How to Choose Bike Shorts

Bike shorts may not be very multipurpose (we wouldn’t grocery shop in them, per se) but they keep you comfortable on long bike rides. Here’s some basic info to help you choose shorts that fit your needs.

Mountain Biking and Road Biking

Though they share similarities – padding in the seat area, freedom of movement—mountain bike shorts and road bike shorts are styled very differently. Road bike shorts are stretchy and form fitting. Because there are no loose materials, they’re very aerodynamic and won’t slow you down. Mountain bike shorts, also called transition shorts, are baggy and abrasion resistant on the outside. They look like shorts you might wear anywhere. However, they also include built-in liner shorts that are form fitting and padded.

Bibs vs. Shorts

Road bikers have a choice between bib-style shorts or standard road bike shorts. Bibs come up higher over the stomach and back, and include shoulder straps. Like standard shorts, they’re form fitting, made of stretchy material, and include a chamois pad in the seat area. The biggest advantage of bibs is that they don’t dig in at the waist as you bend forward. Those that try bibs usually fall in love with the comfort. However, they’re more expensive than shorts. Bib bike shorts can also be harder to fit, as your height plays a large role in whether or not they’ll be comfortable.


Padding in the seat area is the most important feature of bike shorts. It makes the difference between a comfortable ride and a painful one. Padding in the crotch area is usually constructed of either chamois or synthetic fabric.


Some bike shorts are skintight to provide the most aerodynamic outfit possible. This is the preferred style of professional cyclists and racers, as it lends some extra speed. But if you’re biking to a place where you’ll be hopping off and wandering around or hiking, you might consider getting looser fitting, or transition, shorts. These feature pockets so you can have your personal items within reach without a backpack.


It should be noted that bike shorts are designed to be worn without undergarments. The fabric keeps sweat off your body to keep you dry and prevent bacteria from growing. That process is most effective without extra material between you and the shorts.

Look for bike shorts made of an almost sticky material like Lycra or spandex; this will help prevent them from riding up while you’re on the bike. These fabrics are usually constructed to let your skin breathe.


Bike shorts should be tight when you first put them on, but not so tight that you’re cutting off circulation. Make sure they’re snug enough that they remain in place while you bike. Also keep in mind that as you move, they’ll stretch slightly. Bike shorts also look and feel strange when you’re standing upright, since they’re designed to fit you best when you’re in pedaling position.

The best way to purchase bike shorts is to try them on first. Even if you’ve bought them before, size varies from brand to brand, and might have evolved over time. If you’re ordering online, it’s advisable to first read reviews to see if the model runs small or large. You should also order a couple different sizes and return the ones that don’t fit.


There isn’t necessarily a best option when it comes to bike shorts’ inseam length. If they don’t allow your skin to touch the seat, then you can’t really go wrong. Choose the ones that appeal to you aesthetically, and remember that you’ll likely get tan lines while riding.


Standard bike shorts require elastic to hold them up, and most manufactures do a good job of making the band wide enough that it doesn’t pinch you. The trick is to bend over while trying the shorts on and assess how comfortable they’ll be when you’re in a prolonged crouching position.


Inner liners are found mostly in baggy transition bike shorts. They’re frequently removable, and the padding isn’t as visible as it is in tight bike shorts.

For the Beginner

Novice cyclists will more often than not want the most padding possible. Your body won’t be used to the rigors of sitting on a hard seat for hours at a time when you’re first starting out, so to give yourself optimal comfort, go for thicker padding.