Summer is here, and with it comes the sun and goes the rain, sleet, and snow. For fair-weather bikers, this means trading out four wheels for two for the daily commute or weekend adventure. For hardcore types who suit up from booties to hoodies, it’s time to shed the layers and feel the breeze on your knees, the wind on your shins, the skies on your thighs, the…well, you get the point. It’s bike shorts and bib weather, ya’ll!
But which gear to choose and where to begin? Aren’t bike shorts just those silly, skintight, stretchy nylon things they wear in the Tour de France with the US Postal Service plastered all over them, you ask? “I’m not racing anyone and I’m definitely not sponsored by snail mail; I’m just trying to get to work on time at the Amazon warehouse so that they don’t replace me with a robot. And what the heck is a bib? Is there a bike-friendly backyard crab boil going on that I wasn’t invited to? Maybe I’ll just get a moped and keep my cargo shorts.”
Wait! Put. The. Cargo. Shorts. Down. I’ll explain everything, and by the end of this article, you’ll not just be an expert on all things bike butts, you’ll know which are the best bike shorts for whichever biking activity you choose, from mountain biking to long-distance cycling to an afternoon on the boardwalk. And once you decide on which pair of cycling shorts is best for you, you’ll be wondering why it took you so long to treat your rear to the throne it deserves.
Quick Answer: Best Cycling Shorts for Men and Women
- Best for Men: Castelli Entrata Bib Shorts
- Best for Women: Terry Bella Bike Shorts
- Best Padding for Men: Sponeed Padded Cycling Shorts
- Best Padding for Women: Beroy 3D Gel Padded Bike Shorts
- Best Bib Shorts: Gore C5 Cycling Bib Shorts
- Best for Mountain Biking: Zoic Ether Bike Shorts and Liner
- Best for Long-Distance: Pearl iZumi Elite Escape Shorts
Difference Between Bib Shorts and Waist Shorts
Bib shorts are what the pros wear. Think stretchy, mid-thigh shorts with suspenders that are meant to keep your shorts from creeping down, your shirt from creeping up, and any passersby from creeping out. And because there is no waistband, your diaphragm is free to expand as you charge up that hill. Bibs are not exactly a fashion statement (neither are bike helmets), but like a bike helmet, the functionality and safety far outweigh the coolness factor. An added bonus of bib shorts: Passersby will think you’re training for the Tour.
Bike shorts are a little more familiar to the novice rider because of their ubiquity on the legs of every weekend warrior racing to the brunch spot on Sunday mornings. They have also become a curious fashion trend among the millennials and gen z-ers cutting you off on their Lime scooter on the way to the same brunch spot. Bike shorts have an elastic waistband that often slips below the comfort zone and shows a little more midriff than desired, and the constricting nature of a waistband in general can make it difficult to breathe as you charge up the same hill as the bib pro in front of you. But compared to bib shorts, there is far less material hugging your body and holding in your sweat, so they can be cooler when the noon-high sun drips those mimosas back out from every pore.
Pros & Cons of Bib Shorts and Waist Shorts
Now that you know the difference between bib shorts and waist shorts, here’s a run-down of the pros and cons of each:
1. Bib Shorts
- Pros: The biggest advantages of bib shorts are the suspender-like shoulder straps that keep your shorts from sliding down, your shirt from sliding up, and everything from sliding around. This greatly reduces the possibility of chafing. There’s also no threat of a waistband digging into your gut/washboard, which allows your diaphragm the freedom to breathe in every precious milliliter of air. Finally, wearing bib shorts will undoubtedly create a stir when you zip through rush-hour traffic, as people will assume you’re on the pro circuit.
- Cons: The extra material that comes with the bib shorts design means extra coverage, which means extra heat and extra sweat. And, although the shoulder straps keep your shorts in place, they can also dig uncomfortably into your shoulders, and for those wearing a bra, this can be a dealbreaker. Another huge and annoying disadvantage of the bib shorts are the inevitable bathroom breaks that happen during long rides. Removing your jersey and climbing out of the shoulder straps may be easy when you have all the time in the world, but during an emergency, this can be a little tricky and incredibly frustrating, so plan accordingly.
2. Waist Shorts
- Pros: The simple design and minimal material of waist shorts means a less constricting and cooler ride, and you’ll never have to think twice about peeing. Current trends also allow for you to wear them to the mall/movies/nightclub.
- Cons: Most waist shorts come with a thick waistband that over time collects sweat, making for an uncomfortable ride on a hot day. The thick waistband is also notorious for digging into your gut/six pack. And without suspenders holding your shorts in place, your midriff and/or intergluteal cleft can be exposed while riding. Finally, people may silently judge you if you wear them to the mall/movies/nightclub.
What Else Is Important When Choosing Bike Shorts?
Polyester, nylon, spandex are the three most common synthetic fabrics used for bike shorts. But which to choose?
- Polyester: Strong, abrasion-resistant material that wicks away more moisture than it absorbs, polyester is a popular choice for bike enthusiasts. It’s also chemical-resistant and denies the existence of wrinkles, so you can wash it again and again and even forget about it in the washer for days, and it will look like you just removed it from the package. High UV protection is also an advantage of polyester.
- Nylon: Exceptionally strong, abrasion-resistant material that wicks away almost any moisture your body creates, nylon is polyester on steroids. Chemical and wrinkle-resistant like polyester, but with the added advantage of deflecting oils; have no fear of sunscreen or chain lube stains. UV protection is lower than what polyester provides, but it’s better than nothing.
- Spandex (Lycra, Elastane): This super-stretchy material gives nylon and polyester a run for their money, as it, too, is abrasion, chemical, and oil-resistant. Spandex has a gravity-defying, lightweight feel, and with excellent UV protection, this would seem like the best of the bunch by far. The only downside is its high moisture absorbency, so it feels wet on your body, and not many people want to feel like they’re riding their bike in a wetsuit.
As you read further in this article, you’ll see the word chamois appear a number of times. Most people will understand its meaning through the context of the paragraph, but others may struggle with the foreign-looking word. Don’t fret! I’m here to explain everything.
A chamois (pronounced sham-waa) is a species of goat-antelope native to the mountains of Europe and was commonly used as padding for the sensitive parts when saddling up on a bicycle. The leather from the animal is soft and pliable and ideal for cushioning the nether regions. Nowadays a synthetic material is used in place of the protected animal, so everyone can live a nice, comfortable life in their natural environment. Maybe you’ll even see one in the wild as you tour the Swiss Alps on your Peugeot bicycle.
Most bike shorts have a sewn-in chamois. Some are single-layered, others have up to four separate, floating layers, giving you the comfort you need to ride for miles on end. If you buy bike shorts without a chamois, you might as well be sitting on a butt-chafing sandstone.
Bike shorts can vary in price from $10 to $200, and unless you’re sponsored by FedEx, Nike, and SpaceX all at the same time, anything around $100 or less will probably be sufficient for your riding needs. Just make sure they are breathable, moisture-wicking, and thoughtfully-seamed so that you won’t have to worry about saddle sores and chafing.
Be sure to read the reviews on sizing. A lot of bike shorts are designed in Europe and are sized according to European standards, and because many Europeans possess pixie genes, they are significantly smaller, so Americans should think about going a size or two up. Also, you want the shorts to be snug – you’ll ride faster.
Reviews of the Best Shorts for Biking
Now that you know what to look for, here are the best bike shorts currently on the market:
Best Biking Shorts for Men
A thoughtful design that includes mesh bib straps and back make for a cooler, breezy ride even in the blazing summer sun, giving the Castelli Entrata Bib Shorts a leg up on traditional bulky, material-heavy bibs. Stretchy Pro Dry Matte Lycra® provides comfortable compression and moisture management and a feel that is neither too loose nor too tight, while the Kiss Air 2 Seat Pad sets your buns aloft what can easily be mistaken for the fluffiest of clouds. Giro3 Leg grippers keep everything at their proper length, and reflective patches on the back of the legs keep cars at their proper distance. All of this for under $100 makes these the best men’s bike shorts on the market. Waist shorts are available as well if you’re not feeling bibby. Available in men’s sizes only.
Best Bike Shorts for Women
Comfort and performance are number one and two when deciding on which bike shorts you choose to wear on the saddle, but if that was all that mattered in the world of textiles, everyone would be wearing the same tan-colored silk pajamas for every occasion, right?
Thank goodness for fashion designers keeping humans looking and feeling good in their threads. The Terry Bella bike shorts were designed with not only comfort and performance in mind; they look good, too. Soft, matte performance fabric with just the right level of compression makes these shorts as comfortable as the product of any competitor, and a wide, elastic-free waistband prevents discomfort and diaphragmatic constriction. Add mid-rise silicone leg grippers that keep your shorts at a comfortable and fashionable length and an Italian-made perforated chamois that keeps your most sensitive area easy and breezy, and you’ve got yourself the best women’s bike shorts available today. Available exclusively for women.
Best Bike Shorts With Padding for Men
The most popular and highest-rated padded bike shorts on the market for men, the Sponeed Padded Cycling Shorts are sleekly designed and ergonomically padded to guarantee endless miles of painless and chafe-free riding no matter what type of road you choose. High stretch polyester/spandex blend and silicone leg grips form naturally to your body and stay firmly but comfortably in place, and at under $40, these are a runaway winner of the best padded bike shorts for the price. Available in men’s sizes only.
Best Padded Bike Shorts for Women
The most popular and highest-rated gel-padded bike shorts for women on the market, and at under $30, you might just consider buying two pairs. Made from quick dry, super-soft, brushed microfiber, any chance of chafing or abrasion will be left eating your dust. A bacteriostatic treatment keeps the idea of saddle sores miles from your mind as you add extra miles to your day and a multidensity foam pad thoughtfully shaped to cushion and comfort every curve and point on your underside will make every pedal an enjoyable experience. Available in men’s sizes as well.
Best Cycling Bib Shorts
Designed for long rides under the hot summer sun, the Gore C5 bib shorts are a great choice for lightweight, breathable, ergonomically engineered bike bibs, especially if you take cycling a little more seriously than the casual Sunday rider. But what about those chilly mountain breezes that seem to materialize only after you’ve drenched yourself in sweat? What will you do about those most sensitive parts sitting at the bow of your seat?
Fear not, for the Gore C5 bibs come equipped with a panel of Windstopper fabric in the front that ensures a shell of protection and warmth when you need it most. Wide hems at the bottom of the shorts spread out pressure and prevent slippage, and thoughtful seams throughout the skintight suit remove any threat of irritation. An “advanced road” pad cushions the tush at various densities, so it’s thick where you need it and thinner where you don’t. These shorts are great for long distance rides or just a spin around the block. Available as a waist short as well.
Best Mountain Bike Shorts
When it comes to hitting the mountain trails, there’s no better choice than the Zoic Ether shorts and liner. With a strong abrasion-resistant polyester shell, you won’t think twice about bombing through a backcountry bramble, and if you plan on taking no prisoners, a roomy design allows for knee pads to be worn underneath the shell. The chamoised liner is removable if you prefer riding commando, but keep them on and let the recycled polyester cushion chamois absorb the rattling of the granite-strewn mountainside. Six million pockets hold every headlamp, snack, cellphone, bandage, and tourniquet you own, and with UPF 50+ rating, you can ride from sunup to sundown. Stylish, functional, and under $100, the Zoic Ether bike shorts and liner are hands down the best shorts for mountain biking. Available in men’s sizes only.
Best Shorts for Long-Distance Cycling
Lightweight but supportive, the Pearl iZumi Elite Escape shorts are a great choice for everyday rides. Made with a moisture-wicking material that ensures long rides with outstanding moisture management and a multilayer chamois that pads and cradles the most important places. Wide waistband provides superior comfort, and elastic back and silicone front leg grippers ensure the shorts won’t ride up while you ride on. Strategically placed, reflective BioViz stripes ensure motorists will see you in low-light situations, even in turbo-mode when you’re nothing more than a blur. Available in men’s and women’s sizes.
Best of the Rest
A simple and inexpensive, no-thrills pair of bike shorts that utilizes a friendly helping of 3D gel padding to give the most sensitive of areas much-needed relief during long rides on bumpy mountain roads. Breathable, moisture-wicking material adds another level of comfort, as does a wide silicone waistband so that you never have to worry about slippage or creepage. These shorts have two large side pockets to hold snacks and phone and UPF 50+ to boot. Padded mesh bib shorts available as well. Men’s and women’s sizes available.
Why wear 3D when you can wear 4? The higher the number, the thicker the chamois, and the Santic 4D Coolmax Padded shorts are designed around the highest density pad conceivable. If you think the engineers at Santic threw ergonomics to the wayside, think again, because these shorts are as functional as they are comfortable, with a quick-dry and breathable material that fits snugly around your bum giving you a chafe-free ride for miles on end. Reflective design and four-way performance stretch add safety and flexibility. Men’s and women’s styles available.
Made from 100% nylon, the moisture-wicking and breathable Sugoi Evolution Zap bike shorts are the perfect choice for high-performance biking. Arguably the best 3D gel chamois available today is hidden inside the seamless design thanks to the Invisa chamois, and with V-notch ventilation and flexibility, along with perforated ventilation and a welded center channel for pressure relief, the Sugoi Evolution Zap bike shorts make chafing and sweaty seats a thing of the past. Comfort waistband construction and flat seams contour to any body shape, and MAB® Powerband high-visibility silicone leg grippers provide slip-free comfort without cutting off circulation to your thighs. Available in men’s and women’s sizes.
Well, there you have it. Hopefully this article schooled you in all things bike shorts, and you’ve narrowed down or even decided on which pair you’ll suit up in to tackle every inch of asphalt, dirt road, indoor track, mountain range, and brunch spot in your state. Step into your shorts, strap on a helmet, grab a granola bar and a water bottle, and get going.