10 Plus-Size Men’s and Women’s Mountain-Bike Shorts
Shorts and liners that work for more riders
Outside's long reads email newsletter features our strongest writing, most ambitious reporting, and award-winning storytelling about the outdoors. Sign up today.
Most everyday riders are not built like Loic Bruni, Yoann Barreli, Jolanda Neff, or Camille Balanche. In fact, we have ample statistics that show that the average male and female in the United States would not fit into most XL-sized riding shorts from any of the major bike brands. While we like to think we are working toward a more inclusive industry, there is still a major gap between the media perception of all cyclists being lean greyhounds and the down-to-earth reality that most of us don’t fit that mold.
Movement for inclusivity in sizing in the mountain bike industry is happening, though. While some brands are offering a wider range of sizing, there is still a significant disparity of mountain bike apparel for “plus-sized” cyclists. To take a closer look at some of the brands that are working to expand their offerings, we reviewed five men’s riding shorts and liners and five women’s riding shorts and liners for the non-greyhounds among us riding dirt. It’s important to note that there are very few women’s-specific shorts that are available beyond a size US 12-14, so we have tapped into some of the only options on the market specific to mountain biking.
We also tapped into some riding talent around the Hood River, Oregon, area to do the actual testing. Michael Shelton covered the men’s options, and he stands 6 feet-6 inches tall, weighs 260 pounds and is a size 38 -40, which adds up to an XXL in most brands. Krystal Pope tested the women’s offerings. She’s 6-feet tall, weighs 250 pounds, and has a 45-inch waist and 52-inch hips.
Women’s Shorts and Liners
Machines for Freedom Key Shorts and Essential Cycling Short ($108/$148)
Sizes: 24–38 ( tested 38 ) / XS–3XL (tested XXL)
Machines for Freedom (MFF) has been at the forefront of making plus-size apparel for women. While they are more known for their lycra, MFF does offer the Key shorts for a trail-riding-specific option. They feature a four-way stretch fabric, slide-locking snap closure, front scoop pockets, rear zipper pockets, and a 5.5-inch or 11-inch inseam. The size chart was accurate on the hip and butt measurements for our tester but she found the waist on the size 38 to be a little tight. Despite the overly snug fit, she noted that the shorts did not cut into her stomach during the initial fitting, and once out on the trails the shorts felt solid. The stretchy material and contoured design around the hips and butt made for a comfortable fit and feel with no zero constriction and offered good breathability. She noted that the 5.5-inch inseam version was a no-go for anyone with strong, full-figured legs.
The Essential Cycling short is MFF’s go-to riding chamois. It features a unique, yoga-inspired waistband, seamless leg bands and an 8.5-inch inseam for a mid-thigh fit. Pope tested an XXL version of this chamois, which she noted were a bit tight on her, fitting “more like Spanx than a compression chamois.” Consequently, the waistband would sometimes fold over at the waist, but she felt the next size up would have been too big. As for the padding, it was different from any of the other liners tested, but was super comfortable, stayed in place, offered a perfect fit for a woman’s body (vs. unisex) and had just the right amount of padding to prevent chafing on longer rides.
(Photo: Nikki Rohan)
Zoic Naveah Bliss Shorts with Essential Liner ($90)
Sizes: XS–3XL (tested XXL)
The most notable feature of the Navaeh Bliss shorts is the super-stretch “Blissband” waist, which provided a secure, comfortable fit with zero pinching and with no buttons or snaps to deal with (or unexpectedly pop open). The shorts also use a nice, lightweight fabric, feature zippered pockets, and an 11-inch inseam. Per the size chart, Pope tested these shorts in XXL and reported that they offered a pretty perfect fit given the added stretch in the waist. The yoga band is very supportive on larger frames and stays in place without cutting into one’s belly. It also tends to sit higher than most cycling short waistbands and performed well to keep them from slipping down. Consequently, these were by far her favorite shorts. She noted they were extremely flattering, with no muffin top or slippage, and the leg opening was wide enough that they didn’t bunch up or band above the knee when moving into a descending position. Overall, they handled a variety of hot and cold temperatures during testing, and she highly recommends them for anyone looking for function and extreme comfort.
The Zoic Essential Liner that comes with the shorts was tested in a size XXL. This liner is a good basic chamois. It doesn’t offer the bells and whistles that some brands do, but they fit our tester well and the padding was comfortable for one- to two-hour rides, while offering good breathability and ample padding in all the right places. For the price, it is definitely worth purchasing the shorts with the included liner.
Wild Rye Freel Shorts with Alice Chamois ($119/$109)
Sizes: 0-14, 6-14
The Freel is Wild Rye’s flagship cycling short. It features a 12-inch inseam, three pockets, four-way stretch fabric and belt loops for waist adjustments. Pope tested the size 18 Freel which was supposedly too small for her hips according to the size chart, but fit surprisingly well. The legs were wide enough to fit her Athena build while still offering a tapered and stylish look. The waistband was a bit snug, but overall the shorts were comfortable and allowed for easy movement throughout the hips and thighs without bunching. It made them super comfortable regardless of whether she was climbing, descending or relaxing on the lift. Overall, they’re a solid riding short that gets points for coming in cool colors and designs.
The Alice Chamois had a true-to-size fit, if not a bit generous. Our tester noted that the chamois fit like her favorite running tights, offering “compression without constriction.” They include a high-waisted front and back design which keeps the midsection contained and svelte looking. Aside from her preferring that the chamois leg length could have been an inch or two longer, the padding was great for longer rides. Overall the liner offered excellent protection and padding without feeling bulky or toasty.
Shredly MTB Curvy Short with YogaCham Liner ($110/$78)
Sizes: 00–24 (tested 20)/ US 00–24 (tested 20)
Shredly is another company that has been successful with its expanded sizes for their women’s-specific mountain biking apparel. The MTB Curvy is often at the top of the list for a lot of shredders when it comes to comfort and fit and it’s no surprise why: It’s a stylish short crafted from a durable four-way stretch fabric with a relaxed fit for curvy bodies, a mid-rise yoga waistband, and zipper thigh vents. Shredly provided our tester with a range of sizes due to some confusion with the size chart and she settled on the size 20 for this piece. It was a little big in the waist, but the size 18s were too tight in the legs and lower tummy area. Per the size chart, she would have been a size 24, so she highly recommends finding a shop if possible to dial in fit. Despite the slightly generous size, the yoga-style high waistband allowed a confident enough fit to get some good testing done. However, at the end of the day these were not our tester’s favorite shorts; they just didn’t fit her frame phenomenally and she ended up having some issue with them slipping down or folding over at the tummy. She also wasn’t a fan of the thigh vent which she noted, “looks like an oddly placed seam when closed and gills of a fish when opened… no curvy girl is going to open those things!”
The YogaCham was true to size and offered a superb fit. The chamois’ waistband has a nice grip on the back to help keep it in place, and the leg openings also include grippy texture to prevent them from riding up on the thighs (details like that are a big plus for curvy girls). The padding itself was a bit of an odd shape that extended towards her leg/thigh crease, which felt a little odd to Pope. Overall she liked the fit and breathability of this liner but felt the padding was a little thin, and that the shape of the pad was maybe not the best for her.
Pearl Izumi Women’s Pro Bib Short ($210)
Sizes: XS–XXL (tested XXL)
The Pro Bib Short is technically not a liner; rather, it is a premium bib that can be worn out on the pavement or under a pair of mountain bike shorts. We wanted to get both our testers in some higher-end pieces to see how they compare to the lower price point liners that come with many of the shorts.
This particular bib is crafted for long ride comfort. It includes minimal seaming, silicone leg grippers, a unique v-strap drop-tail design for nature breaks, and a three-layer, fancy-pancy chamois. Krystal tested the bib in size XXL and it was a perfectly snug yet comfortable fit. While she noted that she is an XXXL per the size chart, she opted to size down based on user reviews. She was also quite stoked on the padding, which worked exceptionally well for longer distance rides. The fabric felt breathable and versatile and the little bit of compression was perfect. Cheers to Pearl Izumi for making a premium product across a broad range of sizes.
(Photo: Nikki Rohan)
Patagonia Women’s Dirt Roamer Bike Shorts (No Liner) ($99)
Sizes: 0–18 (tested 18 )
The Dirt Roamer shorts are Patagonia’s premium contoured-fit mountain bike short. The shorts feature a lightweight fabric, an adjustable waist cinch system, zippered pockets and an 11 ¾-inch inseam. While word was that the Patagonia shorts tend to run on the “slimmer” side, we went ahead and requested a size 18 (the largest size available in the women’s Dirt Roamer) to see how they might fit in comparison to other brands’ size 18. Sure enough, per Patagonia’s size chart, the size 18 would max out at a 37.5-inch waist, making them too small for our tester’s 45-inch waist. So, unfortunately, we don’t have any ride impressions on the Dirt Roamer short, but she liked the stretchy fabric and was intrigued as to whether or not Patagonia’s “OppoSet” adjustable waist technology would work well on larger frames. Kudos to Patagonia for offering sizes beyond the standard 12, but hopefully we see more options in the future.
Men’s Shorts and Liners
Patagonia Men’s Dirt Craft Shorts with Liner ($159)
Sizes: 28–40 (tested 40)
The Dirt Craft shorts are a lightweight stretchy riding short that feature an adjustable waist with a curved waistband, three pockets and an 11 ½-inch inseam that hit our tester right above the knee. The size 40 shorts fit Shelton true to size as expected–not too tight in the waist or legs. The shorts were very lightweight and offered a cool, breezy feeling, perfect for the shorter XC loops near his house. The tester felt that the material was more at home on the less burly trails, as the fabric is thin and may not hold up to a hard crash or long days in the bike park. The curved waistband kept the shorts securely in place, and Shelton never felt the urge to pull them up.
The liner that comes with the size 40 Dirt Craft shorts was size XXL. It had a regular fit and a very comfortable chamois padding. The multi-panel construction easily kept the liner in place without offering any constriction. The liner was on the lighter-weight side, but offered such a high degree of comfort that it ended up being the tester’s favorite for longer rides.
Troy Lee Designs Skyline Shorts with Liner ($109)
Sizes: 28–40 (tested 40)
The TLD Skyline shorts are a regular-fitting “roomy” short that feature an adjustable waist, ventilation panels and two zip pockets. The tested size 40 was on the larger side of 40, and Michael indicated a size 38 would have been a better fit for him. But that roomier fit also allowed for a pair of crash pad shorts to readily slip under them. The shorts have a medium-weight fabric but still felt light and stretchy. While they had Velcro waist adjusters, the Skyline Shorts still rode a little low. Overall, the Skylines were very comfortable and breathable, and the fabric felt more durable than the Patagonia offering.
The TLD “TMF” liner that comes with the Skyline shorts offered an ideal fit for our tester. The liner was stretchy and breathable, but he noted that chamois padding was a little on the thinner side which created some discomfort after about an hour of riding.
Race Face Ruxton Shorts with Stash Bib Liners ($121/$83)
Sizes: S–XXL (tested XXL)
The Race Face Ruxton shorts have an adjustable ratchet front closure, a raised back panel, laser-vented front thighs, a 14.5-inch inseam, and zippered outside thigh pockets. The shorts were tested in size XXL and they fit Shelton true to the size chart. These were his favorite shorts, hands down. They offered a great fit, with the high waist and gripper panels ensuring they stayed in place all day without any chance of a full moon incident. And while the shorts are a heavier fabric, and are designed for more all-mountain enduro style riding or light-duty lift service, the breathability was ideal for summer riding conditions.
Race Face also sent along their Stash bib liner for testing. The XXL sized bib fit our 6-foot-6 tester surprisingly well. The bibs feature two “stash” pockets for snacks or your phone, a nice stretchy breathable fabric, and gripper leg panels to keep the liner shorts from riding up. The liners breathed well on hotter days and the chamois pad was comfortable. Shelton’s only gripe with the Stash was that the seam where the shoulder straps attach to the front of the bib was on the wider side, causing the dreaded nipple chafe on longer rides if worn without a base layer.
Fox Defend Shorts (No Liner) ($120)
Sizes: 28–40 (tested 40)
The Fox Defend shorts utilize an adjustable ratchet front for both closure and dialing in the waist fit. They have zippered hand pockets, all-way stretch fabric, laser-perforated ventilation, and a 14.5-inch inseam. Shelton tested the size 40, which offered a true-to-size fit. The shorts, like the Race Face, use a heavier-weight fabric, and they held up well to some minor crashes during testing with no visible signs of wear. The shorts tended to ride high on the waist, thanks to the secure fit of the ratchet. The DWR coating is a plus and easily handled some unexpected rain. And thanks to the rear and front ventilation on the leg panels, there was no overheating during climbs. Shelton was super happy with these shorts and definitely will include them in his go-to riding collection.
Dharco Gravity Shorts with Men’s Padded Party Pants Liner ($107/$73)
Sizes: S–XXL (tested XXL)
The Dharco Gravity shorts feature a four-way stretch fabric, Velcro waist adjusters, two pockets, and a DWR finish. Dharco sent the size XXL shorts (the largest size available in the Gravity Short), which are supposedly the equivalent of a US 38. Unfortunately they were too small for our tester, so we don’t have any ride impressions . While I know from my experience that these are a functional and stylish riding short, note that they do tend to run on the smaller side.
While the riding shorts were too small to be tested, the Men’s Padded Party Pants Liner did fit Shelton and they were also his favorite chamois liner of the group. Dharco sent the size XL liner, which was stretchy, comfortable, and “never felt too tight.” Shelton appreciated how the plush chamois pad made his longer rides exceptionally comfortable and that he had zero issues with overheating or sweat pooling in the wrong places.
(Photo: Nikki Rohan)
Rapha Trail Bib Cargo Liner Shorts ($135)
Sizes: XS–XXL (tested XXL)
If you’re wondering how well a “premium” brand lines up against the tried and true “go-to’s” or how they actually work for larger people, enter the Rapha Trail Bib Cargo Liner, Rapha’s “supremely comfortable” liner bib for all-mountain shredding. Shelton tested this bib in size XXL. The bib fit like a glove (comfortably snug without being constricting), was super comfortable, and offered good breathability. The chamois is thick, comfortable, and did great on longer rides. There were no internal seams and the bib straps didn’t rub him the wrong way like the Stash Bibs did. Overall he was super impressed with the Rapha bib; the only additional feature he would like to see would be a fly for trail side pit stops.