The Best Mountain Bike Shorts of 2020

Our top picks to keep you riding in comfort and style

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It's not just about style. A quality pair of mountain biking shorts will make your time in the saddle more comfortable.

It’s not just about style. A quality pair of mountain bike shorts will make your time in the saddle more comfortable.

A good pair of cycling shorts is essential for getting the most out of your rides. If you want to hit the trail in a pair of board shorts or cut-off jean shorts there’s nothing stopping you, but if you prefer a more purpose-built approach that will fit better in a riding position, provide better articulation while you pedal, and shed water, mountain bike shorts are the way to go.

Lycra or baggies for mountain biking?

While road cyclists generally wear form-fit Lycra cycling kits, most mountain bikers wear looser-fitting jerseys paired with baggy shorts. There are exceptions, of course. Cross-country racing places and premium on weight and breathability, so Lycra is almost always preferred.

Why choose one over the other? Lycra shorts are lighter, more breathable, and completely non-restrictive. Baggies are more durable, offer more protection, provide the option of storage, and have a casual style that transitions easily from the trail to post-ride activities such as grabbing dinner or a drink.

What to look for in mountain bike shorts

Even within the world of so-called “baggies,” there is a range of fits to choose from. As kneepads have become more streamlined and stretch fabrics have become commonplace, baggy shorts have become slimmer. Some baggies have a slim, tailored look, while others feature a more relaxed fit. Features to consider when selecting mountain bike shorts include fit, pocket placement, and durability.

Many baggy shorts include an inner liner with a chamois pad in addition to the outer shell. Liners that are not sewn into the shell generally work better, as the liner doesn’t shift when the shell moves, keeping the chamois in place. These floating liners can be replaced with a pair of Lycra shorts or bibs you already own. Chamois quality is a big deal in any cycling short, and the more expensive shorts usually come with a higher quality chamois.

Freedom of movement is crucial, and some shorts enable more movement than others. A fabric’s flexibility usually comes at the expense of abrasion resistance, something to consider if you crash often, or ride trails with encroaching vegetation that you could snag your shorts. Less restriction is always better, which is why heavy-duty shorts have stretch panels in critical areas. Protection and durability must be weighed against flexibility.

If you wear knee pads, look for shorts that won’t bunch or hang up on your pads. Generally, if a short sits at mid-knee when standing off the bike, they won’t ride up above your pads when pedaling.

Pockets provide useful storage and are generally found in three different configurations: side cargo, front slash, and rear center. Pocket storage is best used for small, light items such as an energy bar. Rear-center zipped pockets located just below the waistband are relatively safe and unobtrusive place keys or a wallet. Side pockets are a good location to carry a smartphone, but not all pockets are created equal. Pockets that sit on the side toward the back of the thigh are the best place to store items such as a phone as they don’t get in the way while pedaling and are unlikely to be damaged in a crash. Speaking of crashing. We recommend against carrying large multi-tools in your pockets when riding, as they can cause nasty bruises and contusions when you wreck.

The best mountain bike shorts of 2020

Pearl iZUMi Elevate Short

 

Pearl Izumi Elevate Short - Men's Back Best Mountain Bike Shorts

For 2020, Pearl iZUMi completely redesigned its flagship mountain bike short with a slimmer profile, durable four-way stretch fabric, and a BOA dial mounted at the back of the waistband that allows the wearer to literally dial in the fit. We were initially skeptical of how well this fit system would work and especially how well the dial would play with hip packs. But after several months of testing, this proved to be a non-issue. The dial virtually disappears under waist-mounted hydration packs but is there when you need to make minor fit adjustments. On the trail, the four-way stretch fabric allows for great freedom of movement. The perforations on the inner thighs improve airflow on hot days and a DWR coating sheds light rain and tire spray. These shorts include a ventilated liner short with Pearl’s Elite chamois.

Price: $175

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Troy Lee Designs Skyline Short

 

The Troy Lee Designs Skyline Short is a great option for every type of riding. They’re durable, the fit works well with kneepads, and they have plenty of stretch to move with you on the bike. Fit adjustments are handled by a pair of Velcro straps on the sides. An inner waistband with silicone grip aids in keeping the shorts from sagging, even when wearing a hip pack. The Coolmax fabric does a great job of keeping the Skyline feeling airy, even in hot and humid weather.

Price: $109

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Fox Ranger Rawtec

Fox’s Rawtec is what happens when you strip a short down to the bare essentials. Every panel, seam, and stitch has been examined, tested, and proven or eliminated until only the essential ingredients remain. The Rawtec features abrasion-resistant side panels for durability and a ratchet closure system that’s easy to use while you ride. This short is at the fitted end of the spectrum, but stretch fabric ensures it doesn’t inhibit movement.

Price: $149.95

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Leatt DBX 3.0 Short

Leatt DBX 3.0 Short - Men's

The Leatt DBX 3.0 Short is a lighter-weight version of the brands 5.0 and 4.0 shorts. The fabric is lightweight and breathable with reinforced seams for durability. The 3.0 features a single side pocket large enough for a smartphone and a centrally-positioned rear pocket that sits below the waist. We like the stretch panels on the front of the short just above the knees that allow them to work extremely well with today’s low-profile kneepads. They’re also one of the most affordable options on the market.

Price: $79.95

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Velocio Trail Short

Men's Trail Short, Best Mountain Bike Shorts

Velocio is best known for its road line of cycling apparel, but this brand is making inroads to the mountain bike world with thoughtful touches and attention to detail. The Trail Short has a simple, understated look with a streamlined profile that’s not too techy. The zippered side pockets are large enough to hold a smartphone and snacks. We appreciate these pockets are perfectly positioned to keep their contents from inhibiting your ride.

Price: $159.99

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About the author: Mtbr

Mtbr.com is a site by mountain bikers for mountain bikers. We are the best online resource for information for mountain bikers of all abilities, ages and interests.



Comments:

  • Russ Karaus says:

    What about the Zoic Ether shorts? been wearing them for years and they have held up great. nice fit and don’t hang up when off the saddle.

  • todd zalewski says:

    Back in the 90’s I had Nema Jewel shorts. My all time favorite. The next iteration was the Crown Jewel but they just were not as good, a little over thinking with unnecessary extra stuff. Keep it simple. Currently have Smartwool Betasso shorts which are still going strong since 2011! Not too baggy, but not “painted on” either.

  • ET_SoCal says:

    Would be nice to know which shorts DO have the chamois sewn into the shell.
    I’ve tried a few of this new style and for me and it’s not that the “liner doesn’t shift” but the outer shell does. Becasue of this Nema (Crown) Jewels are also my all time favorite

  • The Yeti says:

    What about Club Ride shorts? They have the best style and function.

  • Alan Loken says:

    Have to agree with Russ. I own 3 pairs of Zoics. Love the pockets and the fact that the liners are separate. Plus when you order from REI, you get member points.

  • Mickey says:

    So far Tasco are the best shorts I’ve had.
    https://www.tasco-mtb.com/pages/shorts
    I’m interested in the Velocio’s but not until I wear something out.

  • Mitter says:

    You missed 7 mesh and club NF from Squamish and Vancouver respectively.

    7 mesh – slab shorts
    NF – invader shorts

    Wooo is all I can say!

  • Doug says:

    Another Nema Jewel fan here. I still have a pair. What ever happened to them? I moved on to Hoss shorts, but they’re apparently out of business now. I’ve tried the Zoic Ethers and the leg openings are a but tight for me. I’m not sure what I’d buy right now if I needed a pair. I suppose I’d have to give one of these a try.

  • Andy K says:

    Know anyone who makes short-legged MTB shorts? A mid-thigh or less with a chamois.
    I have plenty of separate shell type that are simply too long and hot so I’m forced to ride in Lycra during the summer months. All I see are long (or longer) legged “shorts”. More like shants.

    • Paul says:

      regarding the question on how to get short-legged MTB shorts, check out Zoic Ether 9″ shorts. have a pair and fit great.

  • kipper says:

    $140 to 170+!! Excellent shorts that work for all types of riding and last several years can be had for much less. I ride 3-6 times per week and have 10 pair of shorts. Maybe these are required for 5k + bikes. 😜

  • Chris J says:

    It’s fine to talk about the exterior short which is important to function, comfort and style. But what really matters is the inner short/chamois for ultimate comfort.
    I wish these reviews would focus more on the inner short reviews.

    • Josh Patterson says:

      Chris J, the reality is that the vast majority of liner shorts that come with mountain bike shorts are next to worthless. The reason they are included with some shorts has to do with lower tariff duties. Most high-end shorts don’t include liners. (The exception on this list is the Pearl iZUMi Elevate short, which does have a very good liner.)

  • JF says:

    Hey Andy, check out 7mesh’s farside short.

  • Josh W says:

    The first paragraph made me think immediately of ElevenPine bike shorts, which I LOVE. Baggies with a size zipper and vent to narrow them down for riding and cut down on catching on stuff, but very comfy unzipped for casual wear. They come by themselves or with a pretty decent chamois. Small company, unique design. My favorite shorts!

  • Josh W says:

    Oops side not size.

  • Phil says:

    I would like to give props to both Voler (made in USA) and Stio. For shorts without a built in belt, GRIP 6 belts (also made in USA) work great.

  • Matt says:

    Interesting that Zoic is not on this list. Hands down the best mtb shorts I’ve ever owned in decades of riding.

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