The Domestique Critique: Machines for Freedom Essential Short

This year, that #indoorslife got me searching for a quality pair of shorts for the trainer. Perfect timing that Machines for Freedom released their brand new Essential Cycling Short in May. I bought a pair with my own hard-earned money for the low, low price of $148 USD and intend to ride every penny out of them.

First, big kudos for MFF pushing for more inclusive sizing. This product launch was the first new piece in the Machines’ line to feature their new inclusive size range, extending from X-Small to XXX-Large. I bought a Large because I also own the bibshort and wear a size Large in those. The compression, not to mention color, in my bibshorts has faded over washing and time (bought two years ago) but I trusted the sizing guide once again and wasn’t wrong.

POW, the compression in these shorts does not fail to impress you from the first go! In fact, I have been wearing these shorts 3-4 times a week for four whole months with washing (either by hand or by machine) each time and they still have a great fit. Nicely done! Hoping the inky black stays that way well into next year.

The seamless leg band is an excellent upgrade, and it stays exactly where I put it and feels invisible on the skin. Over time and likely numerous washings, it has ever-so-slightly softened on the ends so it doesn’t lie pancake flat but by no means does it “roll” over or under. It definitely hasn’t frayed anywhere, even on the vertical seams. 

The chamois pad is the shining star here, and why I wanted this Short in my closet for this uptick in indoor trainer rides. It’s exactly the same chamois as the bibshort so if you know, you know. It’s almost like all other chamois pads in my drawers are compared to this as the standard now. “Not as comfortable as the Machines bibs,” is a language spoken between women cyclists now. I still use chamois creme on my trainer rides, but Machines pads make that as close to unnecessary as is possible.

Although the Essential Short is marketed as an endurance kit for multi-day, groady, t-shirt and bar bag cyclists, I’m on the more boring, functional end of the spectrum and use them specifically and only for indoor riding. Of course I took these shorts outside for a few rides, but I was very disappointed in the waistband and nearly refuse to feel uncomfortable like that on the road again.

Standing, the Essential Short looks great and feels great. As soon as I get on the bike, the waistband instantly rolls and, because of the compression, digs into my belly and affects diaphragmatic breathing. The back of the band then creates a gap from my skin, much like pants that don’t get the waist measurements right. I didn’t like it with a jersey, it didn’t work with a t-shirt, so it stays at home where no one can see.

Another irk I have with the Essential Short is that Machines still uses a fabric label. Again, like the waistband, at home on the trainer I can ignore it, but for longer, endurance rides I would have much preferred a heat pressed label to avoid friction between the label and skin, especially considering the cost of these shorts. I also would have appreciated a fabric hook for washing and drying. And I imagine a multi-day cyclist to need that as well. Bibshorts are handy to hang indoors and outdoors after washing, but these shorts slip off of every hook I try, and I worry about stretching out the fabric in the same spot in the long-term.

Overall, I have to admit that I am mixed on my review. I swear by a Machines chamois pad and compression fabric choice, but I paid a lot of money for a short that will never be seen outside of my bike room. Could I have found another trainer short for less? Probably. Would I have been as comfortable riding in them for this many months straight? Not likely.

Share your comments and thoughts about the Essential Short with me! Better yet, share a photo of you rocking those shorts with me on Instagram @womenskit.

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