I want/need some pants for riding my bike to work. It is a 5 mile commute and I want something that is not padded and not baggy. What other things should I look for and what type of pants should I get?

  • 4
    Can you provide more information? Are you looking for pants you can wear on the bike and at work, or are you planning on changing? What is the weather like where you're riding?
    – prototoast
    Commented Feb 27, 2012 at 17:09
  • 1
    I change at work. The weather is just above freezing now, pretty windy some days, and frequently raining. Either waterproof/resistant or fast drying pants would be much appreciated. I have never bought biking pants before so do not even know what to look for and what all the terms mean.
    – anton2g
    Commented Feb 27, 2012 at 17:11
  • Note that if you examine the posts below you'll see all manner of options. To a large degree the choice is driven by personal preference and what is most convenient (and affordable) for you. If you use a leg strap just about any reasonably flexible pant will work, or you can tough it out with shorts. Commented Feb 29, 2012 at 17:56
  • @prototoast, Is there any bike for Home -> College -> Work -> Home?
    – Starx
    Commented Mar 20, 2012 at 10:08

10 Answers 10


They should be elastic enough so that you can move your legs freely in all directions when you are trying them at the shop.

Padding is very important, but some models can make it very uncomfortable out of the bike. Nowadays, there are some anatomical paddings which, instead of being made of a single patch of padding, are made of lots of geometrically shaped patches of padding of different materials. These work great. If you try a short at the shop and it feels uncomfortable, most probably it will remain uncomfortable.

The stitches and sewings must not have sharp/stingy textures that might annoy you a lot while pedalling.

Good quality usually is associated to larger price, and the opposite.

And, you MUST try as many models you can at the shop. The most comfortable at the cabin most probably would be the best for your ride.

I wouldn't buy one online or preorder, unless I had one identical already in use - and they may change the product without notice!


I personally don't like the tighter/lycra biking pants, and prefer more all-purpose athletic gear--something I can efficiently bike in, but can also hike/climb/run/lounge in. The ideal happy medium I've found is gramicci pants. They're bomb-proof, breathe pretty well, have a slim enough cut not to be a chain-tangle risk, and they're really comfy. That said, they're a bit pricey to buy new. I'd recommend prowling thrift stores in hopes of getting lucky if you'd prefer not to spend the sticker price. I've found some good condition ones on resale.

PS: I linked to the men's pants section 'cause your username seemed male. I don't mean to stereotype/offend.

  • Are they waterproof/resistant or do they dry quickly?
    – anton2g
    Commented Feb 27, 2012 at 19:55
  • Are they warm or are they basically just a shell?
    – anton2g
    Commented Feb 27, 2012 at 21:32
  • There are varying grades. Some are fast-dry climbing-style pants. Others are more like...think flexible military khaki. The thicker fabrics are water resistant, but not proof. That said, I'm one of those "get wet and bear it" people, so I can't really issue an educated opinion there.
    – Zac B
    Commented Feb 27, 2012 at 22:30
  • [these ones] (gramicci.com/shop/…) are fast dry, and work well.
    – Zac B
    Commented Feb 27, 2012 at 22:36
  • I am fine getting wet and bearing it too, it is the issue with the pants still being soaked for the ride back home. Which are the ones with the ticker fabric that are water resistant? I cannot find those
    – anton2g
    Commented Feb 27, 2012 at 22:52

Your best bet may be layers.

Start with a bike short or tights (non chamois if thats your style), then layer on a wind / water resistent outdoor pant. Something you would find at high end outdoor retailer (REI, EMS, Etc.). Lots of options from northface, sierra, columbia, etc. They will have plenty to offer in terms of durability and slenderness in the legs.

When its really cold a fleece tight, but as it warms up just a lycra tight, then maybe just lycra shorts should be good.

  • This is a good strategy. I would add that tights under another layer can be amazingly warm. Your legs don't need much in the way of temperature protection until it gets below freezing. Commented Feb 28, 2012 at 3:23

Not padded and not baggy? Ok, have you looked into cross-country ski wear? There are quite a few variations in cross country ski pant stylings and features. Some baggy, some not; but the main thing is that they're designed for athletic activity in cold, windy, and sometimes wet conditions.

This type of clothing handles cold well, wind proof, and is more or less water resistant. Plus, cross country ski wear is designed for constant movement.

If you decide that you actually do want padding, you can always add cycling shorts underneath.

On the other hand... our regular bike messenger just walked in and out of here in skinny jeans... and he rides all day...'~)

Any athletic pants are fine for the most part. And not sure as to why you are against padded cycling gear?

  • 1
    Back in college, I would work my schedule so I had a couple days off each week. I rode all day long on my days off. In any weather. In jeans. :-) Commented Feb 27, 2012 at 21:31

I ride in the conditions you describe (Toronto: not rainy now but it has been), except that my commute is 11 miles (18 km), and except that I don't change in the office (I wear what I bike and arrive in: people wear jeans and slacks in the office, it's not customer-facing).

I started this time last year, in jeans (Levi's). I found I did better with knee bandages worn underneath (my knees were weak), especially when "sub-zero" (i.e. below freezing, 32F).

The seats of my jeans wore through quickly. I then wore cotton shorts all summer and autumn.

Since this fall (and into winter and now) I have been wearing two kinds of Rapha trousers (link and link).

Features include:

  • Close fit and slim leg
  • Not water-logging
  • Durable (e.g. the cut of the seat is reinforced like Jodhpurs are, but without that being visible or obstrusive).

When I say "not water-logging", what I mean is that when I take them out of the washing machine they weigh little more than when I put them in: they don't repel or resist water, but they don't absorb it (compared with jeans, which become heavier when wet). Although they're slim-fitting they're comfortable to pedal in even when wet: they slide, they're a bit elastic, and they're durable enough that they don't care if you don't.

The fabric is 50% cotton, and 48% Nylon (the heavy jeans) or 48% Polyamide (the lighter sand-coloured slacks or "khakis")

  • Those look really nice. Is there anywhere I can get them for cheaper?
    – anton2g
    Commented Feb 28, 2012 at 16:26
  • @anton2g I asked my LBS to order some for me (in my size), and they sold them to me for slightly less than prices I saw online. I admit they cost more than jeans.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Feb 28, 2012 at 21:13
  • 150 quid for trousers! They look the part but my problem is how they will hold up to the weather and general dirt from the bike
    – will
    Commented Feb 29, 2012 at 9:53
  • @will I paid 140 dollars and up in Canada (i.e. cheaper than that UK price). I try not to get them dirty: the lighter-coloured pant is stained on the leg with chain grease. They wash and wear: I'm on roads and in the office (not a dusty ride), and my bike has good fenders.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Feb 29, 2012 at 13:22

I will say dependent on the weather:

Wet weather/cold: I wear padded cycling tights with a pair of shorts over the top for a bit of added comfort. I find once the legs get moving it's fine. If really cold, I'll wear a pair of knee length ski socks. This I find is a perfect mix between warm and breathable with the materials being water resistant. Great warmth without compromising on flexibility or get clogged up with a number of layers. Disadvantages: you will have bring a spare pair of pants/trousers along with you, but then again do you really want to wear wet clothes?

Dry Weather: One thing I've found are pretty great skate jeans they usually have a lot of flexibility to them and a pretty close fit. Which is pretty much all I need from a cycle trouser. They may not be to everyone's style but if you plan on wearing Jeans I would say these are best of the off the shelf product.

Rapha trousers: These look pretty nice but seem to have a price tag to match, As I've not tried the product in person I would find it hard to comment especially when they have a price tag 3 times that of a stand pair of trousers. But would be willing to try if I could try a pair first from my local shop.

EDIT: Check these out

Seems the bicycling has now reached sub genre status!

  • I'm not sure how far you could ride with a U-lock jabbing you in the kidney like that. Commented Mar 8, 2012 at 12:16
  • @DanielRHicks Yeah I know, but many ppl have the mini kryptos attached to their jeans and no doubt a few $60 locks have been lost due to Jean rippage. Perhaps a viable alternative, can't say till I try them. However my krypto is huge so it stays in the backpack. On the topic of wearing locks However I the levi's do have a few features I like, water resistance and reflective tape. Thou I do believe this is levi's cashing in on the rise of cycling. Blame hipsters!
    – will
    Commented Mar 8, 2012 at 15:13
  • I'm guessing those Levi's will be worn by cyclists about as much as painter pants are worn by painters. Commented Mar 8, 2012 at 16:12

For moderate weather all you need is comfortable shorts. (Even if it seems a bit too cool out for shorts, once you get going you stay plenty warm. Lots of heat is generated in the legs when you cycle.) For a 5-mile haul gym shorts work fine, or you can get some spandex bike shorts. But bike shorts aren't really needed for such a short ride.

In somewhat cooler weather I've done a fair amount of cycling with sweat pants pulled over cycle shorts or gym shorts. You do need a leg strap, of course, but you need that for most types of pants.

Obviously, for seriously wet weather you need something different. I have a pair of old Performance brand rain paints for that. They can be worn alone (over shorts) or over the sweat pants.

For colder weather I have some Col'd Lizard Polartec tights. I wear these over the shorts, and I'm generally good down to about 20F. I also sometimes wear the tights when I'm operating the snow blower -- snow doesn't stick to them.


Bear in mind that 5 miles is not really a long ride, and that rain aside there's really no need to wear any sort of special clothing at all provided you can move freely in what you're wearing. Unless you need to wear a suit for work there's not that much need to change either (though YMMV and perhaps if you are just starting out it's best to assume a change.)

I do a similar length commute (9-10km) daily between North Vancouver and Vancouver, BC, decent amount of climbing each way (bridges, dammit)

On dry days I wear jeans, slightly skinnier than average but that's only because it's what I like. Shorts in the summer, of course.

On wet days (of which we have many) I wear Sugoi Majik Shell Pants - which are a super light waterproof shell - over my jeans. They are too light to wear alone, most of the time, but are super effective.

On marginal days I wear my jeans and make sure I have the Sugoi pants packed.

I do have some experience of city cycling pants from both Rapha and Outlier. They both make great products but while both are quick drying (Outlier slightly better) neither will keep you dry. I would probably wear them more often if I had a longer commute. Do love Rapha gear though, spendy but it is really nicely done.


If you are looking for tight spandex road biking shorts, something important to keep in mind is the number of fabric panels that make up the pants/shorts.

Because pants shift and move while pedaling. The more fabric panels there are, the more comfortable and unnoticeable the shifting will be.

  • 1
    Though curiously some shorts that are sold as "6 panel" shorts actually only have 4 panels when you count them. (I suspect that this is because the newer fabrics allow the crotch area panels to be combined.) Another thing to beware of is seams on the inside of the leg. Commented Mar 9, 2012 at 18:01

I found the perfect pants for what I was looking for.


They are warm, water resistant, quick drying, stain resistant, and loads of zipper pockets. Love them, they are perfect for biking.

Thank you all for the things to look for. It really helped me find the perfect pants.

  • Sooooo selfish :(
    – Starx
    Commented Mar 20, 2012 at 18:12
  • No other answer was perfect.
    – anton2g
    Commented Mar 20, 2012 at 21:14
  • His question, his choice of answer. Although I did upvote half the other answers and not this one.
    – pattivacek
    Commented Nov 18, 2013 at 4:04

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