As a commuter-turned-road-cyclist I cannot fathom going on any ride without padded shorts or bibs (even if I have yet to understand very well why having the padding in the saddle is so awful compared to padded shorts/bibs).

Despite early hesitation and several reasons unrelated to the present question (including spending increasingly more time on trails), I am now convinced that MTB-specific clothing is just right for the sport.

Yet unlike road-specific shorts and bibs, MTB-specific shorts are mostly sold without padding. I suspect that this is the case because whereas road-cyclists-turning-MTBers imagine they are going to sit for 95% of the ride (and hence paddings matter) and stand for just 5% of the ride (where paddings are irrelevant), medium-to-advanced MTB riders—ones who never dismount on black-diamond trails and who go swiftly through berms—stand for a majority of the time, and hence paddings are not particularly important, and could even impede motion.

Can you comment one way or the other? Do you reach out for paddings—whether built-in or in liner shorts—or are you quite content with unpadded shorts?

  • 2
    I always wear normal bib shorts under my outer shorts. A 6-hr ride is a 6-hr ride no matter what kind of bike you're on. If I do a 30-mi ride with 6,000 ft of climbing, about 80% of my time is spent pedaling uphill, a sweaty mess. No amount of being out of the saddle for the descent would make me thing I didn't need a chamois.
    – Paul H
    Aug 22, 2023 at 19:05
  • @PaulH Nice feedback. That's an answer, not a comment. Could you move it to be an answer?
    – Sam7919
    Aug 23, 2023 at 2:41

3 Answers 3


I don't have much experience of "trail riding", which is not so much of a thing here, but my impression is that padding is the rule. But given the "external" fabric needs to have very different properties than the internal one (comfort vs "resistance"), it makes somehow more sense to sell them as separate garments.

Unlike road, a MTBer is susceptible to come close to branches, trees and more subject to falling. There are functional advantages to have two separate "specialized" pieces of clothing, one for comfort and one for exposure to the elements: for instance, if you fall badly, you may "destroy" the external part, but the padding would be intact. Without falling, you can also pass too close to thorny bushes, that can damage the undershort/a road short. Having an external layer designed to resist this kind of abuse is certainly an advantage.


The premise "MTB-specific shorts are mostly sold without padding" is flawed - at least where I live and shop. Most of the people I ride with have some padding - although the amount might vary, some prefer lighter padding than traditional roadies, some use roadie shorts under a MTB outer short.

MTB shorts do not always have attached padding and often come with liner shorts which is padded. Some brands do sell these as separate items. This allows you to mix and match the amount and quality of padding depending on what your preference is, with an outer that suits your riding, sense of style and budget. (Some prefer spending big on the liner and budgeting on the looks, others have priorities of looks over comfort.).

I have seen some outdoor gear shops that are not bike shops sell a few bike accessories and cheap 'bike shorts' - with no padding. This is the result of marketing and nothing to do with cycling, which is not their core business.

  • When you say roadie shorts, to you mean proper shorts or bibs that would worn on their own or padded base layers? I think, the latter makes more sense because they could have a mesh structure which offers better ventilation than "external" shorts and no need for any kind of road rash protection, I guess bibs could be lighter if they weren't build with some rigidity in mind....
    – DoNuT
    Aug 24, 2023 at 12:58

Thanks for reaching out to me to answer.

The ability to layer padded liner shorts under durable outer shorts is very nice too. In addition to the crash damage minimization brought up by Renaud, it's also possible to pick a thinner, less bulky chamois for shorter riders versus a thicker one for an all-day trip.

I think there's also some element of "customer perception" (read: machoism). Padded shorts may be seen as a roadie thing, and no true mountain biker would want to associate themselves with such silliness, of course (sarcasm). On the fashion side, some MTB shorts are advertised as being "casual enough for daily wear", often made with subdued color schemes, minimal logos, and non-obtrusive zippers and fasteners. Accordingly, these models won't feature padding.

It's also interesting that you focused on a certain subset of riders, measured by their relative skill level. I'd be curious to know what the actual statistics are for chamois usage versus skill level. I can imagine that super good riders might forgo a chamois in the interest of performance gains, but a newer rider also probably doesn't go on rides long enough to warrant one. Also, a newer rider probably doesn't have a huge budget for cycling and won't buy much cycling-specific clothing.

Personally, I do like having padding. My favorite saddle at the moment is fairly firm. This wasn't a problem at all in the past when riding in the Pacific Northwest (where you slowly climb a gravel road for 20 minutes before zipping back down via some fun trail), but my current riding involves a lot more extended pedaling sessions (>1hr), for which the padding is much appreciated. Also, due to both frugality and curiosity, I'm currently using AliExpress shorts (albeit from Santic, a decently reputable Asian brand), which were only available in a padded model.

Another side benefit of padded MTB shorts is that butt-to-rear-tire interactions are somewhat less painful with the extra cushioning.

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