Built specifically for women and over a wide variety of sizes
Women-specific chamois construction
Stylish and socially minded
Full range of sizes
Picking the correct size is *very* important
Machines For Freedom is a women’s specific cycling brand, started in 2013, with the idea of making bib shorts actually designed for women. They’ve since expanded into non-bib shorts, jerseys, and outer layers. The key in all their looks is simple and stylish clothing in sizes that go all the way up to XXXL. I found it to be comfortable for long rides and very trendy—once I took the time to make sure everything was pulled all the way up and into place wherever it needed to be.
You can also build your own kit, by pairing up certain shorts and tops, and save $50 over the individual pieces, if you’re looking to get high-end cycling clothing for a slightly cheaper price.
Machines For Freedom The Endurance Bib Shorts ($235, competitivecyclist.com)
Theses shorts are the most popular MFF sells, and one of its original pieces. The idea, initially, was to create shorts with chamois specifically designed for women—meaning it’s supposedly slightly wider for our wider sit bones. Both these and the Essential Shorts below have the same chamois, which is in the mid-level range in terms of thickness. The chamois has thicker padding along the pelvic track—the part that goes up the middle—and then medium inserts under your sit bones, with a thinner chamois surrounding those areas. It could be a bit much in the padding department, if you prefer a lighter touch, but I never found it overwhelming. As long as you get everything in place and pulled up before you get started, you should be fine. The only irritation I found was at times (because I sit not totally straight on my bike) the exposed seam in the chamois would rub slightly where the edge of my butt/top of my leg hits the seat. The bib straps, themselves, are made of lightweight fine mesh and the shorts are held in place with silicone grippers. For all that it’s a simple black too, the slightly diagonal cut of the fabric does make you look trendier—if that’s what you’re going for.
My only warning: Because size is so important here and the compression so fitted, you really want to get the right size. Though I’m 5’2” and would typically be a XS, the XS in this case barely fit over my legs and required quite a bit of maneuvering. Compression shorts that are too tight also end up leaving indentations along every seam and line—which is not comfortable.
Machines For Freedom The Essential Shorts ($148, backcountry.com)
Although MFF started in bib shorts, this year it released its Essential Short. For many cycling snobs, the bib is the only way to go—cycling shorts roll down, pinch, and won’t stay in place. But for a long time, we’ve had to compromise high-end bib short comfort with the ease of bathroom stops. The goal of these shorts was to create a regular pair of cycling shorts that do the job of bib shorts but also allow you to pee easily. These shorts are very high-waisted—think yoga waist band—and longer (8.5-inches) to hit low-thigh. The idea is to prevent the waistband from digging into your stomach and to give you a smooth and flattering fit. My only issue was when I bent over on the bike, especially on the trainer or in a TT position, I ended up with the waistband rolling down around my stomach. While it didn’t hinder the comfort or use, it didn’t seem ideal either.
The Essential Shorts have the same elastic grips to stay in place around your legs, the same moisture-wicking fabric, and the same chamois as the Endurance Bibs, both of which MFF says are treated with bacteriostatic to stop infections and gross bacteria. I didn’t test that claim, but it certainly never felt sweaty or nasty, and stayed wicking and cool on all my rides.
Machines For Freedom Pebble Print Jersey ($178, backcountry.com)
The Pebble Print is the company’s newest take on its classic jersey—with 10% of the proceeds from this jersey going to The Okra Project, an organization dedicated to providing meals and mental health services to Black trans people in need. In keeping with the current trend, the jersey is form-fitting and slightly compressive, but not overly so. (ie. These are not sleeves that go down to your elbow or feel like they’re painted on; they stop about mid-bicep and allow for plenty of motion.) The cut never felt too small and I was still able to fit plenty in the back three pockets, which is always key on women’s XS jerseys. It also has a side zip pocket for keys if that’s your thing. Although the material is fairly thick, the jersey never felt too warm and wicked moisture well. It also has SPF 50 built into the fabric. Plus, it looks cool.