Women's mountain bike shorts tested by Laura Bailey and Rachael Walker. Designed for female MTBers with multiple styles and different fit and sizing.
Women’s mountain bike shorts can be a minefield, as every woman’s shape is different. Add mountain biking into the mix, where garments need to be fit for purpose for all shapes and sizes, and choosing the right kit can feel like an impossible task.
Any of the following shorts would pair well with our selection of the best women’s mountain bike pants and riding trousers.
How we tested women’s mountain bike shorts
Both Laura and Rachael tested each garment to check the fit on both a taller and shorter frame, and as well as two different body shapes. We know that one size doesn’t fit all, and no more so than with women’s kit. Because women’s kit is rarely stocked in bike shops, our two person test team should help give you a much broader overview of sizing for each product.
Light and comfy all-rounder, whatever your leg length
Sizes: XS – XL (regular and short lengths) | Rating: 9/10
Pros: Breezy summer shorts. Two leg lengths. Cons: Summer use only
In peak summer these super-lightweight shorts will be in their element. Perforated vents run on the outer edge of the thigh, compared to the inner thigh on others, to further aid cooling. Despite being lightweight they have a water repellent finish, and Endura has worked to reduce its environmental impact by using a PFC-free coating. Endura also offers a repair scheme for any garment outside warranty.
The fit is comparable with their jersey counterpart, with a slimmer overall shape, although there is still good room for knee pads. Both Rachael and Laura sized up for a bit more room, opting for a medium and XL. One unique feature is that they come in two leg lengths – Laura ran a regular length, but Rachael opted for the short length. The waist closure uses a zip and snap fastening, silicone grippers and an adjustable Velcro strap. The adjusters sit on the back of the short, and when pulled in tight do result in a bunching on the waistband.
These are a summer short best suited to hot weather, and the flexibility to pick your perfect colour, and leg length, make them an attractive choice that works for various body shapes and personal preferences.
Suitable for a good range of body shapes
Sizes: UK 6-18 | Rating: 9/10
Pros: Eco-friendly fabric. Versatile mid-weight construction. Cons: Doesn’t need so many waist features.
These Adidas Five Ten shorts boast good sustainability credentials, made from Primegreen – a series of recycled materials, in this case 90 per cent recycled polyester and 10 per cent elastane. The elastane offers a four-way stretch, perfect for improving freedom of movement and comfort, and they use a solid mid-range weight fabric to get you through all weathers.
While the styling is fairly relaxed overall, Adidas Five Ten has gone to town on the waist fastenings. There’s an internal tie cord, zip with additional popper closures, belt loops and silicone lettering spelling out Brand of the Brave on the internal waistband. Don’t get us wrong, we love the chance to adapt our shorts to our individual hip-to-waist ratios, but perhaps these are a little overkill – we’d happily see the belt loops dropped for a cleaner finish on the waistband.
The two hip pockets are nicely angled, which is flattering and one has an additional internal zipped compartment. It’s a nice touch but only just big enough to hold a set of car keys. A bigger pocket on the thigh just houses an iPhone 11. They fit nicely on both of us, really well shaped for hips and bums and boast a good length, nailing a fit that – like the jersey – feels like it could suit almost everyone. Although you might want to size up if you fall in between sizes.
Decathlon Rockrider Women’s Mountain Bike Shorts ST 900
Superb value if you’re not bothered about the brand name
Sizes: XS – XL | Rating: 7/10
Pros: Super cheap but well made and comfortable. Cons: Could be longer in the leg.
Decathlon’s ST900 shorts use a stretchy, water-repellent material that’s at the lighter end of the fabric spectrum, and they’re available in three colours. For ventilation they have perforated inner thighs, and they are well served with pockets too; a zip rear pocket accommodates your keys, and there’s a thigh pocket for your phone that’s water resistant. It’s a nice touch for keeping your valuables safe and clean, but the thigh pocket did feel a bit sweaty against bare skin if not paired with undershorts – they are not included but Decathlon does offer these separately. Rounding off the features is a loop on the right hip for your gloves. Don’t leave them in it and ride off as you’re bound to drop them, but for occasions mid-ride where you might stop for a chat or to take a photo, we found it to be a handy feature.
The position of the seams and panels are well considered to the female form and they are the only shorts on test with an elasticated waistband. Paired with a zip and a hook closure it feels secure. There’s no waist adjustability though, so if you have slimmer hips you’ll probably want to try them on before committing to a size. Wearing these back-to-back with shorts up to four times more expensive highlighted just how amazing the value is. Tweaks could really elevate them, like adding an inch or two in length and bringing their ‘green’ credentials in line with the jersey, but if price is your number one consideration, they definitely do the job.
Slimline shorts with a nice stretch to them
Sizes: XS – XL | Rating: 8/10
Pros: Dialled shorts with good pocket placement. Cons: Not much variation between the larger sizes.
Marketed as longer-distance trail-riding shorts, TLD’s Lilium is focused on breathability and comfort. They deliver on both fronts, using a nice mid-weight material that, like the jersey, is Bluesign approved and available in either black with subtle oil slick branding, or ginger. It’s worth noting that the black version can be bought with a padded liner short for £130.
TLD has really got the pockets dialled on these shorts. Two zip pockets on the front are lined with nice complementary coloured mesh, but the real genius is the perfectly snug phone pocket, placed low at the back of the short – it’s the perfect size for an iPhone 11 and holds it securely in a place that doesn’t impede pedalling.
The fit is slimmer and more form fitting. If that’s not your thing, then TLD’s Mischief shorts have a looser and longer shape. The waistband is chunky yet slim-fitting all at once, giving a secure feel with zip and snap closure and Velcro adjusters, and silicone grippers on the back. They did come up a touch small, with both of us sizing up. In swapping sizes Laura did notice the difference between the large and XL was negligible – perhaps a blip in the samples we had – but we would like to see more differentiation between sizes. They aren’t the longest of shorts on test, so were perfect for Rachael but a touch shorter on Laura, although a dropped hem on the front helped alleviate the dreaded knee pad gap. These are great all-round shorts then, in fact they were Rachael’s favourite, but the higher price tag and sizing anomalies keeps them from getting top marks.
Gravity short for the longer legged
Sizes: XS – XL | Rating: 8/10
Pros: Durable shorts for three-season use. Neat goggle bag included. Cons: Very baggy. Short placement means items can flap around.
These Nirvana shorts are one of our baggier options on test, are packed full of features and boast a gravity bias. The four-way stretch material is reasonably lightweight, coming in just heavier than the Madison and Endura shorts, so the Nirvana would work well in all conditions bar the arctic chills of winter. Their cross season functionality is further extended by a splash-proof, shower-proof DWR coating, triple-stitching on the inner seams for durability, and thigh ventilation holes on the front and rear panels to keep them breathable in warm conditions. Two bonded zipped pockets give good storage volume, but are pretty sizable, which means whatever you’re carrying can slap around inside. One comes with a soft goggle bag, which is handily detachable, and the other an internal D-ring to which you can clip your keys.
They are well fitted for hips and bums; perhaps the most accommodating on test thanks to their baggier styling. The waist has a zip closure and poppers combined with Velcro side adjusters, and the waistband sits high at the back. For shorter riders these may feel more like a three-quarters length short, but for taller riders, they are the perfect length, with a hem that will not only touch your knees, but comfortably cover them.
If you’re looking for more gravity styling and are a fan of a longer length short then these are a great all-rounder. But if you’re of average or below height, the leg length probably may well be a deal breaker.
Ethical and comfortable summer shorts
Sizes: 6-18 | Rating: 8/10
Pros: Lightweight fabric is a joy in summer heat. Four-way stretch allows freedom of movement. Cons: On the tight side. Limited pockets and features.
Patagonia’s mtb clothing range has three different short lines, each one aimed broadly at a different riding style. The Dirt Craft shorts are longer and looser, best for more enduro-style riding. In the middle sits the Dirt Roamer – tested here – and finally there are the Tyrolean shorts. All three are marketed using their associated leg length in inches, specifically 12in, 11.75in and 9.5in respectively. The Tyrolean shorts are the shortest and most fitted in the range, aimed at more XC/gravel riding.
The first thing to note about these shorts is they are slim fitting. Rachael first tried the size 10 and, whilst the waist was good, the fit in the thighs was barely baggier than a Lycra road short – not the most pleasant effect when wearing chamois shorts and knee pads underneath. Sizing up to a 12 gave a little more breathing room in the quads, although still definitely a more fitted short than others on test. If you have super-slim legs these may be the shorts for you.
Made from lightweight fabric, the Dirt Roamers are definitely a summer short. With a blend of 87 per cent recycled polyester and 13 per cent elastane, there’s a four-way stretch which gives movement instead of resistance when pedalling. The lightweight fabric also proved to give great breathability. Once pedalling, these shorts felt amazing and we soon forgot we were wearing them (which is always a sign of great shorts). Although sceptical of the fitted design, out on the trails the fabric felt incredible against bare skin and the stretch provided great mobility, making pedalling super comfortable.
Walk into most bike shops up and down the country and you’ll struggle to find any women’s riding kit, let alone a choice of garments to try on. If you speak to many shop managers they’ll generally argue the reason women’s kit isn’t stocked is because it’s such a puzzle for them, as they struggle to select the right brand, stock popular sizes and styles. The lack of places to actually see and try on kit is a familiar problem for women.
The question of style is massively divisive, too. Some women love black kit, others prefer bright colours. Some women are put off by the addition of a flower, while others are annoyed if the kit is too bland.
But isn’t this an issue that bridges the gender gap? Men come in different shapes and sizes too, so what’s so special about women’s kit? While that’s true, men don’t have as many differentials as women. Height is one thing, then we have boobs, hips, bums and thighs. These lumps, bumps and unique shapes are what make us women so special – it’s something to celebrate. But, when it comes to finding riding kit that feels good, looks good and fits well while performing in the variable conditions we experience while mountain biking, that’s the tricky part.
Laura Bailey and Rachael Walker are no strangers to this issue. Standing at 5ft 9in and 82kg, Laura (UK size 16) is always on a never-ending quest to find shorts that don’t sit too high on the thigh. At 5ft 3(3/4)in and 59.5kg Rachael (UK size 10) has the opposite problem – finding kit that doesn’t look like her older brothers’ hand-me-downs. Using both Laura and Rachael to test each set of shorts ranging from the cheapest entry-level garments to more premium higher end pieces. Somewhere between these price points and the sizing feedback from both Laura and Rachael we hope you can find the right garments for you.
Women’s kit can’t be easy to design so that it fits and appeals to everyone, so we were pleased to see that most brands have upped their game and improved their offerings. However, there were definitely a few stand-out items. Firstly, Decathlon deserves praise for putting together a pair of shorts that we’d be happy to wear for less than £25. With some outfits here costing well over £75, that’s really refreshing.
The Adidas Five Ten Brand of the Brave shorts were a favourite with accurate sizing, great comfort and a moderate price tag. Troy Lee Designs’s Lilium Shorts also stood out, but were let down by the small sizing.
In the end Endura took the win with its Singletrack Lite short, mainly due to the wide variety of options – it comes in three colours and two different lengths. While the sizing does come up a touch small, the slight stretch in the fabric and the chunky waistband make them super comfy to pedal in. A great option for most women at a reasonable price point.
More expensive doesn’t always mean better. New riders can often be put off by the high cost of equipment needed to ride. While high quality fabrics, such as Merino, sit at the more expensive end of the price scale, don’t automatically assume that all high priced garments will transform your riding experience. Good value can often trump high prices.
Fit and style
Generally speaking, sizes should run true, so a size large should theoretically be consistent across brands. This isn’t always the case, and some brands work well for taller riders and others for shorter. What also matters is that the style suits your type of riding and offers the most comfort. Shorts are usually more fitted for XC riding and looser towards the trail/enduro side, with more storage and protection features. It has to be said though, that there’s a huge crossover between disciplines so you don’t need to get hung up on specific kit for each.
Most brands claim their garments are breathable, but real world results can vary based on temperature, humidity and air pressure. Breathability matters most in the summer months when your body heat and sweat factor are likely to be high. The more breathable a garment, the better chance you have of keeping the body temperature regulated.
Technical fabrics used in shorts enhance breathability and feel soft against the skin, however, this can sometimes come at the cost of durability, when the dreaded bum rub wears through the fabric.
When it comes to shorts, features matter. We’re talking zips, pockets, buckles, air vents, waistband adjusters and the closure system, amongst many others – all can affect your comfort and pedal experience. If the pockets are too small there’s no use having them. Some manufacturers opt for advanced waist closure systems without thinking about how easy the shorts will be to undo when you’re desperate for that mid-ride pee. A feature is only worth having if it adds functionality and works in the real world, otherwise it’s just extra weight and cost.
Clothing production and fast fashion is a huge contributor to global waste and carbon emissions. Many brands are now using Bluesign approved fabrics, Fairtrade sewing and some are even using fabrics made from recycled plastic bottles to help tackle that problem. Equally, some brands are working hard to ditch plastic packaging and hang tags, opting instead for Kraft boxes, paper bags and a strong/card hang tag combo. Simple changes that are all steps in the right direction.