Whether you're new to cycling or a seasoned veteran, one thing's for sure: you're always looking for the "perfect" short. We studied the top 50 models before buying 9 of the best women's bike shorts to test side-by-side. These shorts endured 200+ hours of desert heat, crisp mountain climbs, and torrential downpours. We evaluated each bike short's comfort and fit — is the short tailored to a woman's physique? We tested how the short fabric feels against our sweaty skin, as well as how well the short's chamois holds up to high mileage. Finally, we also considered how good each model looks in the saddle. Our thorough review helps you make the right purchase decision to keep you focused on what cycling is about: the adventure awaiting you on the open road.
The Best Women's Bike Shorts
Best Overall Women's Bike Shorts
SUGOi RS Pro Bib
Expensive and highly touted, we put the SUGOi RS Pro Bib through the wringer, and it did not disappoint. The garment met our demands and more with its streamlined, aerodynamic design and high-quality chamois. Our testers enjoyed the fit and comfort provided by this model that never caused chafing. The fabric breathes with the best of them, too. We love the stretchy shoulder straps that make pit stops more convenient than traditional bibs. This model looks great on the rider and performs even better.
The disadvantages of the RS Pro Bib were few: mainly, its lack of color options and light wear and tear on some of its seams. In all, however, this bib is suitable for the cyclist who is 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 the Buck
Louis Garneau Fit Sensor 7.5
The Louis Garneau Fit Sensor 7.5 brings a high-quality design and materials to the table for a budget-friendly price. The sleek, finished seams and soothing feel of the fabric are big positives for this model. These shorts feel fantastic. The short also offers adequate padding for long rides and a simple design. Not only is this the top-scoring non-bib short in our review, but it is also one of the most affordable options. Win-win.
Where this model loses points with our testers had to do with its marginal performance in a soak test which indicated the short is not quick-to-dry. They are also a bit warmer than other models tested, which makes us think twice about wearing them on baking-hot summer days. However, if you're looking for a short under $100 that offers high performance for long rides, serious races, or other events, you can't go wrong with the Fit Sensor 7.5 which provides maximum comfort to the best price.
Read review: Louis Garneau Fit Sensor 7.5
Top Pick for High Style and High Mileage
SheBeest Petunia Bib
Looking to add some personality to your cycling kit? Allow us to introduce the Shebeest Petunia Bib, a garment ready to get you pedaling in style. The design is flattering, the bib-halter makes pit stops a lot easier to handle, and the fun colors and patterns will appeal to riders tired of basic black.
While it's a fun short, many testers complained about the compact chamois that didn't offer as much protection as they would have liked. The warranty policy is also 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 that is just plain fun - it doesn't get any better than the Shebeest Petunia Bib.
Read review: Shebeest Petunia Bib
Top Pick for the Lifestyle Cycling Short
Terry Bicycles Hi-Rise Holster
Cycling shorts don't always need to look like fast, race-ready garments. If you're looking for a women's bike short that fits into your daily life, the Terry Hi-Rise Holster could very well be the solution you're seeking. It offers comfort, style, and coverage while also acting as 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!"
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 rides 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
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 rode in and out of the saddle, on cold days and hot days, up long climbs, down long descents and everything in between.
At the end of all this testing, we carefully examined each short, looking for wear and tear and researched online reviews of each garment to find documented issues and wear patterns. 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 short looks "good" and how that relates to its performance in the saddle.
While we didn'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 Fit Sensor 7.5 for $80. If you can afford the best, the SUGOi RS Pro Bib ($170) was our favorite.
Comfort and Fit
By far the first thing a rider notices when they try on cycling shorts is how well the short fits their body: are the legs squeezing your thighs in a nice, compression way, or is the short constrictive? How about the waist? Is it too high, too low, too tight? Is the elastic that holds the waist in place an appropriate width to be functional? 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?
To address the issues listed above, cycling shorts have come up with solutions that include the use of silicone-coated fabric around the legs and sometimes waist to assist the garment with staying in place. The number of panels - and how they are cut - also affect this metric. Most shorts are constructed with six or eight panels. 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.
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 Fit Sensor 7.5, utilizes reinforced stitching and leg closures that, while not employing a silicone coating (a huge 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 find both fitness and fun in the saddle.
The Castelli Free Aero Short and the Castelli Velocissima Bib offer riders a fit that our testers described as "race-ready." The tighter fit felt comfortable to some (the compression offered the 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 Pearl Izumi Elite Pursuit, the Louis Garneau Fit Sensor 7.5 or, for riders with ample thighs, the REI Co-Op 9" Road Cycles short.
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.
The chamois has come a long way from its beginnings as a strip of leather (like the kind you use to dry off your car, hence the name "chamois"). Today's cycling shorts employ foam compounds and other synthetic fabrics to maximize the amount of padding where you need it most (again, under your sit bones) and to keep other areas well-ventilated to avoid an excess build up of sweat and moisture that can lead to uncomfortable sores or chafing, especially during a long ride.
Cyclists wear bike-specific shorts for a reason, which is to pad and protect one's backside. This aspect of the garment is, perhaps, its most technical: it is gender-specific and, we admit, preference can vary from person to person depending on your particular build. Typically, chamois that are built for women tend to be wider to accommodate the wider sit bones and shorter from front to back than male-specific models.
When testing this category, we examined each chamois closely to see if it had a 3D or 2D design. This means that a chamois 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 awaits down the road: a raw edge can lead to chafing and, in the very worst cases, part of the chamois coming apart from the short. Finally, we tested each chamois's "memory" - its capacity to "bounce back" after a long ride to its original shape and form. Memory indicates that a chamois has resiliency, and will last for more than just one ride or (hopefully) 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. The Castelli Free Aero Short also ranked very high with its patented Progetto X2 chamois that acts as the near-perfect liaison between saddle and rider. We ranked this chamois slightly lower than that of the RS Pro bib due to the stitching that adheres the chamois to the short: unlike the Formula FX, a raw edge rests around the Castelli Progetto X2. 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 "she may be small, but she's mighty." The chamois offers protection where it is needed and not bulk where it is not. 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 Castelli Velocissima Bib for rides up to five hours. The Pearl Izumi Elite Pursuit also performed fairly well on rides no more than 2.5-3 hours. Both options have a raw edge around the chamois and lack the "memory" of some higher performing models, but both options are up to the task of protecting you from bumps, cracks, railroad crossings, and other not-smooth things you run over on a road bike.
Breathability and Fabric
A cycling short is only as good as the fabric from which it is made. If you don't believe us, go 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 and then come back and let us know how that went. As you can imagine, that is not the most comfortable thing to do. Interestingly, the first cycling shorts were made from cotton or, even worse, wool: fabrics that, when wet, tend to stay that way and that tend to rub human skin raw. The invention of synthetic fabrics like lycra, spandex and, to some extent, nylon allowed the cycling short to act with, not against, your skin: wicking away sweat to cool the body in hot conditions and drying as quickly as possible after a downpour.
We tested a short's fabric and breathability three ways: by riding them hard for one hour on a trainer indoors, taking them on long rides on scorching days (when it was 90+ degrees out) and finally, the garden hose soak test. Riding the shorts in high-sweat situations (on the trainer and during a hot day) allows us to gauge 1) how quickly the short absorbed sweat, 2) how fast it allowed that sweat to evaporate, and if 3) a short's lack of breathability compromised the fabric (if sweat made the fabric move in different ways, resulting in chafing.)
In contrast, the soak test was the ultimate breathability test: while we couldn't test all the shorts in a downpour, we simulated one by soaking every short with a garden hose and timed how long each short took to dry. We repeated this test twice: once, with the shorts spread out on the ground and the second time, with the shorts hanging from a drying rack. All tests indicated that the SUGOi RS Pro Bib, our Editors' Choice winner, once again was a top performer along with the Castelli Free Aero Short, the Pearl Izumi Elite Pursuit, 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 out of all chamois) and the Castelli Velocissima Bib which performed better on our testers than in the soak test.
Because the cycling short is 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 nine shorts included in this review, we did look for indications of wear that could be warning signs for future issues. After all, how well a product is made-- its seams, fabrics, how it handles after multiple washes--all point to one central question: is this garment built to last?
We also researched each manufacturer's warranty policy: how much value does a company place in their products? The industry standard for a warranty issue (that is, 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: while Pearl Izumi and Canari guarantee their product for life, Shebeest limits warranty requests 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 across every single detail for indication of 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 that, even if you received a faulty short, you could replace it at no additional cost, and keep on riding.
Shorts that also performed remarkably well included our Best Buy Award winner, the Louis Garneau Fit Sensor 7.5. This beautifully made short is made to last with extra-reinforced seams and high-quality fabric. Our Editors' Choice, the SUGOi RS Pro Bib also made the top three in this metric, weathering the hard miles like a true champion. Other than a stray thread on one seam, the short ended the testing period looking brand new.
The Castelli Free Aero Short scored slightly lower due to the thin silicone fabric used around the leg that is thin enough for us to suspect to show wear after a full season of wear. Similarly, the Castelli Velocissima Bib began to lose its "Castelli" logo - a superficial sign of wear, but if you paid over $100 for a top brand name product, wouldn't you want the brand name to stick around for longer than the first 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… well, it's the part of the short that's fun. While it might seem like cycling shorts are pretty limited regarding what "style" they can offer you, you might be surprised. Even in the line up of nine shorts included in this review, there are subtle variations worth noting.
The first 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 a 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 you 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 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. This differs from the Louis Garneau Fit Sensor 7.5 which is available not only in black but an all-gray version. At first, we bought and tested the gray colorway, because an all-gray short seemed like a cool idea. In the end, though, it failed to uphold the 90% rule: not only does this colorway show chain grease, but it also makes quite the production out of your sweat, which isn't usually something you want people to know about when you're out in public, cycling. Subsequently, we bought the black version of the Fit Sensor, which solved these issues, full stop.
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 innovative or fun, might be like the Chanel version of the 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 its wearer with unparalleled modesty and coverage with a casual (rather than entirely fitted) short that transitions more easily between bike and coffeehouse or (casual) dinner. 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 your cycling goal, choosing the right shorts is an essential step for reaching it. Not all shorts are created equal, but each one is calibrated for a specific purpose, and we encourage you to read through each review before making your selection. Our review process took into account five essential elements 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 a 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. We hope this review offers you useful insight so you can find your ideal pair.
— Rebecca Eckland