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  1. #1
    tsl
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    Teach me about bike shorts

    I spent last year getting reacclimated to riding a bike after 35 years. I've found most advice works for me. But I was resistant to bike shorts primarily because of the expense, and secondarily because, after replacing the factory saddle with a proper one, I never experienced any of the chafing or discomfort everyone talks about.

    In-season, most of my non-commuting rides were in the 30-40 mile range and a my longest was 73. I was perfectly comfortable and happy in cheap, Sam's Club cargo shorts, especially after I found that by adjusting ballast in the pockets, (keys, change, etc.) the legs could be held open to duct cooling breezes right up to the boys. Through the winter, plain old Levi's 501 jeans have suited me just fine, supplemented in single-digit temps with plain, old white waffle longjohns.

    But everyone reports something magical attributed to bike shorts, so I figured I ought to try them. I've gathered from the forums that bike clothing sizes run different than normal clothing. For my first pair of bike shorts I bought cheap, Nashbar Essential, so I could get the sizing right. The fit is fine (medium) but I'm finding them very weird.

    First, it's still snowing here. Actually riding in these is a few weeks off. I tried them on, and sat around in them for a while, and couldn't wait to get them off. Maybe things are different when you're on a bike?

    What's up with the chamois in there? It's stiff as cardboard, the edges (and especially the seams where it's sewn it place) dig into my thighs, and it makes me walk and sit bowlegged.

    As for the boys, they certainly don't like all the extra heat from the insulation R-factor of this thing. Sitting in a chair on a cold winter's night and reading book, things got pretty sweaty in the nether regions. Forget fiberglass and high-R sheathing! Insulate your house with bike short chamois.

    I found forum advice on saddles to be spot-on, primarily that they need only the merest whisper of padding. Then I put on these shorts and it's like tying a futon between my legs. Isn't that exactly backwards from the padding advice regarding saddles? (Advice which I followed and works for me?)

    In summary, these are precisely reasons the why I haven't even owned underwear for over 30 years. I can't take the heat or the bunching-up. I can't think of any way to make shorts more uncomfortable, except perhaps to make them from barbed wire.

    My questions are:

    Does this chamois thing need a break-in period?

    Are they available thinner and more flexible? Or smaller?

    Can you get shorts without one entirely?

    Are the issues I'm having due to buying cheap, generic shorts?

    Is there something I just don't get?
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  2. #2
    just keep riding BluesDawg's Avatar
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    Analysis paralysis.
    Try them on a bike.
    The more you ride your bike, the less your ass will hurt.

  3. #3
    Time for a change. stapfam's Avatar
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    If that Chamois is stiff- then there is something wrong with it. In fact it probably is not chamois but a synthetic material that should do the job as good or better tham chamois. There is another padding material that is a lot thicker and will offer some Cushioning comfort and they feel as though you are wearing a Nappy (Diaper?) but these are just as flexible and cool as chamois.

    I have never bought a pair of shorts where I can feel the lining when wearing them, except for the thick ones, and that includes the very cheap ones sold in the Annual sales that are specifically purchased by the shops for their sale.
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  4. #4
    Ride Daddy Ride Jet Travis's Avatar
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    Does this chamois thing need a break-in period?
    No, the chamois should not need to be broken in. It should not be stiff nor should anything bunch up.

    Are they available thinner and more flexible? Or smaller?
    Chamois come in all sorts of configurations. And so do shorts. You'll spend more for "eight panel" shorts" than for six panel or four panel. But they fit your body better, especially when you are in a riding position.

    Can you get shorts without one entirely?
    Yes. I think they're called compression shorts. You probably won't find them in most bike shops.

    Are the issues I'm having due to buying cheap, generic shorts?
    Very possible. My bet is that if you went up a couple of price points, you'd have better success. We have a Performance shop in town. I've been happy with their mid-range stuff (which often goes on sale). Pearl Izumi is a solid name, among many others. If you'd like to spend a mortgage payment, check out Assos (too rich for my blood but considered excellent by many).

    Is there something I just don't get?
    Maybe you're just comfortable riding without bike shorts. Nothing wrong with that. People have toured accross continents in gym shorts and sneakers. I rode for quite awhile without bike shorts and didn't seem to suffer any ill consequences. But once I experienced the difference, I stayed with cycling-specific shorts and never looked back.
    Last edited by Jet Travis; 03-04-07 at 12:06 PM.
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  5. #5
    Senior Member
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    I agree with Jet Travis, all of it.
    I have tried to do without shorts for a while because of the frequent (daily) washing required. The comfort level with or without is significant. I use P.I. shorts with great success. I have used cheaper brands (<$50) without success.
    One purpose of good shorts is to keep moisture away from our skin. My $125 P.I. do that in this Mid-West area but not in FL. I had to use cream in addition to the shorts. (The excessive humidity)
    I tried leggies with and without shorts. Did not work for longer trips.

  6. #6
    Senior Member CrossChain's Avatar
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    Keep in mind, shorts are like saddles. Different makers cut them a bit differently. In the end, you have to match them to the cut of your butt...after a few years of riding and trying a few brands, you'll settle on one that fits you well enough. I like heavier weight lycra....feels supportive. Try bibs...lots of us like them. Real chamois hasn't been around for a long time thank heavens-- it really did get stiff without treatment. Contemporary fake chamois generally gets softer with use. Thin pads are better than thick generally. Give shorts a chance....put some miles on 'em....I can't imagine riding any distance without that second skin.
    Riding and aging don't get easier, you just get slower at slowing down.] (FiftyPlus observation inspired by G. Lemond.)

  7. #7
    Senior Member trackhub's Avatar
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    As Jet Travis mentioned, Pearl Izumi is a fine name. Most of my shorts are Pearl Izumi. Expensive? yes. Worth it? Hoo Yeah! Pearl Izumi stuff lasts a long time, so the money is well spent. You will probably wince at the price of your first pair, but when you are still using them five years from now, you'll say "Oh yeah, these work". And yes, they're comfortable, you can ride in them all day. Their Quest short is a six panel short, presently retailing for fifty bucks at Nashbar.

    A lot of people are self-concious about wearing the lycra shorts. As an alternative, there the undershorts from bike Nashbar. These are made just like regular shorts, but they're underwear. With these on underneath any pair of baggy shorts you have can become bike shorts. I've worn them on some of my summer morning commutes with no problem. As with all clothing made of this material, they're machine washable. Do not machine dry them though.
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  8. #8
    Don't mince words Red Rider's Avatar
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    Am I the only woman posting a reply? Hmmmm...

    While I can't relate anatomically, I can in terms of comfort. Any ride more than 60 min.=shorts. I don't want callouses on my ischial tuborosities ("sit" bones), thankyouverymuch.

    As others have said, PI is a great brand. From a woman's perspective, Specialized has a pair with a low waist, Sheila Moon makes hers with a yoga (non-elasticized) waist, Voler has a pad that is thick where you need it & gradually thins (this is the best pad EVer), 8-panel will fit better than 4-panel. Some shorts will have anti-bacterial ingredients built right into the pad.

    You must wash your shorts after every wearing. Hang to dry. You'll want to keep them clean & sanitary & help them last as long as possible. Anecdotally, I find that with twice-a-week use, shorts will last about a year. YMMV.

    As for the self-consciousness some of you men may experience: Men's butts look good in Lycra!

    It's not that I can't pull...the view is better from the back of the pack!
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  9. #9
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    Can you get shorts without one entirely?

    I must be dense but I do not understand the question.

    The other day I found a pair of "top of the line" bike shorts I bought in the early 1980s. The pad was not fit to use to polish the car, meaning it was just a peice of felt sown into the shorts. Maybe this is what you have? Trust me. Invest in the best bike shorts you can afford. They are expensive and worth every cent in the long run.

  10. #10
    Pat
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    I have had good luck with Performances store brand shorts. I get their premium versions. The one I have been getting, the century short, has been recently changed so I might have to find something else.

    A good bike short should be multi panel (look for at least 8 panel and more is better). That means it is made of multiple pieces of fabric so it has a shape that fits snug. The short should have a good chamois which can be natural or synthetic. I prefer a good synthetic chamois for easier care.

    Shorts prevent chaffing. With cyclists running at least 90 rpm rubbing part of one's anatomy each rpm for 5 hours (27000 chaffs) is not a good idea.

  11. #11
    Senior Member Nycycle's Avatar
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    I was limited to 30 to 50 miles or I would be chaffed big time.
    I got big legs and large jewels and not much room.
    I was very cautioned about spending my hard earned bucks. Timid about spandex in public.
    I got them Pearl Izumi Ultra sensor and a jar of ASSOS and now I can ride till I drop with zero discomfort down stairs. Also my butt bones like the padding lots.
    Last tax refund I got a second pair.
    I love my shorts, butt I must confess the nice seat helps also.

  12. #12
    Senior Member Nycycle's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Red Rider
    Am I the only woman posting a reply? Hmmmm...


    You must wash your shorts after every wearing. Hang to dry. You'll want to keep them clean & sanitary & help them last as long as possible. Anecdotally, I find that with twice-a-week use, shorts will last about a year. YMMV.

    As for the self-consciousness some of you men may experience: Men's butts look good in Lycra!

    It's not that I can't pull...the view is better from the back of the pack!
    I confess, there ain't nothin hotter than a chick in biker shorts, so don't hog the back of the line.
    And I thought the lady's just rode slower, now I know. Every time I ride up behind some cuties they pull over and let me by, next time I will just stop and say "Ladies first".
    I have washed my pearl Izumi's for 4 years now, I use cold and mild detergent and hang to dry.
    No sign of wear.

  13. #13
    DoubleTrouble cgallagh's Avatar
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    Pearl Izumi Race pad. 107 miles on the tandem and "Happy Cheeks" all the way.
    Two blondes walked into a building-You think one of them would have seen it.
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  14. #14
    Banned. DnvrFox's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by tsl
    In-season, most of my non-commuting rides were in the 30-40 mile range and a my longest was 73. I was perfectly comfortable and happy in cheap, Sam's Club cargo shorts, especially after I found that by adjusting ballast in the pockets, (keys, change, etc.) the legs could be held open to duct cooling breezes right up to the boys. Through the winter, plain old Levi's 501 jeans have suited me just fine, supplemented in single-digit temps with plain, old white waffle longjohns.
    And you want to change to something else?

    Let's see. I own a car that gets excellent mileage, accelerates well, is comfortable, and I love it.

    I think I will change to something else.

    BTW, I do much of my riding in Levis (especially in winter) and regular large legged shorts such as you describe. And I wear underwear under everything.

    Besides the guffaws from the "serious" riders, I do fine with them. When I do get all goo-gawed up, I don't wear shorts at all, I wear bibs. Much more comfortable, and they fit my strange sumi-wrestler body much better.
    Last edited by DnvrFox; 03-06-07 at 07:17 AM.

  15. #15
    OnTheRoad or AtTheBeach stonecrd's Avatar
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    Switch to Bibs, much more comfortable than shorts. Look at the Performance Elite line they are good mid priced bibs.
    The problem with the gene pool is that there is no lifeguard and the shallow end is much too large

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  16. #16
    Senior Member MichiganMike's Avatar
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    Switch to Bibs, much more comfortable than shorts. Look at the Performance Elite line they are good mid priced bibs.
    I agree. For me at least, Bibs are much more comfortable. I have a pair of Di Marchi Contour Plus that I really like. Also have a pair of bibs from Colorado Cyclist that are pretty nice too.

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by Nycycle
    Iand a jar of ASSOS and now I can
    I have never used chamois cream - are they all similar, is it harder to clean shorts afterwards, how does it feel etc - any perspectives?

  18. #18
    tsl
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    Thanks all, for the replies. Sorry it's been so long for me to respond. A few things cropped up around here.

    It's taken decades for me to learn to listen to advice from others, and thus far in cycling, all the advice I've been given has been spot-on. Shorts and jerseys are have been the places for me that things just do not compute. It seems that only in the US that you can't buy a decent city commuter bike off-the-rack, nor are you allowed to enjoy cycling without being wrapped in petrochemicals. Plus I've always associated hot and sweaty with wearing synthetics.

    But, the advice I've received from others and on the boards about all other cycling issues has been right on the money, so despite my current cycling wardrobe satisfaction, I thought I'd give cycling shorts a whirl. Unfortunately, I think my resistance to the idea kept me from remembering one thing that's always worked for me, "Never buy low-end", which is exactly what I did.

    I guess I was shocked by three things:

    1) Seams in the "wrong" places. Not that they bother me even in jeans (cut-out saddles are wonderful things), but one of the benefits of cycling shorts is supposed to the be absence of seams in the "taint" region. Yet, here was a four-panel overlapping seam.

    2) Additional seams in even worse places, where I don't have them now. That is, where the maxi-pad is sewn to the inside of the legs. Isn't that exactly the place where people complain about chafing? No wonder you have to lubricate your shorts. Seams in the worst of all possible places.

    3) That hugely thick, springs-back-into-shape, maxi-pad of thing allegedly called a chamois. Yikes! That thing is frightening. And why would you want something both insulating and absorbent in exactly the place where ventilating and wicking is required? As for the thickness of said futon-like object, I'm guessing it's like saddles. Cheap ones have have thick padding, which is why you don't buy cheap.

    So a lot of this still doesn't make sense to me.

    However, I'm willing to accept that:

    A) Things will be different on the bike. I certainly wouldn't lounge on a bike saddle in the living room, so trying out bike shorts while lounging in the living probably isn't the best test either. Shorts weather is several weeks away, so I'll wait until then to evaluate.

    B) I'll to go the long buck and shop for another pair at the LBS where I can examine what's between the legs before buying.
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  19. #19
    Senior Member BlazingPedals's Avatar
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    I wear lycra running shorts. They look like bike shorts but don't have that pad. I figure I don't need the pad since my bike doesn't have a saddle. If you ride without a pad, you'll still want a liner or something under the shorts. I use coolmax underwear; it lets the air through and wicks sweat.

  20. #20
    Time for a change. stapfam's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by BlazingPedals
    I wear lycra running shorts. They look like bike shorts but don't have that pad. I figure I don't need the pad since my bike doesn't have a saddle. If you ride without a pad, you'll still want a liner or something under the shorts. I use coolmax underwear; it lets the air through and wicks sweat.
    You are right and some form of wicking makes for a lot of comfort.

    That pad is not a bit of cushioning. It does the job of wicking away sweat from the Vital parts. I have a friend that used to wear just normal shorts and underpants. Then he got the Lined bike under pants and he said it made a world of difference. No sore chafed bits at the end of a ride. He came on a ride with us last year and he felt odd being the only one not in lycra. He bought a pair of Cycling lined shorts just before christamas and he could not believe the comfort. It held everything in place and still no sore bits. He looked so much the part on our rides that he bought a pair for his son. Hard Lad his son and goes commando on all his riding with normal shorts. First ride and he put the lycra under his shorts and WOW. Another lycra convert made.

    Have to admit that all this talk about shorts has made me realise that I only ever buy bib shorts. They are more comfortable for me.
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  21. #21
    feros ferio John E's Avatar
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    I really like the expedition bike shorts I bought at REI. They are essentially chamois-padded bike shorts covered by walk shorts with zippered pockets, making them practical, socially presentable, and comfortable, i.e., ideal for transportation cycling.
    "Early to bed, early to rise. Work like hell, and advertise." -- George Stahlman
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  22. #22
    Just ride. roadbuzz's Avatar
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    Wait a minute... you ride in 501s and you're complaining about the price of cycling shorts???

    I like these
    http://www.performancebike.com/shop/...tegory_ID=1120

    They have a good chamois, and it's not the foam maxi-pad that their ultra bibs use. You can catch them on sale in the $40-$50 range. Those are bibs, they probably have an equivalent short for $15 or so less.
    [edit]Indeed they do, on sale at the moment
    http://www.performancebike.com/shop/...tegory_ID=1120
    [/edit]
    You want the fit to be snug.... keep things high and tight, and no extra material to bunch up in the wrong places. Personally, I prefer bibs over shorts. I'm not fat, but I just don't like the tight waste band on shorts. If you're particularly long or short wasted, getting a good fit in bibs can be a problem. And, they're a nuisance when you need to respond to a sit-down nature call.

  23. #23
    DoubleTrouble cgallagh's Avatar
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    PI Izumi Attack shorts:
    •Sensor fabric
    •New 07' 3D Race Chamois® has 10 mm contoured pad protection
    •Modified 8 panel ergonomic design
    •Flatlocked seams for comfort
    •Custom Pearl Izumi spandex leg gripper
    •9¼-inch inseam
    •Content: 72% Nylon/28% Spandex

    $69 retail $59 at the outlet store. This is the most comfortable short I have ever owned for long distance comfort.
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  24. #24
    Banned. The Weak Link's Avatar
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    Lycra makes you look gay.

    There's nothing wrong with that.

  25. #25
    tsl
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    Quote Originally Posted by The Weak Link
    Lycra makes you look gay.

    There's nothing wrong with that.
    And flannel, hiking boots and SUVs make you look like a lesbian.

    NTTAWWT either.
    My two favorite things in life are libraries and bicycles. They both move people forward without wasting anything.
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