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.

  • 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
    Commented Jul 27, 2012 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... Commented Jul 27, 2012 at 16:32

8 Answers 8


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.

  • 9
    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
    Commented Jul 27, 2012 at 15:43
  • 2
    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
    Commented Jul 30, 2012 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
    Commented Aug 6, 2012 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
    Commented Aug 6, 2012 at 17:08
  • 5
    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
    Commented Jun 24, 2013 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.

  • 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
    Commented Jul 27, 2012 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.

  • 1
    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
    Commented Jul 30, 2012 at 14:44
  • 2
    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
    Commented Jul 31, 2012 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
    Commented Jul 31, 2012 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.

  • 1
    BTW I believe the problem is similar if not far worse for women as well.
    – pattivacek
    Commented Nov 18, 2013 at 4:11
  • 1
    Cyclists aren't exclusively male FYI. Commented Oct 12, 2016 at 23:09
  • @patrickvacek it is the same as we are all humans XD the thing is that your hip bone push your nerves and veins in charge of your parts against seat that is why most seats now day have that canal in the middle. But women don´t have stuff hanging out.
    – kifli
    Commented Oct 13, 2016 at 11:46

Can tell these are answers from years before "now" as every cycling short I have tried comes with excessive gel padding -- very uncomfortable to walk in & tends to spread padding in areas not needed -- a trait expressed above that goes against placing padding into the seats. My old (80s-90s) chamois based cycling shorts were awesome -- ride in centuries and never had any issue (regarding saddle fit). Now, I feel as though I am sitting on a stack of marshmallows, taking away feel of the seat & a ridiculous amount of pad to haul around when off the seat.

  • You have to change your tailor. There are chamoises of various thicknesses available. Commented May 17, 2021 at 6:29
  • Hi, welcome to bicycles. A discussion of the change in bike shorts over time isn't really on-point to a question about the difference between padded shorts vs. padded saddles. Plus I think the high-water mark for gel shorts was about 15 years ago; I haven't seen any in the shops for years, so I'm not sure how up-to-date your information is.
    – DavidW
    Commented May 17, 2021 at 14:57
  • @DavidW Chamois with gel inserts are still commonly available from major brands, the marketing just doesn't emphasise it as much these days. Here's Santini's page, but you can find similar from other manufacturers: santinicycling.com/en/content/seatpad-70
    – Andy P
    Commented May 17, 2021 at 15:30

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.


I would bet the answer is because of tradition. Long ago, seats were hard leather and riders were susceptible to stress risers and pressure points on the seat that would cause irritation. So they skinned an animal for it's durable padding and put them in their shorts. Then came injection molded seats, but riders were used to padded shorts. Then came fancy short pads so they didn't need to use animal hide anymore. Companies played around with different types of pads to see what sold, and they found that more padding sells better. FYI: More padding in shorts is bad. I design saddles and I disagree with the designs. I try to make a saddle with just the right amount of padding. These bulky short pads just screw up my design and put pressure where it's not intended. PS FYI: Bicycle gloves have the same issue. More padding hasn't been shown to help anything. The issues are more complex than just adding more padding.

  • Do you have a source for this? Old school chamois weren't made of fur, they were made out of a suede-like leather with no padding. Padding came with synthetic chamois. Also, many people swear that Brooks leather saddles are the most comfortable saddles they've ridden, and they've barely changed in the past 100 years.
    – Jamie A
    Commented Dec 6, 2016 at 18:15
  • 1
    Actually the "hard leather" saddles (hammock style with leather under tension) can actually be very comfortable, once you break them in. Riding literally breaks/tears the leather at stress risers and pressure points. This ends creating a custom fit that evens out the pressure across the saddle, and can result in a very comfortable ride. Because of the even pressure, you typically can get away with thinner or no chamois. If anything injection molding will be more uncomfortable because it is not a custom fit, necessitating thicker chamois to make up the difference.
    – Rider_X
    Commented Dec 6, 2016 at 19:33

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.

Not so.

The rules of weight counting are:

  1. The weight of the cyclist does not matter
  2. The weight of the cyclist's clothes or shoes do not matter
  3. No amount of water bottles count as weight
  4. No amount of water in water bottles count as weight
  5. A lock counts as weight doubly even though weight of locks varies around that of a full water bottle -- the mount of a lock counts weight as triply so installing a mount and not carrying the lock is not an option
  6. A kickstand counts as weight and is counted doubly so no go!
  7. Fenders count as weight and are counted doubly
  8. Pannier rack counts as weight and are counted doubly
  9. Panniers and everything in them count as weight, doubly
  10. Bell counts as weight 10x so better replace ringing the bell by shouting at pedestrians
  11. Lights count as weight but if they're battery powered they do not (and their batteries also do not) -- hub dynamo powered weights are counted as twice their weight
  12. Anything made of carbon fiber is not counted as weight
  13. Everything else counts as weight

Because of rule (2), padded shorts do not count as weight.

Because of rule (13), saddle padding counts as weight -- even if the saddle is a carbon fiber saddle, rule (12) does not apply for the padding because the padding is probably not carbon fiber.

So, we can only conclude it's far more optimal to put the padding on the shorts.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.