Thursday, November 26, 2009

Do You Need Padded Shorts?

Scott Adams not only creates shoot-coffee-out-your-nose-funny cartoons, he makes more than his fair share of good points. The cartoon above, which I first read years ago, no longer adorns my cube wall because I managed to leave the world of work cubes behind. But this message from Scott stuck in my head, where it has whorled around with other stuff, like Lao Tzu's advice: "To attain knowledge, add things every day. To attain wisdom, remove things every day."

Years ago, when I was a kid, I rode my bike. As I upped my mileage and rode on hot, sweaty days, I learned that cotton jeans and cotton briefs had seams that bunched up and rubbed in uncomfortable places. I learned good things, useful things, about leather seats and dorky pants and chamois and Bag Balm. I rode lots of miles, long miles and if you'd asked I'd give you advice on how many pairs of cycling shorts you should bring for riding Paris-Brest-Paris (bring a couple, of slightly different styles, with the chamois seams in different spots.)

On really long rides, rides where I'd be out for days or weeks, I devised my wear one, wash one strategy. Each night I'd swap shorts and the dirty pair would be washed out and hung in a mesh bag from some spot on my bike. The next day's riding would usually dry the shorts. Usually, but not always. Chamois tend to hold onto water and on the hottest of days, salt from sweat and chamois seams would rub and well, that's what the Bag Balm was for.

Now when I'm talking about chamois here, it's not real chamois these days. It's a synthetic pad and if you hang out with cyclists you'll here all kinds of talk about which brand of shorts has the best pad and everybody has their favorites. Like saddles, it comes down to shape and different people are different. But here's something I've noticed, something I got to thinking about, something I added to that memory of an old Dilbert cartoon and the teachings of Lao Tzu: higher mileage folks tended to like shorts with a thinner pad. 


Now I figured out a few years ago that WTB saddles work really well for me. They are a good shape for my butt and for me, they have just the right amount of padding. I also like having pockets, so I tend to wear thin nylon cargo shorts or pants over my lycra shorts. But the chamois pad would tend to get hot and sweaty and on one long ride a while back the idea came to me to cut out the pad. The thinnest pad is no pad. So at camp that night I used the scissors of my Swiss Army knife to cut the pad from my cycling shorts. 

It worked.

For me.

Your mileage and butt may vary.

The next day I cut the pad from my second pair of shorts.

All my undershorts are padless these days.

My wife and kids will tell you that I still wear dorky pants. Cargo shorts or pants are dorky and most of mine are the nylon kind with legs that zip off to let them be either shorts or pants. They're dorky, but useful.

But the padded, dorky shorts? For me, they're more useful without the pad.

Keep 'em rolling,



Jim Thill said...

100% agree.

For me: cheap, thin, usually cotton boxers under swim trunks with the crotch-net removed. I also have some of the MUSA shorts from Rivendell, which are my choice for most rides, and everything else. I've ridden many 100-180 mile days with no pad. At the end of the ride, my butt was the least of my complaints.

Ryan Williams said...

I tend to wear ordinary clothes, sometimes the nylon zip-off leg pants. But then I also ride a recumbent trike and my seat is very comfy. :)

Joe said...

I haven't rode in spandex or padded shorts for 8 years. My shorts of choice are the $5 jogging shorts at Wal Mart. Works great for me with a Brooks B-17, but I think my saddle may be done. It's sagged so much that the rivets are wearing holes in my clothes. I ordered a WTB Rocket V a few days ago. Hopefully I will like it.

dexey said...

I went recumbent. Two wheelers are lousy on trails but very, very comfortable on long, loaded road runs.
I'll be trying my new trike on trails next year.

Rick @ Bicycle Fixation said...

I use regular boxers, whatever my wife bought me last, for rides up to 40 miles, under wool knickers. For over 40 miles, I usually wear thinly-padded shorts under knickers. The knickers are of course the ones I designed and are thinner than most wool knickers, and of tough smooth gabardine.

You know that almost any running shop or online runner's supplier sells unpadded bike shorts; they just call them "exercise tights" or some such. A mighty twenty bucks from outfits such as Aerotech, plain black.

Bryan Willman said...

The real message is "whatever works for the person", and that this might well change depending on cirumstance.

It turns out that I need a shower after even the shortest of rides, and so wearing cycling clothes adds no special burden. And they're very comfortable for me, in fact, sometimes more comfortable than street clothes.

Which proves nothing except that my body is different from all other bodies in minor but important ways.

By the way, if I wear non-lycra shorts, I wear holes in them. Sometimes I wear holes in the lycra shorts. Another reason that my rumply body needs special cycling clothes.

i am Susan said...

My husband uses Pearl Izumi shorts. We both train for Ironmans. He says good 3d shorts and lots of body glide.

Have you ever heard of Youth Juice? I know you work hard at your body and YJ fills in all the gaps in ones diet....great stuff.

1. It's a full-spectrum multi-vitamin with 19 different vitamins, minerals, and phyto-nutrients.

2. It contains 7 whole ORGANIC Berries

3. It has 3 sea vegetables (one being Fucoidan, which has been studied extensively for many health benefits. If you google just Fucoidan alone, there have been over 750 studies done on it.

4. It has an ORAC score of 123 000 per bottle, 13000 per serving, which is the highest anti-oxidant rating on the market to date. (It is so high because it comes from whole foods, not just juice extracted from berries)

5. It contains 200 mg of Ellagitannins in every bottle as well.

6. We are a Functional Food, not a juice!

Jimbo said...

I read an interview on Tinker Juarez back in the 90's and his theory then was a cushier seat and he cut the pads out.

I used to ride in all cycling gear to work and change I have gotten so lazy I havn't bothered most of the year so a good portion of my riding this year is in cargo work pants with out cycling shorts. My commuter bike has a B-17 that is really comfortable to me without cycling shorts.

Bob said...

Hi Kent,

What DO you use for undershorts- unpadded lycra bike shorts or something else? I can still see the value of seamless, form-fitting undershorts so that the bunching and chafing can be eliminated.


Kent Peterson said...


I had all these pairs of lycra bike shorts, so I cut the pads out of them. That's what I'm wearing under my nylon cargo pants. If I was starting from scratch, I'd just get unpadded lycra excercise shorts, but I had all these bike shorts that I could modify, so that's what I did.


Dan O said...

To each his own, uh - butt.

Original Flight saddle and Descente Pro bib shorts for me. Comfy and never a problem.

On casual, slower rides - I find normal clothes work just fine. My commute (34 miles round trip) is long enough to warrant bike clothes - especially if raining.

Back in my stone age mountain bike days of the mid '80s, did a ton of riding in jeans - and remember no problem at all.

Every culture has its uniform...

Johann Rissik said...

Oh yes. A correctly designed and made saddle and ordinary Lycra gym shorts with no padding works for me. Day in and day out. Each to their own, just ride and smile. You might want to look at

DW said...

My commuting garb these days?

Knee warmers, nylon cargo shorts, and "synthetic" boxer briefs.

The only problem is without shorts to grip to, the kneewarmers tend to migrate.

Other than that, it's a pretty optimal set-up for cold, wet mornings/nights.

Also just discovered the joys of the ear band. $2.97 at the Surplus store. Keeps the A/C on your head without the ear burn on the downhills.

Here's to useful things.

Neve_r_est said...

Desoto tri shorts with a thin fleece pad and a good flexible saddle. The fleece pad is just enough for a slice of modesty, gives balm something to stick to if you do end up needing it, and dries super fast. Best of both worlds.


Enoch Fung said...

Hi Kent, your post is a God-send. I was going to buy a pair of biking lycra shorts. Now I can go with something that's Walmart-cheap. Thanks!

1234567890 said...

I'm in both camps. For mountain biking I just use a compression short (like Under Armour) underneath my baggy MTB shorts. Especially for those of us riding single speeds, there is a lot of time spent off the saddle or shifting positions.

On the road, I find that I need the padded bib shorts. Riding in pacelines, I find I'm not able to get off the saddle as much as I would like. Doing long stretches before you pull off to the back is a lot more saddle contact than I have on the mountain bike.

I have done 200 km days touring without a chamois, but again it was that ability to stretch or get off the bike that made it possible.

padded shorts said...

I took a hard fall to the tailbone serveral months ago.

I wear Demon's women shorts shorts at every practice but had my doubts about their ability to really protect me. Then I fell on my butt a few weeks ago and was amazed at the difference in impact.

I would wholeheartedly recommend padded shorts.

Unknown said...

I use non-padded spandex shorts. The pads always bunch up, pinch and cause friction. They are not the natural part of a saddle and butt system; only a crutch for poorly matched saddle and or fitting. I only use a Brooks B-17. Conforms perfectly and gives. Also the leather breathes and stays cool. 50-100 milers are literally no problem. Remove the pad or buy cheap, unpadded Lycra (for good wear properties) short.