When it comes to cycling, comfort is key. If you’re not comfortable on the bike, then nothing else matters. You want your bike and your gear to be an extension of you, so that you can focus on the ride, putting down the power, and reveling in the thrill of speed. Just like finding the perfect bike, when it comes to your cycling apparel selection, there’s no item that’s more important to making the most of your cycling experience than your shorts. Remember that your body has three primary contact points with your bike: your hands, feet, and rear end. And because the majority of your body weight will be centered around your seating position, a high-quality, well fitting pair of shorts will be key to how you interact with your bike. This is true for every cyclist, regardless of the gender with which they identify. But we’ve gotten quite a few inquiries from female cyclists about finding the best apparel for their anatomical needs, so here is everything you need to know about shopping for a pair of women’s bike shorts.
Cycling shorts come in myriad sizes, designs, and materials, so it’s worth your time to seek out the best shorts for your riding needs. Remember, everybody has different goals when it comes to cycling, and every body is different. So what works for your riding companion, a pro cyclist, or even someone with a seemingly similar body type as your own, may not necessarily be the best choice for you. Let’s break down the key features you should look for when seeking out that perfect pair of women’s bike shorts.
The defining characteristic of any pair of bike shorts is its chamois. Unlike a pair of leggings or a standard skin-tight pair of workout shorts, bike shorts include a type of padding to help cushion your rear end and make the cycling experience more comfortable. Historically, the term “chamois” refers to a specific type of porous leather that was utilized in bike shorts back in the days of yore. These days, bike shorts feature padding made from closed-cell foam, synthetic fabrics, silicon gels, and/or other modern apparel textiles. But the sport of cycling revels in tradition, so the term “chamois” has stuck, and now it simply refers to the padding inside a pair of bike shorts. As mentioned, modern chamois pads come in a variety of materials, but they also come in myriad thicknesses, densities, shapes, and sizes. So it’s important to be aware of what kind of chamois is found in each pair of bike shorts you’re considering. Also note that a thicker or more robust chamois may seem like it’d be more comfortable than a thinner alternative, but this isn't always the case. The most important thing to consider is the overall fit of the shorts, and how your body interacts with the chamois and your bike’s saddle.
When it comes to fit, the most significant characteristic of any pair of cycling shorts is whether or not it has bib straps. Shorts with bib straps—known colloquially as “bib shorts” or, simply, “bibs”—are distinguished by a pair of straps that run from the top of the shorts near the waistline all the way up and over the cyclist’s shoulders. This design is incredibly popular and favored by the vast majority of cyclists, because the bib straps provide a much more secure fit and prevent the shorts from sliding down your waist when pedaling. However, because some people find bib straps to be cumbersome, cycling clothing brands typically offer versions without bib straps. These shorts are often a bit cheaper in price due to less material involved in the construction, but they don’t provide the secure fit of bibs. We whole-heartedly recommend bib shorts for all cyclists, but a pair of shorts without bibs will get the job done.
Just like with cycling jerseys, outerwear, and other accessories, bike shorts come in different versions to ensure the wearer is as comfortable as possible no matter the weather, temperature, or season. Shorts for riding in summertime and warm weather will feature lightweight, breathable fabrics to help wick away sweat and disperse heat from your skin, while shorts intended for cool weather will have heartier fabrics that provide a touch of added warmth. Shorts intended for cold weather or winter use will typically feature a thermal lining, a wind-blocking outer layer, or other technical feature aimed at protecting the wearer from frigid conditions. When shopping for bike shorts, make sure you’re considering the weather and temperature in which you’ll be most commonly riding in your region.
Here is where it pays to check out some options in person, if at all possible, when you’re shopping for a new pair of women’s bike shorts. Cycling shorts come in a variety of cuts and fits, which includes varying leg lengths. Some shorts have the legs end just above the knee, while others have the legs terminate much higher up the thigh. It all comes down to personal preference. Also note that some clothing brands offer ¾-length, “capri” legs for cool weather riding, and even full-length pant legs for cold weather cycling. We always recommend visiting your local bike shop to try on a few pairs if you can. Remember, just like with any piece of apparel, finding the one that fits your body perfectly can be a challenge, but it’s worth the time investment in the end. If you’re unable to visit your local bike shop or you simply prefer shopping online, be sure to do some research and read up on your options carefully. Pay close attention to user reviews to get a sense of how the shorts fit different cyclists’ body types in real-world use cases.
Every cyclist needs to answer nature’s call at some point, even in the middle of a ride. This is especially true if you’re an avid cyclist who’s regularly enjoying long rides. When shopping for your apparel, and especially your shorts, consider your riding habits and how often you typically need to stop for a nature break. Cycling apparel by nature is close-fitting and designed principally for comfort and efficiency when on the bike, rather than walking around during a coffee stop or when you need to shed some layers. This means that it can sometimes be a chore to remove garments when necessary—and this is especially true, unfortunately, for women. Thankfully, many cycling clothing brands are addressing the needs of female cyclists by strategically placing zippers, utilizing different fabrics types, and incorporating other clever sartorial tricks to make nature breaks more convenient so wearers can get back to riding. Again, consider your riding habits and goals, and be sure to look for these types of features as needed.
When you’re shopping for women’s bike shorts, be aware of some more popular features that many clothing brands often utilize. These include things like reflective fabric incorporated in key areas of the shorts, which provide a bit of added visibility in low-light riding conditions. Many brands will utilize some type of solution to help secure the leg bands of shorts against the wearer’s skin for a better fit—these include silicon or rubber grippers in the leg bands, or utilizing some variety of compression fabric. Also, some brands will incorporate a pocket (zippered or otherwise) into certain models of shorts to provide a bit of utility, providing the wearer with a spot to stash a key, credit card, or small snack. All of these and other features offer a little something extra to the experience, but they can also bring an added cost to the garment. It’s important to make sure you’re shopping for the features that are important to you, that will enhance your cycling experience, and give you the most value for your money.
Let’s talk turkey, shall we? Just like when it comes to shopping for any piece of cycling gear, you’re going to have to consider your budget and what you’re willing to spend in order to get the best materials, durability, and other features. You should be able to find a solid pair of cycling shorts for around $80 USD / 70 EUR, and prices go up from there, all the way to several hundred dollars/euros. However, always remember that a more expensive pair of shorts isn’t necessarily the best for your body and your cycling goals. Make sure to find the shorts that fit you the best, give you the most value for your money, and that will make your riding experience as enjoyable as possible.
There are countless companies crafting some truly great women’s bike shorts, and there’s no shortage of options out there. Some of the most popular cycling apparel brands include Castelli, Rapha, Pearl Izumi, Louis Garneau, and Giordana, and they all produce some great lines of women’s riding gear. We also recommend taking a look at brands who focus specifically on women’s cycling apparel, such as Machines For Freedom. Other premium brands include Velocio, MAAP, and Assos. Finally, we’ve had the good fortune to work with several apparel companies over the years when creating some of our own Felt Bicycles jerseys, shorts, and other accessories, so we can also recommend taking a look at the offerings from brands like Eliel Cycling, DNA Cycling, Bioracer, and Pactimo.
Like we said, there’s no shortage of options out there when it comes to women’s bike shorts. With that in mind, here are a few options that we’re particularly fond of—so much so that we partnered up with these brands to create our own versions for our riders—to help you start your quest for the perfect pair of shorts:
Finally, if we’re talking about your comfort when you’re sitting on your bike, we’d be remiss if we didn’t call out the importance of finding the perfect saddle for your body. A well-fitting and comfortable pair of shorts will elevate your overall riding experience, but a comfortable saddle that not only lets you put in some big mileage but also allows you to put down all of your potential pedaling power is key. To find your perfect saddle, we recommend visiting your local bike shop and inquiring about the saddles they sell, and also asking if they have a saddle demo program. Many reputable shops do, and it’s a great way for you to rent or try out a variety of saddle shapes, widths, padding, and materials in order to discover the best one for you.
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