The next time you’re struggling through the middle of a ride that feels like it will never end, take heart in one simple fact: You’re not wearing hand-knit wool shorts while you’re doing it. Prior to a synthetic fabric revolution in the Sixties, the average cycling shorts had more in common with trousers from Savile Row than they did with the multiple-panel, computer-designed, high-tech-material-padded miracles that today’s riders take for granted.
The right shorts (or cycling bibs) can make the difference between a ride to remember and one you’d just as soon forget. The key, of course, is finding the clothing that matches both your style and your ride.
Check out quick info on five of the best shorts below, then scroll deeper for buying advice and longer reviews of these and other top performers.
It’s (Almost) All About the Chamois
The name “chamois” comes from a leather made from European mountain goats, but since the 1980s virtually all chamois pads built into cycling shorts have been constructed of synthetics. And a good one is among the most critical pieces of bike gear. A chamois adds some padding to make rides more comfortable and is engineered to pull moisture away from your body while reducing chafing on sensitive areas. Less irritation and bacteria build-up help prevent dreaded saddle sore.
Most chamois have a padded inner wrapped in low-friction, anti-microbial fabric. The better ones have fewer or smoother seams and more anatomical cuts to prevent bunching so you feel like you’re wearing high-performance cycling gear and not a soggy diaper.
Shorts? Bibs? Both?
Bibs and shorts each have pros and cons, but deciding what you want depends on your riding style, fit, size, and more. Shorts can sometimes cause irritation because they tighten around the waist, not the best spot to cinch outerwear when your lower body needs freedom of movement and to be constricted as little as possible. Shorts, however, do make mid–ride bathroom breaks much simpler.
Bib shorts trade the waist band in favor of shoulder traps that hold up the shorts. Without a waist band you have less pressure around your stomach, and even if your jersey rides up your back you won't have any exposed skin between the bottom of your jersey and the top of your shorts. But not all riders enjoy the pressure, however mild, bibs put on their shoulders. Generally speaking, you’ll find better quality and fit with bibs than you will with shorts. It’s best to try both and remain loyal to whichever you find most comfortable.
Mountain Bike Shorts
The Golden Age of mountain biking saw a sharp sartorial divide between the cross-country racers, whose tight-fitting Lycra shorts and jerseys were often indistinguishable from those of roadies, and the downhill crowd, which tended to ape the loose-fitting, impact-oriented gear of motocrossers. Those two perspectives are mostly reunited in the modern MTB short, which generally has a slim-fitting “baggy” outer that offers some of the style and protection of those old motocross-inspired offerings but with a tighter fit and lighter fabric to keep you cooler and that won’t snag on your saddle or rub on your knees.
Mountain bike shorts also come in several lengths and styles. If you want to wear kneepads, you’ll want something longer with a wider opening to accommodate them. Otherwise you can wear something a little shorter and tighter. Most shorts are sold with a chamois liner, of which many are adequate but don’t offer the fit or quality of dedicated bibs or chamois shorts.
Women’s Bibs (and Shorts)
The two primary differences between men’s and women’s cycling shorts are the cut and the pads, which vary for the demands of different anatomy. Most notably, the pads in women's shorts are narrower in the middle and lower in the front. Some brands alter the bib straps to be more comfortable around the chest. Brands are also improving their women’s lines with drop-tail options that allow for easier mid-ride pit stops, like rear straps that can be separated or detached to allow for just the back portion of the bib to be lowered (and raised) or, simply, bib straps with more give so the shorts can be pulled down without removing the straps at all.
Increased emphasis on fit has led to a range of product sizes, catered to fit every rider in the market. Some brands offer two (or more) “fit types” to cover riders who might have the same waist size but sharply different proportions. The “pro” fits are for flat stomachs and skinny quads, while “club” or “touring” fits allow for a belly and a larger leg profile that is more common among recreational riders.
How We Chose the Shorts
Every product here has been thoroughly evaluated and vetted by our team of test editors. We research the market, survey user reviews, speak with product managers and engineers, and use our own experience racing and riding these products to determine the best options. Most models have been tested by our staff, and those that haven’t have been carefully chosen based on their value, quality, durability, standout features, comfort, and how the overall package meets the needs of the intended buyer. Here are the 19 shorts, bibs, and baggies we recommend.
The Black Bibs
We were skeptical that $40 shorts could be this good, but the Black Bibs earned our Gear of the Year award not just for their value but because they consistently outperform shorts that cost six times as much. They’re very simple–no fancy fabrics or creative cuts–and that's why we love them. Made entirely of plain, black Lycra with mesh bib straps and large bands of leg grippers at the cuffs, they don't look like much to write home about. But even after logging six months in the Black Bibs, one tester still consistently reaches for them first. The chamois is thin—thinner than in most premium shorts—but it’s comfortable for all-day rides and, despite many long jaunts in the saddle and sweaty trainer sessions, hasn’t broken down. Even more shocking, neither have the leg grippers, which still work as well as when they were brand new. Our only gripe is that the Lycra is cut a little high around the waist, which can make the shorts feel a tad warm on summer days. But for the durability and match-every-jersey-in-the-wardrobe style at only $40, it’s a compromise we’re happy to make.
Terry Women’s Bella
These reasonably priced women’s shorts won’t intimidate newer riders who are leery of bibs. Terry is known for providing a wide range of sizes and styles for all different body types, not just the racer build that often gets the most focus from brands. The Bella has earned Bicycling’s Editors’ Choice honor for women’s shorts in the past for, said one tester, “features such as its distinctive hot-pink perforated chamois, which delivered on its promise for increased comfort and breathability by wicking away moisture so I didn’t feel like I’d wet my shorts after a ride.” An elastic-front waist means no muffin-top effect and plenty of breathing room.
Giordana FR-C Pro
Seasoned riders will appreciate Giordana’s focus on specific details for high-mileage rides and races. A blend of Lycra panels—compressive on the front and side, anti-abrasion for the seat and inner leg—on the FR-C offers compression for the quads and chafing relief on the inner thighs. The contoured and anti-bacterial waistband is comfortable and prevents odor, and silicone grippers on the legs hold them in place without feeling too tight. The bib upper has a breathable mesh back to prevent you from overheating and microfiber straps to keep you comfortable on long rides.
This Velocio offers similar functionality as the Giordana above, but with a more traditional look. Cross straps in back lend a retro vibe. Also retro: the five-panel construction and relatively light padding in the chamois. And the Italian-made Signature has an extreme-temperature sibling called the Superlight for really hot summer days. For easier pee breaks, the women’s Signature Fly variant has a rear zip-down panel.
The X-Over is loaded with features and tech for a bib short that’s both performance-oriented and comfortable. Scicon claims the panels on the legs and torso reduce fatigue through compression, and the four-way-stretch fabric is quick-drying, breathable, and durable for extra-long days in the saddle. While the merits of compression garments are the subject of debate, some riders will appreciate the feeling of extra support. Compression leg grippers are silicone-free yet don't slide up your leg. And almost every size of rider will find a fit here: The X-Over is available in 10 sizes, from 2XS to 5XL. As a bonus, Scicon throws two espresso cups and a storage bag in the box along with your new shorts.
Castelli Men’s Evoluzione 2
These shorts have the look and feel of much more expensive bibs. The chamois is on the thin side but has adequate padding under your sit bones to cushion the ride. Soft mesh bib straps hold the shorts up without placing extra pressure on your shoulders, and the leg grippers, though minimal, do an impressive job of keeping things in place. In terms of fit, these shorts run small both in girth and inseam. Our tester wears large shorts that typically cover just over half of his quads, but these stopped short of mid-thigh and were stretched tight around his legs. Despite that, they didn’t ride up, and the snug fit was compressive without being restrictive.
The definitive favorite for roadies, touring riders, and cyclocrossers, the Core is Rapha’s most affordable bib short but still boasts the trademark quality and style that make the brand so recognizable. The laser-cut leg grippers are held in place with silicone, while flatlock seams don’t chafe. The stretchy polyester-elastane blend in the bib allows even distribution of pressure on the shoulders so you likely won’t feel the straps, even on longer rides. And it’s softer than on many other bib shorts—those who dislike compression and prefer a more free feeling will be pleased with the light, open construction.
Endura Pro SL
Riders love Endura’s bib shorts because the brand has made choosing shorts a completely individual affair. Its standard model comes in three pad widths and two lengths. Riders who wear an XXL can still opt for a thinner chamois, which is ideal since saddle width is dictated not by waist size but by your pelvic bones. Plus, Endura’s 90-Day-Comfort-Guarantee means you can test one and swap it out if you hate it. Plus, there’s a handy rear pocket and silicone-print grips to keep the legs in place.
Louis Garneau Men’s CB Carbon 2
For high-tech shorts at a reasonable price, you can’t beat Louis Garneau’s CB Carbon 2. The brand’s CB Carbon+ fabric cools while you ride, thanks to sun-reflecting Coldblack treatment, and carbon fiber woven in lends some antistatic, antimicrobial properties. Lousi Garneau took a scientific approach to constructing the chamois, varying thickness to match up with your pressure points and a central channel for ventilation and comfort. Light compression in the legs is comfortable and prevents the shorts from riding up—and makes your legs look toned in your Instagram photos.
Baleaf Men’s 3D Padded Pants Tights
They may not offer the same performance, fit, and durability as some of the pricier options on our list, but the Baleaf 3D Padded Pants Tights (don’t be mislead by the name, they’re shorts) have similar features at an almost unbelievable price. For less than $25—yes, you read that right—you get a decent pair of shorts made from a stretchy, breathable, moisture-wicking fabric with reflective details to increase visibility. Silicone leg grippers hold the shorts in place, and a wide waistband feels comfortable against skin. Unlike other shorts on this list, the chamois incorporates a gel padding to reduce vibrations.
Canari Men’s Velo Gel
The Canari Velo Gel is the natural successor to the Nashbar HFS shorts of the 1990s: cheap, durable, simple, and with a thick gel lining. Very much an every person’s pair of shorts, it lasts a long time and has enough cushioning for heavier riders to use unpadded or narrow saddles. It’s available for both men and women, with sizes going as high as 3XL.
Kitsbow Mescal Ventilated
Kitsbow offers a mix-and-match approach to MTB shorts: Choose the liner that provides the amount of compression and cushioning you want, then pick an outer layer for the desired coverage and temperature range. Pairing the Ventilated Cycling Liner ($155) with the Mescal Ventilated gives you a combination of breathability and compressive support. The base layer features a multi-panel construction with plenty of air-permeable mesh and a minimal liner, while the shell is highly adjustable and smooth enough to prevent snagging.
Specialized Enduro Pro
With the Enduro Pro’s seven pockets—five on the bib liner, two on the outer—to stash all your ride essentials, you can leave the pack at home. The bib liner uses a system that Specialized calls SWAT (Storage Water Air Tools), which allows you to tuck things like gear, spare tubes, and hydration tight against your body. The detachable (via two snaps and loops) liner is soft and comfortable, with a breathable mesh bib and soft straps. Two zipper pockets on the front legs of the outer shorts are ideal for things you need quick access to or anything you can’t afford to lose on the trail—think money, a phone, your keys. The lightweight, water-resistant outer shorts aren’t overly baggy, but they are roomy enough to accommodate light padding.
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Zoic Women’s Navaeh
The Navaeh outer short is constructed from polyester and spandex, so it’s lightweight and breathable. That also comes with enough stretch to allow for full range of motion. There are four zippered pockets—two on the hips and two on the sides of the legs— and each is big enough to carry a phone, tool, or snacks. Don’t fret, the zippers lock to stay secure whether you’re pedaling all day or sending it over jumps. The fit is true to size, and the Navaeh has Velcro adjustment straps in case you do need to cinch it down a little. You can buy it as a shell only, but it’s worth the extra $15 to get the spandex liner with a women-specific chamois.
Pearl Izumi Women’s Versa
Another entry in the “doesn’t look like a cycling short” market, the Versa has the advantage of coming from one of the companies that virtually defined what a cycling short looks like in the first place. Woven reflective elements and a water-resistant treatment make this short ideal for commuting or urban night riding. An added bonus: Threading a belt through the loops makes for an easier transition between cycling and social settings.
The Black Bibs Plus Winter
A pair of fleece-lined bib shorts is a must-have for spring and fall riding, when it’s cool enough that a single layer of Lycra doesn’t keep your buns warm but full-length tights are liable to make you overheat. While it lacks any fancy fabric with exotic names, this model offer enough insulation for riding in the low 30s, yet still feels comfortable on the days when the mercury climbs close to 60. Using the same cut as the standard-weight Black Bibs, as well as the same chamois, mesh bib straps, and leg grippers, the Plus Winter version became an instant favorite with our tester. Also like its summer weight sibling, after four months of steady use both on and off road, it’s showing no signs of wearing out.
Assos Equipe RS Spring Fall S9
It’s exceedingly rare that a pair of bib shorts scores a perfect 10 straight across the board, but that’s what we have here. The brushed fleece liner is warm but not thick or bulky, and a wind- and waterproof panel across the front protects your most sensitive area from biting winter gusts and sleet. The thermal material snugly wraps around your torso, and the inseam is longer than any other winter bib shorts we’ve tested. Crucial for winter riding, the leg grippers stay in place over leg warmers better than most–nobody likes shorts that slowly creep up while riding. And the chamois is sewn into the shorts in a unique way: There’s no stitching along either side to allow the pad more freedom to move with your body. At first glance you might think it’s only a matter of time before the seams break and the pad detaches completely, but we've worn other shorts for years with the chamois attached in this fashion without a problem. These shorts are so comfortable we’ll be sad to pack them away once summer rolls around.
Pearl Izumi Pro Escape Thermal
If you don’t like the feeling of heavy winter tights but still want to stay warm and toasty, this is your best bet. Lined with thick, brushed fleece, the Pro Escape Thermal has kept our tester comfortable in temperatures hovering around the freezing mark—when paired with leg warmers, of course. There are no wind- or waterproof panels, but the exterior of the shorts is mildly water-resistant so it doesn’t turn into a sponge holding cold road spray against your skin. Pearl’s Pro Escape 1:1 chamois is thick, soft, and comfortable from the get-go. It also hold up over time–our tester is well into his second season riding in thePro Escape Thermal. There are wide bands at the bottom of the shorts to help hold the legs in place, but they’re light on grippers and don’t stay in place very well over leg or knee warmers. Likely due to the short inseam, the shorts have a habit of riding up your legs. But hike your leg warmers high enough and you’ll be in good shape.
Pactimo Alpine Thermal RT
These shorts are nearly perfect for fall and spring rides. The brushed fleece liner is thick enough to comfortably ride in temperatures that dip below 50 degrees, and should the mercury climb high enough to entice you to shed your leg warmers, you won’t feel hot and sweaty either. The Alpine Thermal’s wide leg bands are reflective, and the left leg also has a large reflective stripe. Its pad is thick and comfortable and doesn’t require an extended break-in period. While the inseam isn’t as long as the Assos Equipe RS Spring Fall S9 Bib Shorts, it’s long enough that you won’t have problems with the shorts sliding up and over your leg warmers. The thermal-lined bib straps are unique, and while they don’t add any substantive warmth, they do add a good feeling as you pull them over your shoulders.
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