Why Do Cyclists Wear Tight Bike Shorts?

Couple in biking shorts

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Tight, black, or brightly colored spandex bike shorts may look a bit strange to some people, but for a cyclist, bike shorts and other essential bike gear offer both comfort and function on the bike.

You'll be surprised by the comfort and functionality that come with tight spandex shorts. The primary purpose of bike shorts is to provide comfort during long bike rides.

Why Bike Shorts Are Tight

Bike shorts are designed specifically for the needs of a cyclist. These needs include padding in the right places, strategically placed seams, tight-fitting, flexible materials like Lycra and spandex. These materials reduce air resistance and allow a full range of motion on the bike as well as provide the right amount of breathability and wind block.

The most important features of bike shorts are a lack of seams in the crotch and extra padding to reduce chafing and discomfort while riding. Also, bike shorts are often made with flexible fabrics that move with you and don't bind while you are pedaling.

Types of Bike Shorts

There are a variety of bike short styles and designs, including those that look like regular shorts with a padded inner liner. Here is an overview of the types of bike shorts you will find on the market.

Tight or Baggy

Consider tight-fitting race shorts if most of your ride time is fast cycling on the bike. This offers the most comfort and aerodynamic fit. If you spend time off the bike, touring, or commuting by bicycle, need pockets, or are more concerned with the look of the shorts than your speed on the bike, you might want to look for "baggy shorts" with an inner liner. Some people even carry a pair of loose-fitting shorts to slip on when they aren't on the bike.

Padded Shorts

Bike short padding is generally made from chamois or a synthetic material. Both offer benefits, but chamois tend to need a bit more care than synthetic linings.

The padding also ranges from thick to thin, with triathlete shorts having the thinnest pad so athletes can swim, bike, and run in the same shorts. Bike shorts are also made with a pad designed specifically for men and women, so choose accordingly.

Panels, Waist Bands, and Bibs

Less expensive shorts usually have fewer fabric panels, while the most costly and form-fitting bike shorts can have up to eight panels. They all fit a bit differently, so try on several styles.

You also can buy bib shorts that offer shoulder straps rather than an elastic waistband. Some people find this style the most comfortable after hours of riding bent forward at the waist.

Inseam Length

Shorts come in a variety of inseam lengths. The shorter shorts work great for spin class, triathlons, and a good tan, but most cyclists like an inseam just above the knee.

This is long enough to stay in place and prevent chaffing of the inner thigh on the saddle. In cold weather, consider a knicker style bike short that covers the knees for added warmth or even a full tight that goes to the ankles.

Fabric and Color

Bike short fabric can be thick or thin, sheer and shiny or textured, and made of wool, CoolMax, Lycra, spandex, and various other wicking materials. Think of the conditions you ride in most frequently—is it hot and dry, warm and sticky, or cold weather? Buy fabrics that work in your climate.

These days, the sky is the limit in bike shorts' colors, patterns, and designs. Do you want the traditional black, or do you want to be a bit flashy or support a brand or team? This is where you can let your personality shine through.

How to Select the Best Cycling Shorts

Before you purchase a pair of cycling shorts, make sure you're selecting the ones that best fit your needs. Whether you're going long distances or cycling around your neighborhood, you'll want to select the shorts that are ideal for your ride. You also should set a budget before shopping because bike shorts can range from $20 to $100.

Once you have a budget in mind, shop shorts based on the amount of padding you need—thick or thin depending on the type of ride you're doing—as well as the panels and length for comfort during a ride. If you're looking for high-tech options, shop for shorts that feature moisture-wicking and breathable fabric, as well as pockets.

Once you've decided on what you are looking for, try them on in person. This way, you'll be able to test which ones are most comfortable for your needs. Keep in mind that bike shorts are meant to be worn without underwear.

A Word From Verywell

Cycling can be a great cardio workout or a fun way to explore your neighborhood. Investing in the right gear can help you stay more comfortable and secure while you ride. Choosing the proper cycling shorts—a vital component of a cycling outfit—is sure to make a difference when you're taking on long distances on the road.

2 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Sovndal S. Fitness Cycling (Fitness Spectrum Series). Human Kinetics, Inc.. 2013.

  2. Clemitson S. A History of Cycling in 100 Objects. Bloomsbury Publishing. 2017.

By Elizabeth Quinn, MS
Elizabeth Quinn is an exercise physiologist, sports medicine writer, and fitness consultant for corporate wellness and rehabilitation clinics.