Whether you've recently taken up cycling or you're an experienced rider, you've certainly, sooner or later, found yourself standing in front of a shelf of technical cycling gear, wondering who made you do it.
You chose the sport because of the freedom it can give you, the sense of escapism, the challenge, or simply because you love outdoor activities--and now why on earth would you know the difference between gel and microfiber pads?
This article will solve all your doubts and provide you with practical advice on choosing your outfit.
Technical cycling apparel is often underestimated, but with a little information and a few tricks, which we'll provide below, you'll know how to choose the right pants for you that will turn your cycling outings around.
Why pants are essential and why to choose them carefully
The temptation to give up your cycling shorts for your comfortable running shorts has grazed you, maybe you even gave in and a bike ride you did...you still remember that ride, don't you?
Choosing the wrong cycling shorts that don't fit your needs or, even worse, thinking it's not essential and opting for a generic piece of sportswear can make hours spent on the bike moments to forget.
In addition to uncomfortable pedaling, a wrong choice of cycling shorts can lead to annoying pains, at the lumbar fascia for example, the area most exposed to perspiration and air, in the case of a poorly designed shorts.
Not to mention more frequent discomfort in the pelvic floor area, such as genital or skin inflammation, if the shorts do not have a pad with adequate protection and materials.
Incorrect fit of clothing could also impair performance when you pedal, causing excessive sweating, chafing or poor protection in sensitive areas.
As many pants as there will be scenarios on two wheels
By now it is clear, cycling is an activity that has little to do with improvisation. On the contrary, it is a sport where the technicality and variety of equipment are many, because the disciplines on two wheels are diverse and the weather and terrain conditions in which you might find yourself riding are heterogeneous and subject to change during the outing.
The technicality of cycling clothing is necessary to ensure safety and comfort in all situations, but the variety of products makes the choice difficult. Along with a good protective jacket, the pant is the essential garment that will accompany you all year round.
Read on to find out which pants are best for you.
Step one: you are the protagonist
We'll let you in on a secret. You are not the one who has to adapt to the sports equipment. The bike you ride, the garments you wear are nothing more than means for you to enthusiastically and carefree live the sport you love, they will allow you to regenerate and perform at your best in the challenges ahead.
In other words, the protagonist is you, it is your passion for cycling, it is the sensations you seek when you pedal. That's why our guide on choosing the perfect shorts starts with you.
The first step is to clarify what your habits and needs are when you're in the saddle. We offer a list of cues that we suggest you jot down and they cover 4 key aspects that can be summarized as follows: Use, Frequency, Interest, Sensation.
- What style of cycling do you practice?
- How often do you ride your bike? Do you ride even in winter? Do you pedal even if it rains?
- How do you pedal? Are you more interested in your athletic performance or in exploring your surroundings?
- Do you particularly suffer from sweating and heat? What about the cold?
... reveal what you need.
By answering these simple questions you will already be clear, for example, whether you need one or more pairs of cycling pants, depending on frequency and situations of use.
You'll understand if you need to pay special attention to breathability rather than a comfortable fit, precisely because it's the pants that needs to adjust to you, not vice versa, remember?
If you reverse the reasoning, and focus first on your needs rather than on the products offered by the market, it will be easier to navigate the world of technical cycling apparel, where the intrinsic characteristics of the product are important but the winning mix is entirely subjective, tied to what you feel is important to you.
Step two: the details to note
Now, having clarified Use, Frequency, Interest and Feeling you have understood what the perfect mix is...yes, the perfect mix for you.
Let's now delve into the inherent characteristics of cycling shorts so that you have a guide to the details to pay special attention to.
Below we will outline the four qualities that define cycling shorts:
- the pad;
- the suspenders;
- the fabric;
- the fit
Without a doubt, the pad is the most critical area of the pant. It is the area where body pressure is exerted, resting on the saddle. The pad has the critical role of providing comfort, shock absorption and breathability.
The first major distinction is between pads designed on the male anatomy versus those in the female line, which have different padding and structure.
The second distinction concerns materials. There are commercially available pads made of microfiber coupled with a perforated mesh, to ensure optimal breathability, and structured in three densities, to ensure maximum support over long distances-for example, this is the case with Northwave's Extreme Pro bibshort or Extreme Pro bibtight.
Other pants, such as the Active Bibshort Gel, were constructed with pads made of microfiber and gel inserts. Again, the pad construction is layered to give a comfortable and soft feel, especially for those who want more support in the groin area.
Not all cycling pants are designed to have a protective pad. The most comfortable fit garments, baggy, are generally used for enduro, downhill or gravel riding. Be careful when choosing these models: Northwave offers variations with and without a pad for some, see for example the Edge baggy and Escape baggy models.
If the baggy model you've spotted doesn't have a pad but you want protection and comfort, an interesting alternative is a garment like the Sport Inner Short, a shorts with a pad to wear under your shorts.
The suspenders-either love them or hate them. You will hear mixed opinions about this feature but, again, entirely subjective and related to the above aspects of Use, Frequency, Interest and Sensation, which go into generating your winning mix.
A model of cycling pants with suspenders will be named bibshort, in the case of summer shorts, or bibtight, in the case of long pants, thus more suitable for the cold season. The model without suspenders will simply be called shorts.
The bib, thanks to the suspenders, provides a firm fit throughout the ride without tightening at the waist, as the suspenders keep the shorts in place and prevent them from riding down exposing the lower back.
Some cyclists, however, prefer shorts, claiming that they are more practical and cool and appreciate their light weight compared to dungaree models.
The fabric, or rather the fabrics, that construct a cycling shorts are crucial, given the surface area of skin they must protect and allow to breathe. The materials on the market are countless and meet the equally varied needs of cyclists.
The shorts you are looking for will need to perform best in the conditions in which you most often pedal. If you pedal in the summer, pay attention to the breathability and drying speed of the materials. If, on the other hand, you're looking for shorts for colder temperatures, it's best to favor materials that provide thermal insulation and waterproofing.
In general, the fit identifies the style of riding. The baggy is a garment that suits leisure, adventurous cycling, while the tight fit recalls the road and MTB world, certainly a more race and performance attitude.
There is a technical reason for this distinction and that is aerodynamics. In categories such as road cycling, where every second counts and can make a difference, sports equipment must maximize performance with a comfortable but snug fit for the least amount of energy loss.
All you have to do is explore the wide selection of pants and choose the best one for you. Discover our complete collection now.