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From padding to fabric and flat stitching - here's what you need to be thinking about before choosing a pair.

Cycling shorts are a key wardrobe staple for most cyclists whether you are commuting to work, heading off on a long-distance endurance ride or getting wet and muddy on tough singletrack terrain. From figure hugging road Lycra to casual MTB baggies, there’s a style to suit every kind of rider and they are carefully designed to make your ride that much more comfortable. Here’s our guide to choosing the right pair for you...

The benefits of cycling shorts

Cycling shorts are carefully crafted to move in unison with your body whilst you ride. Over the years, heaps of research and testing has helped cycling shorts evolve into an item of clothing that will significantly improve your ride, especially if you are putting the hammer down or covering lots of miles. From high tech fabrics that will keep you comfortable and cool to ergonomic padding to absorb shocks and protect your sit bones, padded cycling shorts are well worth the investment. The primary benefits of cycling shorts are:

  • Reduced chafing
  • Shock-absorbing
  • Breathable
  • Compression qualities
  • Comfortable
  • Good movement
  • Wicking

Bib shorts vs Waist shorts

Primal Mai Tai Evo Bib | Price: £90

There are two main types of cycling shorts: bib shorts and waist shorts. Which one you choose comes down to personal preference but the pros and cons of each are: 


Bib Shorts

Waist Shorts

✓  Bib straps sit over your shoulders to hold shorts securely in place both on and off the bike

X  More risk of shorts falling down or pad moving around if the fit is not good

✓  No elasticated waist prevents discomfort on longer rides

X  Elasticated waist may dig in and cause discomfort on longer rides

X  Comfort breaks can be awkward

✓  Comfort breaks are hassle free

✓  Skin on lower back covered and kidneys kept warm

X  Risk of exposing skin on lower back if shorts are not high enough

X  Harder to get on and off

✓  Easy to put on and take off

X  More expensive

✓  Can buy high quality padding for less money

What to look for when buying padded Lycra cycling shorts 

With so many kinds of Lycra cycling shorts available to buy, picking the right style for you can be tricky. Here are the key feeatures to look out for when buying...


Lycra cycling shorts should fit close to the body and not feel baggy. They shouldn’t be so tight that they are uncomfortable but they should be tight enough that they don’t ride up the leg when you pedal as this can lead to some unpleasant chafing. A good tight fit can also provide compression benefits and help with aerodynamics. Look out for shorts with a higher panel count for optimum comfort and excellent movement. It’s worth trying on a few pairs to see which ones fit you best as sizes can vary across the different brands.


Most cycling shorts are made from a Lycra and Nylon or Polyester mix for a good close fit with lots of stretch and breathable attributes. Choose a thin Lycra for summer riding or look for fleece lined Roubaix fabric for the winter months. Some cycling shorts also come with a DWR water resistant coating for added protection from the elements. 


Nearly all cycling specific shorts have some sort of built-in padding, otherwise known as a chamois. This padding can be very thin which is good for shorter rides or, if you are planning on being in the saddle for some time, thicker padding might be a better option. Today’s pads are technically advanced and a lot of thought, testing and research goes into designing a comfortable chamois. High quality pads are well worth the extra money and are usually made up of layers of foam and gel enveloped in high wicking and breathable material for ultimate cushioning and comfort. Some cycling shorts will also feature antibacterial qualities for added well-being.  


To prevent the legs of the shorts from riding up and bunching, cycling shorts will typically have some sort of gripper around the bottom hem. This can be a hypoallergenic silicone rubber band or dots that provide grip without any discomfort against the skin.


Pay close attention to how well the cycling shorts are made and take note of the stitching. Flatlock stitching is said to prevent chafing and try to avoid stitching that is in places that might rub.

Baggy mountain biking shorts

If you’re an off-road kind of rider, Lycra cycling shorts still have their place and will keep you comfortable in the saddle as you tackle technical climbs and enjoy sweeping descents. But with lots of obstacles on the trail, low hanging branches and the odd crash here and there, a more robust outer layer will offer more protection, and this is where the baggy cycling shorts come into their own.


Baggy cycling shorts, or ‘baggies’, are designed to be worn either on their own or as a layer over the top of Lycra cycling shorts. Some baggies will have a Lycra liner with padding built in or a detachable liner so you can ride with or without the padded Lycra shorts depending on your ride. 


The fabric should be tough and durable to withstand any scuffs or scrapes. Also, look out for baggies with a DWR (Durable Water Repellent) treatment which will repel any rain or dirty water splashes to keep you drier and cleaner. 


Although baggy by design, you don’t want your mountain biking shorts slipping down whilst you move around on the bike so make sure they fit well around the waist. A good double popper with Velcro will keep the fly fastening secure and waist adjusters allow you to achieve a perfect fit. Baggies are typically long and wide in the leg so that they can go over but how long you need them will depend on your leg length so try a few pairs on for size. 

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