Cycling shorts are the number one piece of kit in any rider’s wardrobe – a good pair of padded cycling shorts can ensure you’re able to put the hours in on the bike, whilst any issues there can lead to enforced rest due to saddle sores.
The best cycling shots include a quality chamois (the pad), quick drying and high wicking material, a stretchy fabric so that there’s no flapping about and a comfortable fit.
Shorts for cycling can cost anywhere between £20 and £200. Paying more usually results in a greater number of panels, which creates a more flattering and comfortable fit, usually a high tech pad with a number of features and sometimes handy ad ons like radio pockets and compressive or aero fabric.
Cycling shorts come in two distinct forms: bib shorts and waist shorts. There’s more detail on this below – but bib shorts are the more premium option, offering greater comfort. If you opt for waist shorts, you’ll want a pair with a high and wide band to prevent digging in.
There are many, many pairs of shorts out there and there’s a lot of good options. We’ve had the opportunity to test many pairs of cycling shorts and we can’t include every good option in this list (you’d fall asleep) – but we can cherry pick our favourites which is what we’ve done.
For female riders, we’ve got a dedicated round-up of the best women’s cycling shorts here.
With each product is a ‘Buy Now’ or ‘Best Deal’ link. If you click on this then we may receive a small amount of money from the retailer when you purchase the item. This doesn’t affect the amount you pay.
Rapha Core bib shorts
The ‘Core’ range from Rapha represents the brand’s more value orientated kit, but the gear still comes with tons of great tech, and we awarded these a near perfect 9/10.
Built around a Classic chamois which we found comfortable, the fabric stretches well and we found it to be breathable enough for riding in sunny Spain.
The legs are quite long – a couple of centimetres more so than the Pro version. This won’t suit everyone, but was a plus for our tester.
Gore C7 Long Distance bib shorts
As the title suggests, these bib shorts are made for long days out in the saddle.
Being part of the ‘C7’ range, they also boast ‘Central Core Architecture’ – which means that the shorts are shaped around the all important chamois, rather than having it slotted in.
This means the Cytech pad stays put and offers plenty of comfort, and we liked the lack of hem on the leg grippers too. The fabric is light and breathes well, these only lost marks for being quite short, and on the pricey end.
Mavic Essential bib shorts
These bib shorts earned themselves a place in our Editor’s Choice award for 2018 – the pros were the quality Ergo 3D pad, comfortable straps, single layer leg grippers and great cut. We didn’t find any cons, and they’re reasonably priced at £89.
The pad is denser than most, yielding itself well to 5+ hour days in the saddle, and the gripper stayed put without digging in.
Albion bib shorts
Albion is an emerging UK based brand, and we reckon it’s done a fine job with its bib shorts.
The key material used is ‘M.I.T.I’ fabric, which is very soft and comfortable against the skin, whilst still feeling robust.
The brand uses strong leg grippers, which will suit those who find anything else rides up the thigh, but won’t go down as well with riders who prefer a raw cut cuff.
The pad was pretty thick, but will work well on long rides.
Assos T Equipe EVO bib shorts
We’ve got a lot of time for Assos when it comes to cycling shorts and the T Equipe EVO bib shorts were a clear choice for our most recent Editor’s Choice awards.
This said, it is worth bearing in mind that since then, Assos has brought out its new S9 bib shorts, and we’ll be reviewing those in due course.
Back to the Equipe pair, these feature Assos’s Equipe_S7 pad, which boasts its ‘goldenGate’, where the chamois is stitched just at the front and back to allow a degree of float. The pad is very comfortable, and backed up with a second-skin race fit body.
Sure, they are on the pricey end, but we’ve found kit from Assos can easily withstand up to five years of wear.
Rapha Classic bib shorts II
The Classic bib shorts are a longstanding favourite from the London based brand, and we’re big fans.
The Classic Bib Shorts II come with an updated, body contouring pad which we called “a masterclass in how a chamois should be”. It’s thin, but full of support.
The mesh upper is made yet more breathable with a hole at the back, and the fit is great, with leg grippers that keep them in place without pressing.
Endura Pro SL II bibshorts
Endura’s party trick is offering three different pad width options to suit varying hip bone anatomies, saddles and riding positions; the brand suggests pad options for various popular saddles but you can also get a custom fit at some bike shops.
The pad itself doesn’t look that structured, but beneath the surface you’ll find the thickness varies throughout, with greater density at the sit bones.
There’s two leg length options, too – and hemless leg ends mask hidden internal grippers that keep them in place without bunching.
Compressive fabrics feature a coldlack treatment which helps reduce overheating and these have an SPF50 rating.
dhb Classic bib shorts
Our favourite dhb Aeron Speed bib shorts don’t appear to be available in the current line up, and we were less enamoured by the Aeron Lab Raceline pair. However, the Classic bib shorts from dhb still sit at £50 and impressed us enough to gain a 9/10.
They’re a no-frills pair of shorts which prove that good doesn’t need to be complicated. Italian fabric, Action 205 Lycra, is stretchy and comfortable against the skin, the Cytech Elastic Interface ‘Giro Super Air’ pad provides air flow, ventilation and performed well on long rides.
There’s silicone grippers to keep the legs in place, too. Our only concern was that some seams were not perfect.
Why wear padded cycling shorts?
The number one job for a pair cycling cycling shorts is protecting the rider from saddle sores and chafing by providing a layer of padding which is shaped to suit the riding position.
Cycling shorts are also constructed from high-wicking, quick drying fabrics which encourage sweat to leave the surface of the skin thus keeping the rider dry and whiff-free on hot days and helping to reduce the discomfort associated with riding in the rain.
How much should I spend on cycling shorts?
You can pick up a pair of cheap cycling shorts from as little as £30.
These will come with a chamois pad and are constructed from lycra which won’t flap about on the bike – thus answering your basic needs.
Spending more – cycling bib shorts can carry price tags over the £150 mark – will provide you with more durable fabrics and extras such as compressive materials, more flattering fits thanks to the use of multiple panels and carefully constructed leg grippers. The chamois will often offer more breathability and multi density padding that provides more targeted comfort.
The middle ground is around £70 to £100 and for that you can expect to buy a high quality pair of bib shorts that will provide several seasons of cycling in comfort.
Waist shorts vs bib shorts
At Cycling Weekly, we test predominantly bib shorts. These have bib straps attached to the main body of the shorts.
The bib straps mean there’s no need for a tougher piece of fabric at the waist to hold them up, eliminating any digging in at the stomach. It’s also impossible for them to fall down – so there’s no chance of having a small slice of cold or sunburnt skin at your lower back. Finally, the straps mean that the material stays put, and the chamois can’t move around.
Waist shorts are, however, still popular. There is a simplicity in just pulling on a pair of waist shorts – and pulling them down for comfort breaks.
Waist shorts are also generally cheaper, and often a good ‘first cycling short’ option for those new to the sport, who perhaps already feel odd about wearing a padded garment.
Regardless what you choose, it’s important to know that you are not meant to wear underwear with padded cycling shorts. The chamois is designed to sit against your skin.
How to dress for hot conditions
Cycling short materials
The choice of materials for designers is huge, from thicker leg material used on thermal bib shorts for chilly spring conditions to well-ventilated back panels for summer heat.
It’s a good idea to have a selection of bib shorts in your collection, with varying options depending upon weather conditions.
More expensive bib shorts will use fabrics which aid blood circulation through compression. Those aiming for the aero edge may also feature technologies aimed in this direction.
Cycling short fit
Cycling shorts should be constructed from multiple panels of fabric. The more panels used, the better the fit – a single panel per leg would give the appearance of two moving chipolatas wrapped in lycra. Using multiple panels also increases comfort as the fabric isn’t forced to stretch too far in any given area.
You need to ensure the shoulder straps are comfortable. Some come up short, feeling a little restrictive, even for a rider of average height. Wherever possible, try on bib shorts (over underwear) and – as silly as you may feel in the dressing room – adopt a riding position to get a clear idea of how they’d really feel on the bike.
Styles vary as well – some riders like cycling shorts that reach almost to their knees, whilst others prefer them to finish mid thigh.
Cycling short chamois
The other details are important to consider, but the chamois is the absolute key bib short component. Get it right and your shorts will offer years of comfortable miles. Get it wrong and the pad can become uncomfortable.
Cycling short chamois pads are shaped to suit different sorts if riding – often the product description will give you an insight into the pad sewn into a pair you’re looking at.
Endurance focused chamois pads will be thicker to cater for greater hours in the saddle and will usually have denser foam at the rear to cater for an upright position.
A chamois that’s designed for short, hard, race efforts will often have more padding at the front as riders on the rivet will usually rotate more to sit on the end of the saddle.
Many brands buy in their chamois from an external company, such as Cytech, and can often use the same pad as a competitor.
The chamois often comes with some additional features, such as perforation to provide breathability, and an antibacterial treatment to keep the shorts fresh.