The right pair of cycling shorts can make or break your riding experience. Wear something that's ill-fitting or doesn't provide the right amount of padding, and you might debate turning around a lot sooner than you hoped. Find a style that feels like a second skin, and you'll be tackling everything from intense ascents to century rides in no time.
Still, there's no one bike short that's absolutely perfect for everyone. What's going to work for you will depend on a lot of factors — from style preferences to technical considerations like chamois (padding) thickness.
To help you choose the best bottom for your next climb, we talked with avid cyclists about what to look for in your bike shorts and cycling bibs. Plus, the 11 best bike shorts of 2021.
Most companies make and market bike shorts according to gender, so we have listed both women's and men's picks below. The main difference is the fit: Men's versions tend to be roomier in the front and women's versions roomier in the hips due to physical differences. Choose whatever pair feels best on your body.
1. Specialized SL Bib Shorts
- Sizes: XS - XL (women's), S - XXL (men's)
- Feature: magnetic buckle
The need to use the bathroom when you're drenched in sweat and securely in Spandex shorts can prove to be a bit of a challenge.
Not so much with this style from Specialized. It comes complete with a magnetic buckle, which connects the bibs suspenders to the shorts at the lower back — helping ease entry and exit for those annoying-but-necessary nature breaks.
"No taking off your jersey. No pulling bibs all the way down around your ankles," says Ironman triathlete Meaghan Praznik. She also adores the chamois in this pair, which is made of a triple-density foam that contours to your body for the perfect fit.
2. Pearl Izumi Women's Attack Short
- Sizes: S - XXL
- Feature: reflective elements for low-light visibility
If you're going to opt for a non-bib style, then you want to make sure that your pick moves with you but stays put, says Praznik.
This Pearl Izumi favorite won't budge, thanks to a flattering, wide waistband that feels compressive but comfortable, hitting at all the right places.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $80
3. Rapha Pro Team Men's Bib Shorts II
- Sizes: XS - XXL
- Feature: 7 available colors
There's no arguing that cycling gear can certainly come at a premium price point. However, Rob Martinez, an avid cyclist, reiterates that you usually get what you pay for.
"Oftentimes lower-budget cycling apparel isn't cozy or super durable," he says. "You want to be comfortable on the bike, and this is stuff that you can use time and time again. Plus, you want to look good, and these bibs combine all of that for me."
Buy it: FarFetch.com; Price: $278
4. Velocio Signature Bib Shorts
- Sizes: S - XL
- Feature: 100 percent recycled Lycra fabric
The right bibs straps can also make a major difference in your rides. Hunt for a style that sits flush against your back and shoulders — plus, doesn't limit your range of motion.
Kate Gibbons, co-founder of Girls Bike NYC, a New York-based collective of female cyclists, found her Goldilocks pair in the Velocio Signature Bib short.
"The width of the elastic straps on this Velocio style means that they sit flat under your cycling jersey and don't twist as you ride," she says "The crossed-back design of the straps means they don't fall off your shoulders. They're great because they look awesome and make me feel strong and powerful."
Bonus: They're also available in a men's-specific cut.
5. Voler Black Label Bib Short
- Sizes: XSM - 2XL
- Feature: reflective fabric for visibility
As important as it is to feel secure in your bike shorts, you also don't want the Spandex to be too thick, says Kristen Faulkner, a professional cyclist with Team TIBCO-Silicon Valley Bank. Faulkner leans into these bibs from Voler, which she also praises for never giving her a single saddle sore.
What is a saddle sore? Think of a hot, annoying rash-like spot that you could get from chafing or too much pressure. Faulkner likes to use Premax Chamois Cream to stave off any of these spots, and says that she's never had one while wearing the Voler bibs (which is impressive for someone who rides nearly every single day as a professional).
6. Castelli Velocissima 2 Women's Bib Short
- Sizes: XS - XL
- Feature: matte Lycra fabric
This is the type of short that you can wear for hours on end. "This pair is my go-to if I'm doing an extra long ride," says triathlete Cailin Weidenmiller.
The chamois in these bike bibs is designed to keep long rides comfy and best cushions the pelvis of people assigned female at birth (AFAB).
Buy it: Backcountry.com; Price: $89.99 - $139.99
7. MAAP Team Bib Evo
- Sizes: XS - M (women's) S - XL (men's)
- Feature: no-see-through fabric
For Kirby Kelly, a cyclist for Ostroy/New York Velo Cycling Team, her go-to bibs have a chamois that isn't too thick but still makes her feel comfortable all ride long.
"I am someone who sweats a lot. Everywhere. So when I'm riding really hard or long, a thick chamois feels like an awful diaper," she says. "And remember: It's about the shorts and the saddle, so if your saddle isn't great, nothing will really feel comfortable."
8. Rapha Core Shorts
- Sizes: XXS - XL
- Feature: soft-silicone leg grippers
There's something to be said about a bib-less style that's got everything you need and nothing you don't. These cargo-inspired shorts from Rapha offer stellar flexibility and multiple pockets to stash everything you could need on the ride from gels or snacks to your cell phone to snap a quick photo.
Plus, flat-locked seams make chaffing and irritation a worry of the past.
9. Machines for Freedom Women's Endurance Bib
- Sizes: XS - XXXL
- Feature: two inseam length options
Inclusive sizing when it comes to athletic wear is important, and it's something that endurance athlete and avid cyclist Mirna Valerio searches for when looking for her perfect bibs.
"It's easy to tell when a brand just makes a garment bigger without putting it on a plus-size fit model," she says. "These bibs fit me like they should fit a bigger woman, and I feel like I look great in them, too. Plus, I'm not constantly tugging them up or adjusting. I love looking good and feeling like I can perform better."
Buy it: MachinesForFreedom.com; Price: $235
10. Beroy Cycling Shorts With Padding
- Sizes: S - 5XL (women's), M - 3XL (men's)
- Feature: 4-way stretch for comfortable, east movement
Sometimes you wanna get a little funky with your aesthetics. Liking how you look on the bike can make a major difference in your performance, says Martinez. That's where these well-priced buys from Beroy come into the mix. Made in lots of fun colors, these bib-less shorts come with a gel-padded chamois for added comfort.
Bonus: They've got great reviews on Amazon even at this low of a price point.
11. Grade Cycling Queen/King of Mountain Bib
- Sizes: XXS - XXL (women's) XS - XXL (men's)
- Feature: Ultraviolet UPF 50+
"If you've ever worn cycling shorts, then you know how important it is to feel comfortable and cinched," says Praznik. "These feel like butter and are high-waisted, which means that you can forget about fidgeting with your kit and just concentrate on driving that power."
Other perks include an ultra-soft premium cotton cover and a seamless design with no leg band. That means you can say goodbye to uncomfortable marks on your skin.
3 Factors to Consider When Shopping for the Best Cycling Shorts
1. Bib vs Non-Bib
Bike shorts come in two main varieties: bib and non-bib. Bibs are styles that have attached suspenders that go over the shoulders, whereas non-bibs are your standard shorts.
Bike bibs work to keep your shorts in place and prevent them from slipping down on long bike rides. Some brands make removing your bibs to hit a bathroom stop easier than others, including different types of closures or materials to make removal a breeze.
However, some people don't feel like they need the suspenders to keep their shorts in place and prefer not to have to mess with the extra features.
Trying out both styles will help you make that determination for yourself.
The right fit for you will require a bit of a shimmy to get on. That way, even if you opt for a non-bib option, you have a better chance of them staying in place.
Cycling shorts are almost always made from a snug-fitting athletic material, complete with four-way stretch for freedom of movement. You might typically associate the best bike shorts with Lycra, but many incorporate a range of materials including nylon, polyester, Spandex or lightweight merino wool. These materials pull moisture away from your skin, which prevents rubbing or chafing on long rides.
All cycling shorts have a special section in the middle called a chamois, named after the leather material used on the earliest-made biking bottoms.
This chamois padding is designed to reduce pressure on the sit bones of your pelvis, and most use different densities of foam or gel padding.
Density is a big buzzword here: A more dense chamois could provide added comfort — and that doesn't mean the product itself will be thicker, simply based on the makeup of the padding. Some are made with foam, and others are made with triple-density felk padding (some combine both!). Try out different padding thicknesses and densities to feel out what feels comfortable for you and your body.