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How to Choose Cycling Shorts
By Fred Matheny and Ed Pavelka of www.RoadBikeRider.com
You should choose road-cycling shorts based on the quality of materials and construction. But also crucial is how well they conform to your unique anatomy. Sometimes a relatively inexpensive pair may work better for you than a high-zoot model.
Shorts, like saddles, are tough to recommend because of differences in butts, crotches, seats and riding positions. Every rider has to try on shorts, buy the model/size that fits snugly but comfortably, then hope for the best on the bike. It's hit or miss, and some luck is involved. Just as with saddles, there is no universal answer.
That said, here are guidelines that'll point you toward better choices.
the more expensive the shorts, the higher the quality. Avoid cheap shorts
because the material and construction may be substandard. They may be sewn
from only 4 or 6 pieces ("panels"), which won't give you the best anatomical
fit. The padded liner ("chamois") may not be large enough, soft enough or sewn
without irritating seams. Cheap shorts aren't as durable, either, so in the
long run they really aren't a bargain. When touring and washing shorts by
hand, wringing can break threads and blow out seams if the manufacturer cut
corners on quality.
Panels. The more
the better. Usually, 8-panel shorts conform to your body better than those
made from fewer pieces. Better manufacturers use flat-seam stitching so
additional panels won't result in abrasion or other discomforts.
liners are synthetic nowadays (not real chamois leather). That's a good thing
because the material can't dry, crack and cause more irritation than it
prevents. A large, smooth, absorbent, one-piece, moderately padded liner has
the best chance of feeling comfortable. Liners that have seams, grooves,
distinct sections and/or a waffle-like texture may work fine for you -- or
maybe not. There's no way of knowing for sure before riding. Beware of thick
padding, which can bunch and chafe. Also problematic are gel inserts. Because
they're in plastic compartments, moisture transfer can be blocked, causing
excessive dampness and skin irritation.
Leg length. This
goes up and down like hem lengths in the fashion world. Long, so-called
"Belgian" shorts will be in style for a while, putting the legs just above the
knee. Then the pendulum swings the other way. Short shorts, like those
marketed for spinning classes, are favored by riders who want to avoid tan
lines that show when wearing casual shorts. But they shouldn't be so short
that the nose of the saddle rubs on bare skin.
Proper cycling shorts are cut high in back to keep skin covered in the
bent-over riding position. Likewise, they are low in front so you can bend
forward without restriction. The front shouldn't be so low, though, that it's
below your hip bones with nothing to help hold it up.
Waist band. The
elastic should be wide enough that it doesn't feel like a cord around your
middle. Some manufacturers add a drawstring. Just elastic is fine. Just a
drawstring is not. If that's the only thing keeping shorts in place, you'll
feel restricted in certain positions or when breathing deeply.
Nothing is more frustrating than shorts that ride up and let material bunch in
the crotch. Check the leg grippers to be sure they're wide, made of "sticky"
rubber-like material and securely sewn in. The legs should feel comfortably
snug, not tight.
shorts are made of a stretchy fabric generically called spandex. They're easy
to pull on and don't feel like you're wearing a 19th century corset. On the
other hand, you may come across shorts with fabric that purposely resists
stretching. The idea is to provide help to your pedal stroke. The fabric
"stores" kinetic energy on the rear part of the stroke and releases it when
you push down. This concept is also used in competition suits for weight
lifters. I'm not aware of any studies that prove a benefit for cyclists.
Bibs. Shorts with
built-in shoulder straps can't sag. They keep the chamois snug against the
crotch to limit movement and irritation. For men, this prevents the chance of
things moving out of place when pedaling out of the saddle. However, the high
front makes it difficult for guys to urinate. (Some prefer to roll up one leg
instead of contorting to pull down the front.) Women usually prefer shorts
without bibs so they don't have to remove their jersey to take what cycling
Liggett calls a "natural break." Bib shorts are more expensive than standard
Size. It's best to
try on shorts before buying them. Sizing varies among manufacturers. Fred is
5-foot-10 and just under 160 pounds, but wears size XL in some shorts while M
is too big in others. Some U.S. manufacturers have noticed the "plumping of
America" and cut their clothing bigger. It's risky to buy shorts by mailorder
unless you're replacing a model and size you've worn before.
Overall fit. In general,
snugger is better. You don't want any uncomfortable restriction, but you do
want the shorts to stay exactly in place. Remember that properly designed
cycling shorts will look a bit baggy in the butt when you're standing in front
of the dressing room mirror. Then crouch forward into the riding position and
watch them mold to your body.
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