Best Lifestyle Cycling Short
Terry Hi-Rise Holster Short
Inseam Length: 9 in | Panels: 5
Some riders want to look ultra-fast while racing, while others are looking to take a scenic tour of the countryside in the comfort and function required for a slower-paced day. Hence, the less racy Terry Hi-Rise Holster. We found both the comfort and coverage we desired for shorter road rides. Aside from the built-in chamois, these shorts don’t scream, “I cycled here”. Their longer length, spacious side pocket, and looser fit make them a little more discreet. Don’t be fooled though, they still have full coverage and a comfortable chamois.
We wouldn’t recommend these for rides or races longer than a few hours, as the excess fabric may bunch and lead to unpleasant chafing. Also, they’re held in place by a waistband (rather than suspenders, like bibs) which we found dug into some of our tester’s stomachs if they were even a little too tight. Luckily, these shorts are high-waisted which means they dig in less than other shorts styles we tested. Still, for shorter rides, commutes, or rides that also consist of grabbing a coffee afterward, our testers highly recommend this style.
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Why You Should Trust Us
Reviewing the best women’s bike shorts began by researching the best products on the market. We researched over 50 different models and purchased the top contenders to start hands-on testing while riding smooth pavement, gravel roads, and technical single-track trails. We thought about the function of women’s specific bike shorts and tested comfort and durability by logging lots of miles. The tests became particularly informative past the 2-hour mark on any given ride. We tested breathability and drying times and took a detailed look at the varying chamois designs. Finally, we considered style, with many of the best-looking shorts coincidentally also being high performers in other metrics.
Our bike shorts testing is divided into five rating metrics:
- Comfort and Fit (30% of overall score weighting)
- Padding and Protection (25% weighting)
- Breathability and Fabric (20% weighting)
- Durability (15% weighting)
- Style (10% weighting)
This review is brought to you by Rebecca Eckland and Madison Botzet. Rebecca is a former marathoner and Ironman triathlete turned cyclist who competed as a USAC Cat 3 road racer on the Clean Powered by Tesla team. She was the first woman from Nevada to win the California Triple Crown Stage Race. Rebecca also holds several course records in the Silver State 508. Madison commutes every day via bike (not a small feat when it’s snowing) and has made a pact not to drive anywhere less than 5 kilometers away. Being a youth mountain bike coach and having ridden thousands of miles herself, she has the experience to understand the importance of bike shorts’ functionality. Both women spend a lot of time on two wheels and love it.
Analysis and Test Results
Through riding nearly 1,000 miles in the shorts in this review, we assess each model across six different metrics: Comfort and Fit, Padding and Protection, Breathability and Fabric, Durability, and Style. We’ve ranked these metrics according to their relative importance to us, but if one metric is especially important to you, we encourage you to check out the specific rankings of each model in that category. We compiled all our notes and findings throughout this review to help you find the perfect short for your cycling needs.
We usually have to make tradeoffs when purchasing any type of gear, and bike shorts are no different. Therefore, we test a range of models price-wise to be able to recommend great products across the spectrum. While more money doesn’t always get you a better product, we found that in this category, it does tend to get you a more comfortable chamois. Style, however, seems to be less tied to a dollar sign. While the best-performing products win our top awards, our best-value awards are granted to products that offer the best performance without breaking the bank. The Sugoi Evolution Bib Short was a clear choice for best value. It performed near the top but costs less than many high-performance models. In our experience, the much cheaper models are shorts that just don’t feel as comfortable. If you do prefer shorts, our highest performing model, the Terry Holster Hi-Rise Cycling Shorts costs less that the Sugoi.
Comfort and Fit
Wearing comfortable bike shorts is the difference between an enjoyable ride and chafing so badly that you have to walk your bike home. In our testers’ opinions, it is one of the most important metrics to consider when looking at different models. We also balanced this metric across each model’s intended use. A sporty bib with a plush chamois designed for multi-hour rides isn’t designed for the same thing as a casual, short-style commuter model. And yet, both should be comfortable enough that you enjoy wearing them for their intended purposes.
A major factor to consider in picking out bike shorts is how well they fit your body. They should feel compressive and supportive, but not overly tight. The way this is generally achieved is by using six or eight panels in the construction of the short. The multi-panels are meant to contour to your body to match the unique body position of cyclists. This doesn’t necessarily determine how comfortable a short is, but rather, it determines how well the short moves with your body.
Some of the most comfortable shorts (and bibs) in this metric, such as the SUGOi RS Pro Bib, utilize eight panels to conform to a women’s shape by adding extra give in the hips and securing the legs with silicone. The eight-paneled Pearl Izumi Pro, a tie for top comfort, utilizes seamless edges to reduce the amount of friction from seams. This means less chafing overall – which we are always in favor of for long rides.
One of the most important factors that our testers considered in ranking bike shorts for their comfort was how easy it is to take a nature break. Even the most comfortable bibs become a pain when you have to strip off all your layers to use the bathroom. The best bibs these days are designed specifically for women’s anatomy so that we can easily hop off the bike and *go*.
Our favorite bike shorts in this category – such as the SUGOi RS Pro, Pearl Izumi Pro, and SUGOi Evolution – utilize a smart but simple solution to a women’s specific bathroom predicament. The bib straps are super stretchy (yet durable) and are designed so that you can just sit down and pull the back down. Other models, such as the Specialized SL and the Assos UMA GTV C2, are innovative but complicated. Both of these bibs use magnetic clasps at the back of their suspender straps so that you can unhook and go. However, our testers found that you need extreme shoulder flexibility to re-hook them again because they tend to ride up your back. While we have our favorite pairs for ease of use, we would recommend any with bathroom capabilities (even the finicky ones) over a model that doesn’t support nature breaks, like the Rapha Core Cycling Bib.
The best design for bathroom breaks is obviously the shorts-styles. However, we found that these models were less comfortable overall because they are held up by a tight waist rather than bibs. This means that when you bend over on a bike, the waistband digs into your stomach – which isn’t fun for long rides. Notably, we found that the Terry Hi-Rise Holter was more comfortable than most other bike shorts because of its high-waisted design that didn’t dig in as much.
Padding and Protection
While athletic shorts come in all sorts of sizes and shapes, the cycling short has one feature the others lack — a chamois. The chamois is a cushioned pad that protects your sit bones from the hard saddle and from chatter, a.k.a. the vibrations from bumps, stress cracks, and other irregularities of the terrain you ride on. The chamois is arguably the most crucial part of a cycling short for this reason. Without it, you’ll likely be sore and potentially miserable, so the right kind of padding and protection is key to finding the proper cycling shorts for you.
Here’s a little history about bike shorts: the chamois used to be a strip of leather (like the kind you use to dry off your car, hence the name “chamois”). Innovations in technical fabrics have fortunately come a long way. These days, cycling chamois employ foam compounds and other synthetic materials to maximize the amount of padding where you need it most (again, under your sit bones). They also help keep other areas well-ventilated to avoid an excessive build-up of moisture and sweat that can lead to uncomfortable chafing or sores, especially during hours-long rides.
An important aspect to consider is whether a chamois has a 2D or 3D design. If a chamois is 2D, it has a single, flat plane; if a chamois is 3D, it has various depths and dimensions to it. Both the Pearl Izumi Pro and the Endura Pro SL had plush, supportive 3D chamois that provided comfort all day long. At times, we even forgot we were wearing them. The SUGOi bibs were amongst the top performers in this metric too.
We also tested the “memory” of each chamois — its ability to “bounce back” to its original shape and form after a long ride. Memory indicates that a chamois has the resiliency to last for many rides spanning multiple seasons. The Endura Pro SL stands out for its physiologist-designed chamois with medical-grade silicone elastomer, which maintains its shape and support long after the first pedal stroke.
The way the chamois is connected to the short also contributes to its comfort. Flat-lock seams are most comfortable while raw edges around a chamois can cause trouble down the road. A raw edge may lead to chafing or, in the very worst cases, part of the chamois coming apart from the short. The Assos UMA GTV C2 is unique because the chamois isn’t stitched into place on the sides, which allows it to move with your body. Some of our testers loved it while others weren’t as convinced.
For a reasonable amount of protection and padding needed for a cycling class or work commute, the Terry Hi-Rise Short was comfortable for rides on smooth terrain with a soft chamois that had full front-to-back protection. The REI Junction Bike short also performed reasonably well on shorter trips with a chamois that was thicker than the Terry’s but bunched up some. Both options have seams around the chamois and lack the “memory” of some higher-performing models. However, they are up to the task of protecting you from cracks, bumps, and other not-so-smooth things you might encounter on a beach cruise or lunch commute.
Breathability and Fabric
Cycling shorts are only as good as the fabric they use. If you don’t believe us, put on a pair of cotton shorts, jump on your bike and ride around the block during the hottest part of the day. Most likely, the shorts will be wet and sticky against your skin. The reason to seek out technical fabrics: they dry quickly and wick sweat away to minimize chafing. Each manufacturer uses different fabrics that are a unique blend of materials, which means some feel soft and light, while others have a rougher and heavier feel.
We tested the fabric and breathability of each pair of shorts in two ways: by wearing them on long rides on scorching days (when it was 90+ degrees out) and by riding hard for one hour on a trainer indoors. Riding the shorts in high-sweat situations (on the trainer and during a hot day) allows us to gauge 1) how quickly the short absorbs sweat, 2) how fast it will enable that sweat to evaporate, and 3) how the fabric feels on your body when drenched.
It’s no surprise to our testers that the higher-end bibs had softer, more wicking fabrics. All the high-performance models were reasonably comparable in their sweat-wicking abilities, so it really came down to what felt best on testers’ skin. Bibs like the Pearl Izumi Pro, SUGOi RS Pro Bib, and the SUGOi evolution were among our tester favorites. The Pearl Izumi bib had smooth, buttery fabric that was continuous throughout the upper and lower and even when soaked with sweat was soft and flexible. The SUGOi bibs were so stretchy and compressive that we found ourselves reaching for them often. Unfortunately, some bibs weren’t as up to snuff in the fabric department. Our testers found that while the bottom of the Specialized SL was comfy, the upper was rigid and itchy.
For the short models, the Terry Hi-Rise had soft, thick fabric that we enjoyed. The only potential downside is that it had many seams that could lead to chafing on longer, hotter rides. The Louis Garneau Optimum 2 was comfy, but some testers found the fabric to be see-through if the shorts were too tight.
Bike shorts are an investment in a pleasant ride. Therefore, you want a product that will hold up over time and maintain its comfort and aesthetic. While our testing period isn’t quite long enough to truly test the limits of the shorts included in this review, we read consumer reviews to get a better idea of general durability trends and we look for indications of wear that could be warning signs for future issues. After all, looking at these details – craft, fabric stretch, seam quality, how it feels, and looks after multiple washes — all help to answer one big question: is the garment built to last?
Considering the importance of durability, we scrutinized each model at the end of our testing period to look for every single detail for wear. However, several shorts showed resiliency due to their quality construction and mindful design. These include the SUGOi bibs, Assos UMA GTV C2, Pearl Izumi Pro, and the Endura Pro SL. These models each demonstrated robust construction through reinforced seams and high-quality fabrics, and all ended the testing period looking brand new. The Terry Hi-Rise has thicker fabric that will withstand the test of time, but some consumers expressed concerns over seam durability after lots of use.
While style is a subjective measure, we believe it is an essential indicator of a short’s functionality, design, and sense of fun. While cycling shorts seem pretty limited regarding what style they can offer you, you might be surprised. Even in the lineup of shorts included in this review, there are subtle variations worth noting. These differences include length, the type of fabric the shorts are constructed with, and color options. It’s great to have a functional garment and all, but who wants to ride a bike in something completely unflattering? And, let’s be honest here: some shorts do look better than others. What is interesting, is that the better-looking models also ranked higher in other performance metrics, suggesting that style and functionality are linked. A short will usually look better if it’s constructed from high-quality fabric with an appropriate chamois and a tailored, multi-paneled design.
No surprise here, the Pearl Izumi Pro scored highest on our style metric due to its sleek construction and availability in a patterned purple (also available in black). The purple was dark enough to hide our sweat stains and the pattern slyly covered dirt. The Louis Garneau Fit Sensor 7.5 was available in navy blue as well as gray. The gray failed to uphold the clean looks rule, however. Not only does this color show chain grease, but it makes quite a production out of your sweat. We’d recommend dark colors as a rule of thumb.
Other notable runners-up include both of the SUGOi bibs, which are like the Chanel version of cycling shorts: simple, sleek lines are well-tailored to a cyclist’s physique and avoid the cycling fashion faux pas of dumpy-butt and sausage thighs. The Terry Hi-Rise Holster is also worth mentioning in this metric; unlike other shorts in this review, Terry offers unparalleled modesty and coverage with a casual short that transitions easily between bike and coffeehouse. Granted, this model does have a chamois (a noticeable difference from casual shorts you might wear around in public), but the added length and looser fit make time off the bike feel slightly less awkward.
Whether you’re a competitive racer, a fairweather cyclist, a bike commuter, or an all-day endurance junkie, there’s a short/bib out there that’s suited to your specific goals. We’ll be the first ones to tell you that not all shorts are created equal, but each one is designed for a particular purpose. We encourage you to consider which shorts align with your riding style and personal preferences.