Ride in comfort with our pick of the best women’s cycling shorts for all budgets
Whether you’re just starting out on your cycling journey or regularly log centuries on Strava, those who spend time in the saddle know about the importance of comfort.
A good pair of cycling shorts can make all the difference between a ride to remember and a sore undercarriage that you’d rather forget.
Recently, unpadded cycling shorts have made their way onto the high street as a street-style favourite, while cycling-style shorts remain popular for gym workouts. However, if you want cycling shorts that you can actually cycle in, it’s best to invest in a pair with a chamois pad to prevent saddle sore and chafing.
Good cycling shorts are designed with the specific movements of cycling in mind, meaning they won’t ride up your legs as you pedal, resulting in uncomfortable bunching, or ride down at the rear, exposing your lower back and bum to the elements. In addition, quick-drying fabrics will help to wick away sweat, enabling you to ride for longer in comfort.
So, whether it’s bib shorts for road riding, comfy shorts for commuting, mountain biking shorts in which to hit the trails or a budget-friendly pair, you’ll find them in our list below. And our guide to choosing the best women’s cycling shorts includes all the factors to consider before you splash the cash.
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How to choose the best women’s cycling shorts for you
The most important thing when choosing a pair of cycling shorts is to work out what type of riding you’ll be using them for, the features you require, the time you’ll be spending in the saddle and, of course, how much you want to spend.
If you’re just starting to up the miles, you might want to opt for a budget pair of padded shorts. That way, you can try them out before committing to a more expensive option.
If you’re spending every weekend on long rides, you’re likely to be aware of the importance of comfort, and probably have a fair idea of the features you’re looking for. A quality pad and snug fit should be top of your list and, if you’re opting for bib shorts, it’s worth considering a quick-release option for easier pee stops.
Those with a short bike commute probably don’t need shorts with a pad. However, opting for unpadded shorts specifically for cycling is still a good idea. Shorts designed for commuting and touring often look like standard urban shorts but are made from more flexible fabric to allow for easier movement. They usually have a raised back and moisture-wicking properties, too.
For longer commutes you’ll be more comfortable with a padded pair. If you’re cycling in the early morning or evening when the light is low, look for safety features, such as reflective panels, to ensure you’re more visible to cars.
Most mountain bikers tend to prefer looser-fitting shorts for range of movement and comfort. Specific mountain bike shorts often have more padding than road shorts to absorb the shock of uneven terrain; others come padless but are designed to be worn with padded liner shorts. Look for tough fabric that’s less likely to snag on tree branches and rocks, plus secure, zipped pockets for any on-bike essentials.
What should I look for in a chamois pad?
A chamois is the soft pad that lines your bike shorts. It’s designed to provide cushioning and wick away sweat and moisture. It’s always best to buy female-specific shorts, since the chamois in men’s and women’s shorts tends to differ to fit your anatomy, providing extra cushioning where it’s needed.
What’s the difference between bib shorts and cycling shorts?
Bib shorts look like standard cycling shorts but have shoulder straps. The straps keep shorts firmly in place so they’re less likely to move as you ride. Many cyclists prefer them as they don’t need a tight waistband to hold them up, making them comfier around the stomach – although some may find that shoulder straps can cut into the upper body.
Bib shorts can be hotter to wear as they have a higher back, so you might prefer waist shorts if you’re cycling in warmer weather or indoors on the turbo.
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The best women’s cycling shorts you can buy in 2023
1. Decathlon 500 Women’s Bibless Cycling Short: Best budget women’s cycling shorts
Price: £20 | Buy now from Decathlon
Whether you’re looking to try out padded shorts for the first time or just want a low-cost pair for shorter rides, these are a great budget option. The fabric is light, offering plenty of movement, and the padding is female-specific. They’re also available in a wide range of sizing options, up to 2XL.
Decathlon states the 500 are suitable for rides of up to two hours, but the pad is quite thin, so if you prefer a more cushioned ride then you might start to feel discomfort sooner. We found them best for shorter rides and indoor sessions. The legs don’t come with any grip around the bottom edge, which, although it wasn’t an issue for us, could cause them to ride up on the thighs for some.
Key specs – Size: XS-2XL; Material: 80% polyamide, 20% elastane; Padded: Yes; Colours available: One (black/pink)
2. dhb Moda Women’s Classic Bib Shorts: Best affordable women’s bib shorts
Price: £60 | Buy now from Wiggle
Bib shorts can be an expensive outlay, but dhb offers plenty of affordable options for regular and longer weekend rides.
The Moda shorts sit in dhb’s mid-range price bracket – and can often be found discounted. Made from a soft and smooth fabric, the seat pad is designed for more relaxed rides of up to three hours. As such, if you’re racing or riding constantly on your drop bars, you might find the padding isn’t quite adequate, but for easy rides we found it offered ample comfort. There are no grippy strips around the legs, but the wide leg band helped them to stay firmly in place.
The criss-cross back detail can take some fiddling to get the straps sitting flat, but once in place, it shouldn’t cause an issue.
Key specs – Size: 6-18; Material: 80% polyamide, 20% elastane; Padded: Yes; Colours available: Two (black, navy)
3. Rapha Women’s Randonnee Shorts: Best women’s cycling shorts for commuting
Price: £95 | Buy now from Rapha
If you want a pair of cycling shorts that don’t look like cycling shorts, the non-padded Randonnee are great for city cycling, casual rides and short commutes. Lightweight and breathable, they’re perfect for warmer weather and smart enough that you could wear them to the pub, for hiking, or even in a casual office environment. You can roll them up if you prefer a shorter short, too.
The fabric has a slight stretch, so it doesn’t restrict your movement; it’s breathable and quick drying, and we love the hi-vis interior trim that can be folded out to ensure you’re seen on the roads. The zippered pockets are good for storing keys and a credit card, although you might struggle if you have a larger phone. They’re a pricey option, but it’s possible to pick up some colour options in the sales for less.
Key specs – Size: XXS-XL; Material: 94% nylon, 6% spandex; Padded: No; Colours available: Five (black, rich burgundy, dark grey, purple, navy)
4. Castelli Women’s Prima Cycling Bib Shorts: Best women’s cycling shorts for comfort
Price: £95 | Buy now from Wiggle
The Prima are Castelli’s entry-level bib shorts, and while they may be cheaper than many of the Italian brand’s pairs, there’s no skimping on quality – and they’re comfy even after a full day in the saddle.
The quick-drying, matte Pro Dry Soft fabric feels smooth and supportive, and the mesh bib straps are breathable, keeping you cool. Where you really feel the quality, though, is in the KISS Air2 seat pad. It’s super-breathable with variable cushioning, so it’s denser where you need it most, but without any of that added bulk that can leave you feeling like you’re wearing a nappy.
They may be slightly pricier than some options, but if you cycle regularly then you’ll appreciate the quality and durability.
Key specs – Size: XS-XL; Material: 80% polyamide, 20% elastane; Padded: Yes; Colours available: Three (black/dark grey, black/skylight, saville blue/brillian)
5. Adidas Five Ten Brand of the Brave Shorts: Best women’s cycling shorts for mountain biking
Price: £63 | Buy now from Adidas
Cool enough to wear off the bike as well as on, these Five Ten shorts have just the right amount of stretch to let you move freely. The zippered pockets are ideal for securely storing your phone and other essentials as you hit the trails; you’ll find a large pocket on the leg and a smaller one hidden inside the non-zipped hip pockets.
The drawstring waist is a nice touch if you’re between sizes, keeping the shorts feeling secure around the waist. There’s no pad, but plenty of room to wear padded liner shorts underneath. The size range is impressive, going from 6-22, although they do run slightly small – if you’re unsure, size up. We liked the fact that they’re made with at least 60% recycled materials, too.
Key specs – Size: 6-22; Material: 90% recycled polyester, 10% elastane dobby; Padded: No; Colours available: Two (black, legend earth)
6. Rapha women’s detachable bib shorts: Best women’s cycling shorts for long rides
Price: £215 | Buy now from Rapha
If you’ve ever been caught short in a pair of bib shorts, you’ll know how tricky it can be to pull the straps down underneath your jersey, particularly if it’s long-sleeved. Rapha’s detachable bib shorts neatly solve this problem with a quick-release magnetic clasp at the back so you can pull your shorts down without having to remove your top. Some quick-pee mechanisms can be a bit tricksy, but we found this very simple to use; it’s a game-changer for long rides.
The pad thickness is tailored to the size of the shorts, so larger sizes will have slightly more padding based on a guesstimate of your weight. We’re not going to pretend these shorts are cheap, but if you regularly ride long distances then they’re worth the investment.
Key specs – Size: XXS-XL; Material: 78% nylon, 22% elastane; Padded: Yes; Colours available: Two (dark green/pale green, black/white)