The Best Women's Bike Shorts
Best Overall Women's Bike Shorts
SUGOi RS Pro Bib
Expensive but highly touted, we put the SUGOi RS Pro Bib through some serious testing. 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 with the best of them. We love the stretchy shoulder straps that make pit stops more convenient than traditional bibs. This bib runs a little long (so it's better suited for taller riders) but no matter your height, every tester was impressed by the RS Pro Bib.
The disadvantages of the RS Pro Bib were minimal: mainly, a lack of color options and light but visible wear and tear on some of its seams. Overall, this bib is suitable for the cyclist looking for maximum comfort and breathability to get them through some serious miles. Racers and endurance riders: this bib is the best out there.
Read review: SUGOi RS Pro Bib
Best Bang for Your Buck
Louis Garneau Optimum - Women's
The Louis Garneau Optimum was an unexpected surprise. The Optimum marries comfort and affordability like no other short out there. True to the Louis Garneau brand, this model brings high-quality materials, design, and execution to the table. That means this short is soft, comfortable, and high performing in the saddle. Not only is this a high-scoring short, but it's among the most affordable options in this review. This is a rare combination and we highly recommend the Optimum.
Where this model lost points had to do with how it looked on our testers. It just isn't the most stylish. Sometimes this metric can point to flaws in design; the faults with the Optimum, however, are purely aesthetic. There isn't much to say about how the short looks (it, quite simply, looks like a bike short. Period. If you want flashy colors or a more tailored cut, you will need to look elsewhere. However, if you're looking for an inexpensive short that offers high performance for long rides, serious races, or other events, you can't go wrong with the Optimum, which provides everything more expensive shorts do but at a very fair price.
Read review: Louis Garneau Optimum - Women's
Best for High Style and High Mileage
SheBeest Petunia Bib
Looking to add some personality, color, and flair to your cycling kit? The SheBeest Petunia Bib reigns supreme 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 basic black.
While it's a fun short, some testers and customers have complained about the compact chamois and, we have to admit, if you're looking for a highly padded short, 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 isn't a drag to get on and off - and is just plain fun to look at - it doesn't get any better than the SheBeest Petunia Bib.
Read review: SheBeest Petunia Bib
Best Lifestyle Cycling Short
Terry Bicycles Hi-Rise Holster
Here's something we wanted to put out there: road cycling can mean a lot of different things to different types of riders. While some of you want to race (and to look like you're super-fast) others 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 to your favorite coffeehouse. Whatever your pleasure, there's a short for you.
That's why we wanted to highlight a women's bike short that is less racy (and roadie) than our other top pics, the Terry Hi-Rise Holster. This short offers comfort and coverage while also acting like a decent short 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 not ideal 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 by us.
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 who 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 CA. Combine her extensive cycling background, athleticism, and communication skills, and you've got a great cycling gear reviewer.
Tracking down the best women's bike shorts starts with delving into the market and deciding what to buy and test in the saddle. We looked at over 50 models and selected the models we consider the cream of the crop, very popular, or both. We thought about the function of a women's bike short and designed testing 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 by soaking the shorts, then setting them out on a drying rack and timing how long each pair took to dry. Finally, we considered style, with the best-looking shorts coincidentally being high performers in other areas.
Analysis and Test Results
With nearly 1,000 miles logged on the road testing each short in this review, we evaluated them based on the five most 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 — 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 looks "good" and how that relates to its performance in the saddle.
While we don't include value as a rating metric, there's something to be said about the relationship between a product's cost and its performance. Most of the time, this is a direct correlation: the more expensive the short, the nicer it fits and feels. If you're like a lot of cyclists, chances are you have already invested a lot 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, no matter how well made, probably won't last as long as your carbon frame. If you need a short that won't break the bank (and leave enough cash leftover for inevitable repairs), consider the Louis Garneau Optimum. If you can afford the best, the SUGOi RS Pro Bib was our favorite.
Comfort and Fit
The first thing you will notice when you try on cycling shorts is how well they fit your body: are the legs squeezing your thighs in a nice, compressive way, or does it feel 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 in? If the short is a bib, are the straps long enough, so 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 taken that important function into account?
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 comes across as purely for show. The six-panel design is made 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," but is also more expensive than other options. The more compressive fit felt comfortable to some, offering leg muscles extra support. However, this feature of the brand has the potential to feel too constrictive. For a more traditional-fitting short, you may want to check out the Terry Bella Short or the Louis Garneau Optimum. For riders wanting more 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 bumps, stress cracks, and other irregular variations of concrete and paved terrain. For this reason, the chamois is arguably the most important part of a cycling short. Without it, you'll be sore (trust us on this one), and potentially miserable, so finding a short with the right kind of padding and protection is key to finding the right 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 fabrics to maximize the amount of padding where you need it most (again, under your sit bones) while keeping other areas well-ventilated to avoid an excessive build-up of sweat and moisture that can lead to uncomfortable sores or chafing, especially during a long ride.
The padding of bike shorts is, perhaps, its most technical: it 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. This means that it either has various depths and dimensions to it (a 3D design) or a single, flat plane (2D). We also examined how it was stitched 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) more than one season.
Our favorites in this category were the revised Formula FX women's chamois on the SUGOi RS Pro Bib. The Formula FX provides maximum 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 that is featured in our Best Buy Award winner, 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 rides, 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 they were accustomed to.
For a reasonable amount of padding and protection, try the Terry Bella Short for rides up to five hours. The Pearl Izumi Elite Pursuit also performed fairly well on rides 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 capacity to dry quickly while wicking away sweat so you can ride your bike on even the hottest day and dry quickly after 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, these shorts aren't made equally: each manufacturer uses 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 allows that sweat to evaporate, and 3) if a short's lack of breathability compromises the pliability 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 tests indicated that the SUGOi RS Pro Bib, our Editors' Choice winner, 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 important component of cycling, we want you to pick a product that fits your needs and is designed to 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: how much value does a company place 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 product 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 short at the end of our testing period, looking at every single detail for wear. The short with outstanding performance (even after a tester crashed on a sandy road in them) is 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 Best Buy Winner, the Optimum. The Editor's Choice Winner, the SUGOi RS Pro Bib demonstrated strong construction through reinforced seams and high-quality fabrics. These shorts all ended the testing period looking brand new, which really says something.
The Castelli Velicissima Bib ended up with a lower score because it began to lose its "Castelli" logo - a superficial sign of wear, but 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 is somewhat linked to functionality. For example, if the short is made from high-quality fabric with a tailored, multi-paneled design and an appropriate chamois, then the short looks better on — because it's a quality garment.
Style 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 90% modesty (black hides chain grease just as much as it hides sweat) and 10% 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." This ensures that the 90% modesty rule (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 90% 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, while not as wildly patterned, are 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, the short 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 in the short slightly less awkward.
Whatever kind of cyclist you are--whether competitive or casual, a bike commuter or an all-day endurance junkie, there's a short out there that's perfectly 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 calibrated for a specific purpose, and we encourage you to consider which short aligns with how you want to ride your bike.
Our review process took into account five essential performance factors of any well-made cycling short. The short you pick for your next adventure should fit your body type and be comfortable. It should offer you sufficient padding and protection without unnecessary bulk or raw edges. It should be constructed with high-quality design and built to last longer than just one ride. And, most importantly, it should make you feel like a superhero on a bike because let's face it: you are. The right short should be one that you don't notice is there. This review, chock-full of all our best-kept secrets, helps you do exactly that.
— Rebecca Eckland