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How to solve the great mystery of a painful bike seat

Bike shorts are your first line of defense for a sore bike butt. Butt why is that? Should I get a new bike seat? How much should I spend on bike shorts? Shorts or Bibs? Do I really need to look like a bike dork to save my behind? Let's dig into this cheeky situation, shall we? And yes, I’m a Dad and licensed in butt puns.

What are bike shorts?

Bike shorts come in a variety of styles. Most are probably familiar with the tight fitting, spandex, lycra stuff that “real” bikers wear. Bike shorts do come in a variety of styles though including a baggy short which is popular with the mountain bike crew and also as a liner (think: underwear) that you can wear under an existing pair of shorts.

The real key to bike shorts isn’t necessarily the tight stuff, but the pad, or chamois, that’s in them. Sure, the material the shorts are made of can offer breathability, sweat transfer, and even aerodynamic benefits, but when it comes to a sore tush the pad is main cure.

Tell me more about this pad, or chamois

Up till around the 1950s bike shorts were made of wool or cotton and featured a chamois made from leather featuring animals like sheep and deer. Wasn’t great for padding, but it prevented the chaffing from the saddle and wool shorts. Ouch! It wasn’t till the 70’s that lycra shorts became a thing, and it took 1980 to create the first padded, nonleather chamois. Chamois creams also transitioned from a tool to soften the leather, to skin and chaffing protection. Today’s bike short pads are typically synthetic materials, resemble foam padding, and are flexible and foam fitting. It’s a pad that moves with you, protects soft tissue, makes riding comfortable.

Should I get a new bike seat first?

We often advise our customers to first try a pair of bike shorts before looking at a saddle swap. Reason being that bike shorts contain a pad that’s designed to move with you and your legs/hips no matter where you’re at on your bike seat. If you ride a variety of bikes a pair of shorts makes even more sense. The saddle is there to hold you and offer support, the bike shorts and pad is there to provide comfort and protection. One note though, if your saddle is seriously bugging you have a bike professional take a look at your saddle positioning. An adjustment to your saddle could be all you need.

How much should I spend on bike shorts?

Great question! Before we talk dollars, I’d first advise you to look for fit. An expensive pair of shorts won’t be worth much to you if the fit is off. Try on a few pairs of shorts from different manufacturers to see what feels the best for you. Do remember that bike shorts are meant to fit when you’re riding a bike, sitting on a seat, and bent over a little at the hips. They may feel like a big diaper when standing straight up.

For pricing, most bike short manufacturers make shorts at different price points. $70, $100, $130 for example. A simple way to look at this is equating the price of the short to how long you’re going to be in the saddle. Going for an hour ride? An inexpensive, well-fitting short could be all you need. Hitting that century ride with your buddies? It’s time to invest in a great pair of shorts and some creams or lubes for the pad and those sensitive bits.

Holy cow these shorts are expensive!

Yes, for shorts, they are. But these are more than just shorts. Consider what you’re asking the bike short and pad to do for you. You’re going to be moving your legs up and down, riding over bumps, with a stiff saddle between your legs for one, two, maybe six or more hours! The only thing protecting your soft tissue from that mean, jack hammer of a saddle is the pad you decide to sit on. Saddle sores are no joke and anyone who has experienced that kind of pain can tell you! Investing in protection here is well worth it, and that’s what a bike short can do for you.

Shorts or Bibs?

For most, their first pair of bike shorts will typically be shorts. They’re cheaper, easy to get on and off, and who wants to wear suspenders? We do have a saying around the shop though. Once you go bibs you won’t go back. Should everyone go bibs? Nope, it’s still up to what fits you best and what kind of riding you’ll be doing.

10-20 years ago bike shorts weren’t as advanced as they are now. Waist bands were tight and would fold your tummy over them. Leg cuffs were also thin and tight and could make you look like an overstuffed sausage. These days waist bands on shorts can be over an inch wide and leg cuffs are much wider, grippier, and less constrictive. A short CAN be comfortable. Where a bib shines though is the feeling that you don’t have a waist band at all. It also keeps the shorts up so that the cracks stay on the road instead of your back side.

Convinced?

Bike shorts are a must have for anything over the “I’m just going to zip to the store” ride. And If walking around the coffee shop in your padded underwear doesn’t' appeal to you know that bike shorts come in a variety of styles, many look just like your average short. Bike short lines are another simple way to get the padding you need and be able to wear your favorite pair of shorts right on top. Give a pair of padded bike shorts a try and you just may find yourself spending even more time in the saddle and enjoying it that much more.

The staff of Gear West love being on two wheels. What’s their advice?

“Why bib shorts? They stay in place! And yes, they are a pain at bathroom breaks. That is why I like all black straps because I just wear them outside my jersey and think the whole look is rather cool. (white straps look like underwear to me). Don’t forget the chamois cream!” - Jan

“Cycling shorts offer extra comfort (and less chaffing) for any length bike ride. I prefer bib shorts because they seem to help keep the pad in the right place (and you don't have to worry about your shorts sliding down!).” - Brett

“I prefer bibs because I have never found a pair of shorts with a super comfortable waistband. The way bibs distribute pressure on my stomach with the suspender straps has always felt better to me – especially when logging long miles.” - Jenny

“Bike shorts and bibs don’t have a waist band or draw string to dig into your gut. In addition, the shorts come up over your waist line to cover up your backside when in aero. I typically go bibs. I only wear shorts when drinking is the goal of the bike ride.“ - Drew

“Most of my favorite bands from the 80s rocked some serious tight pants. Bike shorts are my personal tribute to hair rock” - Sean

“I have a variety of shorts, and I know which distance each one is good for. When it’s 4+ hour ride day it’s Castelli time! Followed by donut time.” - Ben

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