There’s no denying that one of the main contact points on your bike are your rather delicate nether regions, and if by some freakish chance you hadn’t noticed, after a few hours in the saddle, trust me you’ll know. Saddle soreness is possibly one of the most common discomforts you can experience whilst cycling, and for women this can manifest as numbness, swelling or even urinary track infections. Whilst I love cycling, I’m not so in love with these delightful side effects and finding the right cycling shorts is essential to enjoying time with your bike.
My quest for comfort has resulted in trialling a lot of different shorts and saddle combinations. Arguably a good saddle, that is angled correctly, is just as important as a good pair of shorts. However once I started ramping up the miles and hours spent on my bike I came to realise that there comes a point where only a good pair of shorts can save you! Things like getting the right chamois (padded crotch section) is key, and I’ve learned expensive doesn’t always mean better. But other aspects to look for are comfortable leg grips and soft, non- restrictive waist bands.
Do I go commando under cycling shorts?
Firstly, there is the commando vs underwear debate. I’m team commando, for me it’s comfier, it’s allows the chamois to mould to me and reduces friction and rubbing from kicker lines. But this is personal, I’d recommend you try both and see what you’re most comfortable with. Many will offer advice and tell you what to do but ultimately it is YOUR decision.
Cycling Shorts vs Cycling Bib Shorts
There’s also the world of shorts vs bib shorts with both having their benefits. Shorts are great for whizzing on and off if you need to and I have ridden all my 100mile sportives in shorts because it’s simply easier when you need a toilet stop! Alternatively, bibshorts or bibs are rooted in the origins of cycling kit, with straps that run from the waist band over your shoulders. These can be comfier around your waist, more flattering on your shape (although that can arguably be individual preference) and keep your back covered if you’re prone to your jersey riding up. Additionally they can keep your base layer snug during winter, but the main draw back is if nature calls you’ll often find yourself needing to strip off your jersey before you can remove your bottoms.
So where to begin with choosing your cycling shorts or bibs?
Unfortunately there is no one size fits all. A large part of finding the comfiest women’s cycling shorts or bibshorts depends upon trial and error, and is uniquely personal. What often works for one woman may also not work for another. But this approach is costly and a privilege many don’t have. Over the years I’ve tried many different brands and designs, I’ve hunted these out in online sales, expos and local stores (read my top tips for saving money on kit here). In no particular order, here are my favourite women’s cycling shorts:
For reference I have included the sizes I wear. If this is your first time purchasing cycling kit please don’t be put off if you have to size up from your usual running or workout gear. It’s just a number and there is no shame in this. I am a UK 10 and I’m 5ft11 as a guide, however please check all the individual size guides if you are in doubt.
Liv Race Day Shorts (black)
These are by far my favourite shorts and ones I’d highly recommend. Liv is the first cycling brand completely dedicated to women so it’s no surprise Liv nailed it when they made these. With a soft and wide waistband and ProComfor women’s specific chamois which features a breathable antibacterial top layer to keep everything down there feeling dry and fresh I find these extremely comfortable and flattering too. These also boast UPF sun protection- yep your bum can get sun exposure through your shorts! The legs don’t feature silicon grips and on some reviews I’ve read about people experiencing these riding up, but this has never been the case for me and I actually find the fit on the legs the comfiest out of all shorts listed here.
These are the ‘race’ fit meaning the sizes run small, so if you’re unsure order two adjacent sizes and see which you prefer. I wear a size L and find that they fit perfectly.
Decathlon B’Twin Van Rysel padded cycling shorts*
RRP: £29.99 – £34.99
I’ve had these since 2018 so this exact pair is no longer available from decathlon but a similar pair can be found here,f you’re an XXS a pair can be found in the sale here and the bib shorts version can be found here. I highly recommend the decathlon Van Rysel range for long distance cycling. These are made for rides of up to and over three hours and I’ve worn them for every one of my 100mile cycles including Ride London, you can read my full review here. The Van Rysel range benefit from a scooped waistline which is extremely flattering and comfortable, wide leg grips. These also offer the best value for money when compared to other full price shorts and exceptional value if you pick them up in the sale. They’ve lasted me over two years with intermittent wear and good/careful care. The only drawback is that the fabric isn’t as thick as other shorts for example the Liv shorts. Whilst this isn’t perhaps an issue if you are a commando cyclist, if you prefer wearing bright underwear they may risk being a tad see through. I wear a Large (although if you were an 8-10 I’d recommend a medium).
*please note the original pair we’re gifted to me as part of a previous collaboration with Decathlon, all views are my own honest thoughts.
Zone 3 Women’s Cycle Shorts
Currently £27 in the sale (1 June 2020)
I like these because they’re in your face and comfortable too. The chamois is extensive with a combination of foam and gel and supports in all the right places. The leg grips are comfortable too. The waist is narrower elastic than the Decathlon or the Liv shorts so not as flattering, but stays in place well with no worry of slippage. I wear a size L and find they fit well. They are quite long finishing just above my knee which is ideal in summer for avoiding burnt thighs, but not a good match for those who prefer their cycling shorts to be shorter.
Pearl Izumi women’s bib short
Price varies between sellers from £39.99 in the sale to £99 RRP
I think Pearl Izumi are a really under rated, value for money brand that offers great quality and these bib shorts are a firm favourite of mine. The feature I love most is the drop tail body- meaning that unlike some other bib shorts the back of the ‘top’ isn’t attached to the shorts (easier to go to the toilet) and instead with these you can tuck the top in. This is so ideal for taller riders and feels much less restrictive when leaning forward. If you’re tall like me or don’t like the restrictive feeling of some bibs then I really recommend these. The clip on your chest means you can customise the positioning of the straps if you wish. The R-cool fabric also helps keep you cool whilst the shorts offer reflective sun protection. The padding is also sufficient for longer rides and I’ve comfortably survived over 2 hours on my turbo in these! I wear a size Large.
Gore C5 bibshorts
Gore are another cycling brand I love, who combine comfort and functionality. The C5 bib shorts are comfortable and extremely flattering, but a little hard to come by. Like the Pearl Izumi bib shorts these also feature a drop tail however this one is a zip and I’m not fully convinced they would be that easy to get off! The shorts themselves are very comfy with great chamois however the front of the bib shorts is quite low on older versions (the ones I have) and isn’t the most flattering. According to other reviews the version now available online has a redesigned front.
There are limited sizes (M,L,XL) here. However due to design updates these can be difficult to find but wiggle have the new updated design for £95.99, buy here.My best advice is to google these ones and shop around.
DHB Bib shorts (from wiggle)
These were amongst the first cycling shorts I ever purchased and the only DHB shorts I own. I bought these in 2018 so sadly these ones aren’t available anymore. I think the DHB range has evolved massively since then with some really attractive and innovative designs. DHB doesn’t break the bank, is widely available on wiggle and from what I’ve heard/ experienced it is great quality. I wear a size 10 in these which are snug but not uncomfortable. I think these are the closest to regular sizing on the market.
You can purchase here.
Where can I buy shorts and bib shorts?
In addition to the links provided above, websites to check are Wiggle, Sportspursuit, Sigma Sports, Evans, Cycle Republic, Millets, Blacks and Chain Reaction Cycles plus small independent bike shops and cycle stores. My main recommendation is when you’ve found the shorts you want use google to shop around. Don’t be afraid of buying past seasons- you’ll save money.
Other brands I’ve tried which I would recommend are Madison, Ribble cycles and Shimano (I have a lovely pair of fleece lined tights from Shimano!). Beyond these there are multitude of brands, however I hope the shorts I’ve suggested are a starting point!
Add any of your recommendations below as I would love to hear them!
To my knowledge all the links above are legitimate and have stock when linked.