Demystifying Cycling Clothing

A little more vintage mtbchick…

Women’s Specific Bicycles and Equipment: Deconstructing the Myth, Part 1, Clothing

There has been a tsunami of women’s specific bicycles, women’s specific bike components, women’s specific saddles and more in the past couple of years. One thing for sure, women’s specfic sells. But how do you know that what you are buying is really women’s specific, or if you really need women’s specific cycling equipment? Let’s look at a few of the products out there, made specifically for women and you can decide for yourself whether it’s worth it for you.

1. Clothing. One thing i always buy in women’s sizing is clothing. In cycling, it ususally means a better fitting top, in proportion with the female frame. While some women’s jerseys are just smaller versions of the men’s, the shorts, are where you need to use serious scrutiny. Many women’s shorts are merely men’s shorts, maybe with a shorter inseam, and a much smaller-too short waist. The problem is that women have more width to the quads, fuller hips with a small waist. Men’s shorts have small “leg holes”. This does not work for women. It is simply not comfortable. Of course, one of the biggest problems with women’s cycling clothing is that it is made for tiny people. Don’t get frustrated if you can’t find clothes to fit. Try for 14+ sizes.

The bigger issue than basic fit, however, is the chamois (pronounced “shammy”). This is the pad inside the shorts that is integral to a comfortable bike ride. Many men’s chamois have a terry pad in the front. This is extra bulk that can cause discomfort to a female cyclist. Many women’s chamois are narrower in the center, and wider in the rear to accomodate for the women’s wider seat bones. The chamois should be treated to help prevent yeast infections. Let’s review:

1. Go to the local bike shop and try on shorts, make sure they feel good all around and that the chamois is not too bulky. it is better to buy in person than to buy online when it comes to clothing, if you have a choice.

2. Scrutinize the chamois… Castelli makes a wonderful women’s specific chamois, and their clothes are made for women, really!

3. For women’s sizes 14+, go to for a great selection!

Demystifying Cycling Clothing, Part 1, Shorts

Yes, you need a pair of bike shorts. Bike shorts for women are designed to have no seam down the middle of the shorts; a seam would cause massive rubbing and chaffing and pain. 6-panel means the shorts are made of 6 vertical panels. 8-panel means just that. The difference? Comfort. Noticable? Varies form brand to brand. I recommend trying on shorts before you buy.

A 4 panel short will be the basic short available and will fit, but may not have the performance of a 6 or 8 panel short. Cannondale makes a 10 panel short that fits like a glove. The benefit of more panels is the snug fit- this allows your body to move without causing the shorts to move as well. Imagine a wedding or evening gown- imagine if it were made of one piece of fabric and made fitted, and then imagine a gown made with multiple panels of cloth, made to fit.

Avoid basic Lycra shorts as they will wear out more quickly. Also avoid anything with cotton in it for outdoor riding. this is fine indoors/Spinning, but the cotton/lycra shorts do not hold up well for mountain biking. If you feel uncomfortable in tight shorts, look for baggies… a pair of casual shorts with a bike short inside for comfort! the best of both worlds. Don’t be afraid to spend $80 on a pair of shorts. It’s well worth the money, as shorts last for years if they are taken care of properly (line dried).

Fabrics. There is a mengerie of fabric available to the consumer. Keep in mind most of the fabrics are made in the same factory, they are simply licensed by the manufacturer under a special name. The important factor is to make sure there is something stretchy- lycra/spandex, and they will probably have a “polyester” type ingredient as well. Again, cotton in the shorts is fine for indoor cycling, but outdoors, it just isn’t going to hold up. Cotton also retains moisture, whereas synthetic materials dry quickly and “wick” the moisture away from your skin.

One important note about bike shorts. Get out of them as soon as your ride is over. Change in the parking lot? Yes! If you have trouble doing this while sitting in your car, take a sarape or a large towel with you, wrap it around your waist, and pull your shorts off without anyone seeing you. So why is it so important to get out of the shorts? Yeast infections. The moisture from sweating produced from riding your bike can fester into an infection fairly quickly. So don’t stand around! Change and get cleaned up as soon as you are able. A good chamois will be trated with an antibacterial agent, but this will not completely prevent any unwanted yeast infections- so get out of those shorts!

One more thing about cycling shorts. You are not supposed to wear underwear under you r shorts! Underwear can move around causing discomfort and chaffing. This may be a strange concept to the neophyte, i know it took me a while to get used to… but once you try it, you’ll agree.. it’s a lot more comfortable, and that is how the shorts are designed. Yes, you’ll feel naked at first, but just think of how sexy that is!

Demystifying Cycling Clothing, Part 2, Gloves

Gloves are a necessity for the cyclist, whether a mountain biker, casual rider or road rider. Besides protecting your soft, beautiful hands, gloves provide cushion for your palms, as well as preventing blisters and sore spots from holding the handlebar.

Here’s the scoop on women specific sized gloves. If you have small hands- they work great. Many women still prefer to use a men’s size small simply because the women’s gloves are someitmes way too small! The fingers are generally very short, and the glove itself is narrow. this is a piece of clothing you must try before you buy!

Fingerless v. full finger. When mountain biking, there is no reason to not have a full finger glove. A full finger glove provides prtection for the entire hand. When mountain biking, you may have to brush up against small branches and bushes- so having that added protection is key. Of course, in the event of a fall- you also want that full protection- unless you like getting dirt and rocks and leaves wedged into the finger of your fingerless gloves!

Gel padding? Gel is the new rage in the pads of gloves. I highly recommend gel padding as itprovides the best comfort for all kinds of riding. The Pearl Izumi full finger gel-lite gloves are long time favorite gloves of mine. The gel lasts for years, and doesn’t smash down like other types of padding. Avoid gloves with no padding- like some full finger gloves, especially ones used for BMX.

Demystifying Cycling Clothing, Part 3, Shoes

Women’s specific this and women’s specific that- how to find your way through the muddle of women’s specific cycling clothing… like Shoes! Yes, you will need some cycling shoes. Here’s why: running shoes have laces which can get wrapped around your cranks (bad!). Also- you need a stiff sole for cycling. It helps with power transfer, as well as keeping your foot safe from twists. Hiking boots are too heavy for mountain biking, and the high ankle can get in the way. So look for some good cycling shoes… some are more comfortable than others, but there is a large array of shoes out there!

Do you need to buy women’s specific cycling shoes? Once again, it depends! Women’s specific shoes are typically narrower than the men’s shoes, and also typically are avaiable in smaller sizes. The key to finding the right shoe? Try them on. Shoes should fit snugly, but with room in the “toe box” or the area around your toes. You should not feel your toes touching the sides (too narrow) or the end (too small) of the shoes.

If you are in-between sizes, and half sizes are not offered, or if the shoe is just a little too wide, try a custom footbed. Custom footbeds will eliminate any kind of alignment problems you may have- and not know about- and reduce the likelihood of knee injuries caused by overuse.

Demystifying Cycling Clothing, Part 4, Cycling Socks

Why cycling socks? Ok, first of all, they are cool! Cycling socks are available in many styles for women, and make your cycling wardrobe unique and fun!

But why? Cycling socks are thin, and they fit well. This keeps them from getting bunched up inside your shoe. A thick sock will get heavy and wet from sweat, and stay that way. A good cycling sock will have synthetic materials in its makeup. Padding is not so important in cycling socks, as just a simple thin sock that will keep your feet dry.

In the winter, try wool cycling socks. Stil fairly thin, but warmer than their summer counterparts!


  1. […] Missoula, Montana: a bicycling nirvana « while out ridingPublic Spaces & Public Life for the 21st century « Mississauga Cycling Cold Winter, I’m waiting for the Spring : Grenoble Life Demystifying Cycling Clothing : *mtbchick* […]

Speak Your Mind