A question that I hear often among women new to wearing bike shorts is, “Underwear or no underwear?” As the 40-mile TD Five Boro Bike Tour in New York City on May 3 ushers in a new season of longer-mileage events, ladies padded bike shorts may be a worthy investment in your riding comfort.
But first, what exactly is the point of wearing these? Constructed of many panels of stretchy, synthetic material, close-fitting bike shorts make it easier to pedal freely. Flat seams prevent rubbing and chafing of your skin, leg grippers hug thighs to limit creeping, and technical fabrics wick away moisture. Cycling shorts also support muscles through compression. Their main feature, the chamois, or padding in the crotch, helps prevent friction and buildup of bacteria, as it cushions the ride.
The next step up is bib shorts. These one-piece garments, basically bike shorts with straps, eliminate gaps between shorts and jersey and make you feel as sleek as a seal. For a long time, the rap on bibs was that you had to remove top layers — which might include a base, jersey, jacket or vest — in order to pull down the straps to use the bathroom. But within the last year at least three companies have introduced solutions to the pee problem with systems that include a vertical back zipper, a halter strap you can pull over your head and a rear clasp. So barriers to attracting a wider user audience to bibs may continue to drop.
If the racer look is not your jam, comfortable ladies padded bike shorts also come in styles that look like skirts or baggy shorts, but have a chamois liner hidden inside.
Follow the tips below for bike-short comfort during and after the ride this season:
Leave your panties behind: Wearing underwear beneath padded bike shorts may cause discomfort in the saddle. Underwear can chafe when seams or folds of fabric rub against the skin, leading to rawness and pain. And, nothing says newbie to your fellow riders like panty lines beneath your shorts.
Lubricate to protect: To further minimize friction, many cyclists count on chamois cream. Bike shops sell different brands, which come in small jars. Before your ride, apply the cream liberally to your crotch and bottom and rub some into the pad inside the shorts. It may take some experimentation over time to find the formulation of chamois cream you like best.
Wiggle around: Moving occasionally on your saddle helps promote circulation. Remind yourself during your ride to slide forward and back or stand up briefly in the saddle to relieve pressure from sitting for long periods.
Get out fast: Remove your bike shorts as soon as you can after you’ve crossed the finish line. Warm, moist conditions, such as those found inside sweat-infused bike shorts, encourage the growth of bacteria, which can lead to infections. If you can’t change right away, clean up with a baby wipe.
Go commando: To further encourage healthful air circulation to the crotch area, some cyclists wear loose shorts (or skirts) without underwear for a while after the ride.
Wash up: Bike shorts should be laundered after every outing on your bike. If your longer-term plans call for wearing bike shorts frequently, invest in a second pair for easy rotation.
Embracing these habits can help keep long rides comfortable and carefree. Follow them and you’ll be sitting pretty – on and off the bike.