For athletes participating in triathlons (swim, bike, run), there's a lot of gear to consider, like wetsuits, bicycles, helmets, bike shoes and running shoes. In the last two legs of the race---cycling and running---there's a shoe change, but the same clothing is worn: a tight-fitting, moisture-wicking shirt, and tri shorts. So why tri shorts instead of bike shorts? Which kind of shorts are more comfortable during a triathlon, and which are more comfortable during training rides? What makes a good pair of tri shorts an investment for the triathlete?
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Bike shorts have been around for a long time. In the early 1900s, shorts were made out of wool, and didn't have chamois, or the padding, at the seat. Today, almost all bike shorts are made of a Lycra-poly blend. This technical fabric fits snugly while wicking sweat away from the body to the outside surface of the fabric. While some bike shorts have a removable chamois, most are sewn into the shorts. Depending upon a rider's preference and specific sport, padding can be thick or thin, long or short, rounded or notched in at the sides.
Tri shorts are the shorter, sleeker, faster-wicking, less-bulky cousin to standard cycling shorts. The chamois inside a pair of tri shorts is intentionally thinner and smaller so that the running section of the race is more comfortable. The more material an athlete has rubbing up against his skin, the more that chaffing will occur. In longer races, especially, comfort is essential to good performance. Tri shorts material also tends to wick moisture faster than the typical bike shorts, although they are made of a Lycra-poly blend as well.
Differences in Length
There are three different lengths of bike shorts on the market. The long shorts, which run between 9 and 11 inches, are most often used in recreational, semi-pro and pro road racing. Medium shorts---between 6 and 8 inches long---are the standard cycling shorts for training rides. Short shorts, between 3 and 5 inches in length, are used for cross-training (running and cycling), indoor cycling classes, and triathlons. This is not to say that a pair of short biking shorts is a pair of tri shorts; the thickness of the chamois and the thinness and wickability of the fabric is more important than the length of the short.
Whether a standard biking short or a tri-specific short, good panel construction makes a huge difference in fit and performance. Panel construction means that the garment is made of panels of fabric that are sewn tightly together to curve around the body. The fewer the panels, the less the shorts will fit to the contours of the moving athlete. Shorts---whether bike or tri---are made with four, six, or eight panels. Most tri shorts have at least six panels, but the best are constructed with eight, since a triathlon involves road (not upright) biking and running.
Why Make Investment?
It's much easier to find a loweripriced, high-quality pair of bike shorts than it is to find quality and bargain pricing in a tri short. But bike short or tri short---the best of the best in construction, fabric performance, and grade of chamois can be expensive, priced anywhere from £48 to £97. Any athlete serious about triathlons will want to invest in at least one good pair of tri shorts. Regular bike shorts can be used in the lead-up training before the races, but nothing will replace the comfort of a tri short while running.
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