Need a fresh pair of MTB shorts for your summer shred sessions? We tested the tried and true against the new and stretchy to help you find your perfect pair. We window shopped, er, researched dozens of the most respected models before buying the best to test side-by-side. Our testers hit the trails hard in these shorts, racking up mileage while comparing key aspects and features of each model. Through our trials, we assessed which shorts fit comfortably, allow for unrestricted pedaling, and also offer sufficient protection. We stuck our hands, phones, and bike tools in the pockets and polled mountain bike enthusiasts on each one's style. To fully grasp their relative breathability, we even headed to spin class. So whether you prefer rolling singletrack, downhill shuttle laps, or all-day enduro-style rides, this review guides you to your ideal pair.
Best Mountain Bike Shorts for Women of 2018
Analysis and Award Winners
As the snow melts, flowers bloom, and the temperatures warm, we're all itching to ride our bikes! We bought five new or updated shorts to ride side-by-side to keep you up-to-date on the latest and greatest women's mountain bike shorts out there. Excellent updates to the Yeti Norrie elevated it from last year's Top Pick for Style, to our Editor's Choice position. Our testers clearly appreciate what Yeti is doing, as another Yeti offering, the Avery, became our Top Pick for Style. The Club Ride Eden shorts are pretty cute too. Read on for details and to find the right pair of shorts for your riding style and budget.
Best Overall Model for Protection
Yeti Cycles Norrie
Our testers immediately grabbed for the brilliant turquoise blue Yeti Norrie shorts, stoked to slide on a pair that looked good and held up through the jump line. The flattering ruching on the leg flared the hemline to accommodate knee-pads, and the internal glide patches kept the shorts from bunching at the waist while pedaling. The ventilation patch on the lower back helped us stay cool. The clever waist adjusters were low-profile and easy to operate. Most of all, however, we loved how comfortable these shorts were to pedal in, all day long. Their burly protection also offers ex
Yeti increased the size of the zippered pocket, which is awesome. Its location on top of the thigh made us scratch our heads, however. It is not a comfortable pocket for carrying a phone or keys (two items that we want in a zippered pocket), so we kept those in our packs. We are keeping our fingers, hoping that Yeti will move this pocket in the next iteration, making the Norrie nearly impossible to beat.
Read review: Yeti Cycles Norrie
Best Value, Style and Comfort
Yeti Cycles Avery
High-fives to the Yeti Avery for making us look good. These shorts, with lightweight fabric, flattering silhouette, and attention to detail, were awarded Top Pick for Style. We appreciated the minimal nature of the Avery, the breathability, and versatility to match different riding styles.
The Avery is a slim fitting short, with tapering legs. We found them to be seamless with kneepads, but there may be a narrow gap while seated for the long-legged riders of the world. It also runs small and has a bit less stretch than most of the shorts we tested, so make sure and size up if you like a little more room when you ride.
Read review: Yeti Cycles Avery
Best Value, Comfort and Fit
Club Ride Apparel Ventura
The Club Ride Apparel Ventura will only set you back $80 and is practical and affordable. The internal button tab waist adjusters were easy to dial in, and the NoCrackBack™ waist kept gaps at bay. Two front side zippered pockets were deep enough to hold keys or an energy bar. Finally, the breathable, and wicking fabric made these shorts a killer choice for everyday trail rides. Still not sold? The Club Ride Apparel Ventura ranks highly in Fit and Comfort, one of the most heavily weighted metrics. And a bonus? These shorts offered a fun, preppy look that worked as well on the bike as it did post-ride. Wearing these shorts is easy; easy like Sunday morning.
Their light, easy-breezy nature doesn't protect as well as some of our other options, however. A kneepad gap also took the shorts down a notch in the style rankings. Otherwise, we find it hard to argue against the Ventura's performance to value ratio.
Read review: Club Ride Apparel Ventura
Analysis and Test Results
We wouldn't show up to shuttle downhill laps with our beach cruiser. Wearing the right bike short is just as important as choosing the best bike for the ride. Do you live in a warmer climate and enjoy rolling singletrack? A more breathable, stretchy short might be the one for you. Maybe you're a gravity-fed adrenaline junky and protection is your highest priority? You might prefer a longer inseam and a more durable fabric.
Regardless of your riding style, we are here to help put you in the right pair of shorts. We hand-selected the top-rated women's bike shorts and put them to the test and in the dirt. Comfort and fit were paramount, but we also valued protection, pockets, and a little bit of feminine flair.
One of the metrics that we don't score for but consider in our reviews is the value of a product. While our goal is to determine the very best products available to you, sometimes the best can also be pricey, which doesn't necessarily work for everyone's budget. Our Editor's Choice winner, the Yeti Norrie, is made of high-quality materials and has a great look, but will cost you $100. If you need a less expensive option, take a look at our Price vs. Performance chart below. We've graphed each model's score (X-axis) according to its price (Y-axis). Those that lie on the bottom of the graph but towards the right have excellent value.
Types of MTB Shorts
Where do you like to ride your bike? On shorter local trails? On epic all-day adventures? Shuttling laps at the bike park? The answers to these questions will dictate which short you choose. From a basic standpoint, you can divide and group mountain bike shorts according to riding style, climate, and terrain preferences. XC, downhill, trail, enduro… the list goes on. We went down this rabbit hole, so you don't have to.
"Mountain biking" describes someone pedaling their bike on a dirt trail. If the terrain isn't technical and has a rolling pitch, its considered cross-country riding. For this you'll want a short that's breathable, lightweight, and stretchy. When a chairlift is involved, or if you're throwing your bike in the back of a truck to ride laps, that's considered downhill mountain biking. You'll want a full-face helmet, a longer pair of thicker shorts, and kneepads. In either situation, there is a specific short for the activity. And don't worry — there's a short for all rides in between, too. We call this gray space trail riding.
Criteria for Evaluation
Fit and Comfort
Bike shorts may take the cake for most challenging wardrobe item to purchase. Making performance, athletic apparel that also needs to match body types and ride styles is a tall order. They might be too big in the waist but too narrow in the hips. Or maybe they gap in the back. We work hard, and we have the legs to prove it! We want shorts that fit and we want to be comfortable, and in this important consideration, we're assessing bike shorts that give women the ability to find a custom and comfortable fit. Fortunately, things are improving for lady mountain bikers, and there are some great options available today. Starting with the waist adjustments, almost all of the shorts provided tabs to cinch the waistband.
The Summit, Eden, and Cadence use internal Velcro tabs, which made mid-ride adjustments challenging. The external Velcro tabs of the Navaeh made mid-ride micro adjustments easier. The Club Ride Apparel Ventura and the Shredly MTB Short, both use internal buttons instead of Velcro, which testers found helpful when adjusting each side equally.
The Yeti Norrie uses clever external webbing cinches that were low profile and effective. The Yeti Avery uses an internal pull-tab system that was easy to use, but harder to adjust mid-ride. By not using velcro tabs, the Norrie, Avery, and Ventura used less fabric at the waist, making for a cooler ride. Velcro also has a bad habit of grabbing everything it can in the wash, so we appreciate that there are choices in this department.
The high back of the Club Ride Ventura helps to eliminate any gap created while seated. We also appreciated the addition of silicon grippers on the waistband of the Yeti Norrie. They provided a no-slip system, so your shorts won't slide down. The contoured waistline of the Shredly MTB Short was quite effective at maintaining coverage of our backsides as well.
Our testers found that the Avery had the slimmest fit. We would recommend sizing up if you have an athletic build. The Summit provided a looser fit through the thigh. Shredly's MTB Short had plenty of room in the leg, with zippered vents on top of the thighs to keep you cool.Only the Zoic Navaeh and Club Ride Eden came with inner padded shorts, so we didn't weigh in on their liners. We suggest purchasing a high-quality liner short that suits your body and riding style, to wear under your mountain bike shorts.
Pedal strokes should be seen and not heard. Noisy fabric will drive you and your riding partners crazy on a long day of pedaling. Extra fabric catching on the saddle on the descent can be dangerous, while material bunching up in your thigh creases when you're grinding uphill can chafe and be a ride-ending experience. We also want our shorts to stay up when we ride! No one wants the dreaded gap in the lower back or worse yet, shorts that slide down our backsides when we are cranking uphill. We are looking for the perfect amount of stretch and a cut that works with us while we ride. This combination allowed us to pedal with ease, both in and out of the saddle.
Our testers agreed that the Shredly MTB Short and Dakine Cadence — with four-way stretch — allowed for the most freedom of movement both in and out of the saddle. The Club Ride Eden's four-way stretch also moves well, but the already short-shorts ride up even further when we pedal, leaving us feeling exposed to the elements. For a one-short quiver, look to the high scoring Yeti Avery, which we all agreed was as comfortable as it gets in and out of the saddle. Just be careful about the fit.
The Yeti Norrie had less give in the material, but the stretch panel in the rear, combined with the slight flare at the knee and internal glide patches, provided ample range of motion. The two-way stretch and gusseted crotch of the Club Ride Ventura also made for a smooth ride. The Pearl Izumi Summit has a roomy fit and two-way stretch that made it comfortable while pedaling, but testers complained of extra fabric catching on their saddles while descending.
The lightweight fabric of the Cadence and Avery make them both excellent choices for hot summer pursuits. The Shredly MTB Short has long zippered thigh vents, as well as lightweight fabric, for those that run very warm.
Mountain biking involves rocks, ruts, and poorly placed trees. Sometimes we zig. Sometimes we zag. Sometimes we crash. Sometimes we get dirty. We want you to have adequate protection for your ride of choice, so we looked at inseam, material, and knee-pad compatibility when comparing the protective qualities of our shorts. We want you to feel confident charging so that your focus is on keeping the rubber side down, not whether your shorts will hold up.
Longer shorts offer more protection from the elements and trail hazards. The 12-inch inseam is common and found on the Yeti Cycles Norrie, Yeti Cycles Avery, and the Pearl Izumi Summit. The Dakine Cadence has the longest inseam at 13-inches. The shortest inseam was the 7-inch Club Ride Apparel Eden. That doesn't sound short, but it feels short.
In addition to inseam, we considered fabric composition. The Dakine Cadence, though long, felt too lightweight to handle a crash. The fabric of the Yeti Norrie is both supple and durable, which is why it is our Editor's Choice.
Finally, our testers took turns wearing kneepads to see how well they fit with each short. The shorts with 12-inch inseams — the Yeti Norrie, the Yeti Avery, and the Pearl Izumi Summit — all shared a seamless overlap in our test, creating a protective system.
Of course, this will depend on your height and inseam. Taller testers may want a longer inseam, to ensure there is not a gap. If you prefer rolling cross-country singletrack over technical downhill terrain and don't plan on wearing knee pads, we would suggest the Club Ride Ventura with an 11-inch inseam, the Shredly MTB Short with a 10.5-inch inseam, or the Zoic Navaeh, whose leg narrows to the knee. For shorter rides that may end at the pub, the Club Ride Eden has less protection but lots of street style.
We love a good pocket. We want to be able to carry our smartphone and pull it out for quick pics at the viewpoint. We want to burn through rock gardens knowing our keys are secure and that our snacks won't become marmot food if we bounce around a bit. Our testers took turns riding with and without backpacks to help determine exactly how functional the pockets were on all shorts. We considered all pockets on the shorts, but because women's bike shorts trend towards a slimmer fit, we focused mostly on pockets that are not on the traditional waistline.
We noticed while pedaling in the Yeti Norrie that if you placed anything more than an ID or credit card in the front pockets, you would feel your energy bar or phone pressing against your thigh during the ride. We preferred fully zippered pockets to those that had a Velcro closure, snap, or none at all. Most of all, we favored the zippered thigh pocket of the Yeti Avery. The pocket angles away from the leg of the rider, allowing the easy access to your phone or lip balm, and allowing for unimpeded pedaling. We appreciated the placement of the side pocket on the Shredly MTB Short but were a little uneasy about the snap, rather than a zipper.
The addition of the fuzzy tech pocket inside the thigh pocket of the Zoic Navaeh was a bonus. The Pearl Izumi Summit had two secure zipping pockets, but their placement in front made them awkward for larger items. The Fox Ripley scored the lowest; it had one pocket in the rear waistband, barely large enough to hold a gel and ID, and not easily accessed when you're wearing a pack. The Dakine Cadence had two open waistline pockets, meaning you have to wear a pack in combination to carry all that you need for a day on the bike.
We don't want you to feel like you're wearing bike shorts cut for a man's body. While we recognize that style is a subjective area, everyone can agree that if you're looking good, then you're feeling great, and, most importantly, you're ready to rip singletrack. We tried and tested ladies mountain bike shorts with styles ranging from feminine to no-frills and everything in between.
Our lady riders all agreed that the high scoring Yeti Avery, with classy graphics and a lightweight, clean silhouette, made for a delightful ride. We all appreciated the attention to details, including flat snaps, and a well-placed zippered pocket.
Another high-scoring short in the style category is our Editor's Choice winner, theYeti Norrie. Testers felt it was a perfect balance of girly and burly with its Yeti blue color, longer inseam, and subtle ruching at the hem. The Club Ride Eden was praised highly for feminine street style, while the Dakine Cadence and Club Ride Ventura were appreciated for transitioning flawlessly to the pub or beach. One pair of shorts that we didn't find as flattering was the Pearl Izumi Summit which was decidedly frumpy in its fit.
We hope we've been able to help you narrow down the bike short that is best for you. Many factors, including climate, weather, and terrain preferences, will play a role in the short you choose. If you're still weighing all the factors and can't quite decide, please head over to the Buying Advice article. There you will find detailed considerations for which shorts to pair with your mountain bike lifestyle.
Still not sure? Take a look at our buying advice article for more info.