If you’re a regular indoor cyclist, you probably already have some of the necessary gear. But you may want to consider investing in padded bike shorts along with your cycling shoes and clothing that you’re OK sweating through.
As a Peloton regular who rides most days, I’ve actually never worn a pair of padded bike shorts. But it’s definitely a thing. A quick scan of activewear and cycling retail sites show a bunch of the padded options. Which made me think: Do people actually need to wear padded bike shorts to indoor cycling classes?
Wondering if I was selling my workout short with my (woefully?) unpadded shorts, I decided to consult the experts for their take on whether this piece of gear is really necessary when you ride. Here, an exercise physiologist and two indoor cycling instructors—one who also rides outdoors, too—weigh in on what you need to know about taking the plunge into padding.
What do padded bike shorts even do, anyway?
First and foremost, padded bike shorts help alleviate one of the most common complaints among cyclists: chronic butt and groin pain, which is often caused by pressure from the saddle on key pelvic areas when sitting on it too long. In fact, in a 2019 study of 178 female cyclists published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, 58 percent reported at least sometimes experiencing genital numbness, and 69 percent said the same about pain.
Without proper padding, riding can, for some people, also compress the sciatic nerve, which runs from your lower back through your hips and down each leg, Michele Olson, Ph.D., an exercise physiologist and senior clinical professor in the department of sport science and physical education at Huntingdon College, tells SELF. Some riders may feel the pain almost immediately after starting, while others may only start to experience it after 30 to 60 minutes, she says.
This can cause pain down your back and hips and can even lead to numbness in your feet, she explains. It can also compress a nerve in your pelvis called the pudendal nerve, which can cause numbness or even “pins and needles” in the genital area, she says.
Sitting on a rigid seat can also irritate your “sit” bones, or the bony bones in your bum— which can get sore when you sit too long in a chair, let alone on a bike, explains Olson.
But padded shorts, which provide cushioning (called the chamois) inside the shorts in the butt and groin area, protect against that pressure, she says. They also reduce friction between the seat and your groin area, which can lead to uncomfortable chafing, Peloton cycling instructor Christine D’Ercole, who’s also a USA Cycling national masters champion on the track, tells SELF.
“Outdoor cyclists almost always wear bike shorts with a chamois just like they wear clip-in shoes,” says Olsen. By wearing proper cycling shorts, you get the best performance potential while lowering your risk of crotch and leg numbness, she says. That’s important, because along with the discomfort it causes, riding with numbness can also mess with your form, possibly leading to injury down the line.
Plus, it’s not only about the padding with cycling shorts: The wicking fabric, smooth seaming, and compression in many shorts can just plain make you feel better on the bike, says D’Ercole.
“When you are comfortable in the saddle, you are more likely to stay committed to your fitness goals,” says D’Ercole. That means you’re able to give all your focus to your ride.
Who needs to wear padded bike shorts?
How long you spend on the bike—and where you’re riding—are important factors when deciding if padded bike shorts are right for you.