Comfortable, protective and — most important of all — stylish.
Baggy shorts have definitely become are part of the mountain biker’s uniform. It’s what separates us from roadies, runners, rugby players and footballers. There are some performance aspects to wearing them off road — they’re less restrictive, more practical, hard-wearing — but mostly it’s about style; baggy shorts just draws fewer looks than tight Lycra. That said, they still have to be comfortable, practical and affordable.
The only way to guarantee complete comfort is to wear an inner short/liner. This is slightly different to the standard Lycra you see the Tour de France riders wearing — it’s often shorter in the leg, and since it’s beneath another layer, it is made from a more breathable mesh fabric or thinner Lycra.
The liner should fit snugly, but you may have to mix and match inner and outer sizes to achieve the optimum fit.
The outer short is usually made from a nylon fabric. Choose a lighter weight for the summer, and a thicker, or mesh-lined, short for the colder months. Waist adjusters allow you to fine-tune the fit without resorting to a belt, and pockets are useful, although by no means essential.
Price-wise, a good baggy short can cost anything from £50 to over £100, depending whether it has a liner included or not. Top-end shorts are (hopefully) better made, use more sophisticated fabrics and often have a more complex inner short to improve fit, but they don’t necessarily have any additional features.
What to look for in a pair of mountain bike shorts
Velcro tags on the waist allow you to tweak the fit of the short. You see them inside and outside; the former are neater, but the Velcro can scuff your skin. On the outside, they can catch on jerseys and passing foliage. Some shorts have big buckle straps which can cause issues in a crash.
Not essential, but nice to have — these are perfect for car keys, small change or a phone. If they’re deep, you shouldn’t need zips.
To stop the waist popping open accidentally, it should have a press-stud fixing. Extra studs and/or a small strip of Velcro provide additional security. Belt loops are a good idea if there are no waist adjusters.
They may sound like a great idea for carrying extra clobber, but they put all your gear in the worst place for an accident, and the contents are more likely to bang against your thighs when pedalling. We’d avoid them.
You will pay extra to have a liner short included. It has to be comfortable and highly wicking. Look for a shaped pad, wicking construction and make sure it’s snug against your skin to wick properly and reduce chafing.
Avoid liners with a flat pad and little shape. Our advice is to try before you buy. Factor in about £25 for an aftermarket liner if your short doesn’t come with one. There is nothing stopping you mixing and matching brands.
This is a water repellent treatment that is applied to the fabric when new. It does what it says on the tin, but it needs renewing fairly often, as it can lose its effectiveness after repeated washing and wear against the saddle.
To stop baggy shorts tearing, some of them use a Ripstop fabric. This is made from nylon, reinforced with thin threads in a sort of grid pattern.
The longer the leg, the more protection it provides against brambles and scrapes. Also, a longer leg is less liable to ride up when using kneepads. Look for at least a 13in inseam.
What about mountain bike bib shorts?
Bib shorts are cycling shorts with upper sections and straps/braces that go over your shoulders. There are pros and cons to bib shorts.
The benefits of bib shorts is that they stay up and stay in place. No more constantly tugging up on drooping waistbands. On a related note they also lead to a more comfortable, less bunched-up feeling around your waist when you’re baggy shorts over the top.
The disadvantages of bib shorts is not only that they’re typically a bit more expensive than regular liner shorts but also that they make it more difficult to go to the toilet and they can also cause the baggy shorts worn over the top of them to slip down (which causes you to overtighten your baggy short waistband, thus removing the comfy-waist advantage of bib shorts!)
We generally think bib shorts are the best choice. You just need to find some baggy shorts that fit well and/or have grippy (silicone etc) inner waistband. It’s worth finding some mountain bike specific bib shorts that often aren’t as shiny/sheeny as road bibs. This really helps prevent any baggy short slipping-down annoyance.
Madison Addict Softshell shorts
Rain gets through if it’s torrential, but it easily shrugs off wet trails and wheel splatter. It’s also more breathable than a full waterproof, and features two-way zipped vents down both legs, so you can expel a load of condensation when it heats up.
Altura Attack One80
Relaxed and long enough to sit over the knees, the fit is very much enduro/trail style but without it riding up at speed. A comfy inner hip band helped with ride comfort, without rubbing, but the Velcro hip tabs could have pulled tighter and been larger on this generous size Large.
Sombrio Highline shorts
With a well-cut shape, it sits perfectly, just below the knee, and uses a lightweight, stretchy fabric that’s unrestrictive and breathes really well.
Gore Power Trail+ shorts
Features are excellent, as you’d expect for a £130 short, with double-stitched seams, a good Gore liner, big thigh pockets with rubber-ended zips to help wet hands, double popper front closure and a quality Velcro-adjusted waistband. A great short then, but the sky-high price means it can’t get top marks even with the excellent liner included. Search online though and you’ll probably find it for much less than that.
Troy Lee Skyline Race shorts
Troy Lee has made a few minor changes to the liner short. It still gets the breathable mesh construction and super comfy leg grippers, but the pad itself is less breathable and felt a bit clammy with temperatures in the high 20s. It’s well padded, but not as much as some other shorts we’ve tested. That said, this is still the outstanding baggy on test — great performance at a great price.
Royal Racing Stage shorts
The good news is that the medium is long enough in the leg to overlap kneepads, without having to ride with the short hanging off your hips. This is a great baggy, but with no liner it’s just a little high-end; enough to stop it getting full marks.
Intrepid Campaign shorts
With a 15.5in inseam, the Campaign is on of the longest shorts that we have tested. It easily covers a set of kneepads, and with the cuffed legs and articulation, doesn’t flap around or ride up when you’re ripping.
Altura Attack 180 shorts
The Attack 180 liner is a figure-hugging four-panel design, with a breathable microfibre insert. The sizing is good too; we didn’t need to run a medium liner in the large short. We really like the Altura Attack 180 and as such would name it the best value short on the market at the moment.
Endura Singletrack Lite shorts
The Singletrack Lite has a zippered front fly with a traditional button fastener. There are belt loops and waist adjusters — the latter have easy-grab Velcro tags and a good range of adjustment. The Singletrack Lite lacks a liner, but it’s good value and has sensible features. Our only issue is that the slim fit may not suit everyone; it’s a tight squeeze with some brands of kneepad.
IXS Sever shorts
As a standalone baggy, the Sever is expensive, but it does have a top quality construction and finish. It loses a mark simply because you can buy a similar quality short for about the same money, and get a liner included.
Sugoi Evo-X shorts
The Evo-X is a lightweight trail short with an integrated liner. The construction features a four-way stretch, but oddly our large sample felt a little tight across the front. The double-snap front closure also kept popping open when riding — so upsizing could be in order.
Endura Singletrack II shorts
While the Endura Singletrack II isn’t the most cutting-edge garment stylistically, it is a durable and comfortable baggy. If you’re a first timer then make sure you buy it with the liner included, as it’s much better value for money.
Gore Bike Wear Countdown 2.0 shorts
Our only criticism is the length. The 12-inch inseam really isn’t long enough for our tastes, and with such a lightweight fabric, a slight breeze was enough to blow them even higher up the thigh. Add another three inches and the Gore Bike Wear Countdown 2.0 shorts would be perfect.
Madison Addict DWR shorts
The Addict is the perfect baggy for damp UK rides. It’s long in the leg, has a hard wearing and water-resistant construction, and the stretch fabric fits really well without feeling bulky or causing overheating.
Altura Summit shorts
Our only criticism is it’s slightly short in the leg; so doesn’t integrate that well with kneepads, and tends to billow out when you’re hammering along. In this respect the style and cut is similar to Sugoi shorts, but the Summit is definitely better value for money.
Specialized Atlas XC Pro SWAT shorts
We’d like to see the SWAT bib sold separately, because although the Atlas XC outer is minimal and a good length, it’s not the most breathable short and could do with the pockets raising closer to the waistline. More importantly, this would reduce the price, and broaden the market, for what is a genuinely useful product.
For something that you use day-in, day-out, baggy shorts need to be comfortable, and that means no thick or prominent seams in the crotch area, a breathable construction and comfy liner.
You could argue that the length of your baggy shorts is just a style thing – a bit like long socks or three quarter length sleeves. This may be so, but we reckon vertically challenged baggy shorts don’t feel as comfortable when you’re riding, or provide as much protection against either trailside shrubbery or the elements. Also having the short ride up over the top of the kneepads can be both irritating and restrictive.
We think we’ve assembled a good range of shorts from a wide range of price points so you can find the right baggy short for you.