Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Cycling Underpants: a Look at Three Varieties



The phenomenon of cycling-specific underpants - as distinct from performance-oriented cycling shorts - is a fascinating reflection of today's hybrid bicycling culture. Riding a bike for transport is more popular than it has been in some time. But it is also different from what it was in its original heyday, many decades ago. On the whole, commuting distances are longer. The layouts of the roads invite a more aggressive riding technique. And the bicycles that many use for transport these days have morphed to accommodate - from the stately upright steeds they once ubiquitously were, to more sporting machines that encourage "active" postures.

It is an era of post-sport transport, and it blurs boundaries. Boundaries such as those between rural commutes and distance road rides, or between navigating busy city roads and training for criterium races. Consequently, the boundaries between everyday attire and cycling-specific technical garments are likewise blurred.

Do you “need” cycling underpants? The answer depends on a variety of factors, including how much time you spend on the bike for transport, your position on said bike, and the intensity of your pedaling. Suffice to say: If your underpants are letting you down in the comfort department, yet you prefer to cycle in ordinary clothing (or at least what looks like ordinary clothing), it is something to consider. Luckily, this breed of special garment is now available from a number of manufacturers and in multiple varieties. Over the past few months I have tried the following three and present to you my impressions:



Vulpine Merino Boxer

As a fan of Vulpine merino jerseys and socks, I was hoping for something equally simple, lightweight and cozy in the underwear department. I was not disappointed. The padded merino boxer (available in men's and women's versions) is everything the name suggests: It is a boxer-brief, in a merino fabric, with a chamois insert.

Aesthetically, these are very low key shorts. No frills, no doohickeys, no bright colours. But the wow factor is in the feel. The soft, lightweight 150g merino feels amazing against the skin. The form-fitting and stretchy cut contributes to the comfort. The elastic at the waist is wide enough not to cut into tummy fat. And tiny silicone grippers prevent the edges of the legs from bunching up under trousers. The length is pretty short (think "boy shorts" for the women's version), which makes them suitable even for mini skirts, but long enough to prevent inner thigh chafe.


The gray, low-profile CyTech pad (gender-specific) provides coverage suitable for any cycling position, from bolt-upright to racing fit. To me it feels very comfortable for distances for up to 20 miles.

That said, I do not find the manufacturer's claims of the padding being "invisible through outerwear" to be 100% accurate. Under some trousers and skirts that I own, the pad definitely "prints" at the rear. Not the end of the world, and the comfort these shorts give me is worth it - but it does mean I have to choose my wardrobe carefully when I wear them.


Off the bike, the merino fabric feels truly splendid and the cut makes them comfortable to move around in. However, I am aware of the pad and so it definitely doesn't feel quite like wearing normal underpants.

Verdict: While not perfectly stealthy under all garments, for long distance commuting I find the Vulpine Merino Boxers extremely effective. As a fan of fine merino wool, I also find the choice of fabric ideal. Available in black or navy and priced at £49GBP, these shorts are currently on sale for £30.



Ivalieu Pettipants

Not all cycling-specific underpants are about padding. Some are about coverage - particularly underneath skirts and dresses. On that front, the Oregon-based Ivalieu makes a variety of "pettipants" to help be-skirted cyclists avoid not only flashing, but, more importantly, what she so eloquently terms "the ol' sticky thighs issue." Ah yes.

The pettipants are available in several styles and a variety of prints, the most relevant to me being the Sport - which are basically stretchy, unpadded bicycle shorts as I remember them from the late 1980s-early '90s. I had not realised how much I missed them until I took a spin in the updated Ivalieu version.


Like the "bike shorts" we wore in elementary school, the Ivalieu pettipants are great for both pedaling and running about in, as well as for climbing trees and fences. They prevent inner thigh chafing on hot days and minimise up-skirt curiosity.

Unlike the bike shorts of yore though, these have a wide, comfortable waistband, and a nice gusset at the crotch that keeps seams from pressing into privates. The nylon-spandex blend fabric is also quite a bit nicer to the touch than the older stuff was, and the hand-sewn, made to order quality is top notch.


On the bike, I find the Ivalieu shorts pretty great for upright cycling in a skirt, especially on hot sticky days. Off the bike - while the pettipants in of themselves are comfortable I would like some sort of breathable lining over the gusset area to be able to wear them all day - especially in an indoor, sitting in a chair type of situation. Direct spandex-to-crotch contact, for hours at a time, is not a good setup for me. And while not everyone is sensitive in this regard, on the whole I believe a lining would be a beneficial addition to this garment.

Verdict: If you miss those unpadded bike shorts of your pre-teen years, there is now a hand-sewn version of them that is gussetted, silky in feel, and available in a variety of funky prints. Made to order starting at $49.50 USD check them out, along with other cool models, on the Ivalieu website.



Bike Nicks Padded Knickers

There are cycling underpants. And then there is cycling lingerie. That's right. And I'll be honest: when I first started seeing Bike Nicks pop up on social media, I assumed they were a novelty item that would not be of much use to me. But having tried a sample, I was at once reminded of the "don't hate me because I'm beautiful" meme. And beautiful these knickers certainly are. In fact - and I can't decide whether this is funny or sad - they are by far the most attractive and "sexy" pair of underwear I currently own!

Founded by yoga instructor Lili Millar, the Bike Nicks range is designed for cycling and is meant to be as pretty as it is comfortable. And, on the comfortable front, it succeeds more than its aesthetics suggests it should. The fabric - which is a synthetic satin with lace trim - is surprisingly stretchy when worn. It is underwear that looks like lingerie but feels like an athletic garment.



The Bike Nicks are padded for on-the-bike comfort. However, the padding is not a full-on chamois, but a smaller, subtler pad that is about the size and shape of a standard sanitary napkin. And rather than sitting directly against the skin, it is sewn into a cotton lining. As a result, despite the cycling-specific padding, the Nicks feel like ordinary underpants when worn off the bike. I have worn them all day and forgotten they were there.

On the bike, I find the Bike Nicks enhance any ride I would have otherwise done in ordinary underpants. However, being knickers rather than shorts, they inherently do not address the problem of inner thighs chafing under skirts and dresses. And the elasticised leg openings - despite being very stretchy and soft - nonetheless eventually start to rub as the miles add up, especially in a leaned over position. Adding a boy short design to the lineup might be something to consider, for cyclists who have problems with chafing and put in lots of miles.


Verdict: While they haven't quite got the features of full-on chamois cycling shorts, if you are looking to add comfort to your transport cycling and spice up your underwear drawer in one go, Bike Nicks will do exactly that. UK-made and priced at £26.99GBP per pair, they are available in pink or black, and in a knickers or a thong style.

Speaking solely of my own preferences, there are elements of all three products that I love. The merino fabric of the Vulpine shorts feels divine. The length of the Ivalieu Sport shorts is just right for me. If I could combine those, with the minimal, lining-enclosed padding of the Bike Nicks, well that would be my perfect pair of cycling-specific underpants.

Collabo, anyone?...

But on a separate note! As you might recall, the products featured here are being offered as prizes for the winners of the #BikePeeing (yes, I know) photo contest that was recently run here. After 6 finalists were selected, voting for the top two entries took place last week and I thank everyone who took part.



According to the readers' vote, the top two entries were:

2. "No P on Bridge" -  submitted by Fixe Pixie, and
4. "Heartland" - submitted by George Swain

However, I would also like to exercise my power (oooh) as hostess to override the vote and chose a third winner. And that would be:

5. In Plane View - submitted by TrailHound

I shall be in touch with the winners shortly. And I hope these reviews help them decide which of these fine underpants they would like as a prize.

With thanks to Vulpine, Bike Nicks and Ivalieu, for donating their products for this contest! I hope the reviews were helpful for anyone considering cycling-specific underpants. And I would be curious to know what other ones folks out there have tried - and if you've found them useful at all. When we start to add miles and challenging terrain to transport cycling, continuing to ride in ordinary clothing can be tricky. Whether we buy their clothing or not, designers who try to find solutions offer food for thought and new ideas, and their efforts are appreciated.


31 comments:

  1. The dream of the 90s is alive in Portland!

    Sorry, had to be the first to say it :)))) Reading youre review I think my wife would love the Ivalieu shorts and I am sorry now that I did not take part in the contest. Congrats to the winners. Choose wisely!

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    1. Thanks very much; the song plays in my head every time I see this comment!

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  2. As always, a more (Ahem!) revealing review than I have found elsewhere. Any idea how the Vulpine boxers compare to Rapha? Velobici?

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    1. Never tried them while they were on offer, but as far as I can tell Rapha has gotten rid of their padded merino boxers and now have an unpadded version instead. Men's only.

      I had the Velobici women's Performance Pants, but gave them away as the fit did not work for me (loose in the abdomen and bum, elastics too tight at the legs and waist). The fabric is a matte nylony stretchy brocade, pretty nice actually (but not merino). Fit might work best for those with skinny legs and an "apple" figure.

      Hope that helps!

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  3. Thank you for the thoughtful review, especially alongside esteemed companies, Vulpine and Bike Nicks! I am always game for collaborations, could create an eponymous, special run. . . the "Lovely Bicycle Bloomers," perhaps : )

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    1. Thank you Cathy! Oh the possibilities...

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  4. I've been looking for something just like the Ivalieu ones, but I agree with you that it would be good to add a fabric liner over the gusset. I've been using some Under Armour running shorts, which prevent me flashing the neighbors and also take care thigh chafing on hot days. It's also nice not to have elastic running through one's groin as you do with traditional women's underpants. The problem is that I don't want or need the compression feature all day long and they lack a breathable fabric liner over the crotch gusset. Next I have on order a wicking "slipshort" from Jockey. Here's hoping it will bring together all of these features in one product.

    This seems like such a simple thing to want: an unpadded cycle short with a breathable crotch. Why is it so hard to find?

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    1. Hey... I actually have the Jockey slipshort. :) I like to wear them in warmer weather under skirts while riding. The not-so-great part of them is that they have created a lot of static cling with everything I wear (which, admittedly is mostly merino wool or cotton). They do help with thigh chaffing though (and since I have plenty of thigh, I can speak to this).

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    2. I have not tried Jockey stuff, but have tried Under Armour running shorts. While I don't mind the compression (kind of like it actually), the lack of breathability made it impossible to wear for more than an hour at a time, tops. FWIW the fabric used in Ivalieu shorts is more breathable. Oh and no static cling. However, I agree that what we need is an unpadded cycle short with a breathable crotch. If someone can make that happen, it should sell like hot cakes.

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    3. I'm not sure if anyone is still following this thread, but I've found something that is working pretty well for me. Tomboyx makes a 9-inch boxer brief in a cotton/spandex blend that fits about like a bike short (but no compression) and is very breathable. The crotch is gusseted and the legs stay put. They run a little bit on the big side. I usually wear a small in most biking stuff, but I wear an extra small from this company. $29.

      Here's a link: https://tomboyx.com/collections/9-boxer-brief

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  5. I agree with Kendra - I bought a Jockey product to help with chafing and upskirting and it was ok, but the legs rolled up with each passing mile and it didn't breathe enough. I'm interested in trying the Ivalieu shorts but the website appears to have disappeared. I hope they are back up and running soon!

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    1. Works for me. I wonder if one of my links in the post is broken.

      http://www.ivalieu.com

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    2. J - I've now tried the Jockey product and found, as you did, that it crawls up my leg. It also isn't as breathable as I had hoped. Now I'm on a quest: I WILL find a mid-thigh boxer brief where at least the crotch is made from a natural fiber. I've found a few "boy shorts" in merino wool, but that style is hopeless for me. The legs roll right up.

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  6. I have Terry's Cyclo Brief and the Universal Liner and I frankly don't care for either. The Cyclo Brief always causes problems for me with the elastic at the leg connection and does nothing for chaffing. The liner squeezes my leg so tight at the gripper that they are easy to see through clothing, so it's obvious that I'm wearing them.

    From what you describe, it sounds like a combination of each of these samples would be ideal for many women.

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  7. As a woman who can't wear polyester/ spandex for more than a few minutes at a time – and shudders to think about sitting in it – I've long been looking for a non-lycra pair of shorts. After dithering for months, I recently ordered a pair of the Vulpine merino boy shorts on the strength of your introductory bit when you announced the contest. I'm so glad that your review was favourable, too. My new-ish Brooks saddle is just coming up on perfection and I think between that and the merino shorts, summer is going to be very fine indeed! Now to find a merino jersey to go with it.

    It's uncanny how often I am mulling something over or have a cycling-related question and next thing I know, you're writing about it.

    Thanks for continuing to find great products and interesting people (not to mention cool contests :-)

    Best,
    Lil Bruin

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  8. How exciting! Thank you Lovely Bike person. Just off to France where Bike Peeing is something of a national pastime. I look forward to hearing from you on my return. Happy cycling.
    Trail hound

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    1. Waaaait! You're the only one whose contact info I can't find. Please email me at filigreevelo-at-yahoo

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    2. back from France - you have email. Cheers TH

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  9. Love the cheeky Mercian lugs peeking out! Now that is my idea of lingerie, although I would not say No to a pair of Bike Nicks (especially if they did a boy short). I enjoyed following the #bikepeeing contest! Thanks for the laughs.

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    1. Good eye! The Vincitore lugs definitely are the lingerie of lugwork : )

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  10. Like Anonymous above, when I spotted the Vulpine merino boyshorts in your contest announcement, I immediately ordered them (plus they were on sale). There was a bit of a sizing question - I have a slim waist but not so slim thighs - so after consulting Vupline customer service, I chose the Large over the Medium that I was according to their sizing guide.

    They arrived today and the material is gorgeous. YET the silicone grippers that should keep the legs from moving up are only on the outside of the leg (why that is so I have no idea). So sadly the inside seam starts rolling up on my not-so-slender thighs the minute I sit down on the saddle... Have only taken them for a short ride with regular knickers underneath, but they bit into my legs pretty badly.
    Did you experience anything similar?

    My first cycling knickers purchase was a cheap, China-made pair that is marketed under various brand names as 3D padded cycling underpants. You will recognize it for its bright pink "chamois". Actually they fit pretty well, only the chafing problem remains. And they get smelly after a while... that's why I thought Merino would be my best choice.

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    1. Thanks for sharing that. It is inevitable that this kind of garment will behave differently on different bodies. I am on the S/M cusp in Vulpine clothes, but got the Small shorts because I know that in general I do better with cycling shorts which are tight rather than loose on me. For me, the S Vulpines are comfy at the waistband, fitted around the middle, and tight in the legs - but tight to a degree that I like, not too tight, and they don't ride up or roll up. Obviously not the case for you and thanks again for posting that.

      If I had to change the Vulpine boxers, it would be:
      1. lengthen the legs
      2. maybe have elastic bands, similar to the one at the waist, at the leg openings instead of the silicone grippers
      But keep the fabric, cut, and fit as-is. I think that would make the fit more versatile for ladies with different thigh/waist proportions.

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  11. I'm so excited. I'd like to try the .ivalieu shorts. It will be nice to have something to go with dresses. I'll be bike peeling my way up to Donegal in the next few weeks. It's amazing how many more bike peeling opportunities there are here in Ireland

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    1. Oh aye. Ireland is wile for the #bikepeeing, so it is.

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  12. I think I mentioned this in a comment a long time ago, but Tommy Godwin, who set the Year Record in 1939/40 by cycling over 75,000 miles then 100,000 in 500 days, was suffering severe saddle sores (understandably!) until a female cyclist suggested ladies’ silk undies and his problem was solved, at least up to a point.

    Still never seen silk cycling underwear (although I haven’t been looking very hard, tbh), but someone on the Cycling UK (formerly CTC) forum suggested long bamboo boxer shorts. I knew bamboo was versatile – you can even make bicycle frames out of the stuff, of course – but I had no idea it was used for clothing. They weren’t cycling-specific, but apparently bamboo has exceptional qualities for clothing – breathable, antibacterial, moisture-wicking. There are a few suppliers if you search the net.

    Often wondered about wearing padded underwear under everyday clothing, though – does it really help? I’m male, and although I don’t have the difficulties you outlined in your post about female saddle issues (you did warn us, but I winced several times when reading it and I don’t have to suffer what you do), I’ve been getting sore lately – not saddles sores, just chafing, but it’s at the stage where although I still look forward to every ride and soon forget I’ve suffered, I don’t enjoy the cycling itself, which is a pain. Last night, towards the end of a 30 mile run, I spent the last three miles home standing, kidding myself on I was Chris Horner, but it was only because my arse (we call it ‘erse’ over here in Ershur (Ayrshire)) hurt so badly. :( I’ve gone a lot further and not suffered, though, so I guess it’s my current saddle / set up or both together. I don’t tend to wear padded shorts/underwear, although I have both, so I suppose I’ll need to from now on.

    ‘Cyclist suffers depressive episode after posterior issues’. You know how it is. :)

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  13. More photo contests please! Maybe one that doesn't involve body fluids? :P

    Jim

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    1. Yes.

      I like doing contests and give-aways, but it can become a mess when entrants don't provide contact information, making it impossible to select winners (which is what was increasingly starting to happen previously). I am still experimenting with ways of running contests that don't require me to coordinate every entry over email, yet guarantee I will have everyone's contact info, and at the same time don't require entrants to use an outside platform (like flickr or instagram) which they might not have access to. Seems like you can do 2 out of 3, but not all 3. But anyway - more photo competitions, yes.

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  14. I can understand why cycling specific clothing has been developed for sports cycling, but just do not "get" the trend today to look for cycling clothing for everyday riding. I've been riding bikes for over 50 years and will happily jump on a bike and do 25+ miles in whatever ordinary clothing is appropriate for the weather and destination. I scratch my head whenever I see reports like this and wonder whether it is the bike / bike saddle / bike geometry that is inducing discomfort in people's bikes. A bike just shouldn't be so uncomfortable that you have to consider what you are wearing before you get on it go riding. If it is, you have the wrong bike!

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    1. It is not necessarily about the bike. There are 25 mile rides I can happily do in ordinary clothing. And there are 25 mile rides where I feel much better in cycling clothing (examples: a relaxed ride to take photos, vs a fast paced road ride). The difference is in intensity and effort - which come not only from the rider's initiative to 'ride fast,' but also from terrain (i.e. hills) and weather conditions (i.e. headwinds). Keeping milage and bike constant, issues such as chafing and soreness can start to creep up when intensity and effort increase.

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    2. Ah - I think I see the flaw in my argument! I could never, ever be accused of putting any sort of intensity or effort into my cycling, so I guess I should stay out of these debates! For what it's worth, I wouldn't mind a couple of pairs of the pretty pink pants as they look relatively harmless! Keep up the blog, always enjoy your writings. :)

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