Updated September 2017
With the potential of your best rides of the year coming up in the Fall, we continue to keep tabs on this category. Several months after our hands-on review, we have yet to find another pair of women's shorts that could topple our award-winning models from their thrones. Our all-around favorite, the Pearl Izumi Elevate, received an updated color scheme this summer, yet no other aspects of the shorts changed. Ride on!
Best Overall Model
Pearl Izumi Elevate - Women's
Accommodates knee pads well
Excess waistband padding in the back
Our expert testers transformed into bike ninjas in the Pearl Izumi Elevate - Women's
shorts. Sleek and stretchy, these shorts are streamlined yet functional. They strike a balance between a clean, flattering silhouette and a long inseam with secure pockets. The inseam measures 13 inches. Perhaps a bit long for petite ladies, they provide excellent coverage and protection for average height riders. Plus, the leg openings are wide enough to wear knee pads underneath them. The addition of the lighter weight rear panel, as well as the gusset, provided breathability, keeping us fresh throughout our ride. Scoring highest overall during our testing process, this quiver of one pair of shorts was a shoe-in for our Editors' Choice Award. Wherever our bike rolls, we like wearing the Elevate
Read full review: Pearl Izumi Elevate - Women's
Best Bang for the Buck
Club Ride Apparel Ventura
Reduces waist gaps
Straight leg cut
Comes up short with knee pads
The Club Ride Apparel Ventura
will only set you back $80 and is practical and affordable. The internal button tab waist adjusters were easy to dial in, and the NoCrackBack™ waist kept gaps at bay. Two front side zippered pockets were deep enough to hold keys or an energy bar. Finally, the breathable, and wicking fabric made these shorts a great choice for everyday trail rides. Still not sold? The Club Ride Apparel Ventura
took fourth place overall, ranking first in Fit and Comfort, one of the most heavily weighted metrics. And a bonus? These shorts offered a fun, preppy look that worked as well on the bike as it did post-ride. Wearing these shorts is easy; easy like Sunday morning.
Read full review: Club Ride Apparel Ventura
Top Pick for Style
Yeti Cycles Norrie
at Competitive Cyclist
Cinches easily at the waist
Not our favorite pockets
High-fives to the Yeti Norrie
for making us look good. These shorts, with their signature Yeti
blue color and attention to detail, were awarded Top Pick for Style. Our testers immediately grabbed for these shorts, stoked to slide on a pair that looked good and held up through the jump line. The flattering ruching on the leg flared the hemline to accommodate knee-pads, and the internal glide patches kept the shorts from bunching at the waist while pedaling. This short has a slimmer fit, so if you're crushing Strava QOMs and you've got legs to prove it, we recommend sizing up.
Read full review: Yeti Norrie
Analysis and Test Results
Wearing the right bike short is just as important as choosing the best bike for the ride. We wouldn't show up to shuttle downhill laps with our beach cruiser. Do you live in a warmer climate and enjoy rolling singletrack? A more breathable, stretchy short might be the one for you. Maybe you're a gravity-fed adrenaline junky and protection is your highest priority? You might prefer a longer inseam.
Regardless of your riding style, we are here to help put you in the right short. We hand-selected 9 of the top-rated women's bike shorts, putting them to the dirt. Comfort and fit were paramount, but we also valued protection, pockets, and a little bit of feminine flair.
Putting the Dakine Cadence and Tucker the dog through the paces of bike short testing.
Types of Bike Shorts
Where do you like to ride your bike? Over mountain passes on pavement? Or do you prefer dirt and rocks? The answers to these questions will likely dictate which short you choose.
From a basic standpoint, you can divide bike shorts into two categories: road and mountain. From there, of course, you can continue to divide and group according to riding style, climate, and terrain preferences. XC, downhill, enduro
the list goes on. We went down this rabbit hole so you don't have to.
Road Cycling Shorts
Road cycling shorts tend to be spandex or lycra and are short and fitted. This riding style focuses on streamlining against wind resistance and drag, which is why their silhouette is so snug. The padded liner is typically built into the short, so no layering is required. Road cycling shorts can be either traditional shorts or bib style, where the waist extends up and shoulder straps keep the waist and padded liner in place. Bibs eliminate the waistband of the short, allowing easier breathing while pedaling. Also, suspending the short from the shoulders limits chamois shifting both on and off the bike, minimizing chafing and saddle sores. Road cycling shorts that do not have a bib are often cooler because they don't have extra material extending up the back, trapping heat. Also, fitted spandex shorts may fit a wider range of riders, depending on your torso length.
Because the road cycling short focuses on eliminating drag and offering padded protection for long rides, they are recommended for riding on roads or serious cross country racers. The spandex construction is not known for resilience against crashes, which is why we recommend a mountain bike short if you prefer to ride off-road. The durable fabric, looser silhouette, and longer inseam are designed with protection and mobility in mind.
Mountain Bike Shorts
The greatest differences between road and mountain bike shorts are their silhouette and material. Mountain bike shorts tend to be looser and their construction can vary based on preferred riding style. While road cyclists maintain a consistent and repetitive body position in and out of the saddle, mountain bikers are less predictable, and mountain bike shorts are designed to relieve some of that uncertainty.
"Mountain biking" is a general description of someone pedaling their bike in the woods. If the terrain isn't technical and has a rolling pitch, it might be considered cross country biking, and you'll want a short that's breathable, lightweight, and stretchy. When a chairlift is involved, or if you're throwing your bike in the back of a truck, that is often considered downhilling. You'll want your full-face helmet, a longer pair of shorts, and kneepads. In either situation, there is a specific short for the activity. And don't worry—there's a short for in-between rides, too. Inseam, fabric type, breathability…all of these factors are weighted differently depending on where you're going and for how long.
Important to mention: Most mountain bike shorts do not have a sewn-in padded liner. Often, brands will also produce a liner short for separate purchase. As mentioned elsewhere, only two pairs of shorts tested included an unattached padded short. Therefore, we did not consider the quality of the liner and instead focused our attention on the "outer" short, the mountain bike short.
Criteria for Evaluation
The lightweight, breathable construction of the Club Ride Apparel Ventura is best suited for cross country rides.
Fit and Comfort
And you thought shopping for jeans was hard! Bike shorts may take the cake. They're too big in the waist but too narrow in the hips. They gap in the back. We work hard, and we have the legs to prove it! We want form and function, and in this important consideration, we're assessing bike shorts that give ladies custom and comfortable fit. Starting with the waist adjustments, almost all of the shorts provided tabs to cinch the waistband.
, and Cadence
all used internal Velcro tabs, which made mid-ride adjustments challenging. The external Velcro tabs of the Fjora
, and Skyline
made mid-ride micro adjustments easier. The Elevate
, and Skyline
carried significantly more material in the waistband, impacting breathability. The Club Ride Apparel Ventura
scored the highest in the group, with a nine, using internal buttons instead of Velcro, which testers found helpful when adjusting each side equally.
The Yeti Norrie
tied for second, with an eight out of 10, using stealth external webbing cinches that were low profile and effective. By not using velcro tabs, the Norrie
, in turn, used less fabric at the waist, making for a cooler ride.
The high back of the Club Ride Ventura
and Norrona Fjora
helped to eliminate any gap created while seated, and the addition of silicon grippers on the waistband of both the Yeti Norrie
and Norrona Fjora
provided a no-slip system, so your shorts won't slide down.
Our testers found that the Norrie
had the slimmest fit. We would recommend sizing up if you have an athletic build. The Elevate
provided a looser fit through the thigh. The Fjora
had zippered vents on the exterior of the leg, providing a wider leg option, as well as a cooling system.
Only the Zoic Navaeh
and the Fox Ripley
came with inner padded shorts, so we didn't weigh in too heavily on their liner's. We suggest purchasing a high-quality liner short to wear under your mountain bike shorts.
Sizing can be an issue...top to bottom: Troy Lee Skyline in a Large, Yeti Norrie in a Medium and Dakine Cadence in a 28.
Pedal strokes should be seen and not heard. Extra fabric catching on the saddle on the descent or material bunching up in the waist when you're grinding uphill is bad. We went looking for the perfect amount of stretch combined with a particular silhouette. This combination allowed us to pedal with ease, both in and out of the saddle.
Our testers agreed that the Troy Lee Skyline
, Pearl Izumi Elevate Women's
and Dakine Cadence
- all with four-way stretch - allowed for the most freedom of movement both in and out of the saddle. For a one-short quiver, look to the highest scoring Pearl Izumi Elevate
, which earned nine out 10 points.
Four way stretch of the Pearl Izumi Elevate (featured right) allows for greater range of motion than the two way stretch of the Fox Ripley (featured left).
The lightweight fabric of the Cadence
made it an excellent choice for hot summer pursuits, scoring an eight out 10 for pedaling performance. The Yeti Norrie
had less give in the material, but the stretch panel in the rear, combined with the slight flare at the knee and internal glide patches, provided ample range of motion, earning the Norrie
a seven out of 10. The two-way stretch and gusseted crotch of the Club Ride Ventura
also made for a smooth ride. Riders found the Fox Ripley's
material to be scratchy and restrictive.
Four-way stretch made pedaling in the Dakine Cadence a breeze.
Your friends aren't going to send you out in a flimsy pair of short shorts, and neither are we. Mountain biking involves rocks, ruts, and poorly placed trees. Sometimes we zig. Sometimes we zag. Sometimes we crash. We looked at inseam, material, and knee-pad compatibility when comparing the protective qualities of our shorts. We want you to feel confident charging so that your focus is on keeping the rubber side down, not whether your shorts will hold up.
Longer shorts offer more protection. The longest inseam was found on the perfect 10 Norrona Fjora
with a 14-inch inseam, followed by the Dakine Cadence
and Pearl Izumi Elevate
with 13-inch inseams. The Fox Ripley
was the shortest in the group, with a 10-inch inseam.
The inseams of the shorts reviewed ranged from 10 to 15.5 inches.
In addition to inseam, we considered fabric composition. The Norrona Fjora had the burliest construction
, with soft shell nylon, earning it a 10 out of 10. They are mostly made of non-stretch nylon; however, the addition of the gusseted crotch and articulated knees prevented the short from being restrictive. The Dakine Cadence
, though long, felt too lightweight to handle a crash, which is why it scored a six out of 10.
Finally, our testers took turns wearing kneepads to see how well they fit with each short. The shorts with longer inseams — the Pearl Izumi Elevate, Norrona Fjora
, and Dakine Cadence
— all shared a seamless overlap, creating a protective system. Both the Troy Lee Skyline
and Yeti Norrie
created a narrow thigh gap while seated, covering the tops of the pads while descending. If you prefer rolling cross country singletrack to technical downhill terrain and don't plan on wearing knee pads, we would suggest the Club Ride Ventura
with an 11-inch inseam, or the Zoic Navaeh
, whose leg narrows to the knee. Both scored a five in protection, due to their length.
We looked at inseam and fabric when evaluating protection.
We love a good pocket. We want to be able to carry our phone and pull it out for a quick snappie at the vista. We want to burn through rock gardens knowing our keys are secure and that our multi-tool isn't going to do more harm than good if we go over. Our testers took turns riding with and without backpacks to help determine exactly how functional the pockets were on all shorts. We considered all pockets on the shorts, but because women's bike shorts trend towards a slimmer fit, we focused mostly on pockets that are not on the traditional waistline.
We noticed while pedaling with the Yeti Norrie
and Troy Lee Skyline
that if you placed anything more than an ID or credit card in the front pockets, you would feel your energy bar or multi-tool pressing against your thigh during the ride. We preferred fully zippered pockets to those that had a Velcro closure or none at all. Most of all, we favored the zippered thigh pockets of the Zoic Navaeh
. The pocket angles away from the leg of the rider, allowing the weight of your phone or chapstick to hang free and not press against the body.
The addition of the fuzzy tech pocket inside the thigh pocket of the Zoic Navaeh
, which scored the highest with a nine, was a bonus. The second highest scoring short in this category, the Pearl Izumi Elevate Women's
with a seven, had two side-zippered pockets on the hip, which provided storage on the top of the thigh as well as behind the leg. The Fox Ripley
scored the lowest with a two; it had one pocket in the rear waistband, barely large enough to hold a gel and ID. The Dakine Cadence
had two open waistline pockets, meaning you would have to wear a pack in combination to carry all that you need for a day on the bike. For that reason, we gave the Cadence
a three in pockets.
The thigh pocket scored huge points among the ladies.
We don't want you to feel like you're wearing your boyfriend's bike shorts. While we recognize that style is a subjective area, everyone can agree that if you're looking good, then you're feeling great, and, most importantly, you're ready to rip singletrack. We tried and tested nine pairs of ladies mountain bike shorts with styles ranging from uber-feminine to no-frills and everything in between.
Our in-house stylists all agreed that the highest scoring Yeti Norrie
lent a perfect balance of "girly, yet burly," with its subtle ruching at the hem, Yeti blue color, and longer inseam, earning it a 10. Both the Dakine Cadence
and Club Ride Ventura
were praised for transitioning perfectly to the pub or beach, earning them each an eight for style. A few shorts that we didn't find too flattering were the Troy Lee Skyline
, with their signature X mesh stretch panel across the groin, and the Fox Ripley
, which was blousy at the waist but too narrow in the thigh.
Testers were loving the Yeti Norrie even before the ride started.
Taking in the beauty of Lake Tahoe from the Bench. Its a tough job, but someone has to do it!
We hope we've been able to help you narrow down the bike short that is best for you. Many factors, including climate and terrain preferences, will play a role in the short you choose. If you're still weighing all the factors and can't quite decide, please head over to the Buying Advice article
. There you will find detailed considerations for which shorts to pair with your active lifestyle.