QUESTION: How do you know if your cycling shorts are worn out? I don’t want to waste money if mine are still good, and then I read about people buying new ones after less than a season. – Justin C
RBR’S STAN PURDUM REPLIES: Cycling shorts have two components: the chamois and the skin, and it’s quite typical for one to wear out before the other. The chamois is the pad inside the shorts; the skin is the short itself, usually made of a spandex fabric. I’ve had shorts where the pad was still in good shape when I discarded the garment because skin was shot, and vice versa. But I’ve also had shorts that wore out more uniformly.
Let’s start with the skin. It is worn out when:
- the spandex has lost its elasticity and no longer provides compression.
- the seams start splitting open. (A small opening of a single seam, however, may be worth stitching, but when more seams go, the shorts are done for.)
- the grippers in the leg openings and the waistband no longer grip.
- the fabric becomes nearly transparent. (I was riding behind a cycling buddy one day and noticed that when he stretched forward, I could see his butt through the skin of the shorts. When I told him, he thought I was kidding because otherwise, his shorts seemed in good shape. But when he got home and asked his wife for an opinion, she verified the shorts were see-through.)
- the shorts lose their shape.
- the elastic threads in the skin start breaking and appear as white debris on the fabric.
- once-comfortable shorts are no longer so.
The chamois is worn out when:
- it becomes lumpy or misshapen
- it becomes flatter or visibly thinner.
- the padding becomes separated from the outer fabric layer that covers it, allowing the padding to “drift” under the outer-covering layer.
- the chamois becomes partially unstitched from the skin so that it fails to move with you as you pedal.
- worn spots appear on the chamois.
- a once-comfortable chamois is no longer so.
- the chamois smells bad and no amount of washing makes the smell go away.
These possible failings make it sound like cycling shorts don’t last long, but in fact, well-made shorts should last for a few years, especially if you have several pairs and wear them in rotation and you follow the manufacturer’s directions when you wash them.
For more on the lifespan of cycling shorts, see my article, “How Long Do Bike Shorts Last?”, which also includes some interesting reader responses.
Stan Purdum has ridden several long-distance bike trips, including an across-America ride recounted in his book Roll Around Heaven All Day, and a trek on U.S. 62, from Niagara Falls, New York, to El Paso, Texas, the subject of his book Playing in Traffic. Stan, a freelance writer and editor, lives in Ohio. See more at www.StanPurdum.com.