Not only were old padded bike shorts made of wool, they also used sheep skin for the chamois. I suspect the local sheep herd didn’t like losing their locks for the wool. But it was the sheep skin chamois that they really balked at.
Sometime within our lifetime modern bicycling shorts replaced old wool cycling shorts with space age materials.
Besides having a little fun, this page will cover everything you need to know about biking shorts: both comfort and function.
One of my riding buddies was recalling the bad old days of wool bike shorts. He remembered that it was critical to wash them in cold water if you ever wanted to squeeze into them again.
Even so, after a series of washings they crept up higher and higher, squeezing the life out of your legs.
Wash your wool bike shorts too many times and you’d be wearing a rather fuzzy pair of Speedos.
Here’s A Video On What To Look For When Buying Bike Shorts!
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An Upgrade In Padded Bike Shorts Materials
The most obvious change is also the most revealing. In fact it is the revealing nature of the stretchy material known as spandex that makes beginner cyclists most nervous. Lycra is the most common brand of spandex.
Usually these stretchy materials are made in either six ounce or eight ounce. FYI, the former weighs six ounces per square yard. The latter weighs in at eight ounces per yard.
There isn’t a dramatic difference in the two weights. The eight ounce costs more and grips the cyclist’s massive quads a bit tighter. Nudists reluctantly prefer the six ounce and are known to ask if bike shorts are ever made in one ounce spandex.
Six Panel Padded Bike Shorts vs. Eight Panel Padded Bike Shorts
Since early cycling shorts were made of inflexible materials, it was useful to sew them up using a lot of panels. Doing it this way allowed the bike shorts to conform more closely to the cyclist’s chiseled hind quarters.
Using eight panels made for a more form-fitting pair of padded bike shorts.
Trying to cut down on the seamstress bill by using six panels resulted in a less expensive, but lower quality pair of shorts.
HOWEVER…now that we’re wearing materials that could even stretch around E. Norma Butt’s gluteals, the number of panels isn’t nearly as important. That being said, eight panel designs are used in the higher quality products.
So What’s The Pricing On These Babies?
This gets us to the issue of price. It’s really quite simple, except if you figure in amortization.
You see, if your $150 bike shorts last for six seasons and your $30 shorts last for one season your expensive pair is really more economical than the cheap pair. It’s really very simple. But there’s another wrinkle thrown into the equation. What’s that?
Because none of the experts can tell you if the expensive bike shorts will really last six times longer, consumers suspect that the advice givers are blowing smoke out their tailpipe. And that’s not good for the chamois in their padded bike shorts.
One way to get a head start on the issue of value is to start out by getting high end shorts at discounted prices. I said it earlier, but it bears repeating. You can get $79.99 shorts for $29.99 at a place like Bike Nashbar. Or you can get $129.99 bib shorts for $49.99.
Leg Lengths and ‘Style’
Leg lengths go up and leg lengths go down. Long leg lengths give you a ‘cyclist’s tan’. After wearing long cycling shorts you run the risk of public ridicule at the beach while wearing a swim suit. Your tan line is exposed and the humiliation may cause you to shrink from engaging in meaningful public contact. There is nothing quite as pathetic as an isolated cyclist at the beach.
Actually as long as your shorts aren’t so short that your leg skin isn’t rubbing on your saddle, you can choose any length you want.
Waist Length, Waist Bands, and Leg Grippers
Don’t forget that padded bike shorts are designed for function, not style. Therefore they don’t work well when you’re standing up straight in your local bike store, trying them on. The waist is cut to be high in the back and low in the front. Consider them to be the ultimate statement against Plumber’s Crack.
But bend over into the cycling position, and presto! They fit like a glove.
Waist bands should be wider than a guitar string so that they don’t cut into your sensitive abdomen (gut). I have a pair of Hind shorts that have a draw string that at first blush appears to be a problem. But the clever guys at Hind made it to be stretchy so its A-OK.
Leg Grippers are a rubber type material that keep the legs on the shorts from riding up. A couple of the cheap pairs that I bought about ten years ago (now that’s value) have thin leg grippers that are uncomfortable enough to cause me to turn the end of the leg inside out.
Now that I’m a hotshot, my premium priced biking shorts have comfortably wide leg grippers. You can determine if you’ve purchased the right leg grippers after you’ve ridden enough miles to eliminate the possibility of returning the shorts for a refund.
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What About Those Funky Bib Shorts?
Bib shorts keep the crotch liner snug up against the crotch.
They also cost more and make it difficult to urinate while riding. Well actually not exactly while riding, but more accurately when taking a break during a ride.
Both non-bib shorts and bib shorts perform equally well with regard to actually urinating while riding.
And Now For The Most Important Issue of All….
That All Important Padded Bike Shorts Chamois Insert
It could be argued that the entire function of the bike short is to house the crotch liner and to keep the liner successfully aligned between the saddle and the unseemly parts. While the choice of materials in the past was the skin of a sheep, things have changed.
Modern materials don’t dry out, crack and generally cause as many problems as they solve, as did the chamois (plural- you supply the correct plural form) of old.
The modern chamois is designed to cover any inside seams in the padded bike short.
Additionally, look at the shape of the liner’s cut.
Does the cutout arc seem to match the cross section of your powerful quadricep? Thick linings may not be the most comfortable because there isn’t a whole lot of extra space down there for unnecessary material.
Beware of non-breathable inserts like gel pads. If they don’t breath (well, no one should really claim that the crotch actually inhales and exhales) moisture will build up and result in irritation much like a diaper rash.
Which reminds me.
My wife keeps telling me that when I walk around in padded bike shorts it looks like there is a diaper sticking out the back. I just reply…“Depends“.
Think you’re now a ‘bike shorts’ expert?
Take our short 10 question quiz to see where you stand. (don’t worry, we don’t collect your email, social security number, or mother’s maiden name…it’s just for fun.) Go to the bike shorts quiz page.