The saddle is easily the most crucial of the three contact points between your body and your bike. It carries your weight for the majority of the time you spend on two wheels, which means choosing between good and bad cycling shorts can make all the difference. A badly fitting pair can ruin even the shortest of rides, whereas the best cycling shorts spells out hours of comfortable riding.
While it’s important to have a well-designed chamois for improved comfort, it needs to be supported by quality materials constructed and cut specifically to keep everything in its place. That means no uncomfortable bunching, no restrictions to your movement while cycling, and no chafing or saddle sores.
Generally when choosing the best pair of cycling shorts, your first decision will be whether you opt for waist shorts or bib shorts. Bib shorts are undeniably the best for comfort and performance, however waist shorts can make toilet breaks much more of a breeze. It’s all down to personal choice, so we’ve included a mixture of the two in this list.
Everyone’s anatomy is different, so advising on the best chamois can been difficult. However there are certain considerations you can take to help narrow your options down. It should fit close to the body, with the key areas of padding located in your sit bone area while in a riding position.
It's not just the thickness that will indicate comfort, but also the size and shape. Thicker endurance-focussed pads will place padding towards the rear of the chamois, allowing for a more upright position. Conversely, race-designed chamois will have more padding in the front to cater for an aggressive riding position.
Perforations and channels in the pad improve airflow and breathability to reduce heat and moisture build-up which can cause chafing. The use of antibacterial treatments keeps your shorts feeling fresh.
Material and straps
The best chamois in the world is no good if it doesn’t stay in place while you’re riding. Good cycling shorts will have specifically shaped panels that allow structure and stretch to be focussed where it’s most needed to achieve a close fit. This will also offer muscle compression and strategically place certain materials in key areas to maximise on their specific properties. For example, some panels benefit from being more breathable while other parts need to be hard-wearing.
Consider the properties of materials used when choosing a pair of cycling shorts. Some provide protection in cold and wet conditions, while perforated mesh materials maximise cooling airflow on hot days. Materials can even be designed with dimpled surfaces to disrupt airflow for improved aerodynamics. If you are a year-round rider, it’s worth investing in a couple of different bib shorts to suit a wide range of conditions.
High-end shorts will often feature flat-lock stitching: flat seams that offer a smooth transition between panels of fabric. This can reduce discomfort as well as aid aerodynamics.
When it comes to cycling shorts, waist shorts are available, but bib shorts are more popular as they don't have a thick waistband that can dig in when riding, and even more importantly, they can't ride down and leave a gap between the top of your shorts and the bottom of your jersey. Instead, shoulder straps are used to hold the top of the shorts in place and keep the chamois in the correct position. These straps need to be stretchy, wide and ventilated to stop any pressure or irritation.
Depending on your style of riding, there may be other features that appeal to you. Some shorts will feature pockets, which are extremely useful when you’re riding all day and need to have snacks readily available without stopping. If you ride in warmer weather a lot of the time, it’s also worth considering how much UV protection the fabrics offer to protect your skin from sunburn.
Specifically for women, it’s important to think about bathroom breaks. If you’re likely to be out riding in the middle of nowhere for long periods of time, you may well find yourself needing some time in the bushes, and that is where bib shorts can prove to be difficult. There are a lot of different styles of bib short straps available these days, and many of them are designed to make this easier. Look for bibs with magnetic clasps, halter necks or even zippered openings so you can quickly pee without having to get fully undressed.
Incredible quality and comfort for all-day riding
Gore is a big name in cycling clothing, and their products are always incredibly high quality. The C7 bib shorts are so comfortable that you won’t even notice you’re wearing them, which makes them the perfect option for all-day riding. They feel soft to the touch, and are cut specifically to a women’s fit.
Unlike some shorts, where the silicone grips can feel harsh and restrictive, the C7s are held in place with a thin strip of light gripper, as you’d normally find on aero jersey sleeves. This means they’ll still stay firmly in place without causing any discomfort.
A great option for beginners and casual cyclists
These waist shorts from Beroy are a great budget-friendly option for anyone who’s just starting out on the bike, or simply doesn’t want to spend a lot. They come with 11 colors and patterns to choose from, which, at such a low price, means you can fill your wardrobe and wear what suits your mood on the day.
These shorts have gel padding which will get you through shorter rides, though anything longer than half a day and you might start to experience some discomfort. The lightweight mesh fabric is quick-dry with good elasticity, while the silicone hems help to keep everything in place. Flat seams will help keep things comfortable, while reflective detailing will offer some added visibility in low light.
Stash everything you need with cargo bibs
Added pockets are super helpful if you need to keep a stash of emergency snacks to hand, or simply want to store your valuables where you can see and feel them. These cargo bib shorts from Urban Cycling Apparel look great, and feature a pocket on each side.
The handcrafted Italian fabric is breathable, wicks away moisture to keep you feeling fresh and dry, and features reflective detailing for improved visibility. Elasticated grippers stop the legs from riding up, and an antibacterial 3D gel chamois should provide comfort enough for a day’s ride. Choose from four beautiful colors, and perhaps opt for a matching jersey while you’re at it.
No need to disrobe when nature calls
These bib shorts from Pearl Izumi are a great investment if you’re likely to be in the saddle all day, perhaps days at a time. It’s designed for all-day comfort, with Select Transfer Dry fabric, which sets the benchmark for compression and moisture-wicking for all day freshness. They’re designed with great attention to detail, and a lot of consideration has gone into what the rider needs. If you’re curvier up top, you’ll like the fact that the straps features a center bib clip, which lets you customize the positioning of the straps to fit around your physique.
What’s more, the drop-tail design means that when nature calls, there’s no need to disrobe and wrestle with quickly getting dressed again afterwards. There’s a gap at the back that allows you to simply pull the back of your shorts down, do your business, and pull them back up again. Who doesn’t love a hassle-free pee?
Get a jersey with each pair of shorts
If you want to get your money’s worth, opt for the Uriah women’s cycling bib shorts, as they come with a jersey included for a very reasonable price. Plus, with a whopping 31 color options to choose from, you can have a different cycling outfit for every day of the week, and thensome.
The bib shorts feature a 3D Coolmax gel padded cushion which is shockproof on the road, so it absorbs some of the vibrations that might otherwise leave you feeling fatigued. The bib shorts are constructed from a blend of Polyester and Lycra with strong moisture-wicking capabilities, as well as UV protection.
Blend in off the bike with these casual shorts
If form-fitting lycra isn’t really your thing, there are plenty of more casual shorts on the market. These are slightly looser in fit, which means you’ll blend right in when you’re off the bike. These Club Ride Apparel Savvy cycling shorts look the part, blending form and function so you can ride in comfort and feel stylish at the same time.
They may not be ideal for fast road racing, but if you’re more of a casual cyclist, or more inclined to take your bike off-road, these are the perfect addition to your cycling wardrobe. They come in four color options and would look excellent paired with a cotton tee and an open flannel shirt.
Wear these under any of your favourite outfits
If you already have a favourite pair of shorts that don’t come with padding, pick up a pair of padded undershorts instead. You can wear them like underwear and pair them with whichever clothing you feel like wearing that day (provided it’s not too close-fitting around the rear, to accommodate the chamois).
These Polyester/Spandex padded undies from Eco-daily come in four different color options and make for a very comfortable underlayer. They stretch to fit around curves, and feature women-specific 3D padding with cutaway areas for airflow, multi-dimensional and multi-thickness density foam in a shorter design to support your sit bones.
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