There are three key contact points on a bike, these are the handlebars, pedals and seat. Spending time to make sure these points are as comfortable as possible can make a big difference out on the trails or road. For comfort, the most important contact point is the saddle and to make the most of this contact point it’s best to use a good fitting set of cycling specific shorts or tights.
Specially designed cycling shorts, commonly referred to as knicks, lycra shorts or bibs, have padding sewn into the fabric (called a ‘chamois’) that aids in reducing friction and providing an additional layer of support between you and the seat. Choosing the correct size shorts or tights that include features you’ll want while cycling can make a big difference to how much you enjoy your time on the bike.
Bibs and Shorts
Cycling shorts (knicks) and bibs are specially designed to increase comfort during bike rides. Most models come with an attached padding called a chamois that provides extra protection between you and the seat. This chamois is specifically designed and there are specific men’s and women’s variants available – more expensive models typically feature more complicated and forgiving designs. Both shorts and bibs come in various lengths ranging from above the knee, 3/4 length and full length depending on the season.
On top of chamois design, more expensive bib and shorts will feature more advanced materials and fits which offer greater muscle support, durability, breathability and comfort. One key aspect of this is the number of 'panels' given. Cheaper shorts typically just sew one or two pieces of materials to make up the short, whereas more expensive options combine multiple pieces (panels) to create a more precise fit that relies less on the stretch of the material.
Cycling bibs are lycra shorts that come with shoulder straps that ensure the lower shorts are held in place. These are the standard choice amongst enthusiast cyclists as they don’t require tight waistbands to stop them from falling down during cycling.
Cycling shorts, also called cycling knicks, are lycra shorts designed for cycling and feature a waistband. While less popular with enthusiast, they are cheaper and easier to take off compared to bibs, as they do not require the jersey to come off as well.
If you’re not comfortable wearing lycra or if you’re after increased protection while out on a bike ride, a set of mountain bike cycling shorts, commonly referred to as baggies, could be a great option. These cycling specific shorts are different to regular every day shorts as they have been designed to fit while sitting on and pedalling a bike. The legs are usually tapered to reduce chaffing and keep them out of the way while pedalling. Their fabric also has more stretch than regular shorts, so when you are bent over in a riding position the waist doesn’t fall and your legs can move through the pedalling motion without being constricted.
A second, separate ‘inner liner’ typically plays host to a chamois pad too. Not all mountain bike shorts include this inner liner and some are sold separately, so be sure to double check prior to purchase.
Tights are often made from a similar lycra material as cycling shorts and bibs, but are designed for colder weather. They are primarily full length and are used for warmth and compression and can aid in muscle support during exercise.
Most importantly, many tights are designed to be worn over the top of cycling shorts and so do not feature a chamois, while some options will include a chamois.