Whether your bum does indeed look big in those lycra shorts, and whether that bothers you, are questions only you can answer. If you want to wear them, do. If you'd prefer not to, don't be persuaded otherwise by 'proper' cyclists: lycra shorts are flat-out not necessary for riding a bike – and certainly not for commuting to work.
There are benefits to lycra cycling shorts, of course. There are no raised seams to press where they shouldn't; the sewn-in pad adds comfort; there's no chaffing; they don't restrict pedalling; and they don't flap about on the bike. This is why racers and mile-eaters wear them.
You can enjoy most of the benefits of lycra shorts without embracing the racer look simply by wearing them under other clothing. They go fine underneath tracksuit-style trousers, cropped trousers, summer shorts, or a skirt. Once you get to where you're going, swap them for normal underwear. (Note: lycra shorts themselves are designed to be worn next to the skin.)
For shorter commutes – perhaps five miles or less – it's questionable whether you need specialist cycling clothing at all. Rather than choosing your clothing to suit the bike (for example, full lycra because you've got a road bike), you can choose or adapt your bike to suit the clothing you want to wear.
A bike with a step-through frame is much easier to ride in a skirt. An upright riding position will prevent your lower back getting exposed to the wind if you're wearing hipsters. A wide, sprung saddle will likely be more comfortable in normal, unpadded clothes. Mudguards, skirt guards and a chain guard will stop loose clothing getting dirtied or snared by your bike. Town bikes often have all of these features, as they're designed to be ridden in normal clothes. But practical hybrids and folding bikes are also well suited to normal-clothes commuting – and it's possible on almost any bike.
Trousers or shorts with thick seams in the crotch can press or rub uncomfortably when you're sitting on a bike saddle, particularly if the saddle is narrow or tilted upwards, or if your riding position is too stretched out. If you sit up more on a wider saddle, or on one with an anatomic cut-out, then even jeans are fine.
Longer, looser skirts can catch the wind and provide Marilyn Monroe moments on the bike. Heavier skirts are obviously less of a problem than floaty summer ones. You can limit the problem – apart from by smoothing the skirt back down with one hand – by applying a clothes peg or two at the hem of the skirt (on the inside) to gather it in while riding. Short, tight skirts can sometimes catch on the back of the saddle when you step off the bike, but it's something to be aware of rather than worried about.
There are also dedicated cycling clothes that won't make you look like a contestant from the TV show The Hole in the Wall. Those here are for women, but aside from the skort there are equivalent items available for men.
Union 34 Element Water Resistant Women's Trouser
These aren't the normal high-street trousers they seem. They're made from a cotton/spandex stretch fabric with a NanoSphere finish, so that they repel water, dirt and oil – and allow easy removal of any that sticks. The high waist prevents clothing gaps when cycling, and the stretch material and seam placement is pedalling friendly. There are discreet reflective details that can be hidden off the bike, and a zipped side pocket. Navy or grey. Sizes 8-16, regular or long.
Altura Women's Metro Baggy Shorts
As the name suggests, these baggy shorts are designed for urban use rather than mountain bike trails. The style is deliberately low-key and 'non-bikie'. Yet there's still a slim, fleecy seat pad for saddle comfort, and the cotton/spandex stretch fabric is soft, hardwearing, and has a cycling cut. There are hand and rear pockets, plus concealed reflective trim. Black only. Sizes: 8-18.
Endura Women's Humvee Lite 3/4 Shorts
These three-quarter length shorts look good off the bike and are comfortable and airy on it. There's a removable, padded liner short, and there are mesh sections for better breathability. The outer short has a durable cordura seat but is otherwise lightweight, stretch-nylon with water repellant coating. The waistband is elasticated and has an integral belt, and there are hand pockets and cargo pockets. Black or stone. Sizes: XS-XL.
Altura Tempo Women's Undershort
Padded undershorts are primarily designed to be worn under baggy shorts for mountain biking, but as with lycra outer shorts you can wear them under anything. These have a comfortable padded insert that isn't too bulky. Grey only. Sizes: 8-18.
Gore Bike Wear Path Lady Skirt+
Also known as a skort, this is a skirt and pair of padded shorts combined into one garment to provide cycling comfort and a more discreet style. The inner shorts have mesh inserts for better ventilation, plus grippers on the legs to stop them riding up. There's a side pocket (mesh), and the skirt has reflective piping. Black, cyan or magenta. Sizes: XS-XXL.
Northwave Women's Metro Baggy Shorts
Padded mountain biking shorts of any kind work well for casual commuting, as they don't compromise pedalling comfort or look weird off the bike. These Northwave ones have a removable, padded inner short and a lightweight outer short with three pockets. They're available in utilitarian black or this eye-popping chequered pink. Sizes XS-XXXL.
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