After riding the last 15 years I have done my fair share of riding in all sorts of gear from regular shorts or jeans to mountain bike shorts. One of the questions I often get is why I ride mountain bike specific shorts.
Are mountain bike shorts padded: do I really need the padding? Most mountain bike shorts are padded in the right areas to prevent soreness and allow the rider to get more mileage in before having to call it quits. No padding for your rear could lead to an early end to a fun day.
With that being said, there are a number of options out there for style as well as setup for the type of riding you will be doing. If your going for a short enough ride around the house or neighborhood then you might be able to get away with out changing your regular setup.
There are a lot of things that go into determining which shorts to wear while riding your bike. When I first got into mountain biking I simply bought the bike and helmet and got to riding.
Not long after I was wishing I did more research and bought the proper gear. I ended up battered, bruised and sore as hell in part because I didn’t have the right shorts.
In this article we will discuss the various types of shorts, the material in which they are made as well as some things to look for when purchasing new shorts.
Looking for mountain biking related gift ideas? Check out our article on Mountain Bike Gift Ideas: Pre-ride, Post-ride, Accessories & Unique.
Types of Mountain bike shorts
There are several types of mountain bike shorts available for bikers to use while riding. They include straight lycra (or spandex like shorts) or more common in the mountain bike world is the baggier shorts.
Traditional Rod bikers Lycra (or spandex like shorts)
For those riders who split their riding time between the road and the trail they tend to spend stick with the same style. These style of shorts or bibs are usually made out of a lycra material.
This style of short is usually combined with a shirt or jersey of similar style to help reduce drag in order to help the road rider with speed while on the road. While there aren’t usually any pockets on these shorts there is still padding in all the right areas.
One of the problems with using these types of shorts by themselves is that the thin material doesn’t provide much coverage when riding through trails that might be tight on space. I have ridden on plenty of trails in which its just barely wide enough to get through with the width of some of these handle bar setups.
This tends to lead to branch or thorn whips to the knees, thighs and potentially even the shins. This is where the more traditional baggier mountain bike style shorts come into play.
Traditional Baggie Mountain Bike Style
When it comes to the traditional baggier style of mountain bike shorts, you have several options depending on your riding style as well as the amount of riding you are going to do.
All in one. My first set of mountain bike shorts were the all in one baggie style from the now closed Performance bike. These shorts were pretty good quality as they lasted me over 10 years. I think they are actually still in my closet even though I don’t wear them anymore.
The all in one short simply means that the mountain bike short has a liner built in that can’t be removed. These liners are also usually a little looser fit but still contain the padding needed to allow for a more comfortable ride.
Depending on how loose the inner liner in you might want to use a product like Monkey Butt (check price on Amazon) or Body Glide (check price on Amazon) to help prevent chafing (check our article on chafing here).
Shorts with separate liners. My latest go to is a good pair of mountain bike shorts with separate liners. Why you might ask? Simple, because it gives you more options when it comes to rides.
For example, as mentioned in posts like this one on mountain bike camping trips, when out on a camping and mounting bike getaway, you can bring multiple sets of liners while only using one or two pairs of shorts.
If you find a liner you like then you can purchase multiple pairs to use with those shorts or you can shop around try out different styles for riding conditions.
For hybrid rides where its just going a bit of double track, fire road or greenway and single track, you could get away with your typical Lycra liner. For Down Hill rides you might want something with a little more padding in the thighs and quads to help if/when you take a fall.
You are going to want to really pay attention to the chamois that is built into the liners. What is a chamois? A Chamois is the padding placed where you “seat” hits the seat. The chamois of today are much different than the chamois of old.
If you go cheap on the liners you may be pay the price later. When I bought the first pair I fell didn’t pay attention to the thickness or stitching and found out the hard way that this led to the shifting of the padding which led to chafing.
Things to keep in mind
There are several other things to keep in mind when looking to purchase a pair of mountain bike shorts.
First off, you are going to try and decide what exactly you need in a pair of shorts. If you aren’t going to be riding with a pack you may need a pair of shorts with as many pockets as possible.
This allows you to store your phone, multi tool, snacks and other necessities for your ride. I still ride with a pair of shorts with as many pockets as possible as it gives me options.
Second, and maybe this should be first, is fit. You want to ensure you get plenty of coverage in the event of a fall or being hit by branches as you ride. It is essential that the liner gives you enough coverage that there is little to no chance for chafing.
One thing to think about here is the length of the shorts. My preference is to have long enough shorts to allow coverage of my knees while sitting.
Third is look and feel. There are often times after a ride where the guys and I want to pop in somewhere and grab a bite or beer. With a pair of shorts with separate liners, it’s easy to freshen up and pop on in.
Simply pop those stinky liners into the bed of a truck or tucked away in a bag, do a quick wipe down with baby wipes and head on in for a beer.
Other padding on the liners.
Depending on your style of riding you may also want to get some liners with heavy duty padding for harder falls when riding tougher trails (or for beginners who just fall a lot).
I took a hard fall a year or so ago and landed on a root which left a pretty good indentation on my thigh. I wasn’t too worried about it at first but noticed the indentation stayed around for a while.
It’s those types of events that make me think harder about making changes to my setup.
One final option to think about
So I have run into this issue a time or two and there is one setup option to think about. I have been contemplating wearing a set of bibs under my shorts and jersey.
The main reason I have been thinking about this option is to eliminate the accidental mooning of fellow riders. While there is a bit of hilarity in it happening I think we would all be better off if I could eliminate the issue all together.
With my current setup my undershirt tends to rise up and depending on how long we have been riding the upper portion of my liners may have loosened which leave the opportunity for a little crack show.
Which the bib setup you have the upper section that goes around you shoulders which would help keep the mooning from happening as well as allowing to ensure a proper fit of the liner for the entire ride to eliminate chafing.
Q.Do I wear underwear with my mountain bike shorts?
NO! I as well as most people out there would advise against wearing underwear with your mountain bike shorts as the stitching in your regular underwear can lead to chafing.
The one exception that I might have for that is if you are also planing on riding with a pair of leggings on colder days. These leggings are specifically for running/riding and are built to add compression as well as warmth while also wicking away moisture.
Q. How do I maintain my mountain bike shorts to ensure they last?
While you are going to want to read the label on your shorts for any special instructions the basic instructions are to wash in cold water with a mild detergent. If at home, it’s best not to use any fabric softener.
If your camping this is where multiple liners come in handy. Rinse the outer shell with water and air dry for the next ride. The outer shell tends to dry out pretty quick as the padding itself is in the liner.
The liner itself will take longer to dry out due to the padding. This is where riding with multiple liners comes into play when taking breaks in between trails. It always feels good to swap out liners before heading out for a second long ride after lunch.