Mountain bike shorts are a very important equipment purchase for all riders, both professional and casual because they allow you to ride safely and comfortably. Most mountain bike shorts are stretchy for better leg movement, and they have a padded crotch liner that helps reduce friction and wick moisture.
Many people confuse mountain bike shorts with regular road shorts, but there are some significant differences. Mountain bike shorts are looser fitting, and they have more padding and pockets than road shorts. You can still wear your road shorts when you ride beyond the pavement. However, you will enjoy your ride more and feel more comfortable wearing proper mountain bike shorts instead.
Types of Mountain Bike Shorts
There are different types of mountain bike shorts. Therefore, it is important to know their features and differences between them, especially if you are currently shopping for a pair of mountain bike shorts:
Cross-country Mountain Bike Shorts
Cross-county mountain biking is the most common form of mountain biking, and it is all about the miles. For this reason, cross-country mountain bikers need a pair of shorts that is tough, breathable and provides a full range of movement. Cross-country shorts have shorter inseams that provide a better range of motion while pedaling. The material is also lighter in order to reduce drag and weight.
It is also important to note that standard cross country shorts are tighter fitting but still baggy and have a liner. Usually made of thin material, almost like sports shorts. Those who race or take it seriously will wear Lycra road bike shorts for the drag gains.
Downhill/Enduro Bike Shorts
Downhill and Enduro are two tough genres of mountain biking. Therefore, the shorts should be tough too. Unlike cross-country shorts, they have longer inseams and fit over the knee pads. They also feature a great range of motion because they are built for going up mountains. Also, since one of the main purposes of downhill shorts is to protect riders in rough conditions, their material is heavier than other mountain bike shorts.
If you decided to buy baggy shorts, make sure that the inside liner is well-ventilated and comfortable. In addition, the outer shell should be loose-fitting and durable. Usually, the outer shell is made of tough materials as nylon and polyester.
Some baggy shorts come with adjustable legs. If you want to have shorts with this feature, make sure that they also have stretch panels that will not restrict your movements.
Female and male baggy shorts are a little different. Baggy shorts for women are usually shorter and extend to just above the knee or the mid-thigh.
Wondering whether MTB shorts are for you, check out this comparison.
When the conditions really get gnarly, there is such thing as mountain bike pants. These are thick, full-length pants that provide a huge amount of protection while still leaving room for knee pads.
They are great for chair lifts and shuttled mountain bike parks as they are not good for pedaling uphill in – a good option for a serious downhill rider looking for lots of protection.
For more epic gear selections for winter check out our cold weather guide.
Lycra/Road Bike Shorts
These shorts are skin-tight with a full range of motion. They are aerodynamic, light, and can wick moisture away from the body. However, compared to other types of mountain bike shorts, they are less popular.
Although many mountain bikers wear lycra, it is not necessary and should be left to the professionals. The extra benefits like pockets and a more comfortable fit outweigh the potential speed gains.
Bibbed road bike shorts have a unique design compared to other types of bike shorts. Many riders prefer them because they have straps going over the shoulders. The straps help hold everything in place, so you do not need to have elastic around your waist if you buy these shorts. As a result, you will feel much more comfortable. Also, depending on the material, bibbed shorts can either help you stay warm or cool you down.
However, it is important to know that initially, bibbed shorts were made for road biking. Since most of them are made of Lycra, they can get ripped up in a crash. Therefore, it is recommended to use bibbed shorts as a liner and wear baggy mountain bike shorts over the top of the bibbed shorts.
Features of Mountain Bike Shorts
When you are choosing mountain bike shorts, there are certain things and features you need to take into consideration, including the following:
Pockets on shorts provide storage, and storage is important for mountain bikers. You can put a trail map, energy bar, some cash, or any other useful things in pockets. There are three different types of pockets on mountain bike shorts – front slash, side cargo, and rear center.
Side cargo pockets are usually spacious, which makes them perfect for holding your phone, keys, or wallet. Front slash pockets are usually located at the waist. They are big enough to hold necessities for a ride but lie flat when empty by keeping a sleek look. Rear-center pockets are located below the waistband, and they are safe enough to keep your phone in them.
Most mountain bike shorts are made of synthetic materials that are quick-drying, breathable, and protective. Synthetic fabrics also help keep sweat off the body, keep you dry, and do not let bacteria grow. It is recommended to look for shorts that are made of Lycra or Spandex – these fabrics are durable, lightweight, stretchable, and let your skin breathe.
However, it is important to know that Lycra and Spandex have some disadvantages too – they are sensitive to heat and stick to the body.
Also, when you look for bike shorts, you should make sure that they are made of water-repellent fabric. Water repellent shorts are lightweight and tough, and they can shed mud and water away.
Padding, known as the seating area, is probably the best feature of mountain bike shorts. The Padding is usually constructed on either synthetic or chamois fabric and helps make a ride more comfortable and less painful. You should choose padded mountain bike shorts if you spend a lot of time on the saddle. Chamois is preferable because they are more comfortable, softer, and moisture-wicking.
Some shorts come with a built-in liner, while others have a removable liner. Some bike shorts models do not have any padding at all. In this case, you should consider purchasing a separate liner if you want to have padding.
It is highly recommended to get shorts with thicker padding if you are a beginner because your body is not used to sitting on a tough bike seat for hours.
Some mountain bike shorts are tighter than others. For example, skintight bike shorts are good for those who want to increase their aerodynamics and speed. However, if you are planning to hop off the bike at some point, wander around and hike, then you should consider looser shorts, so you feel more comfortable wearing them.
When it comes to comfort, ventilation is one of the most important things to consider. Many mountain bike shorts with ventilation solutions, such as gussets in the groin or mesh pockets. Ventilation is especially important in summer because it lets the air flow through the shorts.
The length of mountain bike shorts is your personal preference, but there are also reasons for picking longer or shorter shorts. For example, if you do downhill or enduro mountain bike riding, then longer shorts are the best option for you because they fit over knee pads and do not create a weird gap.
Shorter mountain bike shorts are definitely good for summer because they keep you cool and prevent you from getting dreaded bike short tan lines.
Mountain bike shorts come with two types of waistbands – adjustable and non-adjustable. It is highly recommended to buy shorts with an adjustable waistband because having a waistband on your shorts that cut into your belly or hang loosely around the middle is quite uncomfortable. An adjustable waistband is also important because it is easy to operate if you are wearing gloves.
Some waistbands use buttons or drawstrings to adjust, while others adjust via a velcro strap.
Depending on the construction and features, mountain bike shorts range in price from $50 to $175. Cheaper models that cost between $50 and $100 are available for different types of mountain biking, including cross-country, downhill, and enduro.
More expensive models that cost between $100 and $175 have more useful features than cheaper shorts. For example, Lycra shorts are more expensive because they feature more advanced chamois technology. Some “bib” style mountain bike shorts can be pricey because they have straps that keep everything in place.
There are many brands of mountain bike shorts, and here is the list of top brands to choose from:
- Fox Racing. This Californian brand is well-known in the racing community. It produces such high-quality mountain biking products as helmets, suspension forks, and of course, shorts. One of their best shorts are FOX Racing Ranger shorts with moisture-wicking technology.
- Troy Lee Designs. It started as a helmet painting business and became one of the most well-known brands in racing. The company makes everything from jerseys and helmets to biking shorts and gloves.
- Pearl Izumi. This Japanese company was founded in 1964 and started by creating a unique cycling jersey based on Italian design. Since then, the founder of the company Pearl Izumi has created the most high-quality gear for mountain bikers Pearl Izumi Mountain Bike Shorts are a perfect choice for cross-country biking.
- Zoic. Zoic made the first pair of mountain bike shorts over 25 years ago. Since then, the company is well-known in the mountain biking community. One of the best shorts by Zoic are Zoic Ether 9 Shorts – perfect for cross-country biking.
There you have it, that’s all you need to know about mountain bike shorts and which ones will be right for you. If you are still not convinced whether you need MTB shorts, check out our are mountain bike shorts worth it article.