Gear Guy

Why are cycling shorts so bulky these days?

I'm beginning to think that today's trend toward Assos-esque padded cycling shorts—padding formerly being the saddle's job—has left me with more saddle sores. This bulky new style only serves to form a bulk of soggy material once the sweat soaks through, causing blisters and general discomfort. Does anyone make shorts or bibs with either minimal padding or something akin to the original chois style? Between the incontinence of infancy and agedness, I prefer not to wear a diaper while riding. Can you help? Clay Wimberley, Texas

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Well, first I better explain to our loyal readers that Clay is referring to Swiss-made Assos shorts and bibs. They’re high-end cycling clothes, costing $100 and more—up to $200 for a few models. Like most expensive bike-shorts makers, Assos is trying new approaches to padding, replacing the traditional wicking chamois with a variety of high-tech padding materials. It’s a trend across the industry, spurred both by the marketing impulse and the fact that saddles are generally lighter and harder than they’ve ever been.

To some extent I agree with you. If you’re thoroughly accustomed to a bike seat, little or no additional padding is really needed. For whatever reason, most of my winter tights are unpadded while my summer shorts are padded, and by and large I’m perfectly happy with the tights (true, winter rides typically are shorter, too). I have a pair of Pearl Izumi Microsensor shorts ($120; that have what feels like panels of body armor welded into the butt area. I’ve had them for a month now, and I’m still trying to decide if I like them or not. To some extent I prefer the lesser-padded Pearl Izumi Ultrasensor, which is $80. But either way, I haven’t had a problem with saddle sores or excessive wetness—the shorts perform well and keep me dry even on 80- to 90-mile rides. But then, I don’t bicycle in Texas, which in some ways must be analogous to bicycling in hell, from a temperature standpoint.

So, you might try Pearl Izumi’s Ultrasensors, which I think are a very good short. Or the Giordana Pro CP-4 ($60), another short with fairly lightweight padding. You might also experiment with a different saddle, to see if you can find the right short/saddle combo.

Good luck!

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