Padded cycling shorts can help make your ride much more comfortable. They perform a whole range of functions to increase your enjoyment on the bike and reduce the risk of discomfort, but should you wear underwear with your cycling shorts?
The short answer is no – you do not need to wear underwear or knickers under padded bike shorts. The pad is designed to sit next to the skin.
In this guide, we’ll explain why and how padded shorts worn next to the skin help to prevent saddle sores and improve comfort.
Four reasons why you shouldn’t wear underwear when cycling
- The seams of underwear can rub, causing painful chafing, which will be uncomfortable on long rides. This can also contribute to painful saddle sores
- Cycling shorts are designed to hug your body and keep the chamois pad in the right position while you ride
- The pad is designed to absorb sweat. Wearing underwear can affect how well it can do this, which in some cases can lead to a greater chance of developing a urinary tract infection (UTI)
- Underwear, particularly if it’s made of cotton, will absorb sweat or rainwater, so your skin will stay wet, which can exacerbate rubbing and irritation
Why do cyclists wear padded shorts?
The main purposes of padded cycling shorts are to protect and cushion the backside and genitals from the pressure of the body on the saddle, and to cushion the sit bones.
The seat pad – also known as the chamois or chammy – is a highly technical piece of kit and is usually formed of multiple layers, with different thicknesses and densities of padding in different areas.
It may even include a gel pad and may be highly perforated to promote airflow.
It will be covered with a soft fabric layer that’s designed to avoid chafing, wick sweat away from your skin and may have antibacterial properties. It’s designed to sit against the crotch and form a cushioning barrier between your body and the bike saddle.
You can also find different densities and thicknesses of seat pad to suit different riding styles and preferences, and to handle different ride durations. Cycling short makers often rate their shorts for how long a ride they’re designed for.
It’s also important to consider your saddle because this will also play a big part in your cycling comfort. Our guide on how to choose the right bike saddle will help you.
If you’re going for a longer ride, you may also want to use chamois cream to help avoid skin irritation.
This is a thick cream that you put on your chamois and/or your nether regions, and is designed to help reduce the friction between skin and chamois, or skin and skin.
This, in turn, reduces the chance of rubbing, which can become painful over a long ride. Many are also antimicrobial, which will help avoid saddle sores and UTIs. Read our guide to the best chamois creams for cyclists if you want help choosing.
What types of padded cycling shorts are there?
There are two main types of padded cycling shorts: waist shorts and bib shorts.
Waist shorts, as the name says, are regular shorts that sit on the waist, have an elastic waistband to keep them up and are made from a stretchy, supportive material with a chamois pad.
Bib shorts are similar to waist shorts but have shoulder straps to help keep them in place when riding. When you’re riding in the typical leant-forward cycling position, this can cause the waistband of waist shorts to cut into your stomach and become uncomfortable.
As well as avoiding the need for a waistband, the straps on bib shorts mean they are less prone to move around with repeated seated and out-of-saddle efforts.
There are longer versions of both waist shorts and bib shorts: three-quarter lengths, which are also sometimes known as ‘knickers’; and full-lengths, known as ‘tights’.
Road riders typically lean further forward on the saddle than mountain bikers or commuters.
Some brands also make different seat pads for different types of cycling or sew them into the shorts in slightly different positions, since the position the rider sits on the bike is different.
For example, road cyclists often sit leaning forward, so may need more protection towards the front of the pad, whereas mountain bikers and commuters tend to sit more upright and may need the pad and its cushioning positioned further to the rear of the shorts.
You can also buy baggy mountain bike shorts that come with a detachable lightweight padded Lycra liner short to wear underneath, or wear baggy shorts over a lightweight pair of bib shorts.
Padded cycling shorts come in different weights of fabric; some have a fleeced inner surface for more insulation on cold rides. You can pair them up with leg warmers or knee warmers for extra warmth.
Other cycling shorts are made of particularly lightweight fabric and may include mesh panels for better ventilation in hot weather. There are also extra-lightweight shorts and bib shorts designed specifically for indoor cycling.
Are men’s and women’s cycling shorts different?
Padded cycling shorts are usually gender-specific, with women’s and men’s shorts cut to suit the sexes’ different body shapes. The seat pads are also shaped to fit women’s and men’s different sit bone anatomy and genitalia.
Some women prefer waist shorts because they’re a lot easier to get out of when you need a comfort break.
If you prefer bib shorts, there are various designs of women’s cycling shorts to make loo stops easier when wearing bib shorts, so that you don’t have to strip off your cycling jersey to remove the bibs. It also enables the straps to sit further to the sides so they’re not lying over your breasts.
Other padded underwear for cycling
There is also the option to have something that straddles the boundary of underwear and padded cycling shorts. These include padded biking panties for women and bike boxers for men, both with a thin chamois pad built in.
They are designed to be worn like regular underwear during the day, but add a little protection and cushioning for when you’re on the bike. They’re usually made of technical wicking fabric, like that used for cycling shorts, so they shouldn’t get sweaty.
Designed with commuters and leisure riders in mind, they’re great for people who don’t need a full, thick chamois and don’t want to wear Lycra shorts on their commutes or short rides. They don’t look bulky under everyday clothes, so no-one needs to know you’re wearing padded underwear for cycling.