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The Best Mountain Bike Shorts for Men

By Jeremy Benson ⋅ Review Editor
Thursday November 15, 2018
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Are you searching for the best mountain biking shorts? Well, so are we! We researched the top models on the market and chose a selection of 16 to test and compare side by side. We put each pair of shorts through its paces for several months of riding on different styles of trails and in a variety of weather conditions. Throughout hundreds of miles and countless hours in the saddle, we scrutinized every aspect of their construction, fit, and performance. We present our findings here in the form of this detailed comparative review in the hopes that it will help you find the mountain bike shorts that best meet your needs, riding style, and budget.


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Awards Editors' Choice Award Top Pick Award  Top Pick Award Top Pick Award 
Price $155 List$130 List$89.00 at Competitive Cyclist
Compare at 2 sellers
$59.00 at Patagonia
Compare at 3 sellers
$55.58 at Amazon
Compare at 2 sellers
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Pros Lightweight, ventilated, articulated fit, quality construction, thoughtful designFunctional slim fit, great features, SWAT bibs included, good valueComfortable, high performance, lightweight, included liner shortLightweight, comfortable, tailored fit, adjustable waist closure, quick dryingComfortable, stylish, well ventilated, versatile
Cons Expensive, short inseamNot the best quality controlExpensiveTailored fit may be too slim for someRelatively basic, pockets aren't that functional while riding
Bottom Line They are expensive, but Kitsbow's quality construction, attention to detail, and high performance design can't be beat.The Specialized Enduro Pro shorts are fully featured with a functional high performance design and come with SWAT bibs.Extremely comfortable and high-performaning, these are some of the best trail and enduro shorts on the market.Patagonia's Dirt Roamer shorts are comfortable and lightweight with a minimalist design and performance oriented tailored fit.The Syncline is a basic but versatile short with casual styling and good ventilation.
Rating Categories Ventilated V2 Enduro Pro Airmatic All Mountain Dirt Roamer Dakine Syncline
Comfort (20%)
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8
Fit And Pedal Friendliness (20%)
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Features (20%)
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Durability (20%)
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Style (10%)
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Protection (10%)
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Specs Ventilated V2 Enduro Pro Airmatic All Mountain Dirt Roamer Dakine Syncline
Shell Fabric 4-way stretch softshell, mesh vent panels Water-repellent VaporRize woven fabric Polyester elastane stretch blend 4-way stretch 90 denier 87% recycled polyester/13% spandex with a DWR 4-way stretch double knit nylon 92% / 8% Spandex with DWR coating
Lining Main Fabric None Removeable SWAT liner chamois CyTech Premium None None
Chamois None Body Geometry Mountain Foam pad None, but compatible with Endless Ride Chamois(sold separately) None

Updated November 2018
We've added eight pairs of shorts to our test selection. We wanted to give some new competitors a chance while confirming that our award winners still deserve their accolades. When testing concluded, the Kitsbow Ventilated V2, a recently updated version of our previous Editors' Choice Award winner, retained its position as our Best Overall Mountain Bike Short, though the Patagonia Dirt Roamer was nipping at its heels taking home our Top Pick for Comfort Award. We discovered a new Best Buy Award winner in the Fox Ranger Cargo, offering an unbeatable price to performance ratio with a liner short included. Our Top Pick for Enduro Racing Award winner is the Specialized Enduro Pro, offering incredible versatility, functional features, and impressive performance at a great value with their SWAT bib liners included. The Dakine Syncline shorts also impressed our testers with their versatility, fit, and performance disguised by an easy-going casual style, taking home our Top Pick for Casual Style Award. We hope our updated comprehensive comparative review helps you find the best pair of mountain bike shorts for your needs, preferences, style, and budget.

Best Overall Mountain Bike Short


Kitsbow Ventilated V2


Kitsbow Ventilated V2
Editors' Choice Award

$155 List
List Price
See It

80
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort - 20% 9
  • Fit and Pedal Friendliness - 20% 9
  • Features - 20% 7
  • Durability - 20% 8
  • Style - 10% 7
  • Protection - 10% 7
Included chamois liner: No | Inseam Length: 12.5 inches
Articulated fit
Quality construction
Thoughtful design features
Ventilated
Expensive
Liner short not included
Short inseam

The Kitsbow Ventilated V2 short is the updated version of our previous Editors' Choice Award winner, the A/M Ventilated, and returns with the same quality construction, attention to detail, and performance, but at a lower price. Although $65 less than the previous version, a retail price of $155 is still pretty steep, yet we feel these shorts are well worth the asking price. They've got a subtle and casual styling that is equally suited to post ride beers at the local brewery as it is to ripping single track beforehand. The Ventilated V2 has a tailored slim fit and shorter inseam that testers found to be incredibly comfortable and pedal friendly, perfect for trail and cross country style riding and anything from short after work spins to all day epic suffer-fests.

Constructed of a 4-way stretch soft-shell treated with a durable water repellent finish, the shorts are comfortable on the skin and quick drying. The addition of stretch mesh ventilation panels also helps to cool things down. Unique design features like a low profile zipper and an alloy slip hook waist adjustment system dial in the fit while keeping the bulk at the waistline to a minimum. Thoughtfully designed rearward loading pockets are also easy to use and hold items securely and comfortably in a pedal friendly position. The fit may not be for everyone, especially people who always wear knee pads, but if you're looking for a beautifully made, impeccably designed high-performance pair of baggy shorts, we think the Ventilated V2 is the best in our test.

Read review: Kitsbow Ventilated V2

Top Pick for Comfort


Patagonia Dirt Roamer


Top Pick Award

$59.00
(40% off)
at Patagonia
See It

76
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort - 20% 9
  • Fit and Pedal Friendliness - 20% 9
  • Features - 20% 6
  • Durability - 20% 7
  • Style - 10% 8
  • Protection - 10% 6
Included chamois liner: No | Inseam Length: 11.5 inches
Lightweight
Comfortable
Tailored fit
Adjustable waist closure
Quick drying
Fit may be too slim for some

Patagonia is well known for producing some of the highest quality outdoor gear available, but they are a relatively small player in the mountain bike apparel market. We approached their Dirt Roamer shorts with skepticism, but testers quickly became enamored with them for their exceptional level of comfort and pedal friendliness. Their slim performance oriented fit is complemented by their functional minimalist design which we found to be ideal for XC and trail riding. Their lack of bulk, excessive bagginess, unnecessary pockets, and useless features are a big part of what we love about these shorts. They've also got a classic and timeless style that looks as good on your all-day sufferfest as it does grabbing a cold post-ride beverage at the local watering hole.

The Dirt Roamer shorts don't have any ventilation, instead, the light material used in their construction is so breathable and quick drying that you'll probably never notice. They are incredibly lightweight, made from a recycled 4-way stretch fabric with sonic welded seams, you may forget that you're even wearing them. Testers found the Dirt Roamer shorts to be so comfortable that they found themselves opting for them more often than not, earning them our Top Pick for Comfort Award.

Read review: Patagonia Dirt Roamer

Top Pick for Enduro Racing


Specialized Enduro Pro


Top Pick Award

$130 List
List Price
See It

80
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort - 20% 9
  • Fit and Pedal Friendliness - 20% 9
  • Features - 20% 8
  • Durability - 20% 7
  • Style - 10% 7
  • Protection - 10% 7
Included chamois liner: Specialized SWAT Bib Liner, Body Geometry Chamois | Inseam Length: 13.5 inches
Great features
Good value
SWAT bib liner included
Slim performance fit
Not the best quality

The Specialized Enduro Pro shorts impressed our testers and are the winner of our Top Pick for Enduro Racing Award. To be honest, these shorts are great for all types of riding, trail, all mountain, enduro, XC, you name it. They've got a clean and simple style, with a slimmer tailored fit and a shorter inseam that enhances their on-the-bike performance and pedal friendliness. What really makes these shorts shine is their wealth of performance-oriented features that enhance the rider experience. First, the Enduro Pro is a good value because they come with Specialized SWAT bib liners, the shorts and liners can be worn separately, of course. That said, the outer shorts are designed to work in combination with the bibs which have a quality Body Geometry Chamois and feature SWAT storage pockets to comfortably and securely carry your essentials underneath your jersey.

The shorts' two pockets are positioned on top of the thigh, holding items securely in place without conflicting with the pedal stroke. The waistband of the shorts have external adjustment straps that are easy to access on the trail, and the crotch gusset features laser cut holes for ventilation. Our first impression of these shorts wasn't great, with numerous loose thread ends and seemingly poor quality, but that impression quickly changed as we found this to be one of the most comfortable, fully featured, high performance, and pedal friendly shorts in our test.

Read review: Specialized Enduro Pro

Best Bang for the Buck


Fox Racing Ranger Cargo


Best Buy Award

$41.40
(48% off)
at Amazon
See It

73
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort - 20% 7
  • Fit and Pedal Friendliness - 20% 7
  • Features - 20% 7
  • Durability - 20% 8
  • Style - 10% 8
  • Protection - 10% 7
Included chamois liner: Fox EVO liner | Inseam Length: 12 inches
Good value
Secure adjustable closure
Chamois liner included
Casual style
No ventilation
No zipper fly

The recently redesigned Fox Ranger Cargo shorts are the new winner of our Best Buy Award. This versatile and comfortable short comes with a chamois liner included at a very reasonable price. Not only are they are a great deal, but these shorts have a simple and casual style both on and off the bike, with a comfortable loose, but not overly baggy, fit. They have 4 functional pockets that all work well when pedaling, and an articulated waistband for comfortable pedaling while seated. The waist closure consists of an adjustable metal hook and webbing system that pulls tension evenly around the waist for a comfortable and secure fit. They also come with a chamois liner, it's far from the best but it's way better than none at all, adding to this shorts' list of features and impressive value.

There was little we didn't like about the Ranger Cargo, but we found the medium weight fabric and lack of ventilation to be on the warmer side compared to some of the other shorts in our test. While we liked the innovative adjustable waist closure, we didn't like the fact that Fox didn't include a zippered fly on the Ranger Cargo. Other than that, we found these shorts to be comfortable, perform well, and look good doing it, especially for the price.

Read review: Fox Ranger Cargo

Top Pick for Casual Style Award


Dakine Syncline


Top Pick Award

$55.58
(38% off)
at Amazon
See It

74
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort - 20% 8
  • Fit and Pedal Friendliness - 20% 8
  • Features - 20% 6
  • Durability - 20% 7
  • Style - 10% 9
  • Protection - 10% 7
Included chamois liner: No | Inseam Length: 14 inches
Comfortable
Casual style
Well ventilated
Versatile
Relatively basic
Pockets aren't super functional while riding

If you want a technical pair of riding shorts but don't want to look like you're wearing mountain bike shorts, then look no further than the Dakine Syncline. With a casual look, medium length inseam, moderate bagginess, and agreeable solid color options, no one will ever know you're wearing mountain bike shorts. These shorts are equally suited to running errands around town or grabbing some post-ride refreshments as they are to riding your mountain bike all day long. The fit of the Syncline shorts makes them some of the most versatile in our test; pedal friendly and comfortable enough for masochistic adventure rides, but right at home running some shuttle laps after work.

Made from a lightweight 4-way stretch fabric, the Syncline shorts have excellent ventilation in the form of hundreds of laser cut holes in the crotch gusset and on the lower back below the waistband. Our only gripes with these shorts are that the design of the pockets could be improved for better comfort when pedaling, and the waist adjustments could be slightly more user-friendly. Overall, we were impressed with the performance and style of the Syncline shorts, the winner of our Top Pick for Casual Style Award.

Read review: Dakine Syncline

Top Pick for Bike Park and Shuttle Laps


Troy Lee Ruckus


Troy Lee Ruckus
Top Pick Award

$87.75
(35% off)
at Competitive Cyclist
See It

70
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort - 20% 6
  • Fit and Pedal Friendliness - 20% 6
  • Features - 20% 7
  • Durability - 20% 9
  • Style - 10% 6
  • Protection - 10% 8
Included chamois liner: AIR Mesh Liner, Premium TLD Pad | Inseam Length: 13.5 inches
Durable
Good coverage
Compatible with knee pads
Expensive
Heavy
Poor ventilation

The Troy Lee Ruckus is a beefy short that was designed for those who concern themselves with the descent more than the climb. They are burly and well built with excellent leg coverage for protection from abrasion. These qualities along with solid scores across our rating criteria make the Ruckus short the winner of our Top Pick Award for bike park and shuttle use.

The fabric is heavy duty compared to shorts like the 100% Airmatic, and as a result, does not offer the same level of pedal friendliness. These shorts are better suited to shuttle or chairlift assisted riding where the thicker material, longer inseam, and compatibility with knee pads are more appreciated.

Read review: Troy Lee Ruckus

Best Padded Liner or Chamois


Pearl Izumi 1:1 Liner


1:1 Liner
Editors' Choice Award

$49.00
(30% off)
at Competitive Cyclist
See It

Comfortable
Seamless chamois pad
Stash pockets
More expensive

The Pearl Izumi 1:1 Liner was the favorite of several chamois liner shorts we tested. Pearl Izumi's decades of experience is evident in this well made, designed, and extremely comfortable padded liner short. This $70 liner is made specifically to be worn under a pair of baggy mountain bike shorts and is constructed of a breathable and quick-drying stretch mesh with well-placed seams that don't chafe while riding. The 1:1 Liner short incorporates Pearl Izumi's Elite 1:1 Chamois which is a seamless pad that is extremely comfortable for any length ride. The elastic waist is contoured ergonomically for comfort while riding, lower in the front and higher in the back, to reduce pressure on your abdomen. There are no silicone leg grippers on the leg openings; instead, they have doubled over a wide portion of the mesh, and in that area, there are two small stash pockets, one on each side of the outside of the lower thigh to hold small items like a packet of energy gel.

We tested the Pearl Izumi 1:1 Liner side by side with the Fox Racing Evolution Comp liner and it was a pretty close battle between the two. At $54 the Fox Evolution liner is a good value and is also a very comfortable liner chamois. The Evolution liner is also made of a breathable stretch mesh, with a wide band of silicone grip around the leg opening to keep them in place. Testers found the chamois pad to feel slightly thinner and softer than that of the 1:1 liner, and was therefore not as comfortable overall for long days in the saddle. The waistband was also somewhat prone to creeping down during a ride and would occasionally require some adjustment. That said, we're kind of splitting hairs here because the Fox Evolution is definitely a comfortable liner at a good price.

The Specialized Enduro Pro shorts come with the Specialized SWAT bibs included, a great liner option for those who like the comfort of bibs. SWAT refers to "Storage, Water, Air, Tools", and in the case of the bibs refers to three pockets integrated into the lower back that provides additional storage, similar to the pockets found on a road cycling jersey. Testers found they loved this storage for shorter rides, as they could carry most things they needed securely and comfortably on their backs without the need for a fanny pack or hydration pack. If you scoff at the idea of paying $70 or $54 for a chamois liner, even an $11 liner like the Baleaf is better than nothing. The Baleaf liner lacked the quality construction and design of the more expensive models we tested, but they do their job admirably considering the price. If you're on a tight budget but still want to be comfortable on the trail, we suggest checking them out.


Analysis and Test Results


Our team of mountain bike shorts testers put every pair of shorts in our test selection through the wringer, riding in each pair for countless hours and hundreds of miles. Through it all, we scrutinized every aspect of their performance and analyzed how the design, materials, fit, and features all play into their comfort and performance out on the trail. We rated each pair of shorts on several predetermined metrics: Style, Features, Durability, Protection, Fit and Pedal Friendliness, and Comfort. Each rating is described in greater detail below. We tallied the scores from all of our rating metrics to determine our Top Pick and Overall Award winners. The results of this testing is the most comprehensive comparative mountain bike shorts review you can find, and we hope the information presented here helps you find the best pair of shorts for your riding needs, preferences, style, and budget.

Value


While value wasn't one of the 6 metrics we used to rate these shorts, it's an important consideration and one that's likely to be important to many buyers. You'll pay anywhere from $75 to $150+ for one of these pairs of shorts. Every year the award winners change in this fast moving category. That means that while we only have one Best Buy award, there are many other great value's to choose from that may have been the Best Buy last year.


Style


As much as we don't like to admit it, style matters! If all mountain bikers were concerned with was performance, we'd probably all still be suiting up in lycra like our roadie, cyclocross, and XC racer compatriates. Loose fitting baggy shorts tend to generate more wind drag than lycra, and in a discipline like enduro or downhill racing, which are often decided by seconds or fractions of a second, it would make more sense to wear the tight fitting kit. We mountain bikers tend to be a stylish bunch, however, and it's pretty rare to see an enduro or downhill reader clad in lycra. A typical mountain bike kit consists of baggy shorts over a padded liner, and a looser fitting shirt. Of course, there are a number of different styles, colors, themes, and looks, that permeate this basic generalization of dress. Of all the criteria that contribute to the overall score of the shorts in our test selection, style is the most subjective and therefore is weighted at a lower percentage than the other metrics.


During the testing process, we sought input from friends and other riders out on the trail, taking note of compliments or in some cases lack thereof. We wore them out to the bar for post ride beverages, or to the grocery and around town doing errands after a ride. In the end, the highest scoring shorts were the Dakine Syncline which have the most casual look of the bunch. The look of these shorts hides the fact that they are a technical mountain bike short, but they certainly are. The Fox Sergeant shorts also scored highly in this metric due to the fact that they look and feel like a regular pair of cargo shorts. Despite being made of technical fabric, the Patagonia Dirt Roamer also has a decidedly casual look with subtle styling that hides their true identity.

The Specialized Enduro Pro also scored well for its more subdued looks and ability to blend in when not on the bike.
A clean and casual style and length that sits right at the top of the knee off the bike.
A clean and casual style and length that sits right at the top of the knee off the bike.
Like the Kitsbow Ventilated V2, they have a decidedly tailored fit and casual style that belies their on-the-bike performance. Both sit a bit higher above the knee and seem to be well liked by some of our, ahem, middle-aged testers. We realize that this is a subjective assessment, but we sought for consensus amongst our testers to make sure you look good out there. After all, if you're going to spend hard earned cash on a pair of shorts, they ought to look good.

The bright colors of the 100% Airmatic shorts have a moto-inspired look.
The bright colors of the 100% Airmatic shorts have a moto-inspired look.

There are several pairs of shorts in this review that look very much like mountain biking shorts. The Troy Lee Ruckus, Pearl Izumi Elevate, Zoic Ether, and the 100% Airmatic all have a more moto-inspired appearance, looser fit, and brighter colors when compared to the shorts mentioned above.

Features


Functional features like ventilation, pockets, waist adjustment, and the short's waist closure system can and do impact the user's experience when wearing (and especially riding in) a pair of mountain bike shorts. Our overall score for each short is a measure of how useful the included features are and whether they enhance the functionality of the short. Some manufacturers seem to put a minimal amount of thought into the layout and ease of use of features like pockets and waist adjustment, which often seem to be added to check a box on their specification list. The Specialized Enduro Pro scored highest for their combination of thoughtful, useful, and well-executed features. We used and abused these shorts during testing, and after hundreds of hours of use, we can tell you what works and what doesn't.


Pockets are without a doubt an advantageous feature on mountain bike shorts. The days of every rider carrying a hydration pack are long gone. Many of us prefer to roll with a minimal amount of tools and gear to avoid wearing a pack. This change in dynamics makes pockets ever more critical for many riders while others would prefer to have none. During testing, we assessed the pockets for their ability to carry tools, food, and smartphones. We evaluated the pockets for ease of accessibility, placement, and ease of access while riding. We also wore these shorts around town with wallets and other essentials to assess the versatility of the pocket system.

The Zoic Ether has the most pockets of any short we tested and gets a nod of approval from our testers for the smartphone pocket on the right thigh that features a headphone port. In sharp contrast to the six pockets found on the Ether, the Kitsbow Ventilated V2 has only two pockets, one on each side in the hip area. The pockets are not large, but their layout makes them unique. Rather than a standard front hip pocket like you find on a pair of jeans, these pockets have a vertical opening, and the pocket itself angles towards the rear of the short. The design makes the pockets accessible while riding for easy access to food or your phone. The Specialized Enduro Pro also scored highly for their well designed and placed thigh pockets, but also for the SWAT bib liner shorts that are included and negate the need to wear a fanny pack or backpack on shorter length rides.

The back panel of the SWAT bibs has 3 pockets big enough to hold a water bottle and everything else you might bring with you on shorter length rides.
The back panel of the SWAT bibs has 3 pockets big enough to hold a water bottle and everything else you might bring with you on shorter length rides.

Every short we tested has an adjustable waist mechanism which provides an additional 2" or so of adjustment. An adjustable waist is an important feature which allows the rider to tighten the waist for a perfect fit. If you happened to gain a little weight in the off-season or drop a few pounds during the riding season, no worries, a quick adjustment will get you back in your favorite short. The design and execution of the adjustment mechanism varies between manufacturers. Two of our favorite designs are the slip hook system and the external Velcro band design.

The most critical element of either system is the placement. Some of the shorts we tested have an internal Velcro waist adjustment; this design has a cleaner look but is more difficult to adjust, requiring you to unbutton the shorts to make changes. External waist adjustments are much more convenient and make mid-ride adjustments more manageable. The 100% Airmatic and the Specialized Enduro Pro both feature a user-friendly Velcro based adjustment system on the outside hip area of the shorts. The Kitsbow Ventilated V2 is another of our favorites with a slick alloy slip hook that slots into a webbing loop and offers 3 inches of adjustment. Both systems are easy to manipulate given their external position on the waistband of the shorts, but Velcro lacks the long-term durability of a slip hook system.

The unique alloy slip hook and webbing band on the Ventilated V2 offer up three inches of waist adjustment.
The unique alloy slip hook and webbing band on the Ventilated V2 offer up three inches of waist adjustment.

Every pair of shorts needs some form of closure at the fly. All of the shorts we tested use some combination of zippers, buttons, and snaps to get the job done. Once again, the Kitsbow Ventilated V2 outdoes the competition with a slick low-profile fly and offset slip hook system. It is robust and designed to outlast the short themselves. Another unique system is the Opposet button on the Patagonia Dirt Roamer shorts. This system has a button at the top of the fly with a thin piece of webbing that runs through it which can be used to securely adjust the tension of the waistband.

The double snap closure on the Airmatic is a nice feature.
The double snap closure on the Airmatic is a nice feature.

Durability


How durable are these shorts? We wanted to know, so we didn't hold back during testing. If you're shell out roughly $100 or more for a pair of mountain bike shorts, you want to be sure that you'll get at least a season of hard riding out of them, hopefully more. Beyond the demands of daily abuse on the bike, we also machine washed and dried the shorts after every use to see how they hold up to real world laundering.

Manufacturers are often attempting to straddle a line between durability and comfort. It's easy to make a durable short, and relatively easy to make a well-ventilated comfortable short, striking a balance between the two is a challenge. The most durable shorts we tested are not the most comfortable and certainly not the shorts we'd choose for a 30-mile ride involving loads of pedaling.


As a general rule, we found that shorts with thicker and more abrasion resistant fabric tend to shrug off crashes and random encounters with trailside hazards better than shorts made from lighter weight fabrics. The Troy Lee Ruckus is the highest scoring short in our durability test. This model has the thickest and most abrasion-resistant fabric of any short we tested, and the overall construction of the short is top notch, with well-placed seams and double stitching in high-stress areas. The Ruckus is the winner of our Top Pick award for Downhill and Bike Park Use, and its exceptional durability is a primary reason it received the award. The Pearl Izumi Elevate follows close behind, and was another favorite amongst our testers for park riding and shuttle runs, due to its tough fabric and great leg coverage.

The Troy Lee Ruckus feature thick rip-stop fabric and are one of the most durable shorts we tested.
The Troy Lee Ruckus feature thick rip-stop fabric and are one of the most durable shorts we tested.

Protection


As a general rule, mountain bike shorts can only provide so much protection to the rider. Therefore, the protection category is weighted less than other metrics, only 10%, because the differences in the protection provided by the highest scoring and lowest scoring shorts are fairly minimal. If you crash, shorts can help to prevent or limit abrasion, but beyond that, they don't offer much more protection than spandex. Thicker fabrics can also help to ward off the effects of random encounters with brush and branches on the edge of the trail. We primarily considered two factors when scoring the shorts on protection, the ability of the short's fabric to protect from abrasion and the overall coverage (the length of the shorts). Not surprisingly, the shorts that received higher scores for durability also score well for rider protection. Shorts with a longer inseam provide more coverage of the leg and typically mesh better with knee pads, so the length of the short is an important factor when scoring the shorts for protection.


The highest scoring shorts are the Pearl Izumi Elevateand the Troy Lee Ruckus, with a combination of durable fabric, and longer inseams providing the best leg coverage of the shorts in our test. Both the Elevate shorts and the Ruckus are excellent when paired with knee pads due to large leg openings that can accommodate all styles of knee pads. We managed to crash in the Elevate shorts more than once during testing, giving us an appreciation for the durable fabric and exceptional coverage. The Troy Lee Ruckus also receives high marks from our testers due to the heavy duty ripstop fabric and a nice long inseam for good leg coverage.

The Enduro Pro shorts rise above the knee when seated and pedaling and don't offer the best leg coverage  a trade-off for their pedaling comfort and efficiency.
The Enduro Pro shorts rise above the knee when seated and pedaling and don't offer the best leg coverage, a trade-off for their pedaling comfort and efficiency.

Striking a balance between ventilation and protection isn't easy, and your shorts should be tailored to your priorities. Some prefer a warmer short that does not pedal as well but offers excellent protection, while some riders are willing to roll the dice a bit on a thinner more ventilated short that does not provide as much coverage or protection. For more help prioritizing these features, see our Buying Advice Article.

Fit and Pedal Friendliness


Depending on the type of riding you do, the pedal friendliness of a pair of mountain bike shorts may be one of the most important considerations or just an afterthought. XC and trail riders who spend long hours pedaling up steep climbs will typically appreciate shorts with a more performance oriented fit and materials that have virtually no resistance while pedaling. Gravity oriented riders, on the other hand, are more likely to be concerned with a short's durability, leg coverage, and compatibility with knee pads than how well they work for pedaling.

Even shorts with perfect fit can still cause agony over a long ride. On rides over three hours, we use Chamois Butt'r or other creams.

We assessed the cut and shaping of the fabric as well as the stretch of the fabric for its ability to move fluidly with the pedal stroke. The highest scoring shorts we tested were almost unnoticeable when in use, providing a smooth pedal stroke with no resistance coming from the fabric of the short, while lower scoring shorts tend to inhibit the pedal stroke due to poor fit, stiffer materials, or lack of an appropriately articulated cut.


The Patagonia Dirt Roamer short is the closest you are going to get to the pedaling comfort of riding in spandex when it comes to baggy shorts, earning them a high score from our testers. The articulated cut is superb, and the 4-way stretch fabric eliminates any unwanted resistance to the pedal stroke, while the cut and shaping of the fabric is designed to provide a perfect fit when seated in the pedaling position, allowing for an unrestricted pedal stroke. Even the design of the leg openings is intended to provide a smooth pedal stroke, with a contoured cut that is slightly shorter in the rear to prevent the short from chafing the back of the knee. You won't be distracted by the sound of fabric flapping in the wind with the almost perfect amount of room in the legs and seat of the shorts. Simply put, the Patagonia Dirt Roamer short is pedaling perfection. Testers feel the same way about the Kitsbow Ventilated V2 for virtually all the same reasons.

Our Editor's Choice Award winner  the Kitsbow Ventilated V2 shorts are made from comfortable materials with a pedal friendly design.
Our Editor's Choice Award winner, the Kitsbow Ventilated V2 shorts are made from comfortable materials with a pedal friendly design.

Also near the top of the rankings, you will find the 100% Airmatic. The cut of the short is a bit looser, and indeed less articulated, than the Kitsbow Ventilated V2 or Patagonia Dirt Roamer, but these shorts are close to perfect when it comes to fit and pedaling efficiency. They were frequently chosen by our testers for long alpine days with lots of pedaling. Any resistance to the pedal stroke is minimal, due to the soft 4-way stretch fabric. The increased room and additional inseam length of the Airmatic make them better suited to use with knee pads than the Kitsbow Ventilated V2, so they were our go-to when we knew we would be putting on pads at any point during the ride. Another feather in the cap of the Airmatic is the included chamois liner which is incredibly comfortable. The padding is minimal, but the fit is perfect, and as a bonus, it's comfortable to hike in.

Comfort


Comfort is, hand down, one of the most important attributes of any pair of mountain bike shorts. Who cares how good they look or how many features they have if you're not comfortable while you're riding. Our comfort scores are based on our tester's perceptions of the shorts while riding, honing in on factors such as ventilation, fabric feel, and comfort of the chamois liner when applicable. We used a variety of liners with the shorts that didn't include a chamois liner, like the Pearl Izumi 1:1 Liner, the Fox Evolution Liner, the Specialized SWAT Bib, and the Baleaf liner short.


We have several pairs of shorts that rate very highly in the comfort metric, including the Patagonia Dirt Roamer, our Top Pick for Comfort Award winner. They have an exceptional tailored performance fit and are made from a 4-way stretch fabric with sonic welded seams. The fabric is lightweight and feels soft against the skin, and is breathable and quick-drying fabric to keep you cool despite the lack of ventilation. These shorts are so comfortable and lightweight that you almost forget that you're wearing them, that's about as good as it gets.

The Airmatics are the most comfortable shorts we have ever worn. An amazing chamois liner and the superbly designed shorts are a combo that can not be beaten.
The Airmatics are the most comfortable shorts we have ever worn. An amazing chamois liner and the superbly designed shorts are a combo that can not be beaten.

The Kitsbow Ventilated V2 is also scored highly in this rating metric. The fabric feels good on the skin and doesn't absorb sweat, so the shorts always feel dry even when sweating like a pig on a long climb. The articulated cut makes for exceptional comfort when seated in the saddle, but makes them a bit less comfortable than the Airmatic when you are off the bike. Ventilation is handled by stretch mesh panels in strategic areas, but our testers found the shorts to be a bit warmer than the Dakine Syncline or the Zoic Ether. The Ether short has multiple mesh panels for ventilation and a much baggier fit than the Kitsbow Ventilated V2, which our testers felt made for a cooler ride. Despite its excellent ventilation, the Ether does not score as highly as the Airmatic due to its lower quality fabric that does not feel as good on the skin and a stiffer, less comfortable chamois liner.

The Airmatics thrive in almost any environment.
The Airmatics thrive in almost any environment.

Conclusion


With so many options on the market, it can be a challenge to find the mountain bike shorts that are right for you. Our team of testers spent months riding in these shorts on a range of trail types and varying weather conditions while scrutinizing the performance of each model. We hope that our detailed comparative analysis helps you select the pair that is best suited to your riding style, preferences, needs, and budget.


Jeremy Benson