issue?
Colin D. says
Thank you for a great question.
There is quite a lot of variation between the different chamois inserts in our shorts – things like thickness, choice of foam or other material, density of the material, antimicrobial properties, edge profile, as well as shape.
The chamois is always selected to suit the expected use and requirements for each of our shorts, so a high end performance short would need a different chamois than a more economical short for a casual rider, for example.
This page on our website features photos and descriptions of all the different chamois in our current shorts/bottoms: terrybicycles.com/ChamoisGuide.