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Best padded cycling shorts 2023: The most comfortable options for training, leisure and long days in the saddle

Best padded cycling shorts 2023: The most comfortable options for training, leisure and long days in the saddle

The best padded cycling shorts keep you comfortable on the bike for longer. They feature a contoured foam insert (known as a chamois pad) that cushions the contact point between backside and bike. This helps to keep sustained periods of pedalling pain-free – vital for everyone from beginners to World Tour pros.

Bike saddles are designed for performance. They’re cut narrow to provide an efficient pedalling position and they’re often pretty hard, which prevents the sit bones from sinking in and places unnecessary pressure on the perineum. Perching on one for any length of time is hardly the height of comfort, but a pair of padded cycling shorts can help solve that problem.

Padded cycling shorts act as a second skin. They place cushioning only where it needs to be in order to maximise comfort and minimise friction. And they’re made from Lycra, which provides excellent range of motion and great breathability; it dries quickly and sits tight against the skin, reducing drag.

Whether you’re a total beginner, a keen amateur, or a seasoned racing veteran, our pick of the best padded cycling shorts will have something for you. You’ll also find answers to some of the most common questions on the subject to ensure you end up with the right pair.

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The best padded cycling shorts: At a glance

How to choose the best padded cycling shorts for you

Why shouldn’t I wear normal shorts to cycle?

There is certainly no law against it. If you’re comfortable in regular, unpadded shorts, then that’s fine, but if you spend a lot of time in the saddle, regularly covering distances of 20 miles or more, a good pair of padded shorts will improve your comfort and performance while riding.

Regular, loose-fitting, unpadded shorts have excess material that can get in the way, making them less aerodynamic and more prone to chafing. Purpose-built cycling shorts are quite the opposite.

What is the difference between bib shorts and cycling shorts?

Most cycling shorts are what’s referred to as ‘bib shorts’. These have shoulder straps that hold them up and keep them in place while riding. This tends to be the preferred style for most cyclists who spend long periods of time on the bike. However, it is possible to get padded cycling shorts without straps and this might be preferable for commuting, or if you’re worried about getting them off to go to the toilet while out and about.

How much should I spend?

If you ride a lot, it’s worth buying the best shorts you can afford. Basic shorts are fine for short rides and casual use, but spending more money will get you a better quality chamois pad, better construction, and better materials that breathe and wick sweat more effectively. You can expect to spend around £30 for a basic pair of shorts, £70+ for something suitable for longer days of three hours and above, and £150+ for premium options.

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The best padded cycling shorts you can buy in 2023

1. dhb Classic Bib Shorts: Best budget padded cycling shorts

Price: £45 | Buy now from Wiggle

These no-frills bib shorts from Wiggle’s in-house brand, dhb, are perfect for beginners and casual weekend riders. They’re designed for rides of up to three hours, making them an excellent option for those only just getting acquainted with the sport for the first time. Plus, they’re competitively priced, which is great news if you’re wary of making a big financial commitment early in your cycling.

With Bluesign-approved fabrics, these shorts are impressive for the money. They have stretchy mesh straps, a comfortable cooling Lycra lower half, and also feature reflective logos to help you stay seen in low light. The chamois is more than adequate for short to medium distances and, depending on how hardy your rear end is, you might even be able to make them go further. There’s also a central channel to the pad, which helps to relieve pressure and drain moisture away on particularly hot and sweaty days.

Key details – Material: Nylon and elastane; Colours: Navy, black; Sizes: XS-XXL

Buy now from Wiggle

2. Rapha Core Cargo Bib Shorts: Best cargo padded cycling shorts

Price: £125 | Buy now from Rapha

With the rise of gravel riding, which is less about being aerodynamic and more about exploring, cargo bibs are becoming increasingly popular. They feature extra pockets to carry snacks, tools, or various other bits and bobs. It’s a great option if you want a bit of extra storage, or if you’d prefer to wear a regular T-shirt instead of a cycling jersey with pockets on the back.

These cargo bib shorts from Rapha are part of their ‘Core’ collection, which offers the British brand’s signature slick looks and performance at a more accessible price point. They’re well built, look great, and have mesh pockets on the legs and extra pockets on the back. The straps are nice and wide for maximum comfort and breathability, and the chamois pad is good enough to handle long days out on the bike, both off-road and on.

Key details – Material: Polyester and elastane; Colours: Navy/white, black; Sizes: XS-XXL

Buy now from Rapha

3. Assos Equipe RSR S9 Targa: Best lightweight racing padded cycling shorts

Price: £260 | Buy now from Wiggle

If you’re looking for the fastest, lightest option on the market, these highly refined bib shorts from Switzerland’s Assos will be right up your street. They’re extremely comfortable, insanely light, and about as aerodynamic as it gets. They’re also durable enough to handle the odd fall, which we unfortunately found out firsthand.

Assos is well known for its meticulous approach to kit design, treating it very much as a science. As such, these shorts are geared towards serious athletes who want the absolute highest level of performance. For example, the fabric has been mapped out to offer compression where it’s needed most, and to optimise pedalling efficiency. And the straps and leg grippers have been designed in such a way that the shorts stay firmly in place at all times.

The Sundeck S9 chamois pad is great too. It was made with UCI WorldTour performance in mind, which means it’s comfortable enough to handle mammoth days in the saddle while still being the right shape and size to allow the rider to get as tucked in and aerodynamic as possible. Buy them if money is no object and you like to go fast, but be warned: they have an extremely tight fit that may not work for all body types.

Key details – Material: Polyester, elastane and nylon; Colours: Black, flamme d’or (black & gold); Sizes: XS-XLG

Buy now from Wiggle

4. Pas Normal Studios Essential Bib Shorts: Best padded cycling shorts for training

Price: £175 | Buy now from Pas Normal Studios

It’s true that there are cheaper options out there when it comes to bib shorts for training, but these ones from Pas Normal Studios are some of the best looking and most comfortable we’ve had the pleasure of testing. We’ve ridden many pairs of the Danish brand’s bibs over the years and, while prices are high, they’re backed up by the quality of the materials, the comfort of the chamois, the fit, and the signature stylish aesthetic.

They’re snug without being overly racy, while the understated colour options and styling will appeal to the more fashion-conscious rider. We’ve used them on both short, hard VO2 max workouts and on endurance-building, full-day training rides, and they excel in both scenarios, with the added bonus of looking the part at the café. Our only gripe is that the shoulder straps are quite thin and narrow, which may not be to everyone’s tastes.

Key details – Material: Polyester and elastane; Colours: Black, olive, earth, dark grey; Sizes: XXS-XXL

Buy now from Pas Normal Studios

5. Triban Road Essential Shorts: Best strapless padded cycling shorts

Price: £10 | Buy now from Decathlon

You don’t have to drop a ton of money, or buy something super high-tech, to get a bit of cushioning between your bum and your bike. These no-frills strapless shorts are affordable, comfortable, and perfect for complete beginners who don’t feel ready for bib shorts. They’re also a good option for commuters or leisure riders looking for an extra layer of comfort.

There’s not much in the way of tech, but they’re made from stretchy fabric that’s comfortable to ride in and the chamois pad is good enough for occasional short rides. The biggest selling point is the price – these shorts are extremely accessible, a good option if you’re new to the sport and don’t want to spend large sums right away.

Key details – Material: Polyester and elastane; Colours: Black; Sizes: S-3XL

Buy now from Decathlon

6. Endura FS260 Pro Thermo: Best thermal padded cycling shorts

Price: £43 | Buy now from Evans Cycles

When the cold really hits, you’ll want a pair of tights that extend all the way down to the ankle. But what about those cool days in spring and autumn? A thin pair of bib shorts won’t offer adequate warmth, but a pair of winter bib tights will have you sweating buckets just a few miles into your ride. These thermal bib shorts from Scottish brand Endura are the answer.

The bib shorts use Endura’s Thermoroubaix fabric, which is nice and thick, fleecy on the back, and treated with a water-repellent finish to help it shrug off the occasional rain shower. There’s also a zip to the front that makes going to the loo mid-ride a little easier, and there’s reflective detailing to keep you visible when riding at night or in low light.

Key details – Material: Nylon and elastane; Colours: Black; Sizes: S-XXL

Buy now from Evans Cycles