Padded Bike Seat or Shorts (Pros and Cons)

One of the best things that you can do for your behind is to get a properly fitted saddle and make sure your bike is fitted properly. If you are a new rider, a saddle is expected to be uncomfortable at first. Two of the most common solutions cyclist explore are using either a padded bike seat or shorts… both have their place, but as you ride more often, one of these becomes a bad idea.

For experienced cyclists, padded bike shorts are preferred over padded bike seats. Padded bike seats are fine for casual rides, but after long rides, they will cause unwanted pressure. Bike shorts offer padding in the right areas, moisture management, prevent chafing, keep you cool, and are more energy efficient.

Why Bike Shorts Are Better Than Padded Bike Seats

A padded bike seat, or even a gel bike seat cover, seems like an easy solution. You just put it on your bike and voila, more comfort!

Padded seats can be perfectly fine for shorter rides. However, for long rides, you will start to sink into the seat and find pressure points where you don’t exactly want them. This is why padded bike seats can be more uncomfortable if you ride a lot. This is even worse when comparing gel vs foam bike seats as the gel will start to move around, causing even more pressure points.

Here’s what one experienced cyclist had to say about gel seats specifically.

Gel seats are good for about 20 minutes, while a good pair of shorts are good for hours.

The good news about padded shorts though, is that the padding in the shorts won’t move around. No matter where you sit on the seat, you’ll always have the same amount of padding.

Along with having sitting pain, padded seats may cause chafing, and gel can get quite warm in the summer. This is just another reason why foam bike seats are usually better than gel bike seats.

As you start to ride more often and put on more miles, your sit muscles will toughen up and unpadded seats will feel more comfortable. If you look at professional or seasoned cyclists, you’ll notice that all of them wear bike shorts but none of them use a padded seat.

Aside from offering additional padding, bike shorts are good to have anyway. Here are just a few more reasons why padded bike shorts are better than a padded bike seat:

  • Less chafing
  • Moisture management
  • Easier to clean
  • Freedom of movement
  • Better support
  • No bunching
  • Helps sore muscles
  • Keeps you cool

Here’s a complete comparison of padded bike seats vs shorts:

Padded Bike SeatsPadded Bike Shorts
Pros* Offers good initial comfort for shorter or casual rides
* Prefered for cruiser style bicycles
* Allows you to wear street clothes
* Wicks away moisture and keeps you dry
* Don’t bunch up like regular clothes
* Less chafing and more support
* Freedom of movement
* Helps sore muscles
* Keeps you cool on hot rides
* More energy-efficient
Cons* Padding can cause discomfort on longer rides
* Harder to clean
* Will require frequent washing
* Often will need multiple pairs

So, Are Padded Bike Seats Always a Bad Idea?

I don’t want to say that padded seats are bad all the time. Some people use gel seats and absolutely love them.

Part of what will feel most comfortable for you will depend on:

  • Your anatomy
  • Experience and riding style
  • Type of bike

So what works for one person might not work for you.

If you are a more casual rider, a padded bike seat can be just fine, especially if you are on a cruiser-style bike. Cruiser-style bikes are where you are sitting more upright, so you’re not just sitting on your sit bones, but more of your whole bottom.

One of the most popular padded seats out there for cruiser-style riding is the Cloud 9 bike seat. Lots of riders recommend using this seat with the Suntour suspension seat post:

Cloud 9 helped, but you really need to get the Suntour suspension seat post. It is the game-changer.

If you really want to see a huge difference add a suntour seat post

You can find the Suntour suspension seat post here.

If you do get a padded seat, bike shorts still offer a ton of advantages, especially on longer rides. If you are doing short rides, then these benefits may not matter as much.

How Much Do Padded Bike Shorts Help?

If you’re wondering if padded cycling shorts make a difference, it’s important to understand how they work and what the padding actually is.

What most people think of padding in bike shorts is actually called chamois, referring to chamois leather. This is basically sheepskin and was originally intended for moisture management, not cushion. Today, however, most shorts use some type of polyester blend but the name has stuck.

Basically, the primary purpose of what people think the padding is in bike shorts is really used to prevent chafing and to wick away moisture. If you’re looking to wear padded bike shorts to prevent a sore bottom, it will only help so much.

This isn’t to say that padded bike shorts don’t work at all. They will though help with some comfort. While some cyclists will call the padding in padded bike shorts a marketing gimmick, there are some bike shorts that are made from thicker chamois. This padding is thicker, and as a result, may not be optimal when it comes to preventing chafing. You may even see shorts advertised with gel padding.

Another reason why bike shorts are more comfortable is how they are sewn. If you imagine a regular pair of shorts, there is usually a seam that runs down the middle of the crotch area. Sitting on this seam can cause discomfort after a long ride. While it may look strange, bicycle shorts move these seams to other areas so you can sit freely.

For most riders, as they get more experienced, they tend to favor less padding. If you are a more casual riding or just starting out, it may be worth experimenting with various shorts and saddles to get a feel for what works best for you.

Basically, bike shorts help you stay dry, comfortable, and move a lot easier!

Which Bike Shorts Should I Buy?

If you are riding more than 30 miles, I would really recommend a pair of cycling shorts. You can get one or two mid-range pairs and a cheap pair as a backup just in case you’re traveling or haven’t washed the other one yet. Of course, it all depends on how much you are riding as well.

The main difference between bike shorts really comes down to the chamois and the overall quality of the material. You don’t have to spend a fortune, but getting something that’s decent quality will be a smart investment and make your rides much more enjoyable.

Amazon has some decent bike shorts in their best sellers list. These have great reviews and aren’t terribly expensive either.

When deciding between gel or foam-padded cycling shorts, gel is great for absorbing shock and is preferred for longer rides. It is, however, more expensive compared to foam cycling shorts.

Make sure you take care of your shorts by washing them on the gentle cycle or washing them by hand and air drying them afterward.

Are Padded Bike Seats or Covers Ever a Good Idea?

Padded bike seats and seat covers can be an okay idea if you aren’t riding for a long time. These come with even more drawbacks compared to padded seats. These bike seat covers can move around a lot more and aren’t ideal for longer rides.

Finding What’s Best For You

So when you’re trying to decide between a padded bike seat or shorts, it’s important to know that padded shorts won’t fix a poorly fitted seat.

If you’re a brand new rider, it might take a few hundred miles to toughen up your sit muscles. Then, you can start exploring different seat options and find which one fits your bottom the best. Again, this will depend on your anatomy, riding style, and the type of bike you have.

Visit your local bike shop and see how they can help you choose a seat. Some local bike shops offer exchange programs where can try out several saddles before you buy.

Regardless of what saddle you get, bike shorts are always a good idea. They just feel more comfortable, prevent chafing, keep you cool, and are more efficient when pedaling. They will make your rides much more enjoyable when riding.