Bike Shop Girl | Women’s Cycling Short Basics
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Women’s Cycling Short Basics

Women’s Cycling Short Basics

Cycling clothing can be very daunting, especially when you see how tight the shorts and jerseys fit.  The shorts feel like they have a built in diaper and may cause “sausage rolls” due to them squeezing a bit too tight.   Here’s some input on shorts, what to look for and why they cost so much money!

A few questions to ask yourself when you’re buying shorts

  • How long of time will I be riding at one time?
  • How often do I ride during a normal week?
  • Are you looking for style or are you self conscious at all?

Now to help with the questions above.

Basics about women’s cycling shorts

Cycling-Pads-Chamois-J-3-Chamois (Pad): The first and most important is the chamois built into the butt and crotch of the short.  As the short becomes more expensive the chamois becomes denser, multi layer and with wicking or anti-bacterial built in.  The denser pad is important as you ride further.  The entry level short has a nice squishy pad to aid in comfort as you start riding, it helps break in your butt.  As you start venturing over 15-25 miles get out of that entry level short and into a short with denser padding.  We will touch upon this as we talk about price point shorts.

Panels : A short is built of panels wrapping around your leg and butt.  The more panels the better as it will conform better around your body.  Higher end shorts have shaping in the panels to keep the short from binding as your leg goes up and down when pedaling.

Fabric : As any technical piece the fabric becomes higher end with the price. Softer to touch, will wick your sweat away instead of absorbing it, will keep the chafing to a minimum and should fit comfortably.

Skirt Cruiser Girl SkortLength or Style : Shorts normally have a 6- 7 1/2″ inseam, there are shorts with a 5-5 1/2″ inseam that many women that attend spin class, have sexy legs or don’t want tan lines go with.  Personally they make my legs turn into sausages right now, so I stick with a 7″ inseam.  There are also things called skorts, which have an outer technical skirt – very fashionable and easy to ride in.  Last but not least, there are triathlon shorts that have less padding, designed to be swam/bike/run in.  We will talk about triathlon shorts in an article by themselves.

Levels of shorts

$60 short$40-50 for your basic short.  These shorts have 4-6 straight panels normally, a basic chamois and are a great short to start your riding in.  The chamois because of its thick padding won’t wrap around your butt as well but it gets the job done.  If you ride more than 1-2 times a week upgrade to the next level for your second pair of shorts. The hand washing and drying over and over will quickly wear out this level of short.

800_800_1338_5218$65-75 for your intermediate short.  In this short you will start getting more panels 8-10 and depending on the brand maybe they will start shaping around your leg instead of being straight.  The chamois pad will become multi layer, so it won’t be one thick layer of padding all the way through.  It will be thicker near your sit bones and forward towards your sensitive tissues.  The sides of the pad will be thinner with the purpose of protecting for chaffing. The work horse of the line of shorts, this can take abuse but for over 3 hour rides look at the next level.

rsshort$100-120 for your experienced short.  Once you try on one of these shorts in this level you’ll wonder why you haven’t before, then you check the price tag and you remember your budget or thinking why does cycling have to be so expensive.  Shorts in this price range are going to be lighter, softer, the chamois will be thicker for longer rides.  The short also won’t wear out in the time the under-$100 level shorts will.  They are built to last.  The padding isn’t as soft, but it is supportive once you get used to the idea.  The fabric will wick away your sweat and keep your dry.  The chamois may have some anti-bacterial functions thanks to Bamboo or carbon weave.   It’s okay if you aren’t ready to spend $100 on a pair of shorts, but if you ride long enough you’ll get to this level.

Other notes :

Underwear : Do not wear anything between you and the short.  No underwear, thongs, or extras.  The short is supposed to hug your body to aid in comfort.

Washing : Washing your shorts in the washing machine are okay, but hang dry so not to over heat the spandex and elastic.  If any irritation starts with the chamois start hand washing with anti-bacterial soap.  Sometimes the chamois can soak up your detergent and cause infections or irritation

Chamois creme : This personal lube helps with chafing, in grown hairs,  and keeping things soft so not to stick.  There are many varieties out there, some having a cooling sensation so be ready for it.

Shorts & saddle : Your shorts are only as good as your saddle.  Sometimes your favorite saddle can also be killed by a bad fitting sort.  Try different things, ask lots of questions to find your perfect match.

There are other things out there to know about cycling bottoms, capri’s, knickers, knee warmers, tri shorts and so on.  As the season progresses we’ll touch upon each and everyone.

Links to good cycling short companies :

Pearl Izumi
Skirt Sports
Terry Bicycles

As always send your questions and comments to

  • Dave Wiley
    Posted at 13:37h, 27 July Reply

    One of the reasons cycling is so daunting is that people believe they need bizarre, expensive clothes in order to accomplish it. My wife and I are full-time bikers in every season. My concession to bike attire is clips to keep my cuffs out of the chain and rain gear in my back pack. My wife is more apt to wear capris rather than skirts in the summer. That’s about it.

    I think far more people would be tempted to cycle if they knew the bike and the clothes they already own are fine. I know it the US this attitude is considered odd, but if you look in Europe where many more people bicycle than here you’ll see the vast majority ride around in street clothes on inexpensive bikes.

    • Bike Shop GIrl
      Posted at 13:38h, 27 July

      Dave, I agree to a point. Depending on the distance, speed and how long you have riding all play into it.

      My butt is less sensitive then most and I commute in capri’s most day to work which is about 5 miles away. When its super hot I wear shorts. Why? Crotch sweat. I dont like to feel like I have a wet stain on my work shorts.

  • Dave Wiley
    Posted at 15:56h, 27 July Reply

    “Dave, I agree to a point. Depending on the distance, speed and how long you have riding all play into it.”

    I confess that I come more from the bike commuter side of this and thankfully I have never been a victim of crotch sweat.

  • Jenni
    Posted at 20:25h, 27 July Reply

    I alway wear a good 8-panel bike short. For me, comfort is key. Fashion-not so much. I bought a good short and paid for a bike fit and I find riding is so much more enjoyable.

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  • Meaghan
    Posted at 11:42h, 29 July Reply

    Castelli is also a great brand for shorts. I’ve been logging 25-35 mile rides and they really are bomber. Here’s a link to the shorts I have.

    They include a softer waistband in front for comfort and to prevent the shorts from cutting in. Love em.

  • MellowVelo
    Posted at 08:55h, 30 July Reply

    Thanks for the price-point breakdown. I always wondered about the panel thing, too. I have to agree with Meaghan; my favs are Castelli shorts. They tend to be a bit pricey (starting around $90), but even the basic ones far outperform equally-priced Pearl Izumis, IMO. Waist and leg bands are far more comfortable and the fit it outstanding (although equal sizes of different models tend to vary a bit).

    Castellis also come in non-see-through white, which I find HUGELY helpful during the long, hot south Texas summers. For anyone who spends long days in the saddle under the sun, it’s worth shopping around for white shorts or those with white panel tops. They may not be as flattering, but the difference was so noticeable that I switched to almost white everything, including white gloves and helmet. My Wednesday evening 30-miler is now more comfortable. My black shorts are in the back of the drawer until winter.

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  • Paige
    Posted at 21:25h, 14 August Reply

    Just bought a pair of bike shorts that were originally 120 but got them for 60. I just started biking and I knew they were good for a very low price. Even though I don’t go very far. Some of the more entry level shorts were like 5 dollars cheaper but at full price and the guy at the store said that they were really good shorts so I got them.

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