Wide cuffs, crushing fabric, seams that hinder athletic buttocks and thighs – if you’re a mountain biker who has bought overpants, you probably know these problems. Drivers need breathable yet protective lower parts that can repel rough stones and tangled branches. In addition, baggies go better with après. But like many women’s trousers, they don’t always fit as well as we’d like.
So I recruited six women to throw the current crop of overpants through the press. Our testers ranged from a straight hip to pear-shaped, 4’11 “to 5’5”, and sizes 4 through 16. They tested shorts on loamy trails near the mountain. Hood, sandstone ledges around Moab, and rooted trails in Colorado; on shuttle-assisted rides, rock-cutting descents, and 4,000-foot climbs; and under conditions ranging from spring barrels to late summer scorchers. These are the overpants that wow us all with their fit, comfort and performance.
Best hot weather shorts
(Photo: Courtesy Patagonia)
Patagonia Tyrolean Bike Shorts for Women ($ 79)
Size range: 0 to 18
Ultralight materials made these shorts bearable on a 98-degree ride near Moab, Utah. The recycled, stretchable polyester-spandex material is exceptionally thin, but its 75-denier fibers are tough enough to handle the occasional skirmish with sandstone or oak. We love the almost seamless waistband, made primarily of silky rubber that wipes away sweat and prevents gaps in the lower back, but never gets trapped. Two zippered thigh pockets offer space for a phone and a pack of sports chews. The testers of sizes 6 and 16 agreed: the fit is slim and comfortable.
Best versatile shorts
(Photo: Courtesy Mons Royale)
Mons Royale Virage shorts ($ 140)
Size range: XS to XL
We love these lightweight shorts not only for mountain biking, but also for hiking, backpacking, camping and road trips. The casual cut looks good with cotton hoodies and the stretchy material – a mix of merino, elastane and recycled polyester – feels comfortable and breathable, in contrast to plastic like some purely synthetic materials. We like to wear them long after we’ve taken off the chamois. A smartphone runs on the outside of the thigh in the individual zippered pocket with welded seams that prevent any chafing on the saddle. Instead of relying on elastic bands to adjust curvy hips, the designers used nifty tailoring. Five seams shape the fabric from waist to hips for a figure-hugging, but sharper look than yoga pants.
Best enduro shorts
(Photo: Courtesy of POC)
POC Women’s Essential MTB Shorts ($ 100)
Size range: XS to XL
Testers of all sizes raved about the fit of these shorts, which is a brilliantly comfortable and flattering fit for wide hips and muscular thighs. This is thanks to the many curved seams on the hips and thighs (instead of the one or two straight seams on simpler bottoms) that adapt to a woman’s shape, and an adjustable, microfleece-lined waistband that is cut higher at the back to cover all of the booty To go biking. The longer version has a 14-inch inseam that protects against whip-like knots and unplanned dismounting, with leg openings that slide easily over the pads without excessive bulging. Two zipped back pockets offer space for a mobile phone or keys. The stretchy nylon is light enough for tough, technical climbs, but also robust enough to survive a slide, which has earned them top awards for rough trails and rough riding.
Best short shorts
(Photo: Courtesy of Ripton & Co.)
Ripton & Co. V4 Jorts ($ 79)
Size range: 24 to 31
The daisy dukes of mountain biking, these stretch denim cutoffs have a 4.75-inch inseam that shows plenty of leg, so they may be better suited for the pump track than for overgrown singletrack. However, our tester found them surprisingly comfortable while driving. The highly elastic fabric took up a seat cushion and let it move freely on the bike while navigating through technical features. (This elasticity also adapts to curvy hips). The two front pockets are made of stretchy mesh, which ensures an airy feel in warm weather. They ride on, but they look gruesome for après beers on the deck.
Best plus size shorts
(Photo: Courtesy Shredly)
Shredly MTB Curvy Long ($ 110)
Size range: 00 to 24
These shorts fit a wider range of body types than any other model we’ve found. They’re especially good for women whose waistline is small in relation to their hips. A wide elastic band hugs your stomach like yoga pants, while curved hip seams and recycled four-way stretch polyester snuggle up to big asses. A thigh pocket offers space for a phone, two mesh pockets on the hip are deep enough to prevent snacks from getting in while driving, and two mesh zippered leg slits ensure a cool breeze. These shorts scored points with comfort and performance, but less with style (the wide elastic waistband reminded some testers of maternity pants).
Shorts with the most compliments
(Photo: Courtesy Maloja)
Maloja RoschiaM ($ 119)
Size range: XS to XL
This lesser-known German brand is asking an all-female team to design their cycling apparel for women. Unsurprisingly, RoschiaM cycling shorts are straight out of the textbook, with sturdy, lightweight materials and just enough features to achieve great fit and function without a fuss. The testers asked a lot of compliments and questions. Adjustment tabs at the waist are comfortable and inconspicuous. Three pockets combine casual blue jeans styling with practicality (the thigh pocket with zipper prevents the phone from popping out while driving). Curved seams on the hips and back of the thighs make for a roomy, but not boxy, fit. The hem is glued instead of sewn, which means that the leg openings slide gently over skin or knee pads. And the spandex-enriched polyester is stretchy enough to adapt to every pedal stroke and bunny hop.
Best shorts for off-bike clothing
(Photo: Courtesy FlyLow)
FlyLow Tia Short ($ 100)
Size range: XS to XL
With a cut that is not too wide and the side pockets in jeans style, the Tia cuts just as good a figure on the farmer’s market as it does on the slopes, so that our tester wore it to gardening, camping and even washing the car (the polyester spandex Fabric dries quickly). This is not as stretchy as some shorts, but the subtle amount of elastane also increases breathability and enables all-day comfort without moisture. The partially elastic waistband provides the ideal compromise: it hugs the stomach without having to do without hip pockets made of airy mesh. An elegant side pocket with zipper offers space for lip balm and a smartphone.
Best body-hugging shorts
(Photo: Courtesy Velocio)
Velocio Women’s Trail Short ($ 159)
Size range: XS to XXL
You don’t like baggies? Try these tight-fitting overpants, which are light enough for hot, humid weather and fit in an impressive size selection (our tester in XL, size 16 was delighted). Unusually slim yet effective, a single strap of clip-on webbing on the side eliminates gaps around the waist. A double-woven Italian polyester mix with four-way stretch (and a full 21 percent elastane) ensures that these shorts feel wonderfully unrestricted despite the tight cut. No excess fabric means nothing gets stuck on the saddle when you move around on the bike. Although small, the two zippered thigh pockets stow a smartphone and gel behind the legs, where they don’t feel awkward when pedaling.
Main photo: Ben Girardi / Cavan