Learn what to look for when shopping for bike shorts, then follow this guide to choose the perfect pair for you. Here are eight fitness experts love.
What exactly are bike shorts?
Bike shorts might not be anything new in the fitness world, but they’re having a big moment. They first came on the scene in the 1980s, with every aerobic instructor and loyal exerciser wearing them for just about every kind of workout. Well, you know what they say: What’s old is new again. Bike shorts are back in style, with celebrities and influencers setting the trend. But they’re a whole lot different than the 1980s version—more modern finishes and overall features. (Here’s how to bike to burn calories for weight loss.)
Also known as compression shorts, bike shorts are just as described: short, skin-tight bottoms designed for aerobic exercise, particularly cycling. (These are the best workout leggings.)
“Bike shorts are typically made of a material that is relatively form-fitting, and they always have a seat pad called a chamois that helps reduce friction and pressure from the major contact point of the rider’s bottom on the bike seat,” explains Paul Johnson, founder of Complete Tri, a resource for triathletes and cyclists that provides tips about training and gear. “For anyone who is riding more than just a few minutes, bike shorts are a game-changer in comfort and overall cycling performance.”
(Get your exercise in with these workouts for people who hate exercise.)
The benefits of bike shorts
In addition to the seat pad, which reduces friction between your bottom and the bike seat, there are many benefits to wearing bike shorts during your workout. Most bike shorts are designed to be anti-chafing, meaning they won’t rub against your skin and cause irritation.
The third benefit has to do with safety. “Bike shorts are usually form-fitting, or close to it, for good reason,” Johnson says. “Loose clothing on a bike can be dangerous, as it can get caught in the bike’s mechanics, which could lead to a fall or collision.”
(By the way, this is the best time to workout, according to science.)
What to look for in a pair of bike shorts
There are several factors to consider when shopping for a pair of bike shorts.
A quality chamois
Not only should your bike shorts have a chamois, but it should provide adequate padding. “Liners in bike shorts are meant to increase comfort while riding,” explains Stephanie Mansour, a certified personal trainer and host of the PBS show Step It Up with Steph. “These liners allow you to cycle for longer without getting uncomfortable or irritated and also ensure that there aren’t any uncomfortable seams.”
There are also bib shorts: shorts that use suspenders or braces, rather than an elastic band, to prevent chafing.
Breathability and fabric
As with any workout gear, it’s important that the bike shorts you buy are breathable and sweat-wicking—especially if you plan on using them while cycling, says Mansour. It makes for a more enjoyable workout and better prepares you for a workout in hotter temperatures. Opt for synthetic fabrics, such as spandex, nylon, or lycra. Unlike cotton, they quickly absorb sweat and allow it to evaporate, which keeps you dry.
(Looking for a pair of sweat-wicking leggings? Try this pair from 90 Degree by Reflex.)
Comfort is key when it comes to choosing a pair of bike shorts. They should fit tightly, but not so tight that they’re restricting movement, and a wide waistband will be more comfortable.
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Durability is an important factor to consider when you’re purchasing bike shorts. You need to assess your biking routine, including frequency, duration, and how much you sweat. For example, if you’re likely to bike every day for long periods of time, you should invest in shorts that won’t wear easily.
Ask yourself: How’s the seam quality? How much does the fabric stretch? Does it look like it can withstand being washed multiple times a week?
Ideally, you want a pair of bike shorts that will last you for a while and meet your specific biking goals.
(Like indoor cycling? These are the best exercise bikes to buy.)
The best bike shorts for women
Here are some of the best women’s bike shorts on the market today—and what you can expect from each. (Into spin class? These are the best spin shoes for indoor cycling.)
Gayhay Biker Shorts for Women
If you’re an avid cyclist, you’ll love the fact that you get three pairs of bike shorts with one purchase. Each pair of Gayhay bike shorts has a high-waisted design and an elastic waistband that offers a tummy-control effect. It also has a four-way stretch that allows for maximum comfort and support, as well as a quick-drying and moisture-wicking fabric that keeps you cool and dry.
Louis Garneau Women’s Optimum 2 Shorts
You can tell by the 4.5-star review that this pair of bike shorts from Louis Garneau offers something special. “With breathable fabric, built-in pockets, and comfortable padding, these shorts have all the great qualities bike shorts should have,” says Mansour. “I also love the grip around the thighs and snug waistband.” (Find out if you’re working out too much.)
Hanes Women’s Stretch Jersey Bike Short
If you’re looking for a simple pair of bike shorts that you can wear casually in addition to during your workouts, Hanes is great choice. They’re made from a cotton and spandex blend, so they allow you to move comfortably and freely. Reviewers love how these shorts hold you in without constraining your movement, as well as how they maintain their shape even after a few washes.
Terry Bicycles Bella 8.5-in Shorts
One of the most notable qualities of this pair of bike shorts from Terry is its chamois, a four-way stretch pad that offers full freedom of movement while you’re seated. “These shorts are made specifically for women, and you can definitely tell,” says Mansour. “The padding provides extra comfort, and the material is breathable and light.”
(Doing indoor cycling? These are the benefits of cycling shoes.)
Colorfulkoala Women’s High-Waisted Biker Shorts
Crafted from a blend of polyester and spandex, these buttery-soft bike shorts from Colorfulkoala give you the sensation that you’re hardly even wearing bottoms, which can be nice in the midst of an intense workout. They have side pockets for storing personal items, from your keys to your credit card, and a seamless waistband that you’ll hardly even notice.
Just My Size Women’s Plus-Size Stretch Jersey Bike Short
If you’re looking for a plus-size pair of bike shorts, look no further than Just My Size. This brand specializes in clothing that ranges from 1X to 5X in size. These shorts are made from a stretchy, cotton-spandex blend and have a tag-free waist with a narrow elastic band. They don’t feature any pockets or drawstrings to ensure they offer an optimal, flattering fit.
(Looking to disinfect your bike? Here are some eco-friendly cleansers.)
Baleaf Women’s High Waist Biker Shorts
With more than 40 different styles to choose from, it’s almost impossible not to find a pair of Baleaf bike shorts that you like. They’re very high-waisted, providing maximum coverage (no muffin top!). The longer inseam prevents friction between the thighs. Reviewers say these bike shorts are great for pretty much every kind of workout, from cycling to yoga, weightlifting to running.
Shebeest Women’s Petunia Padded Cycling/Biking Bib Short
If you’re an avid bike rider or looking to try a bib short, this halter bib from Shebeest fares well in comfort, protection, breathability, and durability. It’s a tailored fit made up of polyester and spandex, with big-hole mesh. The bib design avoids the chest, which prevents discomfort. A plus: It has a back pocket that can fit your phone.
Next, if your knees feel sore, here’s how to treat indoor cycling knee pain.