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Five Reasons Why Padded Bike Shorts Will Save Your Butt

Wednesday, August 27, 2014


Photo credits: Richard Masoner (CC BY-SA 2.0) creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Among urban cyclists nothing rings the fashion police alarm faster than padded cycling shorts. After all, no one who isn’t a snooty elite road racer wants to look like one on their way to work or the pub for a beer.

But padded bike shorts—also known as chamois (pronounced shammy)—offer health and comfort benefits that are hard to beat. If your daily commute is just a couple of miles long, you may never need these benefits, but if you experience discomfort in your nether regions, you might want to consider giving a chamois a try.

Here’s 10 reasons why:

1. Wearing padded bike shorts helps protect tender inner thigh area from the repetitive friction of the legs against the bicycle’s seat. Even the thinnest cyclist’s thighs are likely to rub against the frame or saddle. If you wear jeans, that thick inseam can get annoying. Add short shorts or a skirt, and now your skin is in direct contact with the saddle with every pedal stroke.

2. The stretchy lycra fabric compresses the legs which can help reduce muscle fatigue. While riding your Electra cruiser fiveblocks to the corner store to pick up a pint of Ben & Jerry’s won’t necessarily wear you out, venturing out for a fitness or recreational ride places different demands on your body. If you’ve never ridden more than 10 miles in a single session, consider picking up some padded shorts before you take on the 40 Mile Loop around Portland.

3. Prevents rashes by wicking sweat away from skin. Your body sweats all over, but more so in areas such as the armpits and groin. In open, flat areas of the body such as the arms and torso, sweat evaporates more easily. The materials in the shorts and chamois help move moisture away from areas where the skin folds, such as between the legs and buttocks, where rashes are common for cyclists. I know… eww. But, seriously. No one wants monkey butt.

4. Improves comfort during long rides by padding the entire periogenital region, reducing pressure on sensitive nerves and tissues.

5. The form-fitting design and sleek material are more aerodynamic. This may not mean much if you’re just riding from your home office to the coffee shop 2 miles away. But then again…when faced with an all-out caffeine withdrawal headache, you may want those extra 30 seconds on your side.

To be sure, not all shorts are created equal. The pads come in a variety of shapes, styles and thicknesses to suit the needs of different riders. Quality shorts feature legs which are lined with an elastic or silicone grip at the cuff, which holds the material in a set position on your leg, eliminating the tendency of the fabric to ride up the leg, bunching at the top of the thigh.

Most bike shorts are made from numerous panels of fabrics; generally speaking, the higher the number of panels used, the greater the comfort—and expense. Don’t be fooled into thinking thicker padding means better quality; the best chamois have sculpted areas of variable thickness. For the average urban rider a chamois with a little extra thickness toward the back, where the sit bones land is best. If you ride a more aggressive road riding position on your bike, look for even thickness (usually less thick overall).

Chafing is uncomfortable enough, but when you add heat, moisture and bacteria, you’ve got the perfect storm of conditions for the dreaded saddle sore—a painful boil-like eruption on the skin that can make it all but impossible to ride your bike, sometimes for weeks. The best chamois are anatomically shaped, aren’t too thick, and feature an antimicrobial coating such as bacteriostatic carbon, which reduces the tendency to collect germs.

Still wouldn’t be caught dead in a pair of sleek back stretchy shorts, but want to be more comfortable on your rides? A few manufacturers offer stealth options so you can pad up under your slacks or skirts for riding comfort.

Club Ride makes two choices available to ladies with their Damselcham boy-cut brief or Jewel bikini cut for ladies. For guys, there’s the Gunslinger, a traditional cycling short fit, or the Johnson, which provides a looser boxer-type brief.

In summary: If you do short city jaunts on your bike of fewer than 10 miles or so and have no problems with chafing, rashes or numbness you’re probably fine without a chamois. If you experience any of these discomforts, consider riding immediately over to your local bike shop and purchasing some padded shorts. They could just make the difference between sham-ow and sham-wow.

Üma Kleppinger is a Portland-based copy writer and advocate for full-contact anti-bummer living. She is a recovering sesquipedalian who writes about life in the saddle and outdoor adventure. She is also the author of BikeYoga, a yoga program for cyclists. When not writing, she can be found riding and racing her mountain bike throughout the Pacific Northwest.


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