Triathlon Short Vs. Bike Shorts

“What’s the difference between tri shorts and bike shorts?”, “Why do I need tri shorts?”, “What are tri shorts?”

Working for a triathlon company, I get asked these questions quite often. Three distinct items differentiate tri shorts from bike shorts:

  1. Function: Running and Swimming versus Bike Riding
  2. Construction: How the short is designed
  3. Price: Which is more expensive? It really depends on what quality product you are going to pick.

Function: Whether or not you’re really going to need that diaper of a pad….

Bike shorts often come with the notion of having a “diaper-like” pad. This is based upon the fact that the padding (chamois) in a bike short is much thicker, as well it covers a wider surface area of the short (the pad reaches higher in the front, as well as the back for more cushion support). So why would you need a thicker pad as a triathlete? Simple. If you plan on logging in some serious training miles (let’s say beyond 20 or 30 mile rides) a thicker pad will eventually become a necessity. However, a biking short is just that: made for biking. A short with such a cushion would not be functional to run and swim in.  The bike short is designed for longer training rides. Thus, the need for tri shorts that have thinner pads designed with consideration for running and swimming in.

Construction: Tri and bike shorts have different design features. As previously mentioned, there’s the distinct difference of a thinner chamois in a cycling short but what else separates the two?

  • length:  A tri short tends to be shorter in length (a good 2-3 inches depending on the style). This difference is even more noticeable in some women’s styles.  Triathlon shorts generally range around 6” to 10”.
  • moisture wicking: A tri short is also designed to wick moisture, meaning they’re going to keep much drier and won’t absorb nearly as much water as a bike short. This in large part comes from the difference in the pad
  • shape: The actual shape of the shorts and chamois is designed with running in mind. Its shape moves with you while running, and the pad doesn’t span quite as wide. The cushioning is generally slight, and light enough to become unnoticeable while out on the run (but I’ve found this to be quite subjective among different shorts matched with different people). With most bike shorts you will find the short to mimic the shape of your body in a sitting position. With most tri shorts you will find them to be straight in construction like most pants and running shorts.

Pricing: Cost differences

On average, you’re going to be looking at a slightly steeper cost for a cycling short.

Bike Shorts: More material and a thicker padding usually translates to a little bit more of a cost. So when should you spend the extra cash? When a thicker chamois and longer short can’t be compromised. For many people longer bike training days equate to riding in cycling shorts rather than tri shorts. In this case comfort is paramount and sometimes it’s just not worth the saddle pains.

Tri Shorts: Some tri shorts can get very pricey when you consider the materials, pad, compression, etc… Look to spend between $60 to $100 for a pair of current/in-season/up-to-date tri shorts from a reputable company. For the most part, you’re probably going to want to stick to triathlon shorts for race day and even many training days.

If you’re looking for a best seller as far as cycling short for comfort reasons, check out the De Soto 400 Mile Bike Short.

Need an all around great tri short? Check out the 2XU Comp Tri Short. Get both shorts at OneTri.com

Happy Training.

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One Response to “Triathlon Short Vs. Bike Shorts”

  1. Nice post WOT3. I agree this is a very common question for people. Thanks for taking the time to write this guide.

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