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The 10 Best Bike Shorts for Your Cross-Training Rides

These cycling shorts will keep you comfortable for the long haul.

the best bike shorts
Staff, Courtesy of Nooyme

Cycling is one of the best cross-training exercises we can do as runners. It’s a low-impact blend of cardio and strength and offers plenty of variety whether you’re riding on the road, soft-surface gravel routes, or wooded trails on a mountain bike. Even for shorter outings, a good pair of bike shorts will make your ride more comfortable.

Traditional spandex cycling shorts have body-mapped padding called a chamois. This dense cushioning foam is sewn into the shorts or liner to protect against chafing, reduce pressure while you’re in the saddle, and wick moisture. When I started doing tougher mountain bike routes and riding longer distances on road and gravel, I felt an immediate benefit when I invested in some cycling shorts. Here’s how to choose the right pair for you.

Best Waist Bike Shorts
PRO Short Pearl iZumi Read More
Best Value Waist Shorts
Cycling Shorts Nooyme Read More
Best Value Bibs
The Black Bibs The Black Bibs Read More
Most Versatile
Kalia Bike Shorts Bontrager Read More
Best Brief-Style Liner
Padded Bike Underwear Baleaf Read More

Finding the Right Bike Shorts

Consider the Category

When we talk about cycling shorts, we’re really discussing two main options: bib-style shorts with straps that go over your shoulders and waist-style shorts that look more like typical shorts. Both options are typically tight-fitting and often made from from moisture-wicking nylon or polyester with elastane to keep you cool and dry. There’s a third type of short, often worn by mountain bikers or gravel riders, that fits over the other two types (though sometimes it’ll come with its own waist-style liner short). These are often referred to as shells, or baggies, even though most modern ones have a slimmer fit.

Waist shorts are more convenient for going to the bathroom, but some people find the waistband can pinch or cause irritation when spending hours in a riding position. Some cyclists prefer bibs for longer rides because they better hold the chamois in place, don't have a constrictive waistband, and eliminate the gap between short and shirt that can form when you wear a shorter jersey.

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Pick Your Inseam

Most bib- and waist-style bike shorts come in three standard lengths: Long inseams are around 11 inches, regular inseams are between 8 to 9 inches, and short inseams measure 4 to 7 inches. Some shorts come in more than one length, and the right one for you mostly comes down to personal preference. It’s common to wear shorts a few inches above the knee, but some might want shorter or longer options for style or comfort reasons.

How We Evaluated

My garage is a veritable stable of bikes, including the commuter bike I’ve had since 2010 and my newest gravel bike. I enjoy cycling as a cross-training activity for running and backpacking and as a sport of its own. I’ve worn road and mountain biking shorts for everything from short cross-training rides to a five-day bikepacking trip.

Below, I recommend a variety of cycling shorts based on what I’ve used, what my cycling and triathlon acquaintances swear by, and models with high customer ratings on retail sites like Amazon. These shorts offer variety—in terms of effectiveness while riding, overall style, and budget. I also included a couple liner options for maximum versatility with shorts you already own.

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Best Waist Bike Shorts
PRO Short
Pearl iZumi

  • Comfortable seven-panel design
  • High-quality materials

  • Expensive

Key Specs

  • Type: Waist-style short
  • Sizes: XS–2XL

These bike shorts feel luxurious—as they should for $175. The chamois’ three-layer core has the right blend of give and density, and a free-floating top sheet increases next-to-skin comfort. Beyond the padding, the seven-panel construction keeps seams off high-rub areas and allows the shorts to conform even better to your hips and legs. And we love the soft, silicone leg grippers, which keep the shorts in place without being constricting.

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Best Value Waist Shorts
Cycling Shorts
Nooyme

  • Affordable
  • Durable
  • Good length and sizing

  • Chamois can feel thick and diaper-like
  • Not super breathable

Key Specs

  • Type: Waist-style short
  • Sizes: S–3XL

This basic set of road cycling shorts has no issue keeping up with name-brand models. The high-rise waist and secure leg grippers keep them in place on the top and bottom, and the material is stretchy yet durable for multiple seasons of use and trips through the spin cycle. High-density foam meets gel in the body-mapped chamois that’s comfortable on the bike, but the bulkier padding can also result in a feeling of diaper butt. The shorts come in all-black and with a range of accent colors and patterns. At this price, it doesn’t hurt to have a few pairs in your arsenal for heavy riding weeks.

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Best Value Bibs
The Black Bibs
The Black Bibs

  • Wide size range
  • Affordable

  • Might show signs of wear

Key Specs

  • Type: Bib short
  • Sizes: XXS–4XL

With so many bibs and cycling shorts bearing a hefty price tag, we love the value The Black Bibs deliver. These are some of the most affordable and functional bibs on the market, from a company that started by making customized cycling apparel. The bibs have a moderate amount of compression, a dual-density Coolmax chamois for breathable comfort, and white mesh bib straps that are less visible under a jersey. The simple, no-frills design is plenty durable, though you might see some pilling on high-wear areas. We think this is a valid tradeoff for bibs that cost a fraction of name brand prices, especially one with men’s and women’s specific versions.

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Most Versatile
Kalia Bike Shorts
Bontrager

  • Stylish
  • Wide, comfortable waistband
  • Three pockets

  • Mid-length inseam might feel short for mountain biking

Key Specs

  • Type: Shell with inner liner
  • Sizes: XS–3XL

The women’s Kalia—and men’s Quantum—have a casual look that works on the bike and around town. With an 8-inch inseam, the fitted cut conforms to your hips, waist, and legs without feeling constricting. We love these for mountain biking, but they’re also comfortable for longer gravel or road rides. Bontrager’s inForm BioDynamic chamois moves with you during rides, and it’s removable to make these shorts even more versatile. The Kalia’s wide waistband is more comfortable (and looks more stylish!) than narrower, tighter waistbands so often found on bike shorts. Plus, the shorts have three pockets, including one with a zipper, for your keys, a snack, and other incidentals.

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Best Brief-Style Liner
Padded Bike Underwear
Baleaf

  • Affordable
  • Breathable
  • Versatile

  • Run small, consider sizing up

Key Specs

  • Type: Brief-style liner
  • Sizes: XS–2XL

This brief-style liner is an excellent option for using under gravel or mountain bike shell shorts. Or pair it with athletic shorts for a budget-friendly way to get the benefit of padding without the cost of more expensive cycling shorts. The minimalist design easily hides beneath shorter shorts and doesn’t sag when you’re out of the saddle. They are moisture-wicking and breathable, and the chamois conforms nicely when you’re riding. Plus, the elastic stays in place without too much pressure.

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Best Long-Inseam Liner
Cargo Liner Short
Pearl iZumi

  • Two thigh pockets
  • High-quality chamois
  • Mesh body fabric for breathability

  • Runs small
  • Can feel constricting

Key Specs

  • Type: Waist-style short
  • Sizes: S–2XL

We love the mesh fabric on Pearl iZumi’s Cargo Liner shorts, which offers more breathability without losing durability, and its smooth front fabric, which won't catch on your outer-layer shorts. Two thigh pockets provide a convenient spot for stashing energy gels or hydration tabs. The cut stays in place and avoids the dreaded wedgie when climbing in and out of the saddle, but the Cargo does run small. The elastic and the compression can feel constricting, so if you’re between sizes, consider sizing up.

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Best for Mountain Biking
Essential MTB Short
POC

  • Long inseam offers protection on trails
  • Water- and abrasion-resistant material

  • Legs feel narrow
  • Not padded

Key Specs

  • Type: Mountain biking shell
  • Sizes: XS–XL

As is standard for mountain biking shorts, the shell-only Essential MTB hits below the knees for extra protection against trail obstacles and inevitable spills. The generous inseam works well with knee pads, and the pre-bent knees are designed to match your pedaling position. The durable, water-resistant nylon fabric is lightweight, easy to move in, and wicks sweat. We love how these shorts shed mud and splatters, plus hook-and-loop tabs on the inside of the waistband create a custom-feeling fit. However, the legs can feel tight, so if you’re between sizes, consider sizing up. Pair with a padded liner short for full protection against saddle chafing.

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Best Women’s Mountain Biking Shorts
The MTB Curvy Short
Shredly

  • Wide, soft waistband
  • Many colors and sizes
  • Thigh zips for venting

  • Doesn’t come with chamois liner

Key Specs

  • Type: Mountain biking shell
  • Sizes: 2–24

Although most mountain bike shorts have a snap-front closure and a zipper fly, the elastic waistband on the women’s-only MTB Curvy Short is modeled after high-rise, wide-waistband leggings, making them a terrific option for riders who feel pinched or constricted in more classic designs. The shorts are made with recycled four-way stretch fabric, have a gusseted crotch for maximum mobility, and thigh zips for venting. In practice, that means all-day comfort on and off the bike. We love the bright, fun patterns (yes, there’s more than all-black) and mid-length inseam, though Shredly also makes a long version and offers its full size range on its website. The MTB Curvy do not come with a chamois, so you’ll have to buy a liner separately.

Best for Bikepacking
Adventure Cycling Short
Bontrager

  • Durable fabric
  • Six pockets
  • Easy to move in

  • Waistband can feel stiff
  • Liner sold separately

Key Specs

  • Type: Gravel outer shell
  • Sizes: XS–2XL

Durability and long-distance comfort are the name of the game for bikepacking shorts like Bontrager’s Adventure. This rugged, abrasion-resistant pair can be worn for days at a time without feeling grimy or starting to smell—mud and dirt brushes right off the water-resistant exterior. Stretchy knit leg gussets allow for maximum freedom of movement, and they have reflective detailing for pre-dawn or after-dark miles. Lots of pockets—two on the front, two on the back, and two zippered pockets on the sides—mean more storage for small items you want on-hand during extended rides. Do note, however, that these don’t come with a liner.

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Best Budget Buy
Cycling Shorts
BALEAF
Now 38% off

  • Affordable
  • Comfortable and legs won't roll up

  • Doesn't feel as secure as a bib

These are some of the most affordable cycling shorts on the market, but don't assume that their low price means low quality. These are simple but effective with a gel-padded chamois and stretchy, moisture-wicking fabric that will keep you comfortable throughout your whole ride. They also have silicone leg grippers so they won't slide up while you ride and a wide, comfortable waistband.

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