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Tri Shorts vs. Bike Shorts: Which Are Better for Triathlon?

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While tri shorts and bike shorts have their similarities, there are differences in comfort and performance. This is why, when preparing for a triathlon, people sometimes wonder whether to get tri shorts or bike shorts.

So, tri shorts vs. bike shorts: which are better for a triathlon?

Tri shorts are better than bike shorts for a triathlon. The suitability is in the name; they are not called tri shorts for nothing.

Compared to bike shorts, tri shorts are primed to provide comfort and enhance performance during all three triathlon segments. Bike shorts, on the other hand, are designed primarily for cycling.

For further clarity, we discuss triathlon shorts and bike shorts extensively in the rest of this article. We go over the pros and cons of each type of shorts, giving you more insight to guide your choice.

Tri Shorts vs. Bike Shorts

Tri shorts are better for a triathlon than bike shorts. They offer versatility and comfort across the cycling, running, and swimming events.

Bike shorts, on the other hand, are primarily comfortable for cycling.

Below, we go over the features of tri shorts and bike shorts, talking about the significance of each one. We also talk about the pros and cons of both types of shorts.

Cropped photo of Group Men Runners

Tri Shorts

Tri shorts were designed to offer comfort to triathletes. To this end, they are primed for versatility and performance.

In other words, tri shorts designers aim to make their shorts suitable for running, swimming, and cycling. While the shorts may not be perfect for all three events, they are well-suited for sure.

Tri shorts are like bike shorts in some ways. However, they are the shorter option, so they are more likely to run up your legs while you move. Besides being shorter than bike shorts, tri shorts are less bulky, fast-wicking, and less absorbent.

Going by the features above, tri shorts typically retain less moisture than bike shorts. So, they are less likely to trigger irritation due to moisture accumulation. They are also less likely to slow triathletes down while swimming.

Besides this, compared to bike shorts, the chamois in tri shorts is thinner and smaller. This difference in size is aimed at reducing hindrance and increasing comfort while running. It also reduces chafing.

Besides not being as bulky as cycling shorts, triathlon shorts use thinner padding. So, they do not get as heavy as bike shorts when wet. Just one more reason why tri shorts are less likely to slow triathletes down while they swim.

Pros of Tri Shorts

  • Tri shorts are primed for versatile performance, so their design accommodates the needs of swimming, running, and cycling.
  • Since tri shorts have relatively smaller-sized padding, you will have less material rubbing against your thigh. So, the chances of chafing are lower.
  • Tri shorts are not as padded as bike shorts. Running and swimming are less inhibited.
  • Tri shorts have smaller-sized padding, and their pads are not very absorbent. So, their overall moisture retention is low.

Cons of Tri Shorts

  • Tri shorts are shorter in length than bike shorts. So, as you pedal or run, they are more likely to ride up your legs.
  • While tri shorts are okay for bike rides over short distances, they are not the best for long-distance rides. This is so because they have relatively thinner padding.
  • The materials used in making triathlon shorts are generally thinner. So, they are more likely to wear faster.

Bike Shorts

male cyclist looking away

As you may have guessed from the name, bike shorts were made to offer comfort while riding bikes. So, as expected, they may not be as versatile as tri shorts, which cover the peculiarities of all three events.

As said before, bike shorts and tri shorts share some similarities (such as fabric type). However, bike shorts are less likely to run up your legs since they offer a firmer grip.

Compared to tri shorts, bike shorts are significantly padded. Their chamois come in various sizes and are relatively thicker than those in tri shorts. However, in some cases, bike shorts come with removable chamois.

The padding and chamois in bike shorts promote comfort while cycling. But when swimming and running, they may not be so comfortable.

Since bike shorts have more padding, they retain more water than tri shorts. So, they are bound to get heavy when wet and slow you down while swimming.

Also, since bike shorts have a thicker and larger chamois, they are not so comfortable while running. They might even cause more chafing.

Pros of Bike Shorts

  • Bike shorts are extra padded, and this makes them comfortable for long-distance rides.
  • Bike shorts get a firm grip on the legs, so they do not ride up the legs like tri shorts.
  • Bike shorts are specifically made for bikes, so their design is tuned to the peculiarities of cycling.
  • Since bike shorts are thicker than tri shorts, they are more durable.

Cons of Bike Shorts

  • Because of their extra padding, bike shorts retain more water than tri shorts.
  • Due to their higher water retention, bike shorts are not ideal for swimming.
  • Since their padding is relatively thicker and larger-sized, bike shorts are more likely to cause chafing.
  • The chamois of bike shorts can make running a bit difficult.
  • The firm grip of bike shorts can also get in the way while running.