For the last couple of years, riding in the Beti Bike Bash women’s only mountain bike event has marked the beginning of cycling season for me.
This year I was ready, but to my dismay, discovered that none of my apparel fit me due to extreme weight fluctuations.
I had recently managed to shed around 16 of the 21 or so pounds I had accumulated over the last two years due to inactivity recovering from a ski injury. Consequently, I had an odd assortment of clothing that was either too big or too small.
Time to get new stuff.
This is the first of a three-part series on mountain biking gear (shorts, tops, and accessories). Here is a snapshot on are some of the mountain bike shorts I have been wearing all season long. Like purchasing denim jeans, I discovered that not all mountain biking shorts are alike.
Mountain Biking Shorts
For me, shopping for mountain bike shorts is as nerve-wracking experience as finding a pair of jeans- necessary, but not something I look forward to. There are so many fits, styles, and materials available that it can be overwhelming.
If I find something amazing, I’ll buy multiple pairs so I can spare myself the agony of going through the ordeal of trying stuff on (unfortunately, my size is often unavailable in bike stores that carry less soft goods every year).
Patagonia Dirt Craft Bike Shorts (MSRP $149)
Patagonia offered a sneak peek of its new mountain bike apparel line at Outdoor Retailer last fall. It looked nice, but I was unsure of its quality and attention to detail when compared to cycling-only focused brands (i.e. Pearl Izumi). In other words, does Patagonia understand mountain biking, or is it just another way to expand their offerings?
My concerns were unfounded.
Like the rest of their apparel that I was more familiar with, Patagonia’s thoughtfulness in detail and understanding of the sport for which they were designing was on point.
Their 11” Dirt Craft Bike Shorts with liner is a complete system and are my all-around favorite in terms of comfort and function. Fair Trade Certified sewn, the stretchy outer short is constructed with DWR to prevent moisture saturation and cut down on drying time. Other features include a curved waistband, and three pockets (two drop-in, one zippered).
I was initially concerned the removable liner short would be too tight, but it remained snug and stayed in place. The outer short fit comfortably over the liner and I was able to tailor the fit with the external hook-and-webbing waist adjustment.
Overall, these are great shorts that look good (and fit!) a variety of bodies. I do wish the front drop-in pockets were deeper so I wouldn’t be concerned about my phone falling out. I also recommend buying one size up. Available in three colors (Black, Smoky Violet, and Swift Feathers Tasmanian Teal print), you can see the shorts in action on the trails of Fruita in Patagonia’s short film, Life of Pie.
Chrome Industries packs have long been a staple among Denver’s urban riders. What I did not realize, however, is that they also have an apparel line.
I discovered the Anza Short at Outdoor Retailer in June. I love these shorts! They were my favorite piece of apparel from the entire trade show. Despite the fact they were originally designed to be for urban cycling, I’ve worn them everywhere- as is without a liner, bike commuting, and on occasion mountain biking. Despite its 6” inseam (I prefer more coverage when I bike), I wear these because they are so utilitarian and loaded with features.
Women designed these shorts, and it shows. The fit is slim and flattering, the seamless double-layer crotch, 4-way stretch fabric, and high waistband (reflective for added visibility) allows me to ride comfortably all day long. But the pockets… they are my favorite feature! The envelope- style rear pockets are practical and deep, and the hidden rear zip secure pocket is a nice bonus.
If a pair of Anza Pants existed, I’d own those too. Available in two colors (Black, and Midnight), I would not recommend these shorts for women self-conscious about scarred legs or who have wider hips and thighs.
The dedicated five bar U-lock holster is a nice addition; especially if I bike someplace to meet up with friends and we go out later for post-ride beers. As the Chrome representative pointed out to me at Outdoor Retailer, the subtlety is the point. With its absence of bold labels and clever design, the Anza Short doesn’t scream functional tech gear and can take you from the bike trail to happy hour.
Pearl Izumi Summit Shorts (MSRP $80)
For years, Colorado-based Pearl Izumi has been my go-to for cycling clothing and shorts. Despite crashes and multiple washings, Pearl Izumi apparel can generally withstand anything. The only time I have ever discarded Pearl Izumi pieces is when I gained weight.
If you are seeking a no-frills mountain biking short, the top-rated Summit Short (liner not included) is it. I am petite, so the 12” inseam makes them appear more like capris than shorts. The DWR-treated 2-way stretch fabric is lightweight and easy to clean (I’m the person who slops sticky packets energy gel everywhere).
Two handy zippered hand pockets keep your energy gels and chapstick secure, while snap front closure with zip fly and internal waist adjustment to dial in fit make them a good choice to wear on and off the bike. Available in two colors: Black, and Teal.
Showers Pass Cross Country Shorts (MSRP $89)
I wear the Showers Pass Cross Country Shorts several times throughout the week- but not always when I’m riding a bike. They are ridiculously comfortable!
Featuring a 10” inseam and no liner, I wear these shorts biking, hiking, and pretty much everywhere else. Full of details (6-panel, 4-pocket mesh design, floating rear pockets, concealed zipper pocket, and reflective accents) that you didn’t realize you were missing, the Showers Pass Cross Country Shorts are a great value for the price!
Thanks to an adjustable waist cinch, I can wear the shorts comfortably with or without a liner. In fact, I was actually surprised that I could comfortably wear a liner underneath because the shorts appeared so form-fitting. The breathable nylon-spandex blend maintains flexibility.
The two most notable features of the Cross Country Shorts are the silicone grip on the elastic waistband (I am convinced that all shorts should have this- goodbye belts), and strategically placed heavier weight fabric on the back panel for improved weight distribution.
When purchasing, keep in mind the inseam of the shorts. From the product photos, they appear longer. The Cross Country Shorts are available in Dark Shadow and Smoke Blue and run small.
I would be so delighted if I had the equivalent in a pair of pants for bike commuting.
The Bontrager Tario Mountain Bike Short was by far the lightest weight short I used this year. They were good to wear for late afternoon/early evening rides on excruciatingly hot days.
With a 12” inseam, and no liner, these are the least restrictive mountain bike shorts that I tested. From a fashion perspective, I liked the metal buckle hardware on the integrated belt. Other key features include zippered thigh pocket (I love zippered pockets on practically everything- especially technical pants and shorts) that could easily accommodate my oversized phone, two hand pockets, and easily adjustable waist.
After a few rides, there were a few things that stood out to me. Not sure if it was because of the loose fit, or the shorts ran a tad large (they partially covered my knee pads), but I found the length and fabric problematic. Perhaps it is because I have like to have more substantial fabric because I’ve had more than my fair share of mountain bike crashes and am wary of tearing clothing. And they were so light and loose they just kind of flapped more than I like when descending. Finally, they somehow got caught on my empty downtube water bottle cage when I was trying to dismount.
The Tario is a good choice if you plan on riding someplace very hot, or you tend to overheat. They are available in one color only, Black.
Shopping for mountain bike shorts can be daunting, but it is important to find a pair that offer features you need to shred. After all, you want to concentrate on the dirt, not your shorts.