There is a learning curve to wearing padded shorts: luckily, it lasts about one decent ride, by which point you’ll never want to get in the saddle without them.
Padding doesn’t need to be solid inches of foam – the very best shorts we tested have very subtle chamois that supports and protects you over long distances.
We have tested some of these shorts on a round-the-world bike ride, in tropical heat and Pacific northwest rainstorms, on 100-mile gravel days, in deserts and on mountain approaches.
But we also tested them on commutes and rides to the shop, looking for shorts that could be comfortable on and off the bike – whether “off” meant a dash into the shop or an alfresco lunch. We tested all these shorts with a hard leather saddle on a road bike, a mountain bike and a hybrid.
We tested three styles of shorts. First up were classic sport shorts, which tended to be fitted with a substantial chamois (pad) and with a length of just above or a few inches above the knee.
These are perfect for road riding on a fast bike, but are just as good on touring or hybrid bikes. Suited for warmer weather, they’re also fine for colder days if you’re working hard.
We also tested mountain bike shorts, which tend to be baggier to suit the riding style and bike geometry of rougher roads and tough bikes. These come as an inner short (the liner) that looks and feels like a classic padded short, and an outer short that looks more like a normal cargo short.
As well as being perfect for gravel and trails, these are a good choice if you recoil a bit at wearing lycra, or you plan to spend a lot of time off the bike.
Finally we tested bib shorts, which are padded shorts with straps that go over your shoulders. Perfect for very long days as well as for racing, they do away with the need for a waistband, which can cut into your abdomen when you’re leaning forwards and riding low.
You wear cycle shorts without underwear: this means washing them regularly and drying them completely before your next ride is essential. If you still experience saddle sores or discomfort, try using chamois cream, which is anti-bacterial and helps reduce chafing.
You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.
Rapha women’s core shorts
Our cycle touring specialist took pairs of these shorts on her around-the-world ride, and – with the exception of winter in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan – she wore them every single day. The fit is perfect, ending low enough down the leg that you can wear them into shops and pubs on your lunch break and high enough on your waist that they stay in place however aggressively you ride.
Perfect temperature control and exceptional padding – the kind you notice on the bike but not off – make these the ideal cycling shorts for rides of any length and condition. As our tester’s world tour demonstrated, both the fabric and the chamois are incredibly durable, surviving 18 months of scrappy washes in streams and public bathrooms and more than 10,000 miles in the saddle.
Patagonia women’s dirt craft MTB shorts
The ultimate mountain biking shorts, these cool, baggy shorts and liner are made for the trail. Built with the dimensions of a mountain bike in mind, they fit comfortably in or out of the saddle, and feel super durable – essential for those moments when “out of the saddle” is not intentional.
The liner is thin but nicely padded, and doesn’t feel too hot, even with the shorts on top. While they are intended for mountain biking, these are also the perfect shorts if you feel self-conscious in lycra: being Patagonia, they’re beautifully designed, so pass as athleisure if your trail ends in town.
Proviz classic women’s shorts
Bright, reflective stripes that light up with the same dazzle as Proviz’s classic jacket make these shorts ideal for early-morning or night-time commuting, or any kind of tour or sportive that will see you on the road after dark.
The cut is sporty, ending about mid-thigh on our tester, but the silicone band at the hem kept them firmly in place. The chamois felt perfect on our test rides, although we wouldn’t expect it to last as long as a pair that costs two to three times as much.
Madison sportive women's shorts
Supremely comfortable, we loved using these roadworthy shorts for mid-length rides where we wanted a blend of comfort and speed. Cut like classic sport shorts, they end higher up the thigh, with grippers to keep the hem in place. The chamois was particularly comfortable, providing padding in all the right places for a longer ride where you might change position over the course of the day. Similarly the deep waist – which doesn’t have grippers, but stayed in place on our rides – is supportive, with plenty of coverage whether you ride upright or low.
Rockrider women’s mountain bike shorts ST 500
Perfect for casual trips, weekend jaunts and sunny summer rides, these baggy shorts fit like running shorts, but hide a sleek and well-fitted under-short with a foam pad. You wouldn’t want to ride very far or hard in them – the foam doesn’t have the breathability, hygiene or durability of expensive chamois – but for day trips where you change out of your kit at the end of the day, or cycling around town in the sunshine, they’re ideal. The zipped pocket at the back is a nice addition, and fits a phone, keys and mask comfortably.
Pinnacle padded cycling shorts
A lower leg and high waist make these a brilliant first pair of padded cycle shorts: the fit is athletic enough for long rides and short races, but not so aggressive you can’t pop into a shop on the way home. The antibacterial chamois was great with our hard saddle, and the fabric felt breathable over long distances and a few decent hills. Our tester has an anarchic pedal stroke from an old injury, that means one leg drifts closer to the saddle after a long day – the flatlock seams on these shorts withstood this with ease.
Rapha core cargo shorts
Ready for anything, these adventure-ready shorts are as at home bikepacking the Pamir Highway as they are your cycle superhighway into work. The compression fit keeps them casual comfy, and the chamois is classic Rapha – to us it felt just slightly thicker than most, so ideal for long days and rough roads.
Quick-drying fabrics – including the pad – make them great for touring, where you need them ready for the morning. But what makes them a real favourite is the capacious mesh side pockets, which freed us from needing to wear a jersey: we’ve managed to stash a phone, drink, and snacks in them without any issues.
Le Col sports shorts
Elegant, stylish, and technically outstanding, these comfortable shorts fit like a glove. We loved the high waist: this meant the shorts felt almost like wearing bib shorts, with just a whisper of a waistline that didn’t cut in or chafe, even on long rides or when we changed position. Ending just above the knee, which is our favourite cut for cycle shorts, they stay in place brilliantly with discreet grippers that felt secure even when we built up a sweat. The pad is excellent, comfortable and quick drying, with support that will last thousands of miles.
Pearl Izumi women's attack bib short
We love everything about these brilliantly designed, comfortable bib shorts – we tested the blue patterned pair, and it quickly became a favourite for when we were bored of basic black. Beautifully cut, they fit snugly and softly, particularly around the seamless straps – which lay flat and didn’t chafe, even on our longest rides.
The pad is large and mostly flat, making it ideal for long days in the saddle, and the design is short but not too aggressive. Best of all, there’s built in stretch for what Pearl Izumi calls “elegant nature break convenience” – in other words, you don’t need to take them off to use the bathroom.
The verdict: Women’s cycling shorts
We’ve stayed loyal to our favourite Rapha shorts because we know they can withstand every condition imaginable. Pearl Izumi’s bib shorts are superb, however, and are coming with us on our next country-spanning ride.
For discounts on cycling equipment and sports accessories, try the links below:
Brave cycling in the unpredictable weather with the best pairs of women’s waterproof trousers
IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.
Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism
By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists
Already have an account? sign in