Tri Shorts Vs. Bike Shorts

The gear list for triathlon seems endless, so it's natural to wonder if you can skip the tri short and just use your trusty bike shorts for the race.

But who wants to run a marathon in a diaper? That's what you're potentially doing if you wear bike shorts to run an Ironman. That also goes for Olympic-distance triathlons, and even sprints.

Sure bike shorts give you have some extra padding for the ride, but that padding takes extra time to dry out after the swim, and any sweat from the bike ride collects in that pad as well. By the time you hit the run you'll be contending with jelly legs AND diaper rash.

Take a look at some of the pros and cons and see for yourself.

Bike Shorts: Pros

  1. Extra padding
  2. Specifically designed for biking
  3. More comfort over longer bike legs
  4. Good grip for non-slip on legs
  5. Durable

Bike Shorts: Cons

  1. Extra padding collects extra moisture
  2. Extra padding can cause extra chaffing even when dry
  3. Not designed for running and swimming
  4. Advantage of comfort diminishes when bike distance is shorter
  5. Too much grip for non-slip when running

Triathlon Shorts: Pros

  1. Designed with all three sports in mind
  2. Reduced padding allows for easier running and swimming
  3. Less chaffing on runs
  4. Less fluid retention in pad

Triathlon Shorts: Cons

  1. Less padding and comfort for longer bike rides
  2. Shorter than bike shorts, may ride up leg more
  3. Thinner materials may result in lesser product life

As you can see, each has positives and negatives. Bike shorts are a great tool for long training rides, but if you don't train in clothes you will race in, you may be in for a rude surprise when you exit T2. Ouch.

Bottom Line

You'll want to do a few training rides in tri shorts (just to get used to it), however, most of the time you should train in bike shorts and race in tri shorts.

You can survive triathlons in bike shorts, but if you are getting more competitive and challenging yourself with longer distances, triathlon-specific shorts are the way to go. You may sacrifice some comfort on the bike, but it will pay for itself over the run when you aren't waddling and chafing your way to the finish line.


Kansas City Endurance Sports Examiner Ryan Falkenrath has participated in multisport events in the Midwest ranging from 5Ks to 1/2 Ironmans and marathons since 2001.

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