How To: Choose the right pair of mountain bike shorts

Baggies versus Lycra, loose fit versus snug, sewn in liner versus removable

Apparel How To
Lighter shorts range from no closure at all, relying on stretch panels in the waistband, to a single-snap button with a boardshort-style fly.

Lighter shorts range from no closure at all, relying on stretch panels in the waistband, to a single-snap button with a boardshort-style fly.

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 when considering shorts.

If you wear knee pads, look for shorts that won’t bunch or hang up on your pads. Generally, if a short hits about mid-knee cap when standing off the bike, they won’t ride up above your pads when pedaling. More slim-fitting shorts won’t have leg openings large enough to accommodate pads, and will snag or ride up above the pads.

Many shorts also have adjuster straps at the waist to cinch the shorts down a full size.

Many shorts also have adjuster straps at the waist to cinch the shorts down a full size.

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 nutrition, multi-tools, or cash. Rear-center zipped pockets located just below the waistband are a relatively safe and unobtrusive place for a phone. Pockets need to be big enough to hold your stuff, but snug enough to keep everything in-place and secure. There’s nothing worse than something banging into your knee on every pedal stroke because of a poorly-designed cargo pocket.

Another contributor to overall enjoyment is the fly and waist closure. Heavier duty shorts often have a low-profile ratcheting cam and zipper fly. Ratcheting closures almost never open by mistake. Lighter shorts range from no closure at all, relying on stretch panels in the waistband, to a single-snap button with a boardshort-style fly. Button closures are usually very secure, but may pop open every once in a while, especially if you’re leaned over on a hard climb. Many shorts also have adjuster straps at the waist to cinch the shorts down a full size.

Now that you have an idea of what to consider when purchasing your next—or first—pair of mountain bike shorts, check out the selection of shorts at ArtsCyclery.com. You’re sure to find something that strikes your fancy.


About the author: Arts Cyclery

This article was originally published on the Art's Cyclery Blog. Art's Cyclery is dedicated to offering free expert advice, how-to videos, and in-depth product reviews on ArtsCyclery.com to help riders make an educated decision when selecting cycling gear.


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  • tyrebyter says:

    Picked up some Dickies lightweight rip-stop 13″ shorts at Wally World for $18US. After the first ride, I went back and picked up some more before they changed their mind. Work better than my previous favourite, the Fox Demo Cargo… at less than 20% the price. Still need a chamois, though.

    • GuyOnMTB says:

      I was supper lucky to find a pair of FOX Sergeant Olive cargos on sale for $42usd. Should be here in a few more days!

      Interesting you mention Dickies. I bought a few pair of Ben Davis and had them made into shorts just for MTB. Ben Davis pants(shorts mod) hit the ground and get up without looking phased! Their fit seems perfect for riding because they don’t twist, bunch or ride up. I can also wear my 7iDp Coverts under long Ben Davis pants.

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