Choosing your baggy cycling shorts
It’s fair to say mountain biking is something of a fashion infused sport, and the one garment which typifies the average mountain biker like no other is the baggy short. No two baggy shorts are identical however, and there’s an almost bewildering choice out there.
Here’s a few key points to bare in mind when picking up a pair of baggies:
Padded shorts are essential for in-saddle comfort - wear unpadded baggy shorts over your kaks and it won’t be long till saddle sores will be ruining your ride. Most baggy shorts include a padded liner, although some (mainly DH-oriented) don't. A detachable liner is a common feature of more expensive shorts - this makes a lot of sense, as liners ought to be washed after every ride but in good conditions the outer shell doesn't. The detachable liner also makes it easy to wear traditional Lycra shorts (or, in chilly weather, three-quarters) under your baggies - our favourite comfort+and+style combo is a pair of high-end Lycra bib shorts underneath.
Adjustable waistbands will make use of elastic, Velcro or belts to prevent them from slipping down. Look for broad waistbands that won't dig in, and check your sizing - it's best not to rely on having all the adjustments heaved right in. Stretchy panels placed around the bum or inside of the legs can help prevent the shorts from providing any restriction when pedalling and out of the saddle. There's also a whole spectrum of bagginess to consider - huge amounts of surplus material is likely to annoy. Some shorts have adjustable legs for fully-tunable flappage. Pay particular attention to excess material under the crotch - too much sag here can lead to all kinds of saddle-hooking misery.
More pockets can obviously provide plenty of storage but avoid too many, especially around the legs as having heavy or hard items knocking your legs while pedalling can be a tad irritating. You've got a pack for that kind of stuff. Also, pockets cost money - if you're not going to use them, get shorts with fewer and save. It's good to have somewhere to stash your gloves when you stop, though. Zippered vents are an increasingly common feature, allowing increased airflow in hotter weather but cutting draughts on cold days.
This is one of the major areas where shorts differ. Different manufacturers tend to favour slightly different lengths, and obviously all riders are differently-proportioned in the leg department. Some shorts will sit comfortably above the knee while others will drop over the knee, and while the latter can provide some protection for your knees from the wind and mud, they can irritate while pedalling. Try them on in the shop if you can before buying (don't just stand, sit on a bike) and make sure you’re happy with the length.
Three-quarter length shorts are increasingly popular. Dropping well below the knee, they're good for spring and autumn riding, keeping more of your legs, and especially your knees, away from rain, mud and the cold air. Depending on your tastes, you may find three-quarter baggies a more stylish alternative to Lycra three-quarters or tights under regular baggy shorts.
The type and weight of the material used can often be a good indication to the intentions of the shorts. Thin baggies with lots of mesh are ideal for summer riding while DH baggies tend to be much thicker material with heavy armour cladding, but aren’t that great for long XC rides. So choose wisely. Much as with bikes, the middle ground - reasonably lightweight, but robust - will be the best bet for most riders.
There’s now a wider choice than ever before for women, with fit, materials and colours being tailored towards the demands of the fairer sex.