A good pair of cycling shorts is essential for getting the most enjoyment out of your rides. Features to consider when selecting shorts include, but are not limited to: fit, storage, durability, and the presence or absence of a liner.
Mountain bike shorts fall into two broad categories: baggies and Lycra. Baggy, or loose-fitting, is what most people think of when referring to mountain bike shorts. Lycra shorts are the same stretchy, form-fitting shorts you would wear on a road bike. Why choose one over the other? Lycra shorts are lighter, more breathable, and completely non-restrictive. Baggies are more durable, offer more protection, provide the option of storage, and have a more casual style. If you go the Lycra route, we strongly recommend buying bib shorts. They are much more comfortable than shorts and always stay in place. In fact, many riders wear Lycra bibs under their baggies.
While all baggies fit looser than Lycra shorts, there are still fit differences between baggies. Some are designed to be as snug as possible without being completely form-fitting. Others have quite a bit of room.
Many baggy shorts include an inner liner with a chamois pad in addition to the outer shell. Liners that are not sewn into the shell generally work better, as the liner doesn’t shift when the shell moves, keeping the chamois in place. These floating liners can also be removed and replaced with a pair of Lycra shorts or bibs you already own. The purpose of form-fitting liners in MTB shorts is simply to hold the chamois in place. Thus, if you are in between sizes, we recommend sizing down for a closer fit.
Chamois quality is a big deal in any cycling short, and the more expensive shorts usually come with a higher quality chamois. The best chamois are one-piece to eliminate seam chafe, multi-thickness to cut down on bulk, and multi-density for lower weight and high comfort.
Freedom of movement is crucial, and some shorts enable more than others. A fabric’s flexibility usually comes at the expense of abrasion resistance, something to consider if you crash often, or ride trails with encroaching hard vegetation. Less restriction is always better, which is why heavy-duty shorts have stretch panels in critical areas. Protection and durability must be weighed against flexibility when considering shorts.
If you wear knee pads, look for shorts that won’t bunch or hang up on your pads. Generally, if a short hits about mid-knee cap when standing off the bike, they won’t ride up above your pads when pedaling. Of course, the more slim-fitting shorts won’t have leg openings large enough to accommodate pads, and will snag or ride up above the pads.
Pockets provide useful storage, and are generally found in three different configurations: side cargo, front slash, and rear center. Pocket storage is best used for small, light items like nutrition, multi-tools, or cash. Rear-center zipped pockets located just below the waistband are a relatively safe and unobtrusive place for a phone. Pockets need to be big enough to hold your stuff, but snug enough to keep everything in-place and secure. There’s nothing worse than something banging into your knee on every pedal stroke because of a poorly-designed cargo pocket.
Another contributor to overall enjoyment is the fly and waist closure. Heavier duty shorts often have a low-profile ratcheting cam and zipper fly. Ratcheting closures almost never open by mistake. Lighter shorts range from no closure at all, relying on stretch panels in the waistband, to a single-snap button with a boardshort-style fly. Button closures are usually very secure, but may pop open every once in a while, especially if you’re leaned over on a hard climb. Many shorts also have adjuster straps at the waist to cinch the shorts down a full size.
Now that you have an idea of what to consider when purchasing your next—or first—pair of mountain bike shorts, check out the selection of shorts at ArtsCyclery.com. You’re sure to find something that strikes your fancy.