Best Bike Shorts for Women of 2020
Best Overall Women's Bike Shorts
SUGOi RS Pro Bib
This highly technical bib short surpassed our expectations with its streamlined, aerodynamic design and high-quality chamois. We enjoyed the fit, comfort, and the fact it never caused chafing. The fabric breathes exceptionally well, and we especially love the stretchy shoulder straps that make pit stops more convenient than traditional bibs. This bib runs a little long (so it's perhaps better suited for taller riders), but no matter their height, every one of our testers was impressed by the RS Pro Bib.
The disadvantages we identified with the RS Pro Bib were minimal. Mainly, there is a lack of available color options, and we noticed some light but visible wear and tear at some of its seams. Overall, this bib is suitable for the cyclist looking for optimum comfort and breathability to get them through some serious miles. Racers and endurance riders take note: this bib is the best in our lineup.
Read review: SUGOi RS Pro Bib
Best Bang for Your Buck
Louis Garneau Optimum - Women's
The Louis Garneau Optimum was a surprise, marrying comfort and affordability like no other short in our lineup. True to the Louis Garneau brand, it brings high-quality materials, design, and execution to the table, making this short both comfortable and high performing in the saddle. Not only is this a high-scoring model, but it's also among the most affordable options in this review, a rare combination that earns our recommendation.
Where this model lost some points due to how it looked on our testers. It just isn't the most stylish or flattering design. Sometimes style demerits can point to overall design flaws, but the Optimum's shortcomings are aesthetic. There isn't much to say about its style, except that it simply looks like a basic bike short. If you want flashy colors or a more tailored cut, you'll need to look elsewhere. However, if you're looking for a value short that still offers plenty of performance for long rides or serious races, we think the Optimum is a great choice.
Read review: Louis Garneau Optimum - Women's
Best for High Style and High Mileage
SheBeest Petunia Bib
Are you looking to add some personality, color, and flair to your cycling kit? The SheBeest Petunia Bib was our favorite in the style category. Here's a garment ready to get you pedaling with flair, and it performs well in the saddle, too. With its highly flattering design, the Petunia also packs some seriously functional design; the bib-halter makes pit stops a lot easier to handle, and the fun colors and patterns appeal to riders tired of a basic black color scheme.
While this is a fun short, some testers complained about the compact chamois. We have to admit, if you're looking for a short with luxurious padding, this certainly isn't it. Also, the warranty policy is more stringent than other shorts included in this review. However, for a high-quality bib that is easy to get on and off, and is just plain fun to look at, our recommendation is the SheBeest Petunia Bib.
Read review: SheBeest Petunia Bib
Best Lifestyle Cycling Short
Terry Bicycles Hi-Rise Holster
Road cycling can mean a lot of different things to different types of riders. While some want to race (and to look super-fast), others simply want to go on longer tour rides to see the countryside. Others might be bike commuters, primarily looking for comfort and function. Or, maybe you just like to ride your bike around the neighborhood or to your favorite coffeehouse. Whatever your pleasure, there's a short for you.
That's why we highlight the less racy (and roadie) Terry Hi-Rise Holster. This short offers comfort and coverage while also performing well enough in the saddle for one to two-hour road rides. The extended length, loose fit, wide waistband, and pocket on the side all help prevent this model from screaming "I cycled here" (even though the chamois sort of gives that secret away). The short is probably not as well suited for races or rides over 40 miles where the excess fabric could bunch and offer unwelcome chafing. However, for commutes and shorter trips where you might encounter rain, or when you are heading out to do more than purely cycle in your shorts, this model comes highly recommended.
Read review: Terry Hi-Rise Holster
Why You Should Trust Us
This comparison of women's bike shorts is brought to you by former marathoner and Ironman triathlete turned cyclist Rebecca Eckland. Rebecca competed as a USAC Cat 3 road racer on the Clean Powered by Tesla team and was the first woman from Nevada to win the California Triple Crown Stage Race. She also holds several course records in the Silver State 508. These days, she's all about exploring the world by bike. Outside the cycling world, Rebecca is a published author and holds an MFA degree from Saint Mary's College of California.
Tracking down the best women's bike shorts starts with delving into the market and deciding which products to buy for our head-to-head testing. We researched over 50 different models and selected what we consider the most popular styles as well as ones that look to be the highest performing. We thought about the function of a women's specific bike shorts and designed our testing process around a handful of key performance areas. We tested comfort and durability by logging lots and lots of miles, which became particularly informative past the 40-mile mark on any given ride. We tested breathability and drying times, and took a detailed look at the varying chamois designs. Finally, we considered style, with the many of the best-looking shorts coincidentally also being high performers in other metrics.
Analysis and Test Results
With nearly 1,000 miles logged on the road testing each short in this review, we evaluated them based on five essential criteria for cycling shorts: Comfort & Fit, Breathability/Fabric, Durability, Padding & Protection, and Style. We compiled all our notes and findings throughout this review to help you find the short that is perfect for your kind of cycling. Are you looking for an exceptionally protective chamois? Check out our Padding and Protection metric. Are you interested in a short that looks as good as you feel? Our style metrics tell you what our testers think looks "good" and how that relates to its performance in the saddle.
There is often a direct correlation between a product's cost and its performance. Most of the time, the more expensive the product, the better the materials, and the better it fits, feels, and performs. If you're like a lot of cyclists, chances are you have already invested quite heavily in your cycling equipment (e.g., that sweet road bike and all its components), so you don't want to drop more than you have to on a resource that probably won't last as long as your carbon frame. If you need a short with reliable performance that won't break the bank, consider the Louis Garneau Optimum. If you can afford the best in our lineup, the SUGOi RS Pro Bib was our favorite overall model.
Comfort and Fit
The first thing you will notice when you try on cycling shorts is how well they fit (or don't fit) your body. Are the legs squeezing your thighs in a balanced, compressive way, or do they feel too constrictive? Or, worse: can you tell if the short will loosen up and lose support over time? (No roadie wants saggy bike shorts.) How about the waist? Is it too low, too tight, not tight enough? Does it stay in place when you bend over like you will on your bike? Is the elastic that holds the waist in place an appropriate width to be functional, or does it dig into your sides? If the short is a bib, are the straps long enough that they don't "tug" on your shoulders, or too loose to hold the garment in place? Do the bibs make bathroom breaks complicated, or has the garment considered that critical function?
To address the issues listed above, cycling shorts have come up with solutions such as the use of silicone-coated fabric around the legs and sometimes waist to assist the garment with staying in place. Most use six or eight panels in their construction. However, it's not necessarily the number of panels used that determines how comfortable or well-fitting a short is. Instead, it's how each manufacturer cuts the panels and if they take the unique body position of a road cyclist into account.
Our highest performing shorts (and bibs) in this metric, such as the SUGOi RS Pro Bib, utilize eight panels to conform to a women's shape by adding extra give in the hips and securing the legs with silicone. A close runner-up, the eight-paneled Louis Garneau Optimum, utilizes reinforced stitching and leg closures that, while not employing a silicone coating (a massive plus for those who are allergic), but instead a high-quality fabric that holds its own against the demands of a long road ride. The Shebeest Petunia Bib has an unexpectedly high level of comfort for a short that rates so high in the style department. The six-panel design is ideal for female riders who look for both fitness and fun in the saddle.
The Castelli Velocissima Bib offers riders a fit that our testers described as "race-ready." The more compressive fit felt comfortable to some, providing leg muscles extra support. However, this feature of the brand has the potential to feel too constrictive for some. For a more traditional-fitting short, you may want to check out the Terry Bella Short or the Louis Garneau Optimum. For riders wishing more for additional coverage (and a little more modesty), we recommend the Terry Hi-Rise Holster.
Padding and Protection
While athletic shorts come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, the cycling short has one feature the others lack — a chamois. This feature is a cushioned pad that protects your sit bones from the hard saddle and from "road chatter," a.k.a. the vibrations from bumps, stress cracks, and other irregular variations of concrete and paved terrain. For this reason, the chamois is arguably the most crucial part of a cycling short. Without it, you'll likely be sore, and potentially miserable, so the right kind of padding and protection is key to finding the proper cycling short for you.
Here's a little history about bike shorts: way back when people decided that cycling shorts needed more protection than a regular pair of shorts, the chamois was a strip of leather (like the kind you use to dry off your car, hence the name "chamois"). Fortunately, innovations in technical fabrics have moved things along. These days, cycling chamois employ foam compounds and other synthetic materials to maximize the amount of padding where you need it most (again, under your sit bones). They also help keep other areas well-ventilated to avoid an excessive build-up of sweat and moisture that can lead to uncomfortable sores or chafing, especially during long rides.
The padding of bike shorts is gender-specific, and preference will vary from person to person depending on individual body type and build. Typically, women's chamois tend to be wider to accommodate wider sit bones, and shorter from front to back than male-specific models.
Another aspect we considered is whether a chamois has a 3D or 2D design, meaning that it either has various depths and dimensions to it (a 3D design) or a single, flat plane (2D). We also examined the stitching that attaches it to the short. Raw edges around a chamois can indicate trouble down the road: a raw edge may lead to chafing or, in the very worst cases, part of the chamois coming apart from the short. Finally, we tested the "memory" of each chamois - its ability to "bounce back" to its original shape and form after a long ride. Memory indicates that a chamois has resiliency, and will last for many rides and (hopefully) many seasons.
Our favorites in this category were the revised Formula FX women's chamois on the SUGOi RS Pro Bib. The Formula FX provides excellent protection beneath the sit bones while its 3D design allows enough ventilation to make a long ride as comfortable as it can be. We loved the Airsport chamois in the Louis Garneau Optimum. This highly-technical chamois has a 3D heat-stitched design, and a finished seam around it, holding it in place. Our testers wore this short out for multi-hour outings and had nothing but good things to say about it.
The Shebeest Petunia Bib's Shelastic 2.0 chamois also provides ample protection with its 3D design. One of our testers described the Shebeest chamois as "small, but mighty." The chamois offers protection where it is needed with less bulk overall. However, some riders found that the Shebeest didn't provide the amount of padding to which they were accustomed.
For a reasonable amount of padding and protection, the Terry Bella Short was comfortable on rides up to five hours. The Pearl Izumi Elite Pursuit also performed reasonably well on trips up to 2.5-3 hours. Both options have a raw edge around the chamois and lack the "memory" of some higher performing models. However, they are up to the task of protecting you from bumps, cracks, railroad crossings, and other not-so-smooth things you roll over on a road bike.
Breathability and Fabric
A cycling short is only as good as the fabric it uses. If you don't believe us, put on a pair of cotton shorts, jump on your road bike and ride around the block five times during the hottest part of the day. Most likely, the shorts will be wet and feel uncomfortable against your skin. That's the reason to seek out technical fabrics: they have the ability to wick sweat away and quickly dry, so that you can ride your bike on the hottest day or even through a downpour. The use of synthetic fabrics like lycra, spandex, and nylon allows the cycling short to act with and not against your skin. Yet, each manufacturer uses different fabrics that are a unique blend of those materials listed above, which means some feel light and soft, while others have a "heavier" and rougher feel.
We tested the fabric and breathability of each pair of shorts in three ways: by riding hard for one hour on a trainer indoors, wearing them on long rides on scorching days (when it was 90+ degrees out) and finally, soaking them with a garden hose and timing how long they took to dry. Riding the shorts in high-sweat situations (on the trainer and during a hot day) allows us to gauge 1) how quickly the short absorbs sweat, 2) how fast it will enable that sweat to evaporate, and 3) if a short's lack of breathability compromises the flexibility of the fabric (if sweat makes the fabric move in different ways, resulting in chafing.)
In contrast, the soak test was the ultimate breathability test: in the worst conditions (either a lot of sweat or a sudden downpour), what are a short's hydrophobic qualities? Granted, when you are wearing bike shorts, they have wind resistance against them to speed the drying, while in our test, they were hanging on a drying rack, but it gave us an idea about how breathable a garment is when compared to others in this review.
All of our tests indicated that the SUGOi RS Pro Bib, is once again a top performer along with the Louis Garneau Optimum, the Terry Bella Short, the Terry Hi-Rise Holster and the Shebeest Petunia Bib. After being thoroughly soaked, these shorts returned to a damp-ish condition after about an hour.
Other shorts that showed adequate breathability were the Canari Pro Gel short (interestingly, the chamois on this short was the quickest to dry) and the Castelli Velocissima Bib which performed better on our testers than in the soak test.
Because shorts are such an essential component of cycling, we want you to pick a product that fits your needs, and that will last. While our testing period isn't quite long enough to truly test limits of the ten shorts included in this review, we did look for indications of wear that could be warning signs for future issues. After all, craftsmanship-- seam quality, fabric stretch, how it looks and feels after multiple washes-- all point to one central question: is this garment built to last?
We also looked for signs of weakness. These could include raw edges, unfinished seams, ironed-on logos (that can peel after multiple washings), and other design flaws that show up in how a short fits on and off the bike.
Each manufacturer has a different warranty policy that in some ways reflects how much value a company places in their products. The industry standard for a warranty issue (for example, a seam coming loose, a hole in the fabric not due to crashing, etc.) is one year from purchase, but we did find some variation in this. Pearl Izumi and Canari guarantee their products for life, while Shebeest warranty requests must go through a Shebeest dealer, not through direct customer contact.
Taking all of this into consideration, we scrutinized each model at the end of our testing period, looking at every single detail for wear. The most outstanding performer (even after a tester crashed on a sandy road in them) was the Pearl Izumi Elite Pursuit. We are also very impressed with the company's warranty policy and friendly customer service that made us believe they would replace a faulty short at no additional cost.
However, several shorts showed resiliency due to their quality construction and mindful design. These include both Louis Garneau shorts, the Fit Sensor 7.5, and the Optimum, and the SUGOi RS Pro Bib. These models each demonstrated robust construction through reinforced seams and high-quality fabrics, and all ended the testing period looking brand new.
The Castelli Velicissima Bib ended up with a lower score because it began to lose its "Castelli" logo - a superficial sign of wear. Still, if you paid triple digits for a top brand name product, you may want the brand name to stick around for longer than two months.
While "style" is a subjective measure (should I wear plaid or polka dots today?), we believe it is an important indicator of a short's design, functionality, and sense of fun. While cycling shorts seem pretty limited regarding what "style" they can offer you, you might be surprised. Even in the line up of shorts included in this review, there are subtle variations worth noting. These differences include length, the number of panels used in the short's construction, and the type of fabric the shorts are constructed with, including color and patterns.
The first consideration has to do with (no surprise here) how they made our testers look. It's great to have a functional garment and all, but who wants to ride a bike in something completely unflattering? And, let's be honest here: some shorts do look better than others. What is interesting, too, is that the better-looking ones also ranked higher in other performance metrics, suggesting that style and functionality are linked together. For example, if the short is constructed from high-quality fabric with a tailored, multi-paneled design and an appropriate chamois, then the short usually looks better as well.
The style performance metric should also include a discussion of a short's color. If you are like us and sat up late at night as a kid wondering why most cycling shorts are black, well, it has to do with looking clean (black hides chain grease just as much as it hides sweat) and that black goes with basically everything. However, as more and more manufacturers are discovering, cycling shorts don't have to be limited to black, they only have to be base-black.
What does that mean, you ask? Take two pairs of shorts from our review for this example. While the Shebeest Petunia Bib is pink, blue, turquoise, and gray, it has black as its "background color," ensuring that a clean look (hiding chain grease, sweat, etc.) is maintained. Our testers learned this the hard way. The Louis Garneau Fit Sensor 7.5 was available in black as well as an all-gray version. We bought and tested the gray color right away because a gray short seemed like a cool idea. In the end, though, it failed to uphold the clean looks rule. Not only does this color show chain grease, but it makes quite a production out of your sweat, which isn't usually something you want people to know about when you're out in public, riding your bike. Subsequently, we bought the black version of the Fit Sensor, which fixed the issue.
So, with all of that in mind, our top-scoring short in the style department is the Shebeest Petunia Bib. With fun colors, patterns, and overall stylish design, this short knocked the competition out of the park with its innovative and fun approach to designing a women's cycling short. Other notable runners-up included the SUGOi RS Pro Bib that is like the Chanel version of a cycling short: simple, sleek lines are well-tailored to a cyclist's physique and avoid the cycling fashion faux pas of dumpy-butt and sausage thighs. The Terry Hi-Rise Holster is also worth mentioning in this metric; unlike other shorts in this review, Terry offers unparalleled modesty and coverage with a casual short that transitions more easily between bike and coffeehouse. Granted, this model does have a chamois (a noticeable difference from casual shorts you might wear around in public), but the added length and looser fit make time off the bike feel slightly less awkward.
Whether you're a competitive or casual cyclist, a bike commuter, or an all-day endurance junkie, there's a short out there that's suited to your specific goals. We'll be the first ones to tell you that not all shorts are created equal, but each one is designed for a particular purpose, and we encourage you to consider which short aligns with your riding style and personal preferences.
— Rebecca Eckland