Evolution in Short(s)

Cycling shorts have come a long way since their humble beginnings. We will fast track through history and explore the evolution of this essential piece of any cyclist’s wardrobe.

Early observation of cycling shorts takes us back to the beginnings of the Tour de France. In those times, shorts were constructed from loosely fitted and typically itchy woollen knitwear. Sporting such a pair was a ordeal in itself, comparable to wearing a horsehair shirt, which for many served as an act of penitence and a constant reminder of faith. Perhaps this was to help riders avoid the temptation to sin, or as a means to ride faster so they could take their shorts off sooner.

Tour de france shorts vintage

It is said to alleviate the irritation, riders would line the shorts with raw steaks, providing a makeshift barrier between soft tissue and the abrasive surface of a sheep. At the end of a gruelling stage, some even ate the semi-cooked meat as a measure of triumph and a supplement to their iron intake.

chamois cycling shorts pearson

This bovine theme continued with the introduction of soft leather chamois inserts sewn into the seat of the shorts. This innovation improved performance by reducing friction for the rider and extending the lifespan of the garment. This was especially important for comfort when used in conjunction with riveted leather saddles of the times. The one drawback was that after every wash the chamois would dry to resemble a crisp Ryvita biscuit, causing tears to well in the eyes during the first hour of use until sufficient moisture built up to soften the barren crust.

Plastic racing saddle

As innovation progressed (or not), stiff moulded plastic saddles, seen to be lighter and longer lasting, replaced their figure-hugging leather predecessors. This made the chamois even more crucial for comfort, often requiring double layers inserted for longer distances. However riders would still lose sensation across the perineum, often causing long term numbness, a condition less prevalent today due to the understanding of saddle shape, advanced bike fitting, and of course what was still to come in shorts technology.

cycling braces and shorts

The 1970s saw the addition of thin clip-on braces, then built in braces, applied to the tops of the shorts to help keep the chamois in the right place. These additions prevented the seat of the shorts from slipping too low when standing on the pedals if climbing or sprinting, and allowing riders to effortlessly return to the saddle each time.

pearson bib shorts

The evolution of cycling shorts continued with the introduction of synthetic padded inserts and Lycra fabric. This combination offered improved ventilation and sweat dissipation, enhancing fit and reducing chafing. Another significant development was the incorporation of mesh bibs, eliminating the need for skinny braces. The bibs provide simple support, holding the pad in position at all times to maximise comfort and performance. 

With this innovation came the introduction of sublimated Lycra, basically the printing of colour on fabric, leading to an explosion and freedom of design for brand stylists and often maximising the impact of sponsors on team kit.

felt emblem cycling cycling shorts

Exit the monochrome chain-stitched and flock emblems of yesterday, and enter a new explosion of unabashed colour and design. Italian sprinter Mario Cippolini was the perfect billboard for marketing departments, becoming infamous for repeatedly crossing the line way ahead of his competition in both distance and outright flamboyance. 

cipollini cycling shorts sublimated

Today, the cycle short market is vast and varied, with numerous brands offering different features and designs. Pearson, a company with 163 years of cycling history, has observed this evolution and partnered with leaders in fabric and pad technology to create a uniquely new design for men and women.

Pearson prisma range

Our latest Prisma range of shorts combines high-quality Italian fabric, offering maximum support and durability, with a highly ventilated, figure-hugging padded insert, developed alongside the renowned Italian manufacturer TMF.

The shorts also feature an unconventional lightweight and breathable four-point strapping system from elastic pioneer Marq. This innovative design provides a well-balanced, round-the-waist support without the need for mesh bib sections, crafting a new level of style, durability and comfort. The shorts also feature side cargo pockets for secure on the go storage.

So, if you're looking for a leap into an entirely different comfort zone, give our shorts an outing for a truly evolved cycling experience.

Pearson Prisma range shop now >


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