These shorts from REI are your basic black cycling short. It does cover the bases with its reflective strips for safety in low-light situations and a chamois that protects up to two-hour rides. This short is a nice addition to your gym bag if you regularly ride one-to-two hours at a time or you need another pair to take the pressure off your laundry rotation.
A real-life look at the REI Co-op shorts we reviewed. Our testers found this model to offer more style than real road performance.
Synthetic fabrics like nylon and spandex come in various qualities. Our testers didn't fully appreciate this detail until they tried on the REI Co-Op Cycles shorts, when we discovered what it means to encounter a lower-quality synthetic fabric that could be rated as "abrasive." Granted, for short, early morning efforts, the nylon/spandex blend performs beautifully and if you are a rider that is a "get 'er done at 4:00 am" type, waste no time in grabbing a pair of these shorts. However, in hot conditions, the high nylon content is less breathable than most other options (like the Castelli Velocissima Bib or the Pearl Izumi Elite, or even the bargain-bin Canari Pro Gel).
In our soak-test, the Co-Op Cycles short was relatively dry after 55 minutes, but on the road, the fabric bunched at the front of the legs and around the chamois, remaining damp in those nether regions far longer than other shorts included in this review, resulting in painful saddle sores for some testers.
Padding and Protection
At the heart of every decent cycling short is a well-designed chamois that conforms to the shape of its rider — meaning it offers protection where you need it and not bulk where you don't. A chamois should be made with multiple densities of foam and have what is called "foam memory."
The Co-Op chamois is relatively flat, failing to offer more protection to sit-bones, something that becomes apparent after a couple of hours in the saddle with this short. It also lacks "foam memory" — and tends to flatten during each ride and progressively throughout the short's lifespan.
Despite the rigors of riding, washing, soak-testing, stretching, sweat, dirt (and some salty tears from our testers, see the Breathability/Fabric section, above), these shorts held up remarkably well. As mentioned above, however, the chamois flattens out over time.
Unlike other shorts with iron-on features, like the Castelli Velocissima Bib, no decals were lost in the testing process of this review. In fact, these shorts still appear to be downright new. If, however, you do have a faulty pair of shorts, you're covered with REI's return and warranty policy that honors the short's eternal life.
Comfort & Fit
Several testers noted that the shorts are constructed for a rider with wider, more muscular thighs; the caveat here is that the shorts sometimes "loosened up" around the legs as we drove to the starting point of each ride and were "stretched out" before the ride even started.
On a more detailed level, the shorts owe this unique fit to the straight-cut panels which gives the short a square shape. This pair was the squarest short out of all shorts reviewed, with the Canari Pro Gel not far behind. While this had little to no effect on how the short looked on a rider, this design detail often resulted in the fabric bunching up on the front and inner sides of the thighs on longer rides, which chafed our testers. The Castelli Free Aero and the SUGOI RS Pro Bib provide a more tailored feel.
It's hard to go wrong with basic black, and our testers admit, these shorts look pretty good on. The lack of dumpy-butt, sausage-thigh, muffin top, cottage-cheese hamstrings or all other cycling fashion faux pas all indicate that, as far as aesthetics are concerned, the Co-Op Cycles 9" short has more than got you covered.
We wished they had a little more flair, though, than the reflective strips at the back of the legs. However, for the price, we can settle.
This model is one of our lowest scoring shorts reviewed, and so it is difficult to recommend it to our readers. However, it is important to keep in mind that our test group selection includes top of the line models and that scoring is relative to the other products reviewed. That said, this short performed well in the cool early morning or late twilight dusk for rides no longer than an hour.
The additional stretch in the legs also led us to the conclusion that this short would be ideal for a rider with very muscular thighs that are not comfortable in other cycling shorts.
If this short were less expensive - say, $50 - we could justify its purchase. At $75, though, the price seems a bit steep for a short that, in all honesty, won't cut the mustard but will chafe at your skin after a couple of hours in hot conditions.
In the same price range, our Best Buy Award-winner, the Louis Garneau Fit Sensor 7.5, took our testers on 5-6 hour rides without any complaints.
Although not our top pick, the REI Co-op Cycles 9" short is better than riding a road bike in shorts without a chamois. Its high points are in durability and modest style, but in the saddle, we found several reasons to grab a different pair of shorts.