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Why do cyclists use padded shorts instead of padded saddle? It seems like putting padding on the saddle would be more optimal. Doubly so for triathlon.

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I've often wondered this too. It seems that it would cost way more to pad the shorts since shorts wear out faster than saddles, and you need multiple pairs of shorts. It would be easier to just pad the saddle, and get unpadded shorts which would be much cheaper. – Kibbee Jul 27 '12 at 15:18
Thinking about it, it might have more to do with "riding with the proper cycling wear" than "having an optimal padding down there". I have a comfortable saddle that can be ridden with jeans, but jeans ends up being less "appropriate" than cycling shorts if the ride is long. Something to think about... – heltonbiker Jul 27 '12 at 16:32
up vote 25 down vote accepted

Padded seats tend to have more padding than used at any given time. This pushes the other 'extra' padding into the soft tissues. This causes numbness and discomfort over time.

So slim hard seats are actually more comfortable over time, if they are the right size. You need to make sure your sit bones (ischial tuberosity) are well situated. The sit bones of your hips are designed to support weight for long periods of time, where a plush seat disperses your weight to muscles and other areas.

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But try to explain to a new rider that "really, the less padded saddle is going to feel better". I suspect lots of people never fully embrace cycling because any long ride on those over-cushioned saddles leaves them with a pain in the butt. – Ken Hiatt Jul 27 '12 at 15:43
yes, most people see my super thin minimal seat and comment on how that must really hurt. In fact its the most comfortable seat i have ever ridden on. – Matt Adams Jul 30 '12 at 4:05
Seeing that this is the most upvoted I'll mark this as accepted, although I have never experienced discomfort with padded saddle myself. – jva Aug 6 '12 at 11:35
@jva, probably just depends on the saddles you have used. Not all are the worst. I have a moderately padded saddle on my commuter bike that is not too terrible for under 5 miles. – Matt Adams Aug 6 '12 at 17:08
While I don't doubt your answer is correct, I'm afraid I still don't understand. The bike shorts will have more padding than used at any given time as well. There's still padding between the saddle and your bum - it seems the only difference is in what object the padding is attached to. What difference does it make that the padding is stuck to your bum vs the saddle? – Phil Jun 24 '13 at 12:47

Putting the padding in the shorts means that the padding will always be exactly where you need it. Most people tend to change their position on the bike a bit, specially when riding longer tours. With the padded saddles, the padding won't change when you alter your position, which can result in blisters or sores.

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Furthermore, a padded saddle and unpadded shorts would cause the saddle's padding to put pressure on the perineum when moving to certain positions. – amcnabb Jul 27 '12 at 15:59

It's not really "padding", although it does offer a cushion. It's a chamois, which part of its purpose is to absorb moisture and wick it away from your skin which helps reduce friction. This is aided by creams that condition the chamois.

and +1 to @Matt Adams answer.

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The way I've understood it is that if you are needing to put creams on you are probably wearing the wrong sized biking shorts for you body or have the wrong sized seat. Additionally, isn't it not actually a chamois anymore because the pads are not made of leather like they used to be? – Brad Jul 30 '12 at 14:44
It's a synthetic chamois these days, so in the strictest sense of the word it isn't a chamois, but then a sponge isn't usually a real sponge either. Cremes aren't 100% necessary for short rides or moderate weather, but when it's 90F+ out and you're in the saddle for many hours at a time or you're riding multiple days in a row they certainly help reduce friction and ease irritation (both short and long term) when paired with quality shorts and saddle. – Tha Riddla Jul 31 '12 at 17:02
Im with Brad. I ride in the Phoenix AZ area, and usually ride 100 total miles a week and 50 - 80 miles on a weekend long ride, every week, year round for the most part. Never need any creams and i own several mid level $60 - $80 shorts, but they fit great, and my seat is just right for me. – Matt Adams Jul 31 '12 at 23:44

It's never a good idea to rely on the saddle for padding. The reason is simple. The sit-bones will sink into the softest saddle and therefore put extra pressure on other parts of the male anatomy where you end up feeling as if your 'privates' dropped off on the road a few miles back. You should also be 'fitted' for a seat so that you get the right width of saddle which suites you.

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BTW I believe the problem is similar if not far worse for women as well. – patrickvacek Nov 18 '13 at 4:11

The chamois is a crutch for an ill fitting saddle and bike set up. Chamois are "gaskets". They hold moisture, bunch up, grip soft skin, causing friction that heats and causes burns, etc. They get worse with slight aging. If the saddle is the right shape for your groin, there should be no "gasket" introduced to the groin. My personal preference is a leather saddle (I use the B17 Brooks) that "gives", breathes, wicks away moisture and stays cool. I use a chamois-less Lycra short that ventilates immediately. With over 50 years of riding several thousand miles per year, This is what works for me. I have a garage full of saddles, many that I've modified. Cheap, ludicrously expensive, you name it. My next to best favorite (BTW) is the Selle Italia SLR superflow 130mm. Big cut-out, very thin padding, flat front to back, and narrow. Again, I use no chamois. 100 mile rides are easy. Once I wear out the Selle as a "now and then saddle", I'll just swap the B-17 around on the bike of choice for the day. It won't wear out in my lifetime. My original was built in the mid 70's and the replacement was built in 2013.

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