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A savvy cyclist knows that one of the key pieces of equipment needed to ensure a comfortable ride is a good quality pair of cycling shorts.
In this guide, we’ll take you through the most popular types of cycling shorts, and tell you the main benefits of wearing this specialised piece of sportswear. We’ll also introduce you to eight highly-rated pairs of cycling shorts for men and women, available to buy online.
What are the benefits of cycling shorts, and how do they work?
Cycling shorts can offer enhanced comfort, temperature regulation and aerodynamics.
For many cyclists, the key benefit is comfort. Cycling can be tough on the body parts which make the most contact with the bike – and you had better believe that includes your backside.
There are a few ways in which cycling shorts combat this unfortunate effect. The shorts generally use fits and materials that minimise chafing, which is a common problem for cyclists covering long distances. And many shorts go further, with padding on the back that absorbs some of the pressure from the saddle.
Temperature-regulation is another important factor for cycling enthusiasts. Cycling shorts will often keep you pleasantly cool through the use of perforations and moisture-wicking materials.
Very keen cyclists may also be interested in the streamlining effect of cycling shorts: a ‘marginal gain’ which could shave some time off your rides.
What are the main types of cycling shorts?
Bib shorts are a sort of shorts-and-vest combination. Instead of using an elasticated waistband, they are held in-place with shoulder straps, which can help minimise chafing.
Standard shorts are cycling shorts in a classic short trouser cut, with an elasticated waistband and legs which stop above the knee.
Padded cycling shorts have padding where long-distance cyclists need it most. If you plan on cycling far or often, this padding will help keep you relatively comfortable on the saddle. Cycling shorts in both commonly used cuts – bib and standard – can be padded.
MTB shorts are optimised for mountain biking.
Madison Sportive Men’s Shorts
Best for: distance cycling
Type: men’s standard
If you’re looking for a padded pair of men’s cycling shorts in a standard cut, this classic option from Madison would be our recommendation.
The star of the show here is undoubtedly the Sportive’s gel-infused chamois, which kept our reviewer feeling comfy and cool during a long test cycle.
It’s worth noting that the padding is made with antibacterial material, which could be a major advantage on a long and arduous cycling tour.
In terms of fit, these shorts are as simple and accommodating as they come. If you’re not quite sure what size you are, these shorts will give you much more leeway than a sportier option like the Pearl iZUMi typically would.
Madison Sportive Women’s Shorts
Best for: sweat-wicking
Type: women’s standard
Same as above, for the men’s sportive - these are simply in a women’s cut.
dhb Women’s Waist Shorts
Best for: added grip on the seat
Type: women’s standard
These padded shorts from dhb offer a winning combination of comfort and simplicity.
Featuring a comfy chamois pad with elastic interfacing, this option is recommended for cycling moderate distances over a number of consecutive days – or for longer day trips.
We were particularly impressed with the silicone grips sewn into the hem of these shorts, which are highly effective at keeping the shorts from slipping while you cycle.
Our one criticism of these shorts would be that the material may be a little too shiny for cycling over uneven terrain.
dhb Classic Shorts
Best for: comfort
Type: men’s standard
As above, but in a men’s cut - one of the most popular padded men’s shorts on the men’s market.
Pearl iZUMi Men’s Interval Bib Shorts
Best for: competitive cyclists
Type: men’s bib
These superb, streamlined bib shorts from Pearl are ideal for competitive long-distance cyclists and keen hobbyists. The straps did a great job of holding the shorts up while our reviewer cycled, removing the need for a restrictive waistband. We found the shorts’ built-in chamois highly comfortable, while the fabric is remarkably lightweight.
When it comes to choosing a size of bib shorts like these ones, you should consider the relative length of your torso and your legs. If you have a long torso, buying a relatively large size is likely to give you better-fitting straps.
PEARL iZUMi Women's Interval Bib Short
Best for: long-distance competitors
Type: women’s bib
As above, but tailored to accommodate a women’s bust and narrower shoulders.
Alé PRR Strada Women's Bib Cycling Shorts
Best for: preventing muscle soreness
Type: women’s bib
Cycling brand Alé has nailed it with these bib-style women’s cycling shorts. Perhaps their greatest advantage is the mix of clever fabrics used in their manufacture, which reflect heat, supportively compress your muscles, and sit ergonomically on a good variety of body shapes.
The shorts even feature carbon fabric eyelets, made to dissipate electromagnetic charges.
One note of caution: these shorts are relatively tight-fitting – so if you think you’re on the borderline between two sizes, you might be best off choosing the larger option.
Alé Graphics PRR Strada Bib Shorts 2021
Best for: clever design
Type: men’s bib
As above, but in a men’s cut.
Endura Hummvee Cycling Shorts II With Liner
Best for: mountain biking
Type: men’s MTB
These heavy duty MTB shorts, complete with detachable 200 series pad, are just the thing to wear while tackling challenging mountain biking adventures.
We were particularly impressed with these shorts’ water resistance: the DWR coated fabric kept our legs relatively dry while riding in wet weather.
Another great benefit to the Hummvee Cycling Shorts II is their assortment of pockets, which includes hand pockets, cargo pockets, and some bigger pockets on the back to house large items such as maps – handy for mountain bike orienteering.
Specialized Trail-Series 3Xdry Women's Shorts
Best for: moisture-wicking while mountain biking
Type: women’s MTB
Specialized’s superbly effective 3Xdry MTB shorts are our favourite women’s mountain-biking shorts.
Their specialism – ahem – is keeping your legs pleasantly dry while you ride, by wicking moisture away from your legs, and also by repelling water and dirt by means of their fast-drying, water-resistant fabric.
These effects combine to maintain an optimal body temperature for the rider.
If you’re looking for superb quality in a pair of MTB shorts, you could scarcely do better than these ones. From the bonded back pocket and slim fit buckle, every shred of these shorts is exceptionally well made.
It’s worth noting that the 3Xdry MTB shorts do not come with padding. The good news is that there’s plenty of space to add a pad of your choosing.
Fox Racing Defend Baggy Cycling Shorts
Best for: keeping cool
Type: men’s non-padded
Most long-distance cyclists tend to prefer cycling shorts with some form of padding. However, a significant minority are happy to forego the comfort of a liner in favour of looser, more casual legwear.
If this sounds like you, we suggest you check out the baggy-fitting Defend shorts from Fox Racing.
These shorts offer many of the advantages of a high-quality pair of cycling shorts – stretchy fabric, water resistance, perforations to help with airflow – but without the use of a padded liner.
We reckon these shorts look great and feel comfy on a casual ride, although we wouldn’t recommend them for longer rides or multi-day tours.
Endura Women's SingleTrack Lite Shorts
Best for: adaptability
Type: women’s non-padded
Padding: no (option to fit liner)
Here’s a versatile option for women who’d like to have the freedom to choose whether or not to use padding, depending on the cycling adventure at hand.
The Endura SingleTrack Lite Shorts are kitted out with poppers on the inner waistband, so you can add a compatible ClickFast liner whenever you see fit.
Regardless of whether you use these shorts with padding, you’ll benefit from their stretchy fabric, handy pockets and ventilated design.
We would recommend them, in particular, for long-distance adventures over rugged terrain, such as bike-packing tours.