I am a happy cyclist. I have suffered through three seasons on cheap cycling shorts and today that streak, thankfully, will end for quite some time as I’ve finally amassed a decent collection of outstanding shorts.
When I first started cycling money was a lot tighter than it is today – I had stretches where I didn’t know how I was going to make my next paycheck. Such is the life of a CEO, CFO and HFS (head floor sweeper), so I opted for two pair of the cheapest shorts I could find and made do. Now I didn’t know any better at the time and to tell you the truth, I really didn’t care if riding a century in $35 shorts hurt like hell when I was done. I love cycling that much.
Well, at the end of the 2012 season I happened on a sale at the local shop and managed to pick up a pair of Specialized RBX Pro cycling shorts – Specialized’s top of the line shorts – for 2/3’s of the list price ($50 off). Now, having ridden four centuries on cheap shorts, my first ride on the RBX Pro’s was like descending from heaven on a gold-plated Venge, with the harps playing and the whole nine yards. To say my haunches rejoiced is a bit of an understatement. On the other hand, let’s face it folks, $150 is a lot of cash for a pair of shorts – many people won’t spend that on a whole bike. So when I decided I needed another pair of decent shorts I opted for the less costly BG Comp shorts – my local shop stocks Specialized and Bontrager apparel and let’s just say I appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into Specialized’s clothing. The BG Comp (BG is short for Body Geometry) shorts are nice as well though the chamois is nowhere near the quality of the RBX Pro shorts. Still, the Comp’s are head an shoulders above the el-cheapo’s and only cost about $20 more per pair.
Fast-forward to yesterday and the Mrs. and I were preparing for our daily trainer ride… I pulled out my cheap shorts to find that the gel padding had migrated north to a place where not only is a lot of padding not needed, but not desired. Let’s just say it was odd up front. I’d had enough, so I at lunch time headed out to the bank, withdrew enough for two pair of shorts and headed to the bike shop… I ended up with another pair of RBX Pro’s ($135) and a pair of RBX Comp’s ($90)*. Now, the RBX Comp shorts are what I was looking for. A great short with an awesome chamois for less than $100… They’re awesome – the chamois is almost as good as the RBX Pro’s so they should be good for longer rides than the BG Comp’s.
The RBX Pro’s are on the left in both photos.
Now, I’ve given a lot of information on the cost and the different models of short for a reason that’ll matter in about two paragraphs…
Decent cycling shorts (IMO) are almost as important as having a bike than having a bike fit to the rider. Having ridden the Barbed Wire century a time or four, I can tell you with utter certainty: Riding long distances on cheap shorts sucks. It is possible, even to enjoy it, but having done it and ridden several more on everything from top-of-the-line to mid-grades, any decent pair is better than the big-box, cheap shorts.
That said, I feel fairly confident that I can mileage rate each pair of Specialized Shorts:
The big-box cheap shorts are good for 15-20 miles max, after that they’re a pain in the butt (pun intended).
The Specialized BG Comp shorts are good for up to a 60 mile ride.
The RBX Comp shorts will go up to 70 or even 80 miles comfortably.
The RBX Pro shorts are the real deal. They’ll have you smiling as you cruise by the 100 mile marker.
With anything in cycling though, if you haven’t put in the saddle time, a long ride on the best shorts on the market will hurt. I have thoroughly vetted the BG Comps and RBX Pros on many long rides. The BG Comp’s chamois is a little more forgiving so they’re more comfortable to walk in but they’re a little hurty on longer rides. The RBX Pro shorts (and more than likely the RBX Comps as well) will feel like you have a piece of cardboard on your butt… Right up till you throw your leg over the top tube, clip in and drop your butt on the saddle. At that point, if your experience is anything like mine, your butt cheek (left in my case) will look up at you, wink, and thank you.
As with all things cycling related, brand choice will be heavily dependent on the cyclist. I ride Specialized gear because my local shop carries it and the owner of that shop wears it almost exclusively – and with something like 40 years in the industry, I trust his opinion. It also doesn’t hurt that I ride a Venge so I match too. That said, my friend the All Seasons Cyclist swears by the high-end Pearl Izumi shorts, and they are less cost prohibitive than the Specialized shorts. But please, if you don’t have to, you don’t want to skimp on the shorts. Your butt will thank you for picking up decent shorts.
*As a matter of full disclosure, I paid full price (last year’s) for the RBX Pro shorts minus my club discount and the RBX Comp’s were part of a year-end sale.
UPDATE: Sue over at Travel Tales of Life stopped by and commented on having ridden a multi-day tour on cheap shorts… More than once. While noble and tough as nails, I, from the Fit Recovery Command Center, cannot stress enough how strongly I advise against this without something like A&D Ointment or Aquaphor in the saddle bag – for the love of God and all that is holy. Thanks Sue.
I love being me. I love being the guy that my friends describe as “nuts” when it comes to cycling and I love being the guy that friends and family alike turn to when they have questions about eating, exercising and especially cycling. It’s not all fun and games though. Every once in a while someone will come up with a question that requires a bit of research.
My mother-in-law has a brother-in-law who rides a lot. In fact, he’s ridden all the way from South Carolina to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan – in one trip that took more than a month, a journey of over 1,000 miles. Over the Christmas vacation he was up visiting family and he got to talking with my mother-in-law about the concern of cycling causing an enlarged prostate…
Now, I knew studies show no tie between cycling and prostate cancer, but I didn’t know anything about problems related to an enlarged prostate. I explained what I’d read about cancer, but that I’d get back with her about the rest…
As I understand it from reading multiple studies, articles and posts about the prostate, my original research into cancer was confirmed – no link. However people who are susceptible to prostate problems can experience enlarging due to cycling, especially after really long rides and if rest and recovery time is not included in these people the consequences can be quite dire (including infections).
So, you give any cyclist three guesses as to the culprit and they’ll only need one: The saddle. Not only does the style matter, the padding (as any knowledgeable cyclist will tell you) is one of the biggest contributors. The more padding you have on that saddle, the worse off you’ll be. The best saddles are anatomically made, specifically men and women’s saddles with a groove up the middle or the two-pad style saddles with no nose.
There is some misinformation out there, or maybe just misunderstood information that I do want to deal with quickly. I bumped into this article, a FAQ for prostate cancer – specifically number 4:
“4. Q: Can the sport of bicycle riding increase the likelihood of BPH, prostate cancer or other prostate problems?
A: Prolonged cycling on a hard seat is thought to affect potency by injuring the pudendal arteries that supply blood to the penis. Cycling can also traumatize the prostate, causing an elevation in the PSA level. No evidence, to my knowledge, shows that cycling can increase the risk for benign prostate enlargement or prostate cancer.”
That statement is technically a correct and incorrect answer at the same time. As I understand the science from what I’ve read (and through personal experience), the correct way to structure the response would be this: Prolonged cycling on an improperly fitting saddle that blocks or damages the pudenal arteries [etc., etc.]… My saddles – all of them – were specifically sized and chosen to fit my sit bones and aggressive riding style so that I’m sitting on bone, not the soft tissue that houses the pudenal arteries and my saddles are very hard (maybe two millimeters of padding). They are also, when used with properly fitting and appropriate (read that expensive) cycling specific shorts, exceptionally comfortable over long distances (100+ miles). Here’s where the original sentence takes a turn for the worse though (at least as has been explained at length by several industry pros): Soft saddles have a tendency to staunch blood flow more because they form around the sit area so that the rider’s weight is distributed over the entire saddle rather than just on the sit bones. In fact, my hard road saddle is vastly more comfortable over 100 miles than my softer mountain bike saddle is over 30 miles for just this reason.
Now, I’m going to leave this post here because the last thing I want to do is give some damned politician enough rope to hang a new stinkin’ law around a padded saddle to save us all from prostate cancer.
What’s that you say? I just wrote that research shows cycling isn’t linked to prostate cancer? Yeah, I know but when was the last time a politician ever let facts and reality get in the way of championing legislation that hangs an industry they deem evil for the betterment of mankind? You ever eat salt? Yeah, the doofus in charge of New York City outlawed that. I can just see the commercials now:
Did you ride a bicycle? Have you suffered from prostate cancer? You may be eligible for benefits if you became sick or even died as a result of riding a bike. Please contact us at 1-800-EVL-BIKE for a free phone consultation, a service of Dewey, Cheatum and Howe*.
Hell, I may have already written too much. I miss the good old days of tarring and feathering shysters.
*For the Lefty Extremists: Parody, not to be taken seriously. Please do not attempt to dial 1-800-EVL-BIKE, I don’t even know if it would connect. In fact, I won’t even bother checking – I made it up as a joke. To the best of my knowledge, Dewey Cheatum & Howe is not a real law firm. It’s a play on words and is used on a regular and consistent basis on NPR (NPR is the US equivalent of the BBC – Car Talk is the show that uses DC&H). If you really needed this disclaimer, let me know in the comments section…so I can pray for you.
UPDATE: As if on cue, I picked up a couple of new pairs of shorts, the other important part of cycling comfortably. I now own 4 pair of Specialized shorts ranging from high-end down to mid-grade and went through a review of all four here.