by Wil Barrett
January 3, 2017
Wil gets caught with his pants down and gives us his honest review of the Men's Liner Cycling Shorts from Showers Pass.
Padded bike shorts. It’s one of the necessary evils required for achieving comfort on the bike, and yet the entire concept is just downright strange – especially to newcomers to the sport. Having spent a decade working in various bike shops, I’ve become well accustomed in the art of convincing new riders to invest in padded Lycra bike shorts – a daily struggle that many bike shop employees will be familiar with. And if you’re able to get to that point in the first place, the are always two more questions that immediately follow;
“What do you mean I shouldn’t wear underpants with them?!”
“Why can’t I just have more padding on the bike seat then?”
The answer to those two questions is relatively simple. But in order to get down to the true roots behind the reasons why most of us spend our spare time pedalling with adult nappies wedged up our clackers, you need to go back a couple of decades. Back then, the bike shorts of the time weren’t made from the fancy Lycra and Spandex we all wrap our butts with these days, but rather natural wool fibre. Our saddles were also of the organic variety, being made from leather instead of foam, composite fibre and synthetic fabric.
It sounds pleasant in a retro-cool sort of fashion, but the reality was that after a period of time on said leather saddle, moisture would inevitably work its way into the equation, turning retro-cool fashion into achingly vicious chafing hell. Skin + moisture + movement = red-raw pain.
The solution to this discomfort was what we all know today as the ‘chamois’. That name isn’t French for ‘padding’, but rather a reference to the goat-antelope creatures who kindly donated their skin to use as a smooth panel of suede to line the inside of the traditional bike short. This chamois skin panel/pad provided a smooth surface between your skin and the outer short fabric, and with the aid of conditioner to keep the suede supple, dramatically reduced friction and moisture build up in cyclist’ nether-regions.
It was a relatively effective solution at the time, but things have moved on since. The modern bike short as we know it today was invented in the 1980’s by Castelli. Wool has been replaced by close-fitting Lycra, and the suede chamois has been replaced by a foam pad (which is still incorrectly referred to as the ‘chamois’ to this day).
*Note: Padding is more effective when worn inside the short. Photo credit: @hubbardwatch via Instagram.
The function of that foam essentially remains the same however; it’s designed to provide a smooth, seamless surface between your skin and the outer short, and to wick away moisture to reduce chafing. It’s also there to deliver a small degree of shock absorption. It is not (as many people assume) the sole source of padding between your arse and the bike.
Contrary to popular belief, loads of padding and a spongy bike saddle are not good things for those mountain bikers who clock up the km’s, as it reduces the effective support for your sit bones when pedalling. It also pushes all of that extra bunched-up padding into more sensitive areas – and nobody wants that. Instead, ideally you want a firm and supportive saddle that fits your contours, along with close-fitting shorts that use an anatomically-shaped pad insert that offers breathability and moisture-wicking properties.
Each year the bike short has been refined and improved, and these days we’re lucky to be able to slip into some very fine garments indeed. For the test team at Singletrack, we spend about half of our waking hours in some sort of padded bike shorts, so we’re pretty familiar with what’s good and what isn’t. While most of us prefer using bib shorts (also known as “the wrestling suit” to non-riders), there are occasions where we’ll reach for a pair of straight riding shorts instead.
Over the past four months, I’ve been riding with a pair of padded bike shorts from Showers Pass. Based out of Portland in Oregon, Showers Pass is best known for its high quality wet conditions riding gear, which regularly rates up there with some of the best we’ve tested. The US brand also produces a wide range of products outside of just rain jackets though, including backpacks, gloves, base layers, jerseys and shorts. To go with its Gravel Riding Baggy Shorts (or any other baggy shorts you’ve got), Showers Pass offers the Liner Cycling Shorts that we’ve got here.
As much as you’d rather not be confronted by my pasty white skin, I feel it is my duty to report on my experience with these particular shorts for anyone out there who’s on the lookout for a padded liner for cycling. But first, here’s the rundown from Showers Pass:
“Make your favourite baggie short, rain pant, or casual bottom cycling specific with this comfortable Liner Short. The Liner Shorts can be worn with our Gravel Shorts, Track Pants, Skyline Pant or rain pants for 4-season cycling comfort. A high quality chamois, comfortable flat lock stitching, a wide waistband and highly breathable spandex and poly blend material make this Liner a must have.” – Showers Pass.
Upon first inspection, the Showers Pass Liner Short looks like a pretty standard bike short. The fabric itself is a breathable mesh constructed from a spandex/nylon fabric mix like a lot of other bike shorts are. This gives it plenty of breathability, and if you’re on a hot and sweaty ride, the mesh wicks away moisture quickly. The textured surface is a little rough on the skin though, and it’s not as comfortable as my current favourite liners from Troy Lee Designs. Like most liner shorts, the Showers Pass model is designed to be worn underneath a pair of baggy shorts – the mesh is a little too ‘see-through’ and breathable to be worn on its own. Unless you’re into that sort of thing…
Once on, the difference between these and other inner shorts I’ve worn were quickly made apparent. For a start, the Showers Pass Liner is much shorter in length. At first I was convinced these were ladies cycling shorts, which are often shorter than the men’s equivalent. My suspicion was quashed once I was able to confirm that they are indeed the men’s version. Because Showers Pass offers riding kit for the urban, road and gravel rider as well, the shorter length of the Liner shorts is most likely so they can be worn underneath short-shorts for urban hipster riders.
Regardless, the problem I encountered is that the cuffs of each leg have a habit of riding up your thigh throughout the course of a ride. This is compounded by the lack of elasticity around the leg cuffs, and the omission of any silicone detailing to help ‘stick’ the leg onto your skin. That’s not such a bad thing for hairy-legged mountain bikers like me (silicone grippers can make a habit of tugging at your poor leg hairs), but it is a problem when the shorts terminate halfway down your thighs and spend their existence attempting to migrate northwards with every pedal stroke.
The other issue I ran into was with the padding. The pad itself is built well, with a nice anatomic cut and a large profile that puts the stitches away from the areas where you don’t want them to rub. However, the padding is made of a relatively low density foam, so it feels squishy underneath your sit bones. And because the foam pad is quite flimsy, it also struggles to hold its shape. The result is that the pad bunches up in a lengthwise crease running front to back, causing a kind of wedge effect right up your clacker. This is irritating and invasive at first, but the longer you ride, the more the padding really presses into the soft tissue area, which actually caused me significant discomfort.
Having ridden with numerous padded liners and bib shorts over the past 20 years from the likes of Fox, Troy Lee Designs, Castelli, Giro, Bontrager, Eleven Velo, Giordana, Endura, Alpinestars and Sugoi, this is genuinely the first time I would prefer not to wear padded shorts at all. A pair of non-padded Merino shorts would be more comfortable.
Because of the stubby length of the Showers Pass Men’s Liner Cycling Shorts, it’s kind of hard to make a comment on sizing. The pair I’ve been testing is a Medium, and I’d normally wear a Small. Here’s the odd thing though; if I went to a small, they would be even shorter, and they’re already kind of tight in certain areas that I wouldn’t want them to be any tighter. Maybe it’s just me with the odd sized body, but as I mentioned above, this fit issue isn’t something I’ve encountered with all the other brands of bike shorts I’ve ridden with.
Having endured the Showers Pass Men’s Liner Cycling Shorts for the past four months, I feel I have gone above and beyond my duty as a product reviewer, and I’m hanging these up for good. They’re priced well for padded shorts, and they’ve held up well to numerous cycles through the washing machine. However, I just haven’t gelled with them, and the quality is not up to par with other Showers Pass garments we’ve previously tested. Not only do they have an odd fit in regards to the short itself, but the padding feels like an enemy to your riding comfort.