Are Running Shorts Good for Cycling? (With the Best Alternative)

So you want to get into cycling without spending a fortune on all of the gear? You may be thinking about utilizing other types of apparel to wear in lieu of biker shorts. If this is you, you may wonder, “Are running shorts good for cycling?”

Running shorts are not ideal for cycling. Cycling shorts are made with a built-in butt pad known as a chamois that’s designed to protect your tailbone while riding. Additionally, cycling shorts are tight-fitting to reduce drag. Running shorts don’t provide extra padding and are typically fairly loose to allow for a full range of movement.

Keep reading to find out if any running shorts can be used when cycling, plus which type of sports pants would make an adequate substitute.

Do you need special shorts for cycling?

The more you get into a sport, the more likely you are to need specialized clothing to participate in it. Kicking a soccer ball around in your jeans and tennis shoes is fine for playing around in your backyard, but you’ll want cleats, shin guards, and more for a serious game. The same is true for cycling and running – you can do either casually in casual clothes, but once you start taking it seriously, you’ll want to invest in sport-specific clothing.

While you can probably get away with wearing a generic pair of running shorts or athletic pants while cycling, the quality of your cycling experience will likely improve dramatically by investing in the proper gear. This is because cycling shorts have a number of specific features designed to outfit the would-be-cyclist for every scenario the sport will likely lead them to encounter. 

Specific benefits of using biker shorts for cycling include:

  • Material and fit – The tight, spandex-infused material streamlines your shape and reduces wind resistance throughout your ride.
  • Cushioning and comfort – Most biker shorts include a chamois (a built-in butt pad) that protects your tailbone from the hard bicycle seat.
  • Customization – Customizable style and design to match other riders from your organization or team. 
Are running shorts good for cycling? No, they are designed for very different purposes.
Differences between running shorts and biker shorts

Biker shorts are, in a sense, part of the uniform of a cyclist. Choosing running shorts instead of biker shorts while cycling would be a bit like trying to wear golf khakis to compete in a marathon.

You can do it, but…why?

Of course, the same is true for running: while you might be able to get away with running in biker shorts, you really should get a good pair of running shorts if you’ll be doing it frequently.

Have you ever wonder if cycling is a good cross-training exercise for runners? I’ve got the answer here!

What kind of shorts should I wear for cycling?

It may seem obvious, but the best type of shorts to wear for cycling are biker shorts.

Biker shorts are tight and fairly long, usually ending right above the knee. They are typically made of synthetic materials, including spandex, meaning that they fit snuggly and will not shift or slip down throughout your ride. Most biker shorts also include additional padding to protect your butt from the uncomfortable seat of the bicycle.

Tight shorts are worn to decrease the wind resistance a cyclist will experience at high speeds, especially when going downhill. This decrease in drag may only seem like a benefit of a few milliseconds, but when you add up all of that time over the course of a race, it can lead to drastic improvements in a cyclist’s overall time.

Biker shorts are tight-fitting and typically include a chamois (extra padding to protect the tailbone from the seat of the bicycle.)

Additionally, you will want to choose a pair of biker shorts with a built-in butt pad, or chamois. A chamois is a pad that is situated above the butt crack and protects the tailbone from your bicycle’s hard and intrusive seat. 

The pad is often shaped like a slice of pizza and is probably the single most important piece of equipment a cyclist can purchase. Most serious biker short designs will include a built-in chamois.

If you ride for a particular team or shop, you might also want to consider the style of the shorts you’re investing in. Many cycling teams will wear the same uniforms with the same color scheme and logos. If this is the case, you will want to ensure that the uniform you’re purchasing matches that of your teammates.

What is the difference between running shorts and bike shorts?

There are a number of obvious differences between running shorts and biker shorts, some of which have already been mentioned above.

The primary differences between running shorts and biker shorts are:

  • Fit – Biker shorts are skintight and designed specifically to reduce drag. Running shorts are loose-fitting and designed to allow the runner to take a full, unimpeded stride.
  • Material – While both types of shorts may be made of sweat-wicking fabrics, they are very different blends overall. Biker shorts use spandex to create a tight, form-fitting fabric, while running shorts are typically polyester for a loose, lightweight fit.
  • Padding – Biker shorts include extra padding for the backside to reduce discomfort and fatigue from sitting on the bicycle’s seat.
  • Liner – Because running shorts have a looser fit, some pairs will include a liner to increase support and comfort.
  • Pockets – Running shorts often include a pocket either at the side or along the waistband for the runner’s necessities. Some biker shorts include a pocket, but it will be placed on the thigh and is more appropriately sized for a cell phone.

Just like you probably don’t want to cycle in running shorts, you probably don’t want to do any running in cycling shorts! With that said, the best bike shorts for running would be simple compression shorts without a chamois.

Running shorts tend to be shorter than most other athletic shorts, and are designed to be as unobtrusive as possible to avoid impairing the runner's stride.

Biker shorts are skin-tight and are designed that way to decrease drag. While some types of running shorts might also be designed with spandex, most pairs are polyester and may fit quite loosely around the upper thigh region. 

Another major difference is the built-in chamois that most pairs of biker shorts boast. In the sport of running, there’s obviously no need for this feature, so running shorts should not contain any additional – and potentially restrictive – padding. 

In most pairs of men’s running shorts, you will find a cloth liner designed to increase the security and stability of certain body parts. Obviously, because of the tight-fitting design of biker shorts, there’s no need for this feature. 

Additionally, you’re more likely to find pockets in running shorts than you are in biker shorts, though some pairs of biker shorts may contain a slip-in pocket on the outside of the lower thigh. These are designed to hold a rider’s cell phone. On the other hand, running short pockets may zip up to ensure the stuff in your pockets is not strewn about the road while the wearer is running. 

What can I wear instead of cycling shorts?

If you don’t have a pair of cycling shorts handy, but still want to go on a ride, you’re not doomed. While running shorts probably aren’t your best choice, there are some types of athletic shorts that will work.

In an emergency situation, you can wear any type of tight-fitting shorts while cycling. Loose-fitting clothing – especially longer shorts and pants – will increase drag and may have the added danger of being caught up in the bicycle chain, causing a nasty wreck. 

Baseball sliding shorts, for example, may serve as an adequate replacement for biker shorts, as they will be form-fitting and may even include some padding to help protect the rider from the hard seat. Really any form of tights will work. 

Just make sure to stay away from baggier forms of clothing like basketball shorts or long, loose-fitting styles of pants. These can be dangerous and inhibit the movements necessary for a quality ride. 

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