Can You Wear Cycling Shorts for a Triathlon?

man biking on triathlon bike

Suppose you’ve recently signed up for a triathlon; congratulations! Triathlon can be a rewarding experience after all. Now that you’ve signed up, you’re thinking of wearing cycling shorts for the event—but are cycling shorts acceptable or a huge no-no?

You cannot wear cycling shorts for the triathlon because the material is not suitable for the swimming section of the event. Cycling shorts may likely make you feel uncomfortable once they are wet.

Since there are only two short transition intervals in a triathlon, you need to be mindful of what you wear. In the rest of this article, I’ll explain why you should avoid cycling shorts, when they might be acceptable, and what alternatives are available to you. Keep reading.

Why Are Cycling Shorts Unsuitable for a Triathlon?

While cycling shorts can be perfect for cycling, going for a walk, or anything, they aren’t great for a triathlon. Cycling shorts don’t have the support, material, or construction needed to help you perform at your best on race day.

Cycling shorts are unsuitable for a triathlon because of their material and the typically sewn-in chamois, which can become heavy and cause problems when wet. Since most cycling shorts are made from lycra, this causes problems in the swimming section of the race.

Nowadays, most cycling shorts are made with only one intention in mind: cycling. For long rides, they’re perfect, give you a tremendous amount of support with a thick chamois sewn into the crotch, and they cling well to the skin to avoid mishaps like sagging. 

Cycling sport athlete man biking on triathlon bike

Cycling Shorts Can Cause Chafing

Even some of the best cycling shorts aren’t suitable for triathletes since painful chafing can occur once you come out of the water for the cycling or running section of the event. Chafing isn’t comfortable, and you don’t want to experience that on your race day. The situation may stress you out.

Cycling Shorts Aren’t Convenient for Triathlon Transitions

Another reason cycling shorts are unsuitable for a triathlon is that, although they’re excellent for running and swimming, you can’t change into them after the first transition. 

Each transition during a triathlon should be as short as possible—the time is included in the overall race’s timing. Efficiency is critical here, and since most races don’t provide changing rooms or any form of privacy for transitions, you’ll want to keep the change minimal. 

When Are Cycling Shorts Acceptable?

If you insist on wearing cycling shorts—which is understandable since triathlon-specific clothing can be relatively expensive—then there are a few ways you can combat the problem.

Cycling shorts are acceptable in situations where the cycling shorts have a removable chamois, are relatively quick-drying, and you’ve trained sufficiently in them, so you know what to expect.

First of all, make sure you buy a pair of cycling shorts that are snug enough that they won’t fall at any point during the race. Once they get wet, they need to stay in place and dry quickly for a more efficient race time.

Additionally, most cycling shorts do come with a thick chamois, but it’s possible to find some bike shorts that have a removable one. If you don’t mind a slightly more uncomfortable cycling experience, then you could try this.

Suppose you can’t find cycling shorts with removable padding; you could try a quick-drying pair that may help you solve this problem. These bike shorts are made of nylon and spandex, so they’ll dry faster than shorts made of lycra. 

The key here is experimenting and training in your chosen triathlon gear before the event takes place. As long as you’re happy with your choices, then the rest is up to you.

What Are the Alternatives for Cycling Shorts in a Triathlon?

A few options are available to those who want to participate in a triathlon. All the options have pros and cons, depending on the following:

  • Weather forecast for the day of the race
  • Specific rules of the triathlon committee
  • Your personal preferences.

The alternatives for cycling shorts include wetsuits, tri shorts, or a one-piece bathing suit specifically designed for sport. Tri shorts are the most popular option since they were purpose-built for triathlons and similar events. 

If you’re doing your triathlon in a cold climate (water temperature that averages below 78°F or 25°C makes it perfect wetsuit weather), then the triathlon committee will, of course, allow wetsuits to be worn. 

Wearing a full, heavy wetsuit might be tricky business for running, so if you decide to wear a wetsuit, ensure it’s the right size and fit to give you ultimate performance. You also might have to take it off after the first transition, so practice a few times before the big day.

One-piece bathing suits are also a great idea and help you achieve top performance—ensure that it’s purpose-built for heavy sport and fits you nice and snug.

Tri shorts are by far the most popular choice for triathlons. They’re water-resistant and quick-drying, have a minimal chamois to give you some support in the cycling part of the race, and you can wear them for running with no problems at all. Some tri shorts even come with pockets!

These SLS3 triathlon shorts come with four pockets, a snug fit with no riding up, and are made of breathable fabric that dries quickly. 

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, it’s best not to wear cycling shorts to a triathlon. There are so many great options out there, and it’s  unlikely that you’ll be comfortable during your race if you decide to wear them.

What To Read Next: