THE BEST WOMEN’S BIKE SHORTS 2023
After testing a dozen pairs of women’s bike shorts during the past couple of years, two stand out as the best. The Assos UMA GTV C2, with its unmatched chamois and drop-tail feature, is the best for the longest, hottest, and fastest rides I do. It’s available for US$275/£240/€270 at stores I recommend here, here, and here. Ale’s R-EV1 Velocity HD, slightly less expensive at US$240/£150/€172 and available here, is just as good in nearly every way for rides up to 3 to 4 hours.
While I’ve ridden and raced bikes on roads and trails around the world, I’d never explored a wide range of women’s bike shorts before doing the research and testing for this review. I’d worn the same several brands and models that my clubs and teams used over the years and left it at that.
Needing some new shorts got me started on this journey. A couple of mine were wearing out, one got snagged on a tree branch, and a few friends were talking about features of their newest women’s bike shorts.
So I set out to find and stay up to date on the best women’s bike shorts, or at least the best ones for me. While there are a lot of design and price considerations to work through in deciding which to review, being able to ride each pair once a week or so over a couple of months gives me a really good understanding of how different the cut, fit, and comfort of women’s cycling bike shorts can be.
In this review, I share what I learned and how it could help you decide which women’s bike shorts are best for you. If you’re looking for a review of men’s bib shorts, see Steve’s review here.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
If you’re short on time, here is my current ranking of the women’s bike shorts I’ve finished testing.
Click on any of the names to go to the review.
This chart shows how they compare.
WHAT MATTERS MOST
There’s a lot of variety in available bike shorts, so it’s important to know what to look for. Before jumping into the reviews, I’ll lay out what I think matters most in evaluating and choosing between them.
First, if you ride several times a week for an hour or more, I’d recommend wearing shorts with shoulder straps that connect to the shorts rather than those that end at your waist. They’ll be more comfortable, help your performance, and prevent chafing. These are often called “bib shorts” or just “bibs,” but since they are intended for the bike and cycling, I’ll call them women’s bike shorts or women’s cycling shorts in this review.
Second, buy quality. The best fabrics, straps, and chamois and how they are made into women’s bike shorts don’t come cheap. While you can sometimes spend too much, you generally get what you pay for, and your performance and pleasure can suffer if you spend too little.
Of course, each of our bodies is shaped differently, and we have different style preferences and budget priorities. These factors can make evaluating and choosing women’s cycling shorts more difficult than picking a helmet or pair of bike shoes.
Getting women’s bike shorts cut for your body and preferences is the place to start. Some are cut narrower or wider at the waist and hips. Others reach up well above your waist or cover more or less of your legs.
You can see how I experienced the cut in the comparative chart above.
The chamois pads that go into your bike shorts are also cut differently. Most fall into one of two groups.
– Contact Point Chamois – Those with a chamois that ends at the places or “points” where your bottom and the saddle come into contact, specifically between the legs and just beyond your sit bones.
– Extended Chamois – Those with a chamois that extends somewhat beyond your contact points to the insides of your legs and outsides of your butt and above it beyond your sit bones. The extra chamois pad and material are usually thinner than the part that rests under your contact points.
Contact point chamois are typically best for rides when we want to go our fastest and will be in an aero position. When we do, the extra material in an extended chamois isn’t necessary and can get in the way of your aggressively cranking legs.
An extended chamois is great for longer or more relaxed endurance rides where the added padding will buffer your butt and legs against the saddle when you are pedaling in a more upright body position.
During my testing, I didn’t apply any chamois cream before or after any of the rides for any of the bike shorts. While I didn’t experience any chafing, to avoid it be sure that the stitching that connects the chamois to the shorts with a contact point chamois lays exactly where you need it. That’s typically along the same edges as a pair of underwear. (Of course, don’t wear underwear in your bibs!)
For bibs with an extended chamois, make sure the padding beyond your contact points is thin enough so that your legs don’t rub the sides of the saddle. That will definitely create chafing.
Finally, some women’s bike shorts are designed with a drop-tail that gives you access for a nature break without having to take off your jersey and lower your straps and shorts. This is a nice feature if you do rides that last more than a couple of hours and plan a short café stop or need to find a private place along the route.
I’ve noted all of these cut characteristics for each of the bike shorts I tested in the rating table and written about how they work for me as an example in the individual reviews.
There’s no right or wrong cut; there’s just the cut that’s right for your shape and preferences.
I’m unaware of any women’s cycling shorts brands that change the cut of a given model for different sizes. But, different models from the same brands are cut differently.
So once you pick women’s bike shorts with the cut you want, you need to figure out and order the size that best fits you.
Some brands have calculators on their sites where you enter information, and they suggest the size that would be best for you. Others include a size chart that lists the hip and waist dimension ranges, or that corresponds to US and EU sizes.
Here are examples of each.
Like most women’s skirts, shorts, or pants, the fit of women’s cycling shorts is about how much it stretches with you as you move, how much it compresses your butt and leg muscles (glutes, quads, and hamstrings), and how well the seams work to enable that stretch and compression without getting any bunching, gaps, or rippling in the short’s materials.
Fit also includes how well the grippers at the ends of your shorts’ legs keep them down and how well the straps that go around your shoulders do in holding the waist of your shorts up.
Chamois comfort is the most important consideration in choosing women’s bike shorts. A chamois pad’s thickness and density, both of which typically vary at different places across the length and width of the pad, its shape and size (contact point or extended as described in the section about cut above), and the fabric and stitching that covers the pad all contribute to the comfort.
Another key to comfort is the material used in the shorts panels. How soft or abrasive are they? How well do they breathe or let fresh air through to help regulate your temperature? And on hot days, how well do they wick or help evaporate the sweat on your legs and inside your shorts?
Comfort also comes from having bib straps that lay across your front and back in the right places. They should feel tight enough on your shoulders and back to hold up your shorts while being made from comfortable fabric to not feel abrasive on direct skin or rub against your sports bra. Similar to bib material, straps should also wick any sweat from your back, typically with a mesh panel between them, adding to the overall comfort of your women’s bike shorts.
Finally, the seams that hold the shorts panels together are the last place where comfort or mostly discomfort can show up. Some seams dig into your legs, while others you won’t even notice. Bike shorts with fewer panels often create less discomfort from seams as long as the materials stretch and compress to give you as good a fit as those with multiple panels.
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WHERE I’M COMING FROM
I’ve ridden road bikes for 20+ years and added mountain biking in the last 4-5 years. I spend some time on my CX and fat bike now and again and generally ride 5 to 6 times a week year-round. I also work, have school-age kids, and a partner. Riding ensures that I stay healthy (mentally & physically), see and make new friends, and keep on smiling.
While testing these women’s cycling bike shorts, my rides ranged from 1-3 hours long on rolling road terrain. I averaged between 16mph/26kph on easy days and 19mph/30 kph on hard ones in 55F/13C to 85F/29C temperatures, sometimes on very humid summer days.
I’m on the shorter end, a little bit over 5’3”/160cm, and weigh about 120lbs/54.5kg. As you can see in the photos in the reviews, I have hips and a butt and cyclist’s leg muscles, while my upper body is pretty lean. My saddle is fairly hard and narrow.
I wear a Small in all of the bike shorts tested in this review except for the Castelli where I wear a Medium.
WOMEN’S BIKE SHORTS REVIEWS
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ASSOS UMA GTV C2 – BEST FOR MY LONGEST, HOTTEST, FASTEST RIDES
The Assos UMA GTV C2 women’s bike shorts have really shined from the first time I put them on to some of the longest, hottest, and fastest rides I’ve ever done.
The chamois, shorts material, and wicking stood out from my very first ride.
Compared to the dozen or so bike shorts I’ve reviewed over the past couple of years, the UMA GTV C2’s chamois is the best chamois I’ve worn. (And it’s not pink or purple just because it’s in women’s shorts! Thank you Assos.)
The pad is wonderfully comfortable. The chamois that goes over the top of it is sewn to the bike shorts at its front and back but not in the center. This allows the chamois and pad to float with me as my bottom moves in and out and around on the saddle rather than rubbing against it.
While that continued skin-to-chamois contact got me thinking that moisture might build up between them, I’ve found that any moisture is wicked away and unnoticeable. I have been surprised at how dry the chamois feels after hours of riding on the hottest and most humid summer days.
The UMA GTV C2 shorts material is silky and slippery rather than the honeycomb-type texture in many second-skin type women’s bike shorts I’ve worn. I really like the amount and consistency of the compression across my legs, as good the best for this performance characteristic.
These Assos shorts fit snugly but not tight and feel almost perfectly sized, at least for my dimensions. They have a ½” longer inseam than on most standard-length women’s cycling shorts I’ve worn. The waist and hips are cut narrow and, when I’m standing, the waist panel comes up just below my belly button.
Like the chamois, the shorts also wick quickly. I was pleasantly surprised by how dry they were when I went to shed them for a shower after I wore them the first time on an incredibly hot and tough ride during a summer of incredibly hot and tough rides.
On a 90F and humid early August day, I wore these UMA GTV C2 bibs for over 15 hours including 9½ hours of riding time. The bib material was fantastic. I couldn’t say enough about the chamois during this ride. While I was dripping in sweat, my bike shorts and chamois remained dry.
I even sat for 2 hours on a ferry back to the city after we reached the end of the day’s route and then rode another 1½ hours from the city to home. Still felt amazing.
On this ride or any ride where I need a bathroom break, the “drop-tail” or nature break access built into the UMA GTV C2 is a real bonus. As you can see in the photos, they use two small plastic clips with built-in magnets sewn into the ends of the rear straps that connect with the shorts.
These clips work very well, easily detaching and reattaching when needed. Other drop-tail women’s bike shorts I’ve tried don’t actually unclip the shorts so you feel somewhat constrained moving your bum between the shorts and still-attached straps. Unclipping the Assos shorts from the straps give you more relaxed freedom on the potty.
The UMA GTV C2 straps themselves sit wide and straight in the front and meet in a criss-cross in the back before separating again to meet the shorts. My friends can see the clips in the back since they sit well below the waistline and just above the bum. When standing I could mostly cover the clips with my jersey but the straps themselves go out beyond the curve of my back.
The benefit of having this drop-tail feature does come with its drawbacks beyond this visual idiosyncrasy. Specifically, the straps themselves feel a bit snug and very stretchy, and the material they are made of feels durable but not as comfortable as the best ones I’ve worn.
Overall, they aren’t uncomfortable and some of the tight feeling goes away once I’m out riding. But, the fit and comfort of the straps aren’t on par with most women’s bike shorts I’ve tested.
I’ve also found that I need a tiny readjustment to the length of the straps each time I re-clip them. It’s easy and quick and I do it without removing my jersey. It just requires a bit more attention than on bibs without the drop-tail feature.
But then with those, I need to take off my jersey and pull down my straps.
The leg grippers fit well and keep the shorts in position. On longer rides, their heft can make them a bit tighter than some though not particularly bothersome. The seams that attach the grippers to the shorts have become a pain on my longest rides and I’ve had to stick my hand in there and flatten a seam to stop it from them digging into my skin.
Overall, the Assos UMA GTV C2 has become my go-to bibs for my longest, toughest rides where their chamois and shorts material performance combined with the drop-tail feature more than outweighs the slightly tighter and less relaxed straps, grippers, and gripper seams.
While still better than most on shorter rides, there’s less that separates them from others with nearly as good chamois, shorts material, and compression but more comfortable straps.
ALE’ R-EV1 VELOCITY HD – COMPRESSION AND COMFORT THAT PERFORMS
Ale’s latest, top-of-the-line women’s bike shorts, the R-EV1 Velocity HD brings the best of the fit and performance characteristics I loved about the Future Race model it replaced.
The Velocity HD is all about compression. It takes the feeling of a “second skin” to a level unequaled by the many other bibs I’ve worn. It’s also cut a bit tighter than the prior Ale’. If that’s not the fit you prefer or you’re on the border of the size their measurement chart suggests, you might want to go up a size.
Personally, I love the snug feeling. These bike shorts feel like a pair of skinny jeans compared to the boyfriend jeans cut you get in a more comfort-oriented bib short.
The Velocity HD is also incredibly comfortable on all but my hottest and longest rides. Because of the bib short’s compression, how the chamois is sewn into the shorts, and the material and pad used in the chamois, it doesn’t even feel like the chamois is there.
The straps are also comfortable with a soft material and just the right length and stretch. They sit wide in the front, to the outside of my chest, and have a bathing suit-style cross in the back.
I find the strap material and layout super comfy. It gives me plenty of space to move around without feeling any limitations on the movement on my shoulders or pressure on the muscles near my neck that you can sometimes feel wearing other bibs.
Ale’ uses two different materials in the Velocity HD shorts. The inner leg panel material has a smooth texture, while the outer leg material is patterned like a honeycomb and sounds paper-like when I’m putting on or removing the bibs. I don’t know if they do this for function or style points, but it makes for an interesting combination.
Along with the compression and second skin feeling you get from these Velocity HDs, this combination of shorts materials gives you a lot of stretch. So you get freedom and muscle support without feeling constricted as your legs crank out the watts.
If I were to speak with the sensitivity of the Princess and the Pea or perhaps just someone looking out for my girlfriends, I’d say the grippers and seams that connect them to the shorts can seem a bit uncomfortable when I first put on these bibs.
The gripper provides a bit more compression than the shorts’ material, and the seams can cut into my legs in a few places. I’m somewhat disappointed as the Future Race model that this Velocity HD replaced synced up the shorts, grippers, and seams perfectly.
However, once I get rolling as a Princess Bad Ass on my regular 2 to 4-hour rides, I don’t notice the grippers and seams on these new bike shorts at all.
On 4+ hour rides, I do start noticing the seams again, especially when I pull up the bike shorts after a nature break. More importantly, on these long rides, the chamois starts to feel a little compressed.
But on most days and rides, I love wearing these Velocity HD bike shorts as much as any current model I have in my drawer.
ELIEL WOMEN’S EL CAPITAN BIB SHORTS – MY SPRING GO-TO BIBS
Available from Eliel for US$280
While comfortable from the start, it took me a lot of rides to conclude that the Women’s Eliel El Capitan bib shorts are my go-to bibs for almost any type or length of Spring season ride.
After first putting them on, it was clear that they were built for compression. They fit properly and compress very nicely.
By “nicely,” I mean they flatter my shape. The bib’s waist and hip widths are cut narrow, while the waist comes up higher than most on my torso. Like many other women’s bike shorts, the Eliel’s chamois coverage extends beyond my contact points but is relatively thin, so it looks well-fitted on my bum.
With seams only down the back of each leg and compression up, down, and around my legs, there’s no need for independent grippers. Cut this way, they fit more comfortably on the bike than off it.
When I put on the El Capitan, I sense the leg seams against my butt. I also notice what feels like something sticking to my back. That sensation made me check whether I had a loose tag or another piece of material else in the way the first few times I wore them.
Once on the bike and in my riding position, however, I feel neither of these. Instead, the chamois feels fabulous and gives me the confidence that I can go out on a long ride in these bibs.
I’ve turned that feeling into very comfortable performance experiences on all sorts of rides. A short CX ride on very simple trails and roads. One hour commutes to and from the office where they felt as good on the way home as the way over. Three-hour MTB rides where I love the leg compression, the chamois comfort, the straps that work well, and the grippers that don’t budge.
On the road (right, that’s what they’re intended for!), they’re super comfy on 3+ hour rides on good tarmac. I’ve worn them under leggings and on their own. I really like how the chamois feels relatively thin but does an excellent job of keeping all my lady parts happy. And I love the compression. The straps? They aren’t even noticeable.
I feel really strong and attractive in these bibs.
If I’m doing one of these longer rides in warmer weather on roads with some rough patches, however, I notice the effect of the thin padding in the front part of the chamois against my pubic bone. That appears to be the limit of the El Capitan’s otherwise wide range of comfort.
Despite washing these bibs and hanging them to dry just like my others, after just a few washes, the outer inch or so of the chamois began to pill where it came in contact with my legs. You can see this in the photo above, and it’s progressively gotten worse. While I can’t feel the pilling when riding, I’m disappointed these bibs aren’t more durable.
While sharing the same name as the bibs, I find the Women’s Ascent El Capitan Jersey (US$280) to be a very different experience and one I don’t care for. It also uses a very compressive material but has a wax paper feel to it.
I think the jersey would be more suited for me if I were racing or doing a time trial. But even in that situation, there are other jerseys I have that I’d choose over it as they accomplish a similarly smooth and aero fit with a more comfortable fabric.
VELOCIO WOMEN’S SIGNATURE – GOOD FIT AND COMFORT WITH NOVEL FEATURES
The Velocio Women’s Signature Bib Short does several novel things, some of which I appreciate. Individually or together, however, they don’t affect the characteristics I think matter most in choosing between women’s bike shorts.
So let’s first talk about the things that do and then come back to the unique aspects of these Velocio Women’s Signature bibs.
The materials Velocio uses in the shorts and bib straps are very soft and comfortable. They do an excellent job of breathing and wicking even on those very hot and humid days we seem to be riding through a lot more now.
I also like several aspects of the design. The waist comes up just above my belly button and the legs stretch down so only a little bit of my quad muscles are showing. I generally like women’s cycling shorts with shorter legs but these work fine for me and would fit women taller than me very well.
There’s a Goldilocks amount of stretch in the Signature so that it moves well with me as I change positions on the bike to get more aero, climb out of the saddle, lean into the turns, and just sit up from time to time. It’s not too much stretch so that I’m feeling totally free or too little that I’m feeling held back.
While about average compared to other women’s bike shorts I’ve tried, I’d like to feel more compression in these Velocio’s to support my muscles on longer rides.
The back straps crisscross, something it took a little while to get used to. Once I did, I find they lay flat nicely and are barely noticeable during rides.
Many companies use straps only in the front and a mesh panel across the back as a kind of partial base layer that helps regulate your temperature. Velocio flips the script with a front mesh panel and rear straps.
The front panel does wick pretty well in the rain or really hot weather. But, I tend to run hot so unless it’s a cool day, I don’t wear a base layer. With the front panel on the Velocio Women’s Signature, I don’t have a choice.
If you easily get cool in the front, this might be a good solution for you. It’s not for me.
Velocio’s chamois in the Signature shorts is far from the best but it’s not terrible either. It extends further than my sit bones in the back but not so much that it looks like you have a huge fanny. The part covering my pelvis feels a little bulky, coming up very high and a little wide in the front.
As for the padding itself, the section covering the important female parts is relatively thin and doesn’t protect as well on longer rides.
I don’t do long enough rides or those where I can’t easily find an inside bathroom, so I wouldn’t get a lot of use out of this feature that Velocio calls FlyFree. If you do, this might be a good option.
In addition to the novel front panel and FlyFree feature, the Signature is made with 100% recycled Lycra or Elastane, which makes up 22% of the fabric used in these women’s bike shorts. (The other 78% is Polyamide, more commonly known as Nylon.)
The shorts are packaged in a biodegradable clear bag and shipped in a pretty basic paper bag. We can only hope that this environmentally conscious approach to both the materials and packaging isn’t novel to other brands for long. The comfort of the Velocio short and strap materials give you certainly suggests that it shouldn’t be.
STOLEN GOAT CLIMBERS – SOLID AND FAIRLY PRICED WOMEN’S BIKE SHORTS
Available directly from Stolen Goat for US$150/£120/€160
Adventure and freedom may be the themes behind the Stolen Goat brand but their Women’s Climbers Bib Shorts follow a solid, tried-and-true, fair-priced approach to performance-level women’s bike shorts.
The cut is standard for serious women riders like me who’ve been wearing club and race team bib shorts for years. Waist below my belly button, hips sized for normal women, and legs coming down to the lower end of my quads.
I really like that the shorts are made from a single panel of fabric with seams sewn down the back of my legs. It proportionately accommodates my lower body. There’s more stretch than compression in the fabric, but more compression than most of the bibs I’ve tested. It also feels quite durable.
On warm summer days when I’m riding hard, I notice the Climbers don’t breathe as well as others. I had to remove them mid-ride for a nature break on a particularly sweaty day and, after putting them back on had to adjust them several times. It felt almost like wearing a wet bathing suit.
At the bottom of the legs, there’s a gripper band that comfortably sticks where it’s meant to in the front and around the sides of my legs. It’s a little taller than it needs to be and doesn’t hold as well to the back of my legs.
The straps on these Stolen Goat women’s bike shorts are incredibly comfortable, so much so that I don’t notice them during the ride. They’re soft and stretchy though slightly long for my 5’ 3”/160 cm height. I could grow a few inches taller (not likely), and the straps and legs would still fit.
The bibs stay in place nicely, and I feel compacted without being too compressed. There’s also a separate panel above the butt that nicely shapes me. Ladies who like a smoother look will appreciate that there aren’t any bulgy spots.
Altogether, it’s a good cut for me and a very comfortable fit on all but the warmest days.
The Climbers’ chamois is good, but not the best. It covers your bottom mostly where it comes into contact with your saddle. This is a more traditional, performance-oriented style chamois and contrasts with most of those I’ve reviewed that extend well beyond those contact points to the insides of your legs and beyond your sit bones to the back and sides, albeit with thinner padding in those areas.
This chamois also has notably thicker padding than any of the others I’ve reviewed. But because it is narrower between the legs than others, the pad still feels comfortable and not bulky. I’d prefer it trimmed a bit in the front and back so it doesn’t come up as high in either area.
While the contact point style and thicker pad inside these women’s cycling shorts may not be for everyone, I like it and find it comfortable, especially on longer rides & uneven surfaces.
When the other women’s cycling shorts aren’t on sale, the Stolen Goat Women’s Climbers are the lowest price performance bibs I’ve reviewed.
RAPHA WOMEN’S PRO TEAM BIB SHORTS – TOO MUCH OF GOOD THINGS?
Available direct from Rapha for US$290/£190
Rapha’s Women’s Pro Team Kit is made of high-end fabrics sewn together with high-quality construction. Add high style to that in the limited edition version I tested, named after Canadian cyclocross champion Maghalie Rochette, and you’re making quite a statement with this high-price combination of bike shorts and jerseys.
The shorts and jersey fabric feels relatively comfy and thin yet work really nicely for temps from the mid-50s to mid-80s F (13-30C). I’ve never felt hot wearing the kit. The wicking works so well that it doesn’t even feel like I’ve sweated even after 3 hours of hard riding in the sun.
If you don’t notice the seams and straps, you usually ride in a comfortable pair of bibs. That’s the case with these Pro Team bib shorts. Both the bib straps and uppers are very stretchy.
Perhaps to hold up to wear, the very top of the straps are made up of a slightly thicker material. The back panel fabric is mesh-like, and the leg and arm grippers are wider than most but fit snuggly while still being comfortable.
You also get a lot of stretch in the fabrics used throughout the bib shorts. The feeling is somewhat analogous to what I experience wearing yoga or exercise pants.
The flip side of this stretch is that I don’t feel much compression from these Pro Team bibs or the jersey. As a cyclist that rides hard, fast, and often, I like some compression to support my muscles.
Along with the relatively generous hip width of these Rapha bike shorts, the lack of compression in this kit makes it seem that I’m wearing a slightly larger size than I should be. As I’ve double and triple-checked the size chart to confirm I’m wearing the recommended size for my dimensions, my conclusion is that the Pro Team bib shorts are a more relaxed cut than others.
While I may be at the smaller end of the size range, the legs aren’t too long. I wouldn’t go as far as to say they are roomy, and you can see from the photos that I have well-developed leg and butt muscles, but if I gained 10 lbs, these bibs would still fit comfortably.
The panel that attaches above the shorts also comes up to just below my sports bra, something I might want if I was carrying a little extra weight in my midsection but not what I prefer when I’m fit.
A woman slimmer than me may want to size down with Rapha to get a tighter fitting experience, more similar to the Italian-style fit of Eliel or Ale’ bibs. One with a larger frame or even more muscular legs than mine would probably be comfortable in the size chart as described.
The thick, wide chamois pad on these Pro Team bib shorts matches the desire for comfort Rapha is probably looking for with the stretchy material and relatively lax fit of the rest of the Rapha kit.
Yet for me and even after several washes to soften it up, I find the chamois is too wide and rubs the inside of my legs far more than I like. While I never got chaffing wearing the Pro Team bib shorts, riding them on warmer, more humid days requires that I adjust my body position often to reduce the rubbing from some combination of the wider pad or its seams.
Rapha makes a range of Women’s Pro Team jerseys in different prints and cuts for training, gravel, crit, and road racing that can give you some fresh styling ideas when you have time to do some screen shopping. I wore the Maghalie Rochette Women’s Pro Team Training Jersey (US$52 from Rapha) for this review that matches the shorts.
The jersey is thin and fits well without being too tight. It’s good for varying weather. The sleeves are a little too big on my skinny arms but have grippers and are meant to stay put on slightly thicker ones. The length of the jersey and bottom gripper band is very nice and stays put.
Interestingly, the pockets look like they have been pre-loosened. They don’t sit snugly shut against my back like most others but are more open with an extra thick seam at the top.
You can also get an aero version of the Maghalie Rochette jersey (US$86 from Rapha) that would likely fit tighter, though it has a slightly different color palette than the shorts.
While this Rapha kit looks and feels great, I tend to delay picking this kit from my drawer in the morning. I have others that are super comfy. If the chamois width between the legs weren’t as wide as they are on me, I’d grab these more often and not care as much about the lack of compression.
TREK VELOCIS AND CIRCUIT BIB SHORTS – BEST FOR SHORTER, EASIER RIDING
The Trek Velocis Women’s Cycling Bib Short available from Trek for US$145/£110/€135 and Circuit Women’s Cycling Bib Short, also available from Trek for US$115/£85/€110 are priced well below most of the other bibs I’ve reviewed.
While that’s generally a good thing, what became clear to me after riding each of them on a half dozen rides is that they (and their sibling jerseys) aren’t made and don’t perform to the same level as most of the more expensive bibs.
Of course, whether you need or can justify what higher-priced bibs offer depends on how much and how hard you ride.
The Velocis leaves a positive first impression. Its short material has a smooth and almost silky feeling that’s very comfortable. After first putting them on, I felt both strong and feminine. The leg length was also perfect for me, something that isn’t always the case since, at 5’ 3”, I’m shorter than many cyclists.
While it is cut pretty thin, the chamois was barely noticeable even though it’s the “extended” type that is wider and longer than those that just pad the areas where your bottom touches the saddle.
Likewise, the straps seemed to offer the right amount of stretch and go straight up my front like a pair of overalls rather than most that have more spacing between them until they reach my shoulders. They use a different fabric than what’s in the Velocis shorts, but like the shorts, the straps at first felt comfortable.
In the back, the straps meet and connect to a one-layer mesh fabric. The way everything came together reminded me of a well-fitting sports bra, something I initially welcomed.
There are a lot of extra seams between the shorts, straps, and back panel than in most of the better women’s bike shorts I’ve tested. Some of those seams lay differently than the others, which irritates my skin, for example, on my lower back.
My first couple of rides in the Velocis were short and easy on moderate terrain. The fit, chamois feel and overall comfort were great. I didn’t feel any irritation during the ride, the straps were hardly noticeable, and the bibs stayed in place.
As I did longer and harder rides, the Velocis bib short’s performance limitations became clear.
The thin, wide chamois became uncomfortable. I started to experience a lot of chaffing along the panty line between my legs. And the chamois stitching irritated my rear and left markings on my butt!
The inside of the straps at the top of my back got too high on my shoulders, too close to my neck, and seemed to have extra stretch to them. I leveraged this extra stretch to pull the straps lower to a more comfortable resting place.
Alternating between the Velocis and other brands of women’s cycling shorts accentuated the difference between the comfort of the pads.
If you’re going on a 1-2 hour ride, they work ok. They are not the best, but for the price, they’ll be ok. For longer rides, you’ll want a more comfortable pair of shorts.
The Trek Circuit Women’s Bib Short is less expensive and not as comfortable as the Velocis. In the same size, it feels larger than the Velocis or perhaps uses a fabric that’s more relaxed and less compression.
There’s plenty of compression in the grippers, but that makes the lack of compression in the legs all the more noticeable. The stitching connecting the leg grippers and shorts is also uncomfortable and scratchy.
Based on how they look side-by-side and how each feels on the ride, the Circuit and Velocis appear to use a very similar chamois pad. And as with the Velocis, I felt chafing from the Circuit’s pad. Not good!
Unlike the Velocis, the Circuit Women’s Cycling Bib Short has lower back straps that converge into a panel at and about the size of the area just above and between my shoulder blades. While I initially liked the design, after wearing the Circuit a few times, the straps have lost their stretch and feel loose.
If I only rode 2 or 3 times a week and no more than a couple of hours each time, I could probably get by and save money wearing one of these Trek bibs. But since I ride far more than that, they aren’t comfortable or supportive enough for my cycling needs.
I also tested the Circuit LTD Jersey, available from Trek for US$90, in two of the six color combinations that Trek makes to coordinate with the Velocis and Circuit bibs.
As with the Velocis bib, the Circuit LTD jersey fabric is super soft and comfy and feels like I’m putting on a soft T-shirt. That sensation is a bit at odds with the sleeve grippers and elastic waistband. It was good as a Spring jersey and likely would be in the Fall too. However, the front and back material is too thick and hot to wear in the summer.
In the jersey with the white stripe across the front is rather see-thru. Even after switching to a white bra, you could still see the bib straps through the white fabric.
To further differentiate the Circuit LTD jersey from others, there’s a non-zippered, credit card-sized, 4th pocket sewn in on top of the standard-sized left pocket. I’m not sure I’d trust it with a credit card, license, or hotel room key, but it might be good for that caffeine gel to have handy to add a little kick to my ride.
CASTELLI PREMIO BLACK W – INNOVATIVE BUT NOT QUITE RIGHT FOR WOMEN
The Castelli Premio Black W brings a lot of innovations to the world of bike shorts. At the same time, while adding the ‘W’ to the name of these shorts, they need to do more to truly make these women’s bike shorts.
Let me explain.
Castelli uses materials in the shorts that have a paper-like feel in your hand that is very lightweight and comfortable on your body.
There’s only a single seam in the back of each leg and one around your bum, but it holds everything together nicely without any puckering or wrinkling. And it wicks your sweat well.
Like what you see in many men’s bib shorts now, the grippers on these Premio Black W(omen’s) are embedded into the ends of the shorts’ legs where separate bands would normally be sewn in. It’s a classy look, and the grippers work perfectly on the somewhat shorter-than-standard leg length, all of which I like.
The bib shorts are packaged in a very “on-brand” cardboard box that is also soft to the touch and includes a multi-page booklet explaining (or marketing) the Premio Black W’s distinctiveness.
But the quantity of packaging material Castelli uses for this one garment also stands out, especially compared to the far lesser amounts used by most others and the recycled material used in the bib shorts themselves of a couple I tested.
Considerably off the ‘W’ part of the Premio Black W brand is this shorts’ chamois. While it’s stylishly red, it doesn’t seem to be structured for a woman. Because of that, I find it very uncomfortable.
The chamois pad is 9mm thick (too little!) below the important female body parts and increases to 15mm (too much!) under the sit bones. This thickness difference also tilts my body angle and weight forward and puts more pressure on my female parts.
To add to the discomfort, the stitching that connects the chamois to the shorts rubs against my inner thighs and bum. Perhaps because I adjust my leg angle to avoid this rubbing, it feels like the hips of these shorts are cut wider than most. Or maybe they are just cut wider than most I’ve tested, or the average amount of compression in these shorts makes them feel roomy.
To add to the disorientation, when I’m wearing these Castelli shorts off the bike, the extra pad thickness under and behind my sit bones makes it feel like something is stuffed in the back of my shorts.
The waist and back panels and the bib straps make a mess of me.
Start with the middle waist section, which is low and too wide, and the side waist panels, which are too high and narrow. The top of the side panels come up so high that they dig into my sides. At the same time, they are loose and stick out when I’m in a riding position, probably because there is no stretchy fabric across the middle of my waist to connect to the sides.
The Premio Black W includes a back mesh panel that should be useful in wicking sweat. It’s very stretchy, which is good, but scratchy, which isn’t. And the straps that come off the top of the back panel are also scratchy and are too tight for my 5’3”/160cm tall (or short) shoulders.
In many bibs, there is a gap between my skin and the fabric at my lower back when I’m standing. Once I get in a riding position, the gap closes, and the fabric that is now against my lower back wicks my sweat. With these Castelli shorts, that gap never closes, and I feel sweat dripping down my lower back.
While I know women are shaped differently, these Castelli women’s bike shorts don’t feel like they are cut or made to fit different women’s shapes. Certainly not mine. They just make me feel uncomfortable.
I had hoped for more from the innovation, fit, and comfort level suggested by the higher price.
MACHINES FOR FREEDOM ENDURANCE – A MIX OF COMFORT AND DISCOMFORT
Available for $190 at Competitive Cyclist
My experience with the Machines for Freedom (or MFF) Endurance women’s cycling shorts is full of contradictions. They are very comfortable in places and quite uncomfortable in others, with still other places changing in comfort over a long ride.
Chamois fit and comfort is usually the most important performance characteristic in choosing which bike shorts I want to buy and wear. And the chamois MFF puts in the Endurance bike shorts is one of the most comfortable I’ve worn.
It’s wide between the legs and also goes down the legs under your bum. Of all of those I’ve tested for this review and worn in the past, it’s also the widest chamois at the back. This is the very definition of an extended chamois and contrasts 180 degrees from the narrower contact point chamois I normally prefer.
Still, I really like the Endurance chamois. It has exactly the right amount of padding where it counts and is comfortable in all riding positions over varying terrain. This chamois also wicks well in hot and humid conditions and gives me no chafing.
But, some combination of the cut, fit, and materials of the rest of these MFF Endurance women’s bike shorts makes them uncomfortable for me.
There are a couple of rows of shaping panels across the abdomen and lower back. Those panels connect to hemmed mesh sections that reach from just below my belly button up rather high to just below my ribs in the front. The mesh goes higher on the sides and back to incorporate a back panel and straps made of the same mesh.
With all of that going on, these shorts have more stitching than any other I’ve tested, layering panels in a way that creates a pattern on the legs and bodice.
All of this makes you look and feel like these women’s cycling shorts have you very put together. With all the mesh, it almost seems this garment belongs in the underwear department rather than the activewear section.
The waist is cut small and the short’s fabrics (especially the mesh) don’t stretch much. Pulling the Endurance on and over my hips and bum takes some work, something I don’t enjoy doing first thing in the morning when I get kitted up and want to be comfortable.
This can be even tougher during a long ride if I need to stop for a nature break. Some patience and shimmying are required, especially if you’re sweaty.
Once in place though, the Endurance material hugs me nicely and flatteringly. And most of the time everything stays in place.
During the first 20-30 minutes of nearly every ride in these MFF Endurance women’s bike shorts, the straps feel tight and restrictive. While that feeling subsides, the straps never feel as soft as on other bibs.
And after about an hour and a half of riding, I feel the need to hitch up the chamois a bit to regain the comfort there that I had during the earlier part of my rides.
Except for the chamois, the materials used in the Endurance (mesh and shorts fabrics) are never very comfortable. There’s far more compression than stretch in the shorts so things generally stay in place but you can’t move on the bike as well as you’d like.
The material also doesn’t seem to breathe as well as in other women’s bike shorts. That makes for a hotter day than normal in warm weather but is fine on cooler days.
This tight feeling I get from the cut, fit, and materials had me wondering if I had ordered the wrong size. The bottom of the grippers also come up to my mid quad, shorter on my legs than many of the others even though I chose what MFF calls the classic length option they say should hit just above the knee.
I used the website fit guide (chest, waist, hips) before ordering my size small. After they arrived in an environmentally-friendly brown paper package (yeah!), I double-checked the size because it felt tight. And I re-checked my sizing after my third ride in them.
Per the size chart, I have the right size though it doesn’t feel like I do.
For me, the excellent chamois just doesn’t make up for the discomfort of the Endurance material and straps. And despite how well they shape me, I don’t want to deal with the hassle of putting these on. Once I do get them on, the priority MFF seems to put on compression instead of stretch, make them feel smaller than they should.
Of course, all our bodies are different, and what doesn’t work for me might work for you.
About my socks… and the bike in the photos
You may have noticed the different socks I wore in the photos with each pair of shorts. Yes, I love my bike socks and bright, colorful jerseys too. My closet has more space dedicated to bike clothing than ‘regular’ clothing these days. My favorite socks tend to be from SockGuy, DEFEET, and recently Stolen Goat, but I’m always looking for more (colorful!) socks, so I would love your recommendations!
The bike in the photos is my classic Triumph townie bike. While I tested the bike shorts for this review on my new Aerfast Pro Storck road bike, I love riding my Triumph around town, inclusive of the Original Bike License plate from my local town circa the early 1900s. I also ride a retired BMC Time Machine on the trainer, a Velocity XC racing bike off-road, a Specialized Stump Jumper for mountain biking, and a Motobecane fat bike for winter riding in the New England snow.
When it comes to bikes, those In The Know Cycling boy testers have nothing on me!
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This is my first review as a new member of the In The Know Cycling Test Team and the first woman-specific one we’ve done on the site! Thank you so much for reading. Please let me know what you think of anything I’ve written or ask any questions you might have in the comment section below.
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Thanks, and enjoy your rides safely and with colorful socks!