While nothing beats Lycra for comfort and performance, there are plenty of occasions where leisure shorts, baggies or three-quarter lengths are more appropriate. Whether you're kicking around town, touring in more culturally conservative countries or simply don't like the glam-rock, figure-hugging style, cycle-specific shorts are the way to go.
Although many are borrowed from the mountain biking scene, there's an increasing amount of street wear in the form of three-quarter lengths - cut-offs popularised by the cycle courier community. These are ideal for keeping the knees warm and don't shout cyclist when you're off the bike. Shorts with detachable padded liners are another more versatile option, as they can be worn with or without padding, and are much easier to wash and dry. Those with integrated liners are cheaper and purely for on-the-bike use.
We've put together a collection of the best Lycra alternatives around, and with a vast choice of cuts, lengths and looks, there should be something to see you through the summer months, no matter what your style.
Washing: It's best to wash the liner shorts after every ride to stave off bacterial build-up, generally in a 30º wash. Integrated liner/shorts and heavier fabrics take longer to dry.
It's a style thing: baggies are great for 'hanging' round town, while closer fitting cuts are better for road use and won't flap around in the wind. Leg lengths also vary; men's shorts tend to drop to the mid-thigh or just above the knee, while women's ones are often shorter. At any time of the year, bar high summer, knee warmers are a great accessory. They stash into your bag and can be easily put on to give a boost of warmth.
The best are detachable and feature proper length legs with good silicone grippers, and a padded insert that fits close to the body. The worst can be overly flimsy, poorly fitting and with an unappealing nappy-like pad stitched in.
Stretchy elastic waistbands help take pressure off the stomach when leaning forward, and prevents the back of the shorts from gapping.
Stretch panels: Often across the sides, back or crotch, these help shorts move with you on the bike, rather than rubbing against you.
Mountain bike-inspired shorts tend to be made in heavier, more durable fabrics. Lightweight materials dry quicker and pack smaller for travelling, while others resist grease and stains. Double layer backsides offer extra durability.
Night time: If you plan on commuting, look for side and rear reflectors.
While most shorts have hand pockets, additional cargo or zippered ones are useful. There's a trend toward mesh-lined pockets which double as vents - not ideal for sharp objects like keys though.
Keeping cool: Shorts are naturally ventilated. If you overheat, extra pocket vents maximise air flow. Three-quarters offer warmth and knee protection.
Leg adjustors: Found on longer shorts, these keep the ends from catching on bottles and cages and can keep out draughts.
Worth a Look
Every manufacturer has a different take on sizing, so we'd strongly recommend that you try before you buy - plus, in the case of 3/4 lengths, your own height affects whether the length might be too long.
Be sure to check the fit of the inners too. With baggies, Sugoi Gustov's and Endura's SingleTracks stand out with their rugged, good looks, while Ground Effects offer great value for money. Although we'd recommend saving up for shorts with detachable inners, Altura's Baggy's do the job.
There are now more 3/4 lengths to choose from than ever, not to mention an old favourite, Endura's Humvee 3/4s which are still going strong. Rapha's Fixed shorts are the smartest and most refined, but at half the price, the Konas look almost as good if a bit less classic. For a lightweight touring or commuting option, try the longer Hunter's or shorter Altura's Ascent 3/4s.
The women's round-up is far better than last year and any of the shorts are worth buying if they fit your shape.However, the Sugoi Gustas and Gore Passion Ladys are the best bike-specific shorts. For 3/4 lengths, the Konstanzs are tailored perfectly for saddle time, with the Altura's ideal for city streets.