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Specialized Cycling Shorts: Thou shalt protect thy butt…

January 2014
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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.
RBXPro_Comp Shorts RBXPro_Comp Chamois 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.


8 Comments

  1. Kecia says:

    Oh the simple pleasures of having AMAZING bike shorts…

  2. sueslaght says:

    Having been in tears on early cycling trips by day 3 or 4, I concur in the pure pleasure of high quality shorts.

  3. Laura says:

    Louis Garneau makes some killer shorts. Absolutely brilliant. My fave winter tights are Pearl Izumis. I have many cheap shorts and while they serve a purpose early in one’s cycling obsession, there’s nothing like experiencing quality shorts.

    • bgddyjim says:

      There are a couple if guys in our club who swear by Garneau… Good call. I’ve got a Garneau jersey that is one of my favorites… Had it for three years and it still looks crisp. Thanks for commenting.

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