The best cycling shorts for men and women

If you’re going to be spending a fair amount of time in the saddle, a good pair of cycling shorts will definitely make a big difference to your comfort.

While lycra on the bike is not a ‘must have’, it’s a popular choice because the tight, figure hugging material won’t bunch and cause chafing, and it wicks sweat away from your body, whilst also being fast drying.

What to look for?

The most important thing to look for in cycling shorts is a quality chamois. The chamois gets its name from original pads, which were made from real chamois leather inserts. These days, they are made from a mixture of foams and gels.

A good chamois will not have seams running through it, so have a close inspection before you buy. Many also have antibacterial properties, and this is a helpful addition, but doesn’t mean you can get away with wearing shorts more than once before washing. Designed to be worn without underwear, it is always recommended you wash shorts after each outing. Quick drying material means you can do this daily if you only have one pair, so there’s no excuse.

The pad can be called an ‘endurance’ fit, usually meaning it will be thicker and more cushioned, or ‘race fit’, which will be much thinner. The titles are recommendations, you may be more comfortable with less padding even over a long day on the bike, so take time to learn what works for you.

Next up is fit. You need to feel comfortable in your shorts, and hopefully should feel confident, too.

Most shorts will have some form of gripper along the bottom of each leg to keep them from riding up, and this is often a silicone strip. Brands are starting to use other methods, such as including a tighter stretch elastic along the bottom of the legs, to remove bulk, weight, and get away from the ‘leg bulge’ that can happen with tight silicone. Regardless, when buying shorts, make sure the grippers do the job as you don’t want to be pulling the legs down as you ride.

Cheaper shorts will be constructed from fewer pieces, or panels, of material. Fewer panels mean that the material has to pull around your body, which can create a bit of a ‘sausage leg’ look , whatever your legs are like. Multi-panel constructions are more expensive, but strips of material will cacoon your body, working around your contours.

More expensive shorts will often also claim to provide ‘compression’ – this increases blood flow to the body, and helps remove lactate acid – great if you plan to be working hard on your ride, but not necessary for a daily commute.

There are a few broad groups of short options – here are my favourites from each group:

Waist shorts

Pros:

  • Easy to put on and much easier to slip down for a “comfort break”
  • Uncomplicated, and not too alien if you’re new to cycling shorts
  • Usually cheaper

Cons:

  • The  waistband can ‘cut in’ when you lean over, not comfortable
  • Can slip down, or reveal a patch of skin if jersey rides up – leaving exposed skin and a triangle burn mark on a sunny day

Men’s

Altura Pro Gel Shorts - £37.99

The Altura Pro Gel Shorts are a popular entry level pair that tick all the boxes – 8 panel design, multidensity pad, antibacterial properties, silicone leg grippers. Ever practical, Altura also throw in reflective detailing for visibility. No, you don’t get pro-fit compression, but at under £40, these are a great deal and will do the job.

altura-progel-shorts

Women’s

Pearl Izumi Quest Women’s Shorts – £39.99

pearl-izumi-womens-quest-shorts

I won’t lie, I’m a tad frustrated here because I really wanted to list the Anna Nichoola shorts I saw  a while ago. They’re super clever, because Anna has cut them really high at the waist, creating effectively bib shorts, without the hassle of bib.  Alas, I couldn’t find stock on the AnnaNichoola site, on VeloVixen (clothing for female cyclists) or anywhere else. So I chose the next best thing. Regardless, I’m sure they’ll be back for next season and they are worth a look.

The Pearl Izumi shorts have a 6 panel construction, and they use a wide waistband (similar to the Anna Nichoola one, just not AS wide). The legs feature silicone grippers, and PI say these will be great for anything from weekday commutes to long rides on your days off.

Bib shorts

Pros

  • No issues with jerseys riding up – everything is covered
  • No digging in from the waist band
  • The pad stays in place as movement is limited

Cons

  • A bit more tricky to go to the toilet – but not really that tricky to be honest
  • Some people feel a bit uncomfortable in what looks like a giant babygrow

Men’s

Castelli Velocissimo Due Bib Shorts – £74.99

castelli-velocissimo-due-bib-shorts

I won’t pretend I’ve ever worn these shorts, but my cycling club recently chose Castelli as our clothing supplier, and I know the guys have got on well with them. Designed to be Castelli’s mid range short, the Velocissimo Due uses their ‘afinity’ lycra, which stretches and rebounds to fit. As with my own women’s fit Castelli shorts, the leg grippers are quite wide – and that means no unsightly bulges, which is always a plus.

These come in a range if different styles and colours. The black offers a nice, understated look, but if you’re after ‘go faster’ appeal you  might fancy the red and white stripes..

Women’s

Gore Bike Wear Power 2.0 Lady Bibtights Short+- £59.99

Clothing brands have come up with many ways of creating bib shorts that let women take a ‘bio break’ as Gore call it (they mean pee stop..) – but I’ve chosen these because I think Gore have done the best job with a zipper around the waist which undoes to allow you to pull them down.

Gore provide a quality pad which is designed specifically to cater for pelvic rotation when riding and this is a medium distance pad, recommended for 3 hour sort if rides (though of course you’d be fine doing less in them). I also really like the styling on these – bright colours that look fast and stylish, as opposed to the all too popular feminine pinks.

gore-bike-wear-power-20-lady-bibtights-short-

My only gripe with these is that the elastic leg grippers are quite thin and tight, when compared to the much softer bottoms of my Castelli Palmeres bibs. The only unfortunate element of the Castelli bibs is that despite countless options for toilet stops (over the head clasps, tuck in backs, Gore’s zip), Castelli didn’t see fit to provide any option other than fully removing jersey and bibs, so you’ll need to find a café/pub/very large bush if you want to wear these on a long ride.

Baggy Shorts (over lycra)

Pros

  • Usually the choice of mountain bikers, baggy shorts provide extra protection
  • Pockets!
  • Can be worn off the bike without feeling like a ‘lycra lout’ (if such a person existed)

Cons

  • Extra material – makes them a chafing risk on long rides and means more flapping in the wind

Men’s

Endura Humvee Short – £43.69

endura-hummvee-short

Humvee was one of Endura’s early ranges, and the tried and tested shorts have been brought out year after year – because they’re good. The outer is made from Teflon treated Nylon, making them durable for trails or your commute. The liner is detachable, so you can wear the shorts with or without depending on the style and length of your ride. You also get side zips for ventilation, tons of pockets, plus a belt in case you ride yourself slimmer.

Endura Women’s Humvee 3/4 Trousers – £47.49

endura-womens-hummvee-3-4-trousers

Yep, more Humvee! These 3/4 lengths are a flattering 3/4 length fit and they’ve got a lovely relaxed feel about them which works on and off the bike. As the men’s version, there is a detachable pad, plus lots of pockets including one for your mobile phone. The adjustable belt won’t dig in, and fabric is once again a hard wearing Nylon that’s great for off-road rides and commutes in the city.

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11 Responses to The best cycling shorts for men and women

  1. Paul Hamley 19/08/2014 at 6:18 pm #

    I have real problems with shorts. I like to wear padded lycra with another short over the top, I am 5′ 11″ but my legs are quite short, baggy shorts that come below the knee look ridiculous on me, I prefer a short that comes to my knee or just above but these are becoming harder and harder to find, I cycle a lot and cover lonv distances so finding a short that is the right length, style and cycling friendly is a bit of a holy grail for me, if anyone has any ideas on where I could search, I’d be grateful, I’ve tried all the high street shops, outdoor pursuit shops, sports shops and cycling shops but to no avail.

    Thanks

    • Matt 19/08/2014 at 6:39 pm #

      Paul
      You could try Carhartt cargo shorts, not purpose built for cycling but very comfy, you do have to pay the price for comfort though. I used mine this weekend on a 30 miler with no problems. Well… I did decide after to get some Lycra shorts for padding underneath but no other issues. I’m a short leg and standing up they fit on the knee.

    • Ben Hopkins 20/08/2014 at 11:17 am #

      I really like my Vulpine cotton rain shorts. They’re expensive, but a great fit both on and off the bike. Probably too short to wear with another pair of full length shorts, but you can get padded boxers.

  2. spoquey 19/08/2014 at 9:26 pm #

    I am a woman and always use the (around £24) Altura shorts with the minimal thin blue chamois. They are perfect for me on rides from 1 to 100 miles. I think that most women would benefit from them. If the Pearl Izumi ones you mention are similar to the ones I bought, they have a massive padding that feels totally unnecessary. I hardly ever wear them, because I feel like a bow-legged John Wayne about to sit astride a horse. How many women (or men) need six inches of fat padding around and behind their backsides? They do, however, have a very cute pocket for lip gloss, so not 100 per cent bad.

    i wonder how women get in and out of bib tights when they need to obey a call of nature on a ride in the country? I used to wear them, because they give a nice “line” – but you have to do a semi-striptease to go a wee.

    • Vincent 20/08/2014 at 12:04 pm #

      spoquey > I hardly ever wear them, because I feel like a bow-legged John Wayne about to sit astride a horse

      Exactly :-D

    • Cathie 22/08/2014 at 11:16 am #

      The blue liner Altura shorts are the men’s ones. I think, it is like saddles, seems to need a bit of trial and error before you find what suits you, even if it is not supposed to. I have found I appreciate padding now in a way I didn’t in my youth!

  3. MJ Ray 20/08/2014 at 9:04 am #

    Are they that quick drying? The shorts are, but the pads take quite a while. I’ve three different brands of shorts and they all take too long to dry to wear two days in a row.

  4. Albert 20/08/2014 at 10:23 am #

    How about Speed Suits? Are they considered as BIB shorts or they are out of the category? Just wondering.

  5. Cathie 22/08/2014 at 11:17 am #

    I find Corinne Dennis shorts and 3/4s are very comfortable and unobtrusive http://www.corinnedennis.co.uk/shorts/ladies-cotton-lycra-cycle-shorts.html

  6. Andrew Wilcox 22/08/2014 at 11:39 am #

    Shutt Velo Rapide have some bargain Bib Shorts £25 normally £59 in a couple of sizes for men. Their clothing is well made using good quality fabrics.
    http://www.shuttvr.com/shop/productdetail/Shutt-Club-Bib-Shorts/

  7. Andrew Wilcox 22/08/2014 at 11:42 am #

    Check the stitching holding the pad on to the main fabric. If it feels like fishing line, you may end up with a rope burn on your bum at the end of an 80 mile ride. Personal experience with a pair of Lidl or Aldi shorts.

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