I know a piece of outdoor clothing works when I forget that I’m wearing it. I slide it on, go outside, and never once think about my clothing. That’s the dream, right there. This is especially true for mountain bike liner shorts, the invisible, skin-skimming, padded lycra numbers that separate your body from your bike.
Let’s be honest. Liner shorts are not the sexiest piece of mountain bike gear out there. They’re not shiny or made from carbon fiber, and chances are, no one will ever see them. They sit there quietly under your shorts. Ideally, they do their job and you forget all about them.
Clothing designers have often treated liner shorts as an afterthought. Sad, saggy lycra. Paper towel chamois pads. Seams placed wherever. Elastic, what even is that. So many failures, it’s hard to count them all.
Frustrated, I gave up and until very recently, I wore the same bibshorts while mountain biking that I wear on the road bike. This is fine.
Using the same gear for multiple purposes scratches my “buy less stuff” itch, and bibshorts are a thoroughly evolved piece of cycling gear. There are options available to suit most body shapes and riding ambitions.
But there are some drawbacks to the “bibshorts for all the bikes” approach.
Bibs mean more fabric, which is not always ideal in hot weather, and stripping off my shirt to pee in bushes is not that great, especially with my magnetic attraction to poison oak. I’ll just hang my shirt off this branch. Oh, hey. I also like tank tops, and they do not look that super stylish with bibstraps sticking out of them.
Inspired by visions of summer tank top rides, I decided to give liner shorts another look. I knew what I wanted: A low-profile, breathable short with a decent chamois, comfortable waistband, and leg grippers that stayed put without turning my quads into sausages.
Then I found them, my new favorite piece of mountain bike clothing: The women’s Foundation Short from 7mesh.
The Squamish-based brand has made steady inroads on my closet with their thoughtfully designed clothing. It was not entirely a surprise to discover that the brand had figured out the liner short equation. (There is also a similar version for men with a men’s specific chamois and sizing.)
7mesh constructs the Foundation Short from a stretch mesh fabric that’s lightweight and airy. The fabric reminded me of fishnet stockings. This was not bad at all. Flatlock stitching in key areas helps ensure against irritation, and seams are carefully placed. There are no seams, for example, on the inside of the legs, a key potential contact point.
A band of lycra forms the hemline, which is laser-cut and silicon leg-grippers hold them in place without binding. While riding, I found they slid up a bit, but not so much as to be a problem. For liner shorts, I typically prefer a bit of slide to a heavy gripper.
One feature I especially liked: The soft, minimalist waistband. 7mesh uses a lingerie-style elastic for the waistband that’s comfortable and lays flat. It also sits lower than most of my overshorts, which means no bulky binding around the waistline as two pairs of shorts jostle for position. (This multiple waistline thing has long been a key motivator of my love for bibs for mountain biking.)
The Foundation Short uses the women’s Performance Force chamois from Elastic Interface. It’s a low-profile, stretch chamois. If you like a thick chamois, this might not be ideal for you, but I found it fit well under my overshorts and rode comfortably on a variety of saddles. It felt very breathable in hot weather, which is not always the case with thicker pads.
Similar to their other cycling shorts, 7mesh suspends the chamois from lycra panels inside the shorts. This construction adds breathability. It also helps ensure the chamois stays in place, while the other layer of shorts shifts. The result is less bunching and friction and a more comfortable ride. (7mesh also uses this construction for their Wk3 bibs and they are excellent for longer rides.)
Of course, everyone’s body is a bit different, which makes finding the right chamois-short combination a challenge. It has taken me some searching, but the Foundation Short worked well for me, especially in hot weather. I put it on and thanks to the lightweight fabric and low profile, I forgot it was there. It kept me comfortable, while staying out the way.
You can wear just about anything you want to ride mountain bikes. That’s part of the sheer joy of the whole thing. In no particular order, I have ridden mountain bikes while wearing jorts, men’s boardshorts, women’s boardshorts, blue Carhartt’s, brown Carhartt’s, cut-off corduroys, boxer shorts (airy!), jeans (not great!), running shorts, fleece-lined tights (so cozy), soft-shell pants, and purpose-built mountain bike shorts.
You can wear anything, but unless you’re made from iron, you’re going to want a little something between your body and the bike. That’s where the unglamorous, often unsung liner short comes in, and the 7Mesh Foundation Short is ready to be your new best friend this summer.
A note on sizing: In my experience so far, 7mesh clothing runs true to their size charts. I tested a size medium liner short, and it fit well. I typically wear a size 8 (29-inch waist) for shorts and pants in most outdoor brands. If you are between sizes, I would recommend sizing up.
Of course, try these yourself, maybe they don’t fit your body properly, you don’t like the name 7mesh, you’d prefer some in a color other than black—hey, that’s great. A couple other options are below.
More liner short goodness
Sure, Patagonia’s Nether liner shorts are minimalist, but that also means they’re affordable. $59
Troy Lee Designs court the sendiest of riders, so if that’s you, check out their Premium liner.