Cycling shorts help make rides of more than a few miles more comfortable by reducing chafing and providing some shock-absorbing padding. Here's what you need to know if you're going shopping.
Cycling shorts are made from stretchy material, usually a mix of Lycra and nylon. So they move together with you as you pedal, preventing you from getting rubbed. Inside a pair of cycling shorts, you'll find a pad or liner that provides a bit of cushioning but more importantly is a soft surface that sits against your skin.
That's right: you don't wear underwear with cycling shorts. It takes a bit of getting used to, but it's far comfier than having cotton undies bunching and chafing. As with underwear, wash your cycling shorts after every use. Turning them inside-out to get another day's use is not acceptable.
As well as the classic skin-tight nylon/Lycra shorts, you can also get looser-fitting cycling shorts. These are usually a baggy outer shell with a lining that looks like trimmed-down stretchy shorts, so they're comfortable but don't display every bulge and curve. They are sometimes called 'shy shorts' which sums up the idea nicely.
And if you've got regular shorts or jeans you want to ride in, then you can add undershorts so you look completely normal but are still comfy.
It has to be pointed out that no combination of shorts and saddle will be comfy if you don't ride reasonably often. Your bum needs to get used to being on a saddle, and that takes a bit of riding time. If you're planning to take part in, say, a long charity ride, get in a few rides beforehand to give your bum a chance to get used to it.