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Finding the best, most comfortable, a pair of cycling shorts is critical to your bicycling hobby.
Let me guide you to the correct pair.
Here’s the thing, bicycles do not have comfortable bike seats, and our rear ends are not used to sitting on them.
Sure, you can purchase a bike seat with more padding, but, you are still likely going to need a top-notch pair of shorts if you plan on riding for any length of time.
Padded bike shorts have the added advantage of fitting close to your butt, so they move like a second skin.
This snug fit lets them move with your body as you pedal and prevents chafing.
It also holds the padding tightly on the pressure points where you need it most, cushioning and protecting your bottom.
Frankly, I don’t know that I could talk myself into riding my bike for any length of distance if I didn’t have a good pair of cycling britches.
There are a lot of different options available on the market. Unfortunately, a lot of these are cheap Chinese imports that don’t hold up well and may cause more chafing.
To avoid getting a poorly performing pair, I recommend sticking with name brands. There are too many cheap Chinese-made shorts flooding the market with their poor sizing and non-existent customer service.
It can create a frustrating experience — especially for new riders.
To make sure you get the best short on your first try, I have compiled the top 5 cycling shorts for both men and women.
There is a slight difference between men’s and women’s shorts.
Women’s do tend to have a broader pad accommodate the different pelvis shape.
Women also tend to have better design options to choose from.
Otherwise, they are interchangeable, and I’ve purchased women’s versions before, for my personal use, whenever I found them at a screamingly good deal. They worked fine.
For this article, we review both shorts and bibs. (I explain more about their differences at the end of the article)
Just click on the correct link below to go to your section:
The Best Cycling Shorts For Men
#1 – Best Value: Pearl Izumi Attack
This is their mid-level option.
This model is only one step above the entry-level model.
So why am I ranking it so highly?
Very few of us are going to put many miles into our britches. We need something that can handle those nightly rides of 30 miles or less.
Most of my readers never go over 100 miles per week.
Granted, the PRO line’s are more comfortable. They are more breathable and have better padding.
But for my average rider, the high-end prices are just discouraging.
These are not those super-cheap ones that you buy on clearance and begin hating the first time you ride them.
If you are riding 100 miles or less a week, this is all you will ever need. I mean, sure, the PRO line shorts are more comfortable.
But our average rider doesn’t want to drop 0+ on an article of clothing.
Because these are the mid-range model, you get a better-crafted pad compared to the one that comes with the entry-level, with significantly denser foam that rides close to the body and gives you the protection and comfort you need. While not as form-fitting as the higher-level options, it does a good job moving with your body and preventing chafing.
While not as form-fitting as the higher-level options, it does a good job moving with your body and preventing chafing.
I’ve ridden a couple of centuries (100-mile rides) in this one when I was first getting started. And they do a great job until about the 70-mile point. The last 30 miles I find myself adjusting them some and wishing for something more comfortable.
But on road rides under 60 miles — or mountain bike rides under 4 hours — they are all I ever need.
These offer so much value, and, based on my personal experience in putting them through their paces, I feel these deserve the top spot.
#2 – Best Bibs: Pearl iZUMi Men’s Elite Escapes Bib
You guys have got to forgive me. Because I just jumped pass a ton of excellent options and went straight to my #1 favorite pair: The Elite Escapes
Guys, these shorts are so comfortable that I just want to wear them around the house.
In fact, I think I’ll put them on before I finish writing this review. Hang on…
Ok, I’m back. Gosh, these feel good.
For one, they are super breathable. On hot days these are the ones I reach for. My legs can breathe so well, and the even the crotch doesn’t seem too hot. It’s weird, but I feel so much cooler in these that I think it helps me ride faster.
I’ve always been one who struggles with overheating, and I never imagined a pair of shorts could make that much of a difference. But these do.
They are so breathable; you feel naked wearing them.
But they aren’t see-through, so enjoy the breeze.
And I haven’t even discussed the pad, yet.
This foam on this pad is denser, so it provides more support without as much bulk. I did a century last year when I was woefully unprepared. And while my legs hurt like heck, my crotch was just fine.
And that’s a rarity.
These do a lot to provide the comfort where you need it while also moving with your body to prevent chafing.
My favorite part is that I’m not always readjusting my junk or my position on the bicycle trying to find a comfortable spot for everything.
These guys stay comfortable from start to finish. (And that also goes for when I was at my heaviest of 210 pounds)
And, if comfort isn’t enough reason to choose these, well, you also have durability. I’ve put about a thousand miles on my current pair, and I haven’t seen a single thread come loose.
Finally, the fact that these are available in a bib model seals the deal. For most people under 6′ 2″, the bibs are the way to go (too tall, and it can create unnatural pressure on your shoulders).
The difference between a pair of Attacks and these Elite Escapes is night and day. And these are worth the money to upgrade.
A better option? Yes, in every way.
#3 – Second Best: Gore Men’s C3
I have a pair of these Gore bibs that I wear all the stinking time. I love how breezy they are, and they are some of the most comfortable pairs I’ve worn. Right up there with the more expensive Elite Escapes Bib.
The reason I rank them below the Elite Escapes and the Attacks is that I have seen some of these have problems with ripping out on the users. Not cool. Mine have never had a problem, and I think they have mostly fixed it. But they’ve had some bad batches in their time.
Also, this pad is not as spectacular as the pads on the other shorts. It is plenty enough padding to get the job done — even on a century ride –, but it doesn’t blow me away as the Inrcool pad does. Sometimes they get bunched up in odd spots.
However, we’re looking at a Bib short that is at least as comfortable as the other options, and for only a few dollars more. It is a no-brainer to go for these.
I don’t know what more I can say, but if you have the extra money to get these, do. They are worth every penny, and you will be a raving fan. Just read the reviews online (Oh, and my pair has close to 1,000 miles in them, despite their thinness…)
#4 – Best For Beginners: Pearl Izumi Quest
It doesn’t get much more basic than the Quest. You get the durability of much higher-quality options, ensuring that these will last as long as your cycling career. And while the pad is nothing to write home about, you could get through your first century on them.
It uses an open-cell foam pad that is a lot softer than the Attacks use. So, over the course of a ride, it tends to absorb more sweat and become less protective as the ride progresses.
That said, for those of you grabbing an hour-long spin class, or hitting up the Saturday-morning pedal mania, these will work quite nicely.
I realize that new riders are hesitant to spend a lot on this sport until they know whether they are going to enjoy it. However, I have yet to find a more affordable pair that can either last as long as these or provide the same level of protection and padding.
So for the best, cheapest bike shorts that won’t leave you raw, grab a pair of these Quests.
#5 – Best Value Urban Commuting Shorts: Zoic Men’s
Looking for a comfy pair to pedal around town in? Now, you can always pull a pair of cargo pants on over your regular, padded riding gear. I’ve done that many times myself, and it gives you modest enough that you aren’t making everyone in the coffee shop feel uncomfortable, while still allowing you the padded protection offered by normal cycling gear.
The Zoic is a two-in-one. You get a snazzy, black outer privacy short with specially designed pockets that work well for holding your keys, wallet and cell phone — even when pedaling.
But, what no one sees is the comfy, padded liner that protects your butt while you cruise around town. The inner padding can be removed for washing — or so you can wear these cool shorts without the padding.
Unlike the more seriously padded options that we have already discussed, these are not going to offer the same all-day protection, but then, they are also more comfortable when walking around town.
It’s the perfect balance between riding and living.
The Best Cycling Shorts For Women
#1 The Best Ladies’ Option On The Market – The Pearl Izumi Elite
Ok, so I’m not going to beat around the bush. You ladies’ want comfort. After all, if you are going to put something on your butt that is going to make it look bigger than it already is, then it had better do its job.
The Elite is everything you could want for comfort. To begin with, you get the top-notch pad, with the dense foam that can provide cushy comfort no matter how far you pedal.
Then you have the special, anatomically-fit panels that are cut and sewn together to support specific muscle groups. This helps with blood flow and helps your legs work more efficiently. It’s pretty incredible.
If that is not enough, these are created to be cooler than any other option on the market. With their special reflective coating and wicking technology, these are designed to help cool the surface temperature by up to 35 degrees.
This helps the body cool more efficiently, and allows you body to use less blood to help cool, and more blood to help with stuff like pedaling faster.
Bottom line, if you want a pair that helps you ride better, these are the ones to get.
#2 – Pearl Izumi Symphony Short
These are pretty much the same as the Elite reviewed above. The same cooling fabric and 3D foam that makes the Elite’s so awesome are included in these.
What makes the Symphony neat is their 6″ inseam (compared to the 8″ inseam on the Elites). This keeps your riding tan lines from clashing with the tan lines from your other clothing.
Plus, they have a couple of cool colors to choose from.
Am I cheating by including the same pair on my top-5 list? Nah. They are truly that awesome.
#3 – Pearl Izumi Sugar Short
I love the Sugar short. It was initially invented to fill the niche market of spin class-goers. For those fat-burners who wanted a more padding with a sleek style, this is one of the best to consider.
However, it quickly grabbed market share on the open road. The 3D padding is often only found in better-quality britches and has quickly collected a huge fan following.
The Sugar Escape is the latest version of that popular model. They offer a shorter leg length to help you protect those tan lines for when visiting the beach later in the week.
On top of that, the Sugars come in a large selection of styles.
So, whether you want to get a pair for spin class, or ride your first century, these are an excellent choice.
The best part? You will always have multiple style options to choose from.
#4 – The Pearl Izumi Skort
Modeled after the popular tennis and running short/skirt combos, these “skorts” are a fun option for ladies who want the comfort of padding and better coverage to prevent flashing hiney at all passersby.
Skorts add a huge amount of comfort and style to cycling. It’s a pity more people don’t go for them.
And this is the brand which is one of my absolute favorites. I love their stuff so much that I just wear it even when I’m not working out. It’s that stylish. With this skort, you are not only getting the best in cycling fashion, but you are also getting the comfort of a padded liner.
While the padding isn’t the same quality as the Sugar short, it is a high-enough quality option that you will have no problem doing 50+ miles on them.
Great for riding around town, or all-day pedaling. No matter how far you pedal, you will have plenty of styles.
#5 – The Pearl Izumi Women’s Canyon Short
For those of you who want a looser option that still offers great padding, the Canyon is a great one to go with.
I like how well they are shaped with a loose fit so that you don’t feel like you are flashing everybody as you pedal. At the same time, they are extraordinarily free and make for comfortable walking (or riding). You can hop off the bike and peruse the local farmers market or thrift shop and no one will have any idea that you are wearing riding gear.
What sets these apart from many other urban and mountain biking options is that they have the 3d chamois padding that protects your rear-end and gives you the comfort you need.
Go for a morning ride. Stop by the coffee shop and grocery store. And arrive home feeling refreshed and ready to attack the rest of your day.
Cycling Bibs Vs. Regular Shorts
This is an age-old debate if ever there was one.
I never really saw the advantage of the bib until I tried them out for one ride. And I was immediately hooked.
The thing with bibs is that they keep them firmly in place so that they don’t slide or chafe.
However, for me, the biggest performance advantage was that they don’t use tight elastic around the waist, so my stomach could breathe better. Now, I’m a skinny guy. So I know that people who have some belly, have got to appreciate this benefit.
Because my stomach was not cramping, I suddenly could ride faster and farther with less discomfort and greater effort.
The downside is that bibs cost more. So if you need to start with regular shorts for money reasons, go right ahead. Millions of cyclists never even try bibs. But once you do, you are going to be impressed.
What is Chamois? (Pronounced SHAM-ee) Chamois used to be made from leather and were an extra layer of protection between the cyclist and the hard saddle. (I still have one pair of leather chamois) They did a lot to protect against chafing and sores. Typically a Chamois cream was applied to decrease further chafing. Today they are made from foam and serve the same purpose. When you spend more on a chamois, they typically offer better padding and better placement of the padding. Cheaper chamois is just one flat foam pad, while the nicer ones are designed to better fit anatomically with varying thicknesses. High-end also tend to have better ventilation. Don’t skip. Super cheap pads tend to have poor seams or fall apart quickly or don’t provide the padding where you need it. The butt is your foundation.
Do I Need Chamois Cream? This is entirely up to you. There are different thicknesses of creams, and most cyclists tend to choose one over another. The lighter chamois creams tend to be nicer during the summer, but during the winter and on sloppy rides, a thicker balm-type cream is a better choice that will last all day. I rarely use any cream except on century rides. However, I know some people use it on every ride. Petroleum-based products are thought to damage your shorts, so you are better off sticking with specially-designed creams.
How Do I Apply It? Hey, this isn’t a stupid question! You can either slather up your body (ahem, “nethers”) and then hop into your shorts, or put it directly on the chamois. I like to apply it to the pad and then rub the pad against itself until it is spread properly. Of course, you’ll probably want a towel to wipe your hands off with, afterward.
How Are The Supposed To Fit? You want biking pants with padding to be snug so that the fabric doesn’t ride up. My goal is to have the legs be tight, but not suffocatingly so, while trying to maximize for girth comfort. I’ve made the mistake of buying ones that are too small, and the result was that I ended up sick during the ride because it squeezed my stomach too much. (This is especially key for those of us who are heavier.) The key thing is to buy the largest you can, without them being loose. (And, yes, they do make your butt look fat.)
Do You Wear Underwear Under Your Shorts?
No. You want them to be tight against your body to solve the chafing issue. However, you can also wear loose shorts OVER your cycling gear if you want added modesty. This is especially useful for urban riding and commuting where you don’t want to embarrass people in your skin-tight wear.
How Often Should You Wash Your Shorts?
I like to wash them daily after every ride. There are so much bacteria that can cause problems. If nothing else, you can rinse them in the sink with some hand soap and then ring them out. I roll them up in a towel and ring them one more time before handing them up to air dry. Don’t put them in a dryer.