recommended by experts

The Best Cycling Shorts for Women, According to Serious Cyclists

Photo-Illustration: The Strategist; Photos: Retailers

Riding a bicycle — whether you’re commuting to work, tackling a long road ride, or on a mountain-bike adventure — is more comfortable in a pair of technical bike shorts. Cycling shorts are lightly compressive, wick sweat, and have inseams between five and 11 inches. Most come with a chamois (pronounced “shammy”) — the ergonomic padding that helps reduce soreness and chafing during long rides. Chamois are also available as separate liners that can be worn under loose shorts for extra protection, and most women-specific cycling shorts have a chamois designed for female anatomy.

Waist shorts and bib shorts are the two main styles of technical cycling shorts. Waist shorts are exactly what they sound like: standard compression shorts held in place with an elastic waistband. Bib shorts are still compressive, but are held up with shoulder straps instead of a waistband … think integrated spandex suspenders. Waist shorts versus bib shorts is personal preference. Some cyclists prefer waist shorts for ease of changing and bathroom breaks, while others prefer the comfort of bibs. Shoulder straps instead of a waistband means less pressure around your stomach, increasing comfort during extended rides.

I have been riding a bike as a commuter, a mountain biker, and a long-distance gravel rider for more than ten years, most recently cycling 1,600 miles along the Great Divide. I know how important a good pair of bike shorts are, and I’ve worn dozens of pairs (including plenty on this list) since I started cycling. I also chatted with female athletes across the cycling spectrum — from Ironman competitors to long-distance bikepackers — to get their picks on the best technical bike shorts.

Best budget-friendly technical bike shorts

BALEAF makes a range of technical outdoor apparel that holds up against more expensive brands, and these shorts are no exception. The gel-padded chamois supplements a moisture-wicking fabric to help riders stay clean and dry on warm-weather rides, and they have the added bonus of a wide, yoga-style waistband that doesn’t pinch or fold down as you ride. I wore these shorts for multiple seasons when I was first getting into cycling, and they continue to be my top recommended pair for riders on a budget.

Most secure bib shorts

Rapha Core Cycling Bib Shorts

Ironman triathlete and former bike mechanic Aubrey Darden is a lifelong bib shorts fan, appreciating the lack of waistband during long days in the saddle. “The Rapha Core Bib Shorts stay in place, are comfortable for long, hot rides, and are really well priced for the quality,” she says. These bibs use a chamois cut specifically for women, and the stretchy, wide shoulder straps keep the shorts in place without putting too much pressure on your shoulders. This is the same chamois Rapha uses in its waist shorts, so if you’d rather not ride in bibs, the waist shorts are also a great option.

Best size range

A well-fitting pair of shorts is important, and with bibs, it can be even harder to get the right fit. Aside from waist and leg openings, bibs have to contend with shoulder strap height and width. These bibs come in sizes from XS to 3XL, and are built for a variety of body types. These are my go-to bibs for in-town rides, ranging from one-hour town loops to full-day endurance fests. They are wicking and breathable, and the seat and legs stay in place incredibly well, helping reduce hot spots and chafing.

Chamois fit is a personal preference, and will feel different to every rider. Personally, these have my all-time favorite padding and reduce friction remarkably well over long rides. I recently wore them during a 65-mile gravel bike race and experienced minimal discomfort even with more movement and faster riding.

Best for multiday rides

These Velocio bibs were my choice for 1,600 miles on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route this summer. They are comfortable for long cycling days and remarkably odor-resistant, which was essential as I was riding multiple days between washes. They dried fast, stayed put during extended days in the saddle, and the women-specific, ergonomic chamois helped reduce saddle sores. These are also cyclist Ally Watson’s go-to shorts. “The women’s line pays attention to real riders and their needs,” says Watson. “From sustainable manufacturing, size inclusivity, and ultra stretchy straps for bathroom breaks, the Velocio bibs have been essential to my cycling kit.”

Best bike-and-town shorts

For women looking for padded bike shorts that aren’t skintight, the Bontrager Kalia is a great option where you won’t look like you just hopped off a bike. These have a seven-inch inseam and a removable chamois under the looser shorts, which means the benefit of padding without tight compression. The chamois is made with the brand’s inForm BioDynamic cut, built to move with you during rides and reduce friction. The waistband is wide and flat, styled more like yoga pants than narrow elastic, and the pockets are handy for keys and a snack. These are my go-to shorts for rides around town where I won’t be home to change before my next activity.

Best chafe reduction


While no bike shorts have the ability to completely eliminate chafing and saddle sores on long rides (all bodies react differently to long days in the saddle), these come pretty darn close. The lighter padding might take some getting used to, but less material can actually help reduce friction — there’s not as much lining to move around — depending on your riding style and body. Outdoor industry professional Julie Bacon wore the Specialized Women’s RBX Shorts for seven weeks straight from Antelope Wells, New Mexico to Jasper, Alberta, on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. “I actually brought two different brands with me, and only ended up rocking the Specialized ones,” Bacon says. “These shorts aren’t overly padded and have a super quality fit, and they really reduced chafing.”

Best mountain-bike shorts

Women-owned and built specifically for female mountain bikers, Wild Rye has an eye-popping array of fun patterns and vivid colors — from floral graphics to llama prints — plus a specialized fit for female athletes, with accommodating leg openings for strong cycling quads and a tapered waist to avoid gapping. “Of all the shorts I’ve tried, Wild Rye’s Freda is my favorite,” says outdoor media rep and mountain biker Stef Walters. “I love the seven-inch length and the fabric is super durable and comfy. Plus you can’t beat the playful prints.” These shorts come in sizes zero to 18 and are a shorter version of the company’s popular, longer 12-inch inseam Freel shorts, perfect for cyclists who want more freedom of movement.

Best everyday bike shorts

These are my go-to shorts when I want a longer inseam. The 11-inch length means there’s absolutely no chance of riding up, and the chamois is comfortable enough that I don’t want to peel it off immediately after finishing riding. These are also higher rise than other shorts on this list, and the chamois feels so unobtrusive I feel fine wearing these under a dress or skirt if I’m biking around town.

The Strategist is designed to surface the most useful, expert recommendations for things to buy across the vast e-commerce landscape. Some of our latest conquests include the best acne treatments, rolling luggage, pillows for side sleepers, natural anxiety remedies, and bath towels. We update links when possible, but note that deals can expire and all prices are subject to change.

The Best Cycling Shorts for Women, According to Cyclists