How to Choose A Comfortable Indoor Cycling Short | Ultimate Guide
Cycling shorts date back to the late 1800s, created for bicycle enthusiasts and racers. Initially, they were made from black knitted wool and had a leather chamois as an insert; this chamois came from the hide of a chamois (a goat-antelope located in Europe). Riders would have to apply chamois cream directly to the chamois to soften the leather worn against a rider’s skin. The chamois would eventually dry out for long-distance riding, and the friction would cause abrasions and bleeding.
Between then and today, the material in outdoor and indoor cycling shorts has seen much change from silks to synthetic fabrics like polyesters, nylons, and polypropylene. Then in the 1980s, we saw the birth of spandex, the foam chamois and bib shorts. Unfortunately, it would take over a decade for all these advancements before women-specific cycling apparel would become available.
Understand Today’s Cycling Shorts
Today we have more selection than ever before in history, yet that often leads to confusion for the new cyclist looking to equip themselves properly. There are shorts and bibs for racing, endurance, spin class, triathlon, and fashion! It’s easy to see how overwhelming the purchasing experience could be. We’re going to explore how to narrow your search and find the appropriate short or bib for your personal cycling experience.
Cycling indoors using a spin bike or turbo trainer usually means pedaling in warmer conditions; unless you have a life size fan, you’re going to sweat more and run a higher core temperature than if you were riding outside. For these rides, choose a thin fabric with ventilation ports or panels. If you’re cycling at home, which is likely more private, you can opt for a short 5-inch inseam. However, stick with the regular 7-inch or an even longer 9-inch inseam if you prefer to cover your thighs.
Remember Not All Chamois Are Alike
Are you riding for an hour or three? Depending on the duration of your ride depends on the thickness of your chamois. An ergonomic chamois with additional padding in the sit-bone areas makes all the difference in comfort for longer workouts. Because you are seated longer when cycling indoors, this means you will sustain more pressure on the sit bones and soft-tissue areas. However, if your indoor workout is short, consisting of out-of-saddle pedaling, almost any short or bib will do.
As you shop, you will run into advertisements that mention 3D or 4D chamois; this refers to the number of density layers. For example, a 4D chamois will have four density layers for extra padding at the sit bones area but only one layer contours the groin. Having a thick chamois would feel good while sitting, but as you begin pedaling, the chamois would fall off either side of the indoor bike saddle and cause friction. Quality chamois are contoured and ergonomic, specifically for the anatomy of each gender.
Much like the difference between boys’ and girls’ diapers that you buy in a store, the men’s chamois are longer and narrower than the shorter and broader chamois designed for women. If a man wears a pair of women’s shorts or bibs, he will likely feel very exposed in the front because the padding wouldn’t cover his tender areas. Whereas women would feel additional pressure in their soft tissue, and because their sit bones are typically more expansive, they would not feel the benefits of the extra padding in the sit bone areas.
Know How to Wear Cycling Shorts
No matter the choice in short or bib, they are all designed to be worn against the skin. In other words, think of your shorts as underwear; therefore, it’s a good idea to own more than one pair. Wearing underwear with a couple of cycling shorts defeats the purpose of the chamois because it’s not just for padding but also to keep the sweat away from your skin. The salt from your effort, plus the moisture and movement in pedaling, is a formula for abrasions and saddle sores. Spin bike saddle sores are painful skin lesions that only heal from time off the bike and often include topical medical cream. Instead, opt for no underwear in the shorts. For longer rides, you can apply chamois cream directly to skin that contacts the chamois.
Learn What is Chamois Cream and How to Use
Chamois cream is a thick or dense anti-bacterial cream that minimizes the friction of the skin and the material of the chamois. There are many types of chamois cream, tubs, and tubes with all-natural and sometimes edible ingredients (though we don’t recommend eating any chamois cream). Due to the different PH between men and women, there are gender-specific creams available. The best way to learn which cream is suitable for you is to first check the ingredients for any allergens and then try some; most companies will offer sample-size packets for you to try.
Understanding Stitching in Indoor Cycling Shorts
In addition to the chamois, the construction of the short varies in different price points and use. Shorts consist of panels of fabric sewn together that sit directly against the skin. It is essential to have a garment that wicks the moisture away from the skin, preventing chafing or abrasions. Equally important is how the fabric panels stitch together; when the stitching is flat-locked, it lays flat against the skin, reducing the chance of irritation.
Compression Panels and How They Aid in Recovery
For high-intensity workouts, choosing a short or bib with compression panels that tightly hug the muscles and ultimately aid in recovery is an option. Material that compresses the body can increase the blood flowing from the legs to the heart, help prevent cramping and fatigue during a ride, plus further delay DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) for the day after a ride. Compression panels can also help athletes who experience circulation and nerve issues.
While the characteristics mentioned above are essential for function, what about fit? Cycling shorts can feel good, but nobody wants to look like a stuffed sausage in a stretch material that hugs the body. Avoid a thin elastic on the hem of the short legs because they will give the squished sausage look. There are many options for the hem: an elastic band with silicon strip or laser-cut with grippy fabric. The wider hem will look flattering and won’t pinch and bunch the skin. Plus, having no restriction on the hem is essential for anyone with varicose veins.
Bibs or Shorts for Cycling Indoors
Athletes with little body fat can look good in almost anything, but what about the rest of us? For cyclists with a tummy, having either wide, high-waisted shorts or cycling bib shorts will prove more flattering and feel comfortable as they bend forward riding. The waistbands on shorts can dig into the stomach while bib shorts snug the body even when sprinting out of the saddle. Additionally, the shoulders on the bib short ensure the garment won’t pull down the backside. When trying on a pair of bibs, the shoulder straps should gently hug the shoulders when you bend forward. If the straps are too tight, they will push into the skin and irritate it, whereas if the straps are too loose, they will irritate you and move around as you move around on the bike.
The worst feeling is buyer remorse after purchasing a pair of shorts or bibs that do not fit or perform well. You should now have enough knowledge to help you narrow down your search when you purchase your next pair of cycling shorts or bibs for your indoor and outdoor riding experience. Choose your next pair of cycling shorts or cycling bibs based on ride duration, workout type, weather, and body size. Also, it’s better to buy gender-specific indoor cycling clothing. There are men’s indoor cycling shorts and women’s indoor cycling shorts available on the market. Not just how they look, but the chamois padding is also different for men and women.
Written by Ryan Petersen, an NCCP Cycling Coach and IBFI and Retul Level 2 Bike Fitter and a 15-year veteran in bicycle retail and distribution. She has coached beginner and intermediate athletes in road cycling, mountain biking and indoor cycling. She has competed in road cycling, triathlon, cyclocross, ultra endurance cycling, downhill and cross-country but her heart belongs to bike packing and cycle touring. She is shade-grown on the west coast of beautiful British Columbia, Canada.